The Middle East Channel

Jordanian reform: a closer look

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan announced yesterday that Parliamentary elections will be held on November 9. The elections, to replace a Parliament dissolved by royal decree last November 23, will be conducted under a new election law which falls short of the expectations of many Jordanian reformists. With a date for elections for a new Parliament ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan announced yesterday that Parliamentary elections will be held on November 9. The elections, to replace a Parliament dissolved by royal decree last November 23, will be conducted under a new election law which falls short of the expectations of many Jordanian reformists. With a date for elections for a new Parliament set, two new essays probe the Jordanian experience and the significance of recent political developments. Morten Valbjorn of Aarhus University argues that Jordan, which recently fell to "not free" in the Freedom House rankings, should be seen not as a case of failed democratization but of reasonably successful authoritarian liberalization. Assaf David of the Hebrew University of Jeruslaem explores an extremely unusual public political intervention by retired Jordanian military veterans and the fissures it exposes in the underpinnings of the Hashemite regime. 

 

Post-Democratization Lessons From the Jordanian ‘Success Story’  by Morten Valbjørn

The European Union has just released a positive ‘ENP Country Progress Re­port’ on Jordan, praising the Kingdom’s substantial progress in areas related to political reform, governance, and transparency.  According to the EU Ambassador to Jordan Patrick Renault, Jordan is on the right track. The EU is far from alone in pre­sen­ting the small Hashemite Kingdom as one of the few success-stories in the recent years’ efforts in demo­cra­cy-promotion in the Middle East. In a discussion about democratic reforms in the so-called ‘moderate Sunni Arab’ states Condoleezza Rice  stated that "Jordan is making really great strides in its political evolution." When Barack Obama had a one-to-one dinner with King Abdallah II during his presidential campaign, the story goes that he was so impressed with the visionary and reform-eager young Hashemite ruler that he told him: "Your Majesty, we need to clone you."

But how then to explain that the most recent annual report from Free­dom House actually downgraded Jordan to ‘not free’?  Indeed, by some measures Jordan is today less free than in 1989, when its much-claimed democratic transition began. This does not, however, mean that Jor­dan’s ‘tran­sition to no­whe­re’ should be framed as an example of ‘failure of demo­cra­tization.’ Instead, Jordan should be seen as an example of a ‘libe­ra­li­zing autocracy’: always ap­pearing as being in the midst of a promising reform process, but still always an auto­cracy. Those in real power are not accountable to their citi­zens and they do not aim to gi­ve up or even share their power. They are only following Lampe­du­sa’s old advice that "if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." Such liberalizing autocracies should not be perceived as be­ing a transitory state on the road toward democracy, but rather as a distinct and quite resilient kind of authoritarian regime.  READ MORE.

 

The Revolt of Jordan’s Millitary Veterans by Assaf David

Last month, Jordan’s "National Committee of Military Veterans" published a rare petition directly attacking the monarchy and the Palestinian population of the kingdom.  This petition should not be dismissed lightly.  This is the first time that an organization representing tens of thousands of military veterans has expressed controversial political views, particularly on such extremely sensitive issues. Crafted by a higher committee of 60 military veterans (including some ex-generals), the document expresses the concern about what they see as moves to solve the Palestinian problem at the expense of Jordan through external pressures to settle the refugees in the kingdom, with the cooperation of "treacherous" elite members.

The permanent settlement of most of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan, a likely scenario in any potential outline of Israeli-Palestinian peace, is a great source of trouble for the regime, as it touches the very heart of its relationship with its Transjordanian backbone. A Wall Street Journal reporter heard from King Abdullah last April that Jordan could not annex the West Bank population since, among other things, "we don’t have the water to be able to do so." This phrase was too sensitive to be included in the interview’s final version: the Jordanian public opinion is not willing to see a conditioned refusal to this Armageddon scenario.  While the challenge posed by the "veterans’ uprising" eventually faded, the incident is an ominous sign for the coming phase in regional politics.  READ MORE.

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