Hamas, Opportunities & The Islamists of Jordan

Two very interesting articles today concerning Hamas. One is by Rami G. Khouri over at the Daily Star who looks at the oppertunity a Hamas win may bring. The other is from an Israeli perspective in the Jerusalem Post, and concerns what a Hamas win now means for Jordan and Egypt.

…Three key points seem important about Hamas’ victory. The first is that the election campaign was not a referendum on making war or peace with Israel. Hamas did not win because it promised to wipe out Israel. It won because it held out the promise of redressing some of the terrible imbalances and chaotic distortions that have come to define Palestinian domestic society in the past few years.

…The second important aspect of the election result is that Hamas will now experience the responsibility and accountability that come with incumbency

…The third important point about Hamas’ victory is that it represents a brand of political leadership legitimacy that has been rare in the modern Arab world. [article]

…the problem for Jordan and Egypt remains difficult. These are the countries that are friends of the US (and Israel) and are thus under the most pressure to follow the US plan of democratization. On the other hand, if they follow the path, they will be paving the way to their own downfall.

Hamas’s win legitimizes the Islamists in both Jordan and Egypt. Should those governments now accept Hamas and do business with it or should they act like Israel and the US, who (at this point) say they won’t talk to the terrorists? [article]

A Hamas win does pose an interesting dilemma for Jordan. Khalaf offers an analysis you can read up on here.

But there is another issue at hand here: a hamas win may mean a reverse in political reform, or at least having it come to a grinding halt. There is nothing more worrying for the Jordanian government than going on ahead with free elections which would result in Islamists running the country. But there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, if free elections were held Islamists would almost certainly win the most seats. However Jordan’s situation does have many other elements which Palestine does not face and those elements provide enough opposition to keep Islamists in check.

Second, I don’t see Jordanian Islamists, or rather groups which follow a pro-Islamic agenda such as the IAF, as being extremely right wing to the point of overthrowing anything. The are however a powerful force and are usually shot down for opposing things like corruption.

Third, the problem which may arise is that an Islamist government in Jordan will forever be in conflict with Jordan’s stance on Israel and the U.S. which implies to me that if political reform is to go ahead we would be looking at a system where an elected government in Jordan may not be allowed to deal with foreign policy, or at least have it be dictated by higher powers. How likely this scenario is just goes to show the dilemma we would be facing.

Fourth, and this is a reflection of the current status quo, Islamists are usually supported by the lower middle class on down. This means while they would be gaurenteed a position of majority based on the fact that 90% of the country can be classified as lower middle class on down, this majority would pose a huge problem for the upper middle class on up. If 10% of the country represent (say) 80% of the GDP, 80% of national income and top earners, 80% of investment, and 80% of what keeps the economy afloat, whilst their future will be governed by 90% of the country which is poor…well you can see the conflict of interest here.

One thing is for certain in my mind, a Hamas win, whether positive or negative for Palestine is most definitely a source of setbacks for political reform in Jordan. I expect to see us shifting gears fairly soon, but this time in the reverse position.


  • A most excellent post. I was reading in the guidelines that one cannot be anti-religion in posting yet I find that quite impossoble in discussing the current situation. I am a firm believer that religion should be limited to the home and the mosque. However, Islamist parties should not on the whole ever be allowed a position from which they can assume political control. Jordan is a country in desperate need of sensible economic policy for development. Reading the IAF charter, one can conclude that what the IAF propose is nothing short of economic heresy in terms of taxation and fiscal policy. The proposed tax on wealth instead of income would have major problems as would the effect of the baolition of interest rate (especially since Jordan does not have a major natural resource which would act as a subsititute for monetary appreciation (example gold which appreciates in value in the same way monetary holdings appreciate over time with interest rate).
    Also, the proposed lack of fiscal restraint and emphasis on state handouts as economic policy would be nothing short of a disaster throwing back Jordan’s recent economic development 50 years into the past.

    I’m sure a lot of you have heard the term capitakusn with a human face, well what the IAF is propsing is socialism with a deformed face.

    Also, Religious parties similar to the IAF are inherently fascist. It is true that 90% of Jordanians decribe themselves as being activelly moslem yet an IAF government would naturally be exclusionary to the rest of the population. Furthemore, A common misconeption that I have seen floated around latetly, Democracy does not directly mean rule of the majority, but rather it means rule of the people as Plato has defined. The rule of the majority notion came about only as a technical necessity for communicating the people’s wishes and is as such an imperfect system. Also it is clear that what the majroty wants is not necessarily it their best interest. The majority in Jordan would indeed vote for the IAF but in doing so would be making an irrational decision. Hence rationality appears to be far from the Jordanian street.

    An unnatural or rather conscious attempt at separating church/mosque and state in the spirit of human emancipation is doomed only in failkure as civil society would find a means through which religious ideas can be transmitted into the political arena. What is needed is human emancipation which the recognition that religion is not the solution to worldly matters such as economic policy and socio.political issues. The battle odf ideas is raging on between Islamism and Liberalism unforunately Liberalism is loosing badlydue to the irrational decision of the Arab public

  • Khaled, first, sorry about the guidelines, I need to clarify them. I was implying ‘being offensive to religion’ which is obviously different from being anti-religion.

    second, I do agree with you on many points. I consider myself a moderate Muslim so I have to take into account that the IAF does have many reforms which are needed in Jordan, but for it to rule as the majority would most certainly (in my mind) end in disaster.

    but perhaps this is what is needed. people will experiment with it and vote for someone else the next time around. it’s tough to argue with when you have say 5 parties and each one of them gives you a list of it’s political platform and then you get to the Islamists who say our platform is Islam. You can stand up in parliament and argue or oppose a party’s tax bill proposal but with Islamists you’d be arguing with Islam, or worse, God. how far right the IAF leans is a different matter, I find that swinging to the right in our region can come fairly easy with the times.

    lastly, i do agree that democracy tends to be defined in the athenian sense of direct democracy, but it is a rule of the people in the vox poppuli vox dei sense of the word. however I dont advocate secularism even though that may seem like a quick fix to our long list of problems. I instead advocate moderation, a little bit of everything, beit with economic or political theory, I find it to be the best solution.

    So we cannot disregard the IAF completely, but we cannot (or rather should not) allow it to rule completely. This goes for every other group.

    Thank you for your insightful comment πŸ™‚

  • I like Rami Khouri’s article, and agree with most of it. I also agree with your comment above that it might be best to have Islamists form a government for once, which would force them to get down from their high horse and face public scrutiny and criticism.

  • hi..
    it was nice to read your post, so many things i agree with, but i must say my opinion about the jordanian issue…
    i really believe that Jordan is not a democratic countrey for so many obvious things everyone can see,, thus, i can’t consider an islamic overtake of the majority of the parlament seats is that big deal, this will not provoke a huge effect on the policies especially foriegn policies, the situation in palestine is very differnet, there is a democratic, parlament-wise, new face that will control the policies entirely…

    Parlament interference in Jordan’s policey-making is more like a joke…I cannot remember any great democratic incident the parlament took part in.

  • Nas;

    I would like to draw your attention to a statement of the IAF parliamentary spoksman Azzam Huneidi yesterday on the IAF website (www.jabha.net) in which he said the IAF is ready to take over the governmnet in Jordan after winning majority in a “clean democratic campaign”. I have written an entry about this in my blog as well (http://batir.jeeran.com)

  • Batir, thank you for the comment. I read your post with some interest but the problem isnt with them winning democratically, i dont believe they’re evil or represent the downfall of Jordan, however as I tried to point out their mere existance would create certain dilemmas that would result in many problems, politically, economically and socially.

    I assume however the following…

    in the event that such elections take place, some type of system would be set to keep any government from touch a certain aspect of governmental affairs, such as diplomacy.

    in all probability I expect they’ll allow the people to vote for who they want but whoever wins will likely follow a pre-set agenda in regards to social and economic agendas. elected governements will likely deal with other things like approriations, budgets, spending, deficits, etc.

  • Omar, thanks for the comment but I was talking about a parliament majority in the event of free democratic elections. in the sense that jordanians would be allowed to vote for which party would run the government. unlike now.

  • I’m interested in knowing more about where the numbers that say 10% of Jordan’s population is responsible for 80% of the GDP come from. Average annual household income is not the same as GDP per household.

  • Hamzeh, dude you’re the only person i know who takes the numbers seriously even though i’ve obviously made them up to make a point. πŸ˜€

  • Ok, I admit it, it wasn’t the numbers, it was the wording. When you say things like “80% of what keeps the economy afloat”, I don’t think it’s fair (fair doesn’t even matter, it’s not realistic) to say that a small minority, even 40%, of the population in Jordan is the source of 80% of what keeps the economy afloat. We have a lot of low wage workers in Jordan. Take the whole real estate market in Jordan, and consider the average wage for construction workers (who are almost all Egyptians). The people who fix your car and my car, the people who drive taxi cabs. Take the truck drivers, do you know how much truck drivers get paid. They are the ones who keep goods on the move.

    It’s true that salary distributions in Jordan are very skewed, but that has nothing to do with keeping our economy afloat. That wording to me suggested that these low wage workers, who are basically the 90% poor in your analysis, are a burdon, when in reality, they are the people takin the burdon, not representing it.

  • Hamzeh, perhaps in my haste I mispoke so allow me to clarify. our gnp is something like 1,000jds right? subtract the fact that almost 40% of the country is either too old to work or too young. subtract the fact that the labor force is now somewhere at the 1.5 million range.

    now, what is the percentage of jordanians below the povery line? what is the percentage of jordanians unemployed and therefore have no income? Our minimum wage as set by our government is at 80 jds. 80 jds a month. How many do you know earn that much? How many earn more than 200 jds?which sectors are creating all the cash flow? the taxi driver sector? the chicken farmers or safeway? the truck tansporter or fastlink? what percentage of the upper class work in the service industry? what percentage of the service industry make up the economy? 65%? 70% at my estimate?

    subtract foreign workers such as egyptians whose money tends to leave the country for egypt.

    what do you come up with?

    (also note that i did not say 90% are poor, i said lower middle class on down, the poor are defined by poverty. What I am implying is that the overwhelming majority of jordanians are not the top earners of the country and those that are happen to be a minority and constitute the great economic impact. do you see what im getting at?)

  • I see what you’re saying, I just don’t think it’s right. You’re saying that because person A makes a lot more income than person B then person A has a bigger economic impact on the economy. I don’t think we can reach that conclusion, especially in Jordan. Just because the CEO of some wireless service company makes the total sum of more than a hundred (literally) of that company’s empoyees’ salaries, doesn’t mean that he has more impact on the company, and later on on the economy.

    Also, think about this, “cash is created, but cash flow is circulated”, so yes, the God knows how many taxi’s we have are part of the cash flow, and the God knows how many truck drivers we have, they are literally moving money from one place to another.

    My point is exactly this, there is a big difference between average wage, and average product. A lot of people in Jordan get paid a lot less than what they deserve and are worth, and a lot get overpayed. That’s why, you can’t look at how much money people make, to judge how much money they produce, especially in a country like Jordan where you know wages are not equally and fairly distributed.

  • Hamzeh, thats the thing, im not comparing person A to person B, im comparing the collective inputs of peoples A to peoples B. I think it is safe to assume that the majority of people in Jordan are peoples B and therefore the minority is peoples A. I think it is also safe to assume that peoples A are the bigger cogs in the economic machine of Jordan. If we want to put collective incomes aside and their subsequent taxes then let us look at the recent influx of foreign investment in Jordan particularly from the Gulf reigion.

    I’ll tell you one thing, Kuwaitis are not investing in taxi drivers

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