Jordan Tightens Its Grips On The Elections

A very interesting article in the New York Times today discusses briefly the unfolding road to the elections on the 20th. What I found interesting was something that I also found to be true: “liberals in Jordan have set aside demands for political freedom”, in light of rising Islamist groups in the region, particularly Hamas on the other side of the river. I think to an extent, there was a lot more rhetoric on political freedom from the liberals 2 or 3 years ago, and much of that has changed with Hamas and Hizballah in the picture, to say nothing of rising anti-Americanism with the situation in Iraq worsening.

And it’s a kind of odd question about a strange situation. If there is a genuine and legitimate fear that “free and fair” elections in Jordan would lead to the Islamic Action Front rising to political power, is it therefore necessary to “set aside demands for political freedom” given that the political situation doesn’t allow it?

In theory, there’s no point to holding elections in the first place if the government aims to control the outcome, ensuring that it runs in accordance with its ambitions.

When it comes to Islamists, I disagree with those who suggest that only Palestinians would vote for them. Islamists are generally well liked by a certain segment of society that feels the destiny of Jordan and Palestine are somewhat entwined, and those people can be either Jordanian or Palestinian. This is also a segment of society that has more faith in religion and conservative ways than they do in politicians, so the marriage of both is the only thing that drives them to the polls. Yet, candidates running primarily on a pro-Palestinian agenda (and they don’t even have to be Islamists), seem odd to me. It feels strange for anyone to run in a Jordanian election and speak solely to Palestinian issues. And yet, even more, I find myself blinded by the empty rhetoric which suggests to me that a candidate ranting “We will not give up on the right of return” can no more deliver on his promise than the candidate who speaks of Jordanian issues and rants “We will fight unemployment”.

But I digress.

The answer to the question might be a bit obvious. If the electoral law was changed and there was in fact equal representation that was proportional to district population, and if in fact the government played the elections with a laissez-faire attitude, what would the outcome be? Would we have a dominant Islamic party, neutralizing everyone else (especially since everyone is running as an independent)? Would we have a party speaking only of Palestinian issues and neglecting Jordanian ones completely?

If this is the actual fear, and it might even be a legitimate one given its regional and domestic context, is election tampering becoming a necessity? One could argue not to hold elections in the first place but that only seems to add fuel to the fire for groups like that Islamists. Elections are like a pressure valve releasing steam from a cooking pot. People become preoccupied with the process and tend to forget the outcome fairly quickly, accepting it as fate.

These are all questions whose answers are quite complex in nature. I myself don’t have a particular stance, and anyone can feel free to attempt an answer. Personally speaking, I have no love for the IAF, but then again I have no love for any other party, or the entire system as a whole. I do recognize the correlation between Palestinian affairs and their massive influence on Jordan and anyone who doesn’t is neglecting the obvious historical agents at play. I do recognize that elections, and indeed politics in general, in Jordan is merely a play, but I have always been more concerned with the long term outcome of political participation than either the process or the immediate outcome.

Anyways, the NYT piece is a pretty interesting read even though its tailored for western audiences who know nothing of Jordanian politics. But it’s worth checking out.


  • Lets not call them liberlals, a better name would be “sa7eejeh”.
    They talk about jordan as if there is no army, no police, and once islamists rule, jordan will become taliban!

    This is not the case, we have strong institutions that can protect the citizens!

    Reading about people who actually talk like this makes me angry and disgusted at the same time!so what if the islamists win? Aint that democracy? So either drop the term democracy and stop lying or hold true democratic elections using a new electoral law(The national agenda one)!

    And I really don’t know why they are hanging the picture of the royal family! It should be prohibited to do so!

    Naseem, el tarawneh thabba7oo ba3ath 😀

  • i agree with most of what you say. also, there are candidates who, at their tents, will have posters of the king that are so big, they overshadow the candidates poster.

    “Naseem, el tarawneh thabba7oo ba3ath”

    yeah….i know…dont remind me

  • But actually, it’s not just the liberals anymore that don’t want the IAF to reach to parliament, from what I noticed, it’s becoming every middle class Jordanian as well that doesn’t want the IAF to climb up to parliament.

    Nas, you confused me quite a bit, when you say Palestinians, do you mean Palestinians in refugee camps or do you mean Jordanians of Palestinian origin? I think it’s politically incorrect to refer to Jordanians of Palestinian origin as plain Palestinians, I know you didn’t mean any negative connotation (because there isn’t one actually), but I just thought briefly that you meant Palestinians in refugee camps. I agree, mostly those who vote for the IAF believe in the Islamic way of doing business, and not the government’s way, their supporters could come from any background really. But I really think that the majority of the IAF’s supporters are mainly people who oppose the government in general, thanks to the IAF’s stance. What I’m trying to say that for some voters, it’s only convenient to vote for the IAF because they are the strongest opposition.

    Frankly, as a Jordanian, I think it’s more realistic, and more important to vote for a candidate that wants to cut down on unemployment (although we all know he won’t really have much of a say in that) than to vote for a candidate who wants to abuse my emotions because of my Palestinian background. The right of return just seems to be too far fetched to achieve right now, I mean we’ve been demanding it for 60 years now and this candidate certainly is not the answer to our prayers, nor is he a reincarnated Saladin. But you know what? I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about people who are stupid enough to believe him.

  • But isn’t that the entire point behind fair and free elections in a democracy? The uncertainty of outcome! And like Pheras said, as my assumption would be, many “Islamists” would not be voted in to the the parliament. Even if they did I would see as a good thing if it will make the middle-class lazy Jordanians get up and meaningfully participate in elections. (That is, make demands to political candidates, lobby them, join political parties, and most importantly vote!)

    If I were advising the government, the Jordanian or the Egyptian one for that matter, I would suggest that they become inclusive to the IAF and other opposition groups. Absorbing them into the system is much safer and certain than keeping them silenced out of it!

    Anyways, those are my two cents!

  • The Islamists were allies with the regime in the Cold War era, against the leftists and the nationalists, but things changed in recent years and the government has turned against them. Personally I would never vote for the IAF, I do not believe in their rhetoric. That being said, they are (or were) the most organized and most successful opposition party. They would probably still win any fair elections with a fair electoral law, like they did in 1989, whether we like it or not. If you believe in democracy, you have to respect the will of the majority. It does not matter if you disagree with them or even if you think they are stupid.

  • Pheras: yes, jordanians of palestinian bad. and while i agree with most of what you say, i disagree that it’s stupidity. i dont think anyone actually believes anything these candidates say in the first place. there are other reasons to vote.

    Diala: interesting points. your two cents are definitely worth more than that…what with the dollar where it is 😀

    mohammad: fair point.

  • Nas, between pheras’s post and yours: do you think that jordanians of palestinian origin would vote for IAF?

  • Diala: we stand on guard for thee 😀

    Ahmad: the IAF has a broad base of supporters, but presently and historically, their core has depended on jordanians of palestinian origin.

  • Naseem,

    If their core still depends on that layer of Jordan – as it had been labeled and categorized – the IAF would definitely have higher polls than whats estimated at 10% max according to recent surveys.

    Even those 10% that are within almost full dominance of political life in Jordan will decrease once true opponents claim power such as Nationalists, Liberals, Democrats, and Communists.

    Once a full interacting civil society matures by both public and government; all religious, tribal, ethnic trends will be narrowed down to the less educated, the less exposed, the less cultured, and the less fortunate as these categories –dividing system-thrive on fulfilling needs by non contribution basis of their individuals.

    Regional role can not be ignored in any single country of the cursed middle east. IAF opposes the government on their regional agenda and that’s where they meet with the public, which nurtured a sense in the last decade that the Islamic economic vision might be a solution to their ambitions that governments failed.

    The rise of Islamic movement happened directly after the fall of the last Islam Sultanate trying to grip on power again. All their rises and falls where across borders with limited time differences. A normal absorbed component of society till the 50s where they fell against Arab Nationalism throughout the 60s, then rose again during 70s and 80s against Nationalists, where in the 90s and till now fell against liberals and seculars. MY POINT is that they were always regional and local Jordanian issue was just affected by their global agenda, rather than them being purely with a Jordanian emphasis (given the Palestinian complexity when you address any Jordanian issue).

    Due to the series of the unfortunate events that caused the coming parliament to be formed in this shapeless form that it will eventually reach, they would be of a great national benefit if they could just amend the law to enable real political elections in 2011 to elevate and develop Jordan.

Your Two Piasters: