In the past few weeks there has been general, although somewhat minor, discussion as to whether Jordan is next on the revolutionary list of the Arab world, following in Tunisia’s footsteps. Much of that discussion has been generated by people who are not Jordanian and/or understand fairly little about Jordan, and while I did recently attempt to address the statement as to why Jordan is not Tunisia, it seems many misunderstandings continue to exist and persist, specifically in the context of increasing protests in the Kingdom. Those reading or watching the news have seen much of the opposition take to the streets every Friday, calling for the fall of the government and, more specifically, lower prices. Such scenes have fueled the perception that Jordan is now facing a political crisis such as that of Tunisia and that within a few weeks, the King and Queen will be “palace hunting in Jeddah” as one recent tweet ridiculously put it.
As a Jordanian who believes this country requires some massive changes and reforms; as a Jordanian whose writings have focused largely on the problematics and possible solutions to the elements we are facing as a people and as a country, and, as a Jordanian who believes that much of this can be accomplished – I would say that any notions of an approaching overhaul of the Hashemite presence in Jordan borders on fallacy. And those who continue to encourage this perception have only demonstrated the degree to which they are out of touch with the long-standing traditional Jordanian societal system as well as the Jordanian street.
Whether some like it or not, HM King Abdullah, is widely liked and the Hashemite establishment is widely accepted and/or respected within Jordan. There are those who will disagree with me, and I am sure some of them will be along shortly to voice their own discontent, but my statement is based purely on the majority. Be they of Jordanian origin or Palestinian origin or Circassian origin or what have you, these loyalties are widespread, and are enough to sustain the status quo. There are those who will claim otherwise, and those who will attempt to split tickets over the demographics and claim that Jordanians of Palestinian origin have no loyalty to the crown, and those people would be sadly mistaken. Whether some like it or not, this is simply how things are.
I should emphasize that this is not some sycophantic defense of the monarch. There are others who take care of that job on a daily basis. This is simply a statement of realities on the ground as I see them.
Now, the source of this relationship between the people and the monarchy has many reasons and factors. It is difficult to succinctly dissect them all, but here are a few that attempt to explain why the Hashemite establishment isn’t going anywhere in the context of recent events.
First, the monarchy is not seen as an isolated figurehead but an intricate part of a delicate system where societal balances must be maintained. Jordanians recognize that what maintains the stability in this country is the presence of the Hashemite establishment and all that comes with it. Moreover, the monarchy’s interwoven system has undeniably created an environment where way too many people are dependent on its existence and/or benefit from its existence, whether directly or indirectly. This ranges from top-level officials to the average person waiting outside the Royal Court with an ordinary request, such as getting a son or daughter in to university – to be fulfilled by the King. Subsequently, this has meant that too much is at stake for too many people should this system disappear tomorrow. I should also emphasize the fact that a great deal of the country is educated and brought up to be loyal to the King. Indeed, loyalty to the King is seen as loyalty to the country. They are intertwined and people some times have difficulty separating the two.
Then there’s the dynamic which has been established to allow people to feel marginally empowered. The government, appointed by the King, is largely seen and accepted as an official straw man. It is a figure that is established to carry out the King’s vision and, when things go wrong, it is a figure the masses attack in an effort to voice their concerns about current affairs. The monarchy remains a thick red line, and people avoid attacking it, but few seem to feel the need as the state “allows” them to manifest their wrath upon the government, and this has become acceptable. Everyone knows it is the King who appoints the government, but this is the dynamic that has been set up to allow people to vent out accordingly without massively disrupting the balance – and it is a dynamic that people have largely accepted and I don’t personally see it disappearing any time soon.
Some of the slogans I’ve read or heard cheering on or flattering the King stem from the belief by some that the King is seen as being “on their side” and it is therefore the government who is to blame for bad policies. This perception or belief, whether it is real or simply part of the theatrics, is demonstrated whenever a dramatic political event initiated by the King takes place, such as the appointment of a new government or the dissolution of a parliament.
All of this and more can be seen manifesting in recent protests on the streets of Jordan, which brings us to current events.
These protests need to be framed correctly as it seems many, specifically the international media, has placed them within the context of a Tunisian like build-up to an overthrow of a regime. One needs to recognize that these protests are, by far and large, probably some of the most peaceful protests we have ever experienced in Jordan, specifically within the last ten years. They are well managed by their respective organizers, and the security apparatus has done little to interfere with them, even going so far as to hand out water to protesters at a recent rally – something that has never happened. To anyone who has been on the ground, one can see that the protesters are calm and the security forces are unfazed. They’ve seen worse; a lot worse.
We have seen a lot more “chaos” during protests related to the Palestinian issue, including the last war on Gaza, the Jenin massacre and the the second intifada, to name but a few that emerged over the last decade. These protests are unlikely to get violent and are taking place simply because the state allows them to. The state is following its traditional policy of allowing the people to vent out in times of high frustration, and thus allowing them to “wear themselves out” before closing the lid on things again. Think of it as a steam cooker. During such times, the state is often seen bypassing its traditional rule of granting permissions and licenses to every single protest, and simply “allows” them to take place, technically, illegally. Such a policy falls in line with the general approach to maintain balances within the Kingdom, and have worked in the past when emotions ran much higher than now.
We should also recognize that the people themselves have no alternative to the status quo, nor are they all that interested in such a thing. They are not on the street calling for democracy or an overthrow of the entire system, or even the monarchy specifically. They are not demanding freedom of the press, freedom of assembly or freedom from the yoke of tyranny. Their demand is boiled down to one specific thing: a better financial situation. Ordinary people want to be able to afford living in one of the most expensive Arab countries per capita, on a salary that is one of the lowest in the Arab world per capita. In other words, it’s about the bread, and in Jordan, bread comes before freedom.
To add to all this, no political party in Jordan or even any political organization, has any real power to create and/or contribute any critical mass to this entire situation. The Islamists will show up and wave their flags, and they will be joined by the socialists and professional associations, but most of these groups will, in their typical fashion, clash with one another and end up fracturing the cause. It should also be recognized that these protests present an opportunity for various concerned parties to vent out their own frustrations and deal with their own issues. In the past year we have seen teachers, veterans and right-wing “Trans-Jordanians” beginning to become increasingly vocal about the affairs of state, and some of these people are noticeable actors in, and orchestrators of these current protests. Moreover, the Islamists are already demonstrating their own agenda, using these protests to demand political changes that could help empower them and solidify their own base, which has been fractured in recent times due to constant party infighting and self-marginalization from mainstream political affairs. In other words, everyone has their own agenda and there may not be enough collective force around the same issue of the economy to help sustain these protests, or lead them to the desired finish line.
So, how will this end?
However it ends, it will not be in revolution – in my opinion.
As I suggested earlier, the resignation of the current government (followed by the appointment of another) may be a bit unlikely this time around given that the Rifai cabinet has seen too many changes since its inception, and will send too many signals of instability. Jordanians, for some odd reason, have a thing for being the causation for a government to resign, and see any problem, no matter how small as requiring the resignation of a minister or an entire cabinet. But, in any case, if the Rifai government does depart, it will do so quietly, months from now, after things have calmed down, so as to not appear as if it were a direct result of the protests (another signal of instability). I could be wrong about this, but that’s my read of things on that front.
In the meantime, the government will follow its traditional policy of appeasing the masses, specifically with a slew of price reductions and raises in various sectors (specifically public sector employees), until people calm down, which one can except to happen fairly soon. If the Jordan team had progressed in the Asia Cup the end of the protests could have happened even sooner.
What Jordanians are looking for is not a revolution but an evolution of the state. People are looking for reform that is not macro and philosophical, but is tangible – as in, food-on-the-table tangible. Better jobs, higher wages, better education for the kids, good schools, safer neighborhoods, lower prices, lower taxes, better modes of affordable public transportation, etc. These are the things that matter to the average Jordanian and to the ordinary protester. This is what we see written on signs and chanted by the crowds.
As for the Jordanian state. While I do not see it as under any threat from the people, it must adjust to the new status quo. The emergence of a population that sees and hears and reads the events transpiring throughout the Arab world, with Tunisia being no exception. What happens post-protests is what will matter. My assumption and fear is that the state will see these events as an anomaly, and depend too greatly on the support that the monarchy has. Instead, this should be seen as an opportunity to pursue a path of reforms once outlined in the country’s National Agenda, which needs updating but remains a solid blueprint for change. This needs to be recognized as an opportunity to move forward all the more, and not just another incident that requires short-run solutions to mitigate the current storm. Improved transparency and communication are the state’s first stop on that path, followed by aggressive strategies that will yield positive changes.
Jordan needs to prove that not all evolutions mandate revolution.
The only reason I don’t comment on your blog so often is the fact that you write posts that are simply that good, they’re pretty comprehensive, sensible, and have as little careless speculation as possible, and even when they do you are always so careful to point it count clearly, and I usually feel like I have nothing to add.
The only reason I decided to comment this time is just to add my voice in support of all of what you said here, to the many comments this post will have, and I have a reason to believe this post will have so many comments. We seriously need to let go as a nation from cold-war era sensationalism and conspiracy paranoia and head towards a healthy sense of sensibility and pragmatism.
Only then can we move on in regard to reforms which, as this post highlights from start to end, we desperately need.
I am not sure about the “HM King Abdullah, is widely liked and the Hashemite establishment is widely accepted and/or respected within Jordan” claim. to me, it seems that king Abdulla is using the appointed government as a “human shield” countering the ever increasing discontent of Jordanians. In addition, in the absence of freedom of speech, how is one going to know the degree to which king Abdulla is liked? I say that as I remember the large portraits of Bin Ali thrown in the trash after he had fled the country!
another issue I would like to point out is the system of mutual dependency that has been created to strengthen support ala I grant you “makruma” and you sing hashmi, hashmi!
Great Post and very enlightening perspectives. I totally agree with you and would add to that one simple fact. In Tunisia the project to establish a real state with a unified and homogenous citizenship-based society has succeeded mainly due to secularism that has melted the tribal, religious and sectarian conflicts. When Tunisians go to the streets after decades of horrible repression that cannot be compared to Jordan they can depend on a constitution and a unified society for the dangerous transitional phase after the regime fall down. In Jordan the tools of expression are much more open than in Tunisia and the big majority of the people know that any alternative other than the Hashemite region would mean civil conflict as the society has not evolved into a modern citizenship based system. Despite the fact that a comprehensive political reform is needed the social contract between the regime and the people will continue to prevail, while I am afraid that the spontaneous social uprising that we felt the past two weeks will be hijacked by the opportunist Islamists.
“What Jordanians are looking for is not a revolution but an evolution of the state.” Post in a nutshell.
Thanks for the dissection of the issue.
I’m surprised how much Al Jazeera is trying to stir up the pot in Jordan. Almost everyday there is news about Jordan that makes you feel that a revolution will happen tomorrow.
I agree with you Black Iris and I think the majority of Jordanians whether Jordanian, Palestinian or from whatever decent agree that the King is vital to the survival of Jordan. This is not only because we have no qualified men to lead but also because we don’t have a mature political system, credible politicians or even credible political parties.
At the same time, I believe that the people must have a voice even when it comes to address mistakes by the royal palace. I don’t understand how is it possible to have a government that only lasts for a year or two and expect it to address poverty, unemployment and corruption.
It seems to me that appointment of Prime Ministers is a random process that the royal palace does whenever it likes. I remember shortly before the apointment of PM Samir Rifaei, His father Zaid Rifaei resigned from the senate so his end of career/loyalty bonus was to appoint his son.Sa’id haiel srour was running for parliment, he loses so they give the ministry of interior affairs. No wonder nothing ever changes.
You mentioned people standing in lines to get their kids into universities. This practice really corrupted our university systems since many unqualified students get seats on the backs of much more qualified students. Also, it seems that these favours are mainly given to Jordanians of beduin decent where the palace gets the majority of its support and the remaining people “the majority” don’t get as much help. There have been reports that many of the kids causing fights and violence in universities have been admitted by a royal favour. This of course
Finally, isn’t it time for the people to know the budget of the royal palace and how it really operates its huge budget.
I’m not trying to stir up the pot but I think these are legitimate things that we should debate as Jordanians and not shy away from. After all we all have repect and admiration to the royal family and I think being honest wwith our king and ourselves will make the country stronger and protect it from any revolutions.
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I got to say this , Revolution is most-needed to change the course of our destiny , absolute power corrupt absolutely, we live in the 21 century and i still see people warship kings, it is just mind boggling !
@Young Turk: thank you and i do agree with your note on much need pragmatism.
@mab3oos: the monarch has always used the government as a human shield. things are no different today than they were 40 years ago. as for being liked, you simply have to live here and interact with people from all walks of life to understand the degree to which the King is liked. I am not saying that people worship him like a God-like figure, but he has more than enough support from the masses to rule. this is a perception that is valid if one lives here.
the mutual support system you point to is something i highlighted with the culture of dependency that has been created in jordan. but that is not necessarily something the monarchy relies on. for anyone who knows anything about jordanians knows you cant count on their support for anything. even if you give them 50jds to vote for you in an election, they’ll take it and vote for the other guy.
I agree with this. It rings especially true for tribal leaders. The Hashemite establishment remains an internal peace broker, designed to maintain the societal balance.
this all depends how we define opportunism. I see them as no different from any other organization wanting to capitalize on this situation. As i tried to highlight before, they have much to gain from the situation.
@Sam: I agree with most of what you said, but I should point out that I believe Zaid rifai resigned after Samir rifai was appointed. there were a few days between both events leaving people to wonder whether two branches of government would be controlled by the same family. that said, the appointment of the prime ministers is not random at all.
@TheFreeJordanian: “I disagree with you right of the bat” ….of course you do.
First off, I have nothing to gain from anything I’m writing. I have no plans to apply for a government job any time soon (and I doubt I’d be accepted after much of what i’ve written on this blog) so none of what i say is an attempt to curry favor with anyone any where. This is simply, as I mentioned before, a general perception of the Jordanian street – whether you, or I, or anyone else likes it or not. It’s there.
This is not a justification nor an excuse for the existence of the monarchy, and you need not point out history which shows that no ruler lasts forever. This is a statement of two current realities: 1) it exists and 2) it has general support. As for the reasons of this support that you pointed out, they are old cliche perceptions that are faulty to a large extent.
Saying the only reason the King is in power is because of western support, is akin to Arabs who believe that should the US stop supporting Israel, we would be able to defeat it, when in reality, the latter is strong enough to defeat all Arab armies combined, with or without US support. While the Monarchy has its support from the west, and specifically the US, no doubt, as I said before, it remains an intricate part of what this country is, and its removal is akin to dissecting a butterfly’s wing and still expecting it to fly.
Secondly, with regards to tribal support – yes, it’s there for all the obvious reasons. But it does not stand alone. The King’s support extends beyond the tribes and throughout the various self-interest groups that make up this society. Your instantce (and that of others who are similar notions) that the King’s only support in the country is amongst the tribes is to exclude support from Jordanians of Palestinian and other origins, much of whom demonstrate just as much loyalty to the country and its leader. Ironically, when the topic of discrimination comes up, Jordanians of Palestinian origin tend to emphasize their loyalty as a measure of equality, and they are of course right.
Again, I am not saying these perceptions apply to every single Jordanian citizen, but no one other than Mubarak has 100% support in their country. What I am saying is that the King’s support is more than enough to sustain the monarchy.
And as for the changing nature of the tribe, this has already happened and it has changed little to nothing – but it seems you are disconnected from that reality. Moreover, this is perhaps the most discontented the tribes have ever been after feeling they have been cut out of the economic pie for over a decade – yet their support is unwavering.
Lastly, if you want to continue in this discussion i need to remind you to do it respectfully and avoid throwing around labels, to say nothing of tired Marxist cliches. They contribute little to the discussion.
Thank you Naseem. Since the “revolution” in Tunisia, Aljazeera and Alikhwan have been drawing ludicrous parallels between Jordan and Tunisia.
In defense of the monarch i have to say this; Even though the King is human and has his flaws he at least is guaranteed to do his best because of his legacy if for nothing else, whether his best is good enough is a highly subjective matter but i assure you it is better than anyone else’s half ass job at a 4 or 6 year presidency…also, judging by presidencies in the ME a 30 year presidency that ends with appointing your son is a dictatorship…i’d take our king any given day.
Now let me offer my usual a country sucks because of the sum of its sucky parts rhetoric.
Jordan cannot become a complete democracy cause no such thing exists first of all, and we the Jordanian people can’t even pick parliamentary representatives, people will kill each other to rule.
on the most local level in baladeyat elections the idiotic mentality rules where everyone wants the position without the intent to service the community…it is a service position!!
A person who CAN get a makroma, evade taxes, or rob the treasury will do so ..its cultural and social corruption that entitles a citizen to everything he can get away with whether its stealing paper, pens and TIME from his employer, getting a makroma for his son even though he can afford his education, a PM voting for his own benefit package or a minister robbing millions from the government.
If you have 1st graders littering their schools and teenagers destroying their neighborhoods you will have a corrupt government and it is not the government’s fault that kids are raised to litter steal and vandalize.
I like your post and believe it is excellently written, as usual. However, there is one fundamental statement you made which i do not think is defensible. You say “HM King Abdullah, is widely liked and the Hashemite establishment is widely accepted and/or respected within Jordanâ€. You can’t build an argument on this statement, which you have done, when people do not feel free to criticize the monarchy. Unlike the almost non-existence of data on the King’s popularity, you can find data on Jordanian’s perceptions of their freedom of speech (see here ). Personally, I like the King and believe he has the country’s interest at heart. Still, I can’t generalize this to the population. Because if I did, then i can just make the same statement about every Arab ruler, including Ben Ali a month before he was deposed.
Freedom of speech opens people’s minds and changes their beliefs about so many things, almost overnight, and especially if they were previously repressed. Consider the Tunisian press. According to Mohammad Kreishan, an Aljazeera news presenter, journalists who used to sing the praises of Ben Ali a few days ago now can’t tire of waxing lyrical on the uprising. Are they hypocrites? Most probably many are, but there are some who really must have convinced themselves that Ben Ali was the best for Tunisia, but now think otherwise after freedom.
(I am just using Tunisia as an example. I believe that anyone who compares Jordan to Tunisia is a moron, as one tweet said.)
“See here” link was for “The State of Democracy in Jordan surveys”, Democracy in Jordan 2003, by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.
“In general, percentages of those believing that they can express their opinions without risks were very low, i.e. those believing that freedoms are safeguarded to a great extent. A large majority of respondents (83.2%) reported that they could not criticize the government openly express disagreement with government opinions without being exposed along with their family members to negative consequences in terms of security and living standards. Specifically, the percentage of respondents expressing such fear increased from 69.9% in 1999 to 83.2% in 2003 and the percentage of respondents believing that they cannot participate in peaceful political opposition activities (e.g. demonstrations, sit-ins, publications, essays, lectures, opposition political seminars) without running the risk of the same negative consequences increased from 70.9% in 1999 to 77.6% this year.”
I will have more to say later, but the aid/loans are used to pay off half the population, not to mention military aid from the US. Cut the aid and the house of cards will simply crumble like my favorite coffee cake. The Loyalty you speak of is not to the person per-se but rather to what the people made him stand for: the bread winner,aid collecter,”goodies” distributer, and stability maintainer.
We lack loyalty to principles and human values, we became so selfish and so needy that we no longer feel ashamed to ask for a “makromeh” and a gift. we became simply a herd. sheep.. we became the dog from the movie UP when he first meets the old man..
People need to understand that there is a relationship between the food on their table and their apathy. that there is a relationship between corruption, lack of accountability and moral courage, and their present and future. we need to ask our selves whether we want a state built around values or one that is conditional?
Values are timeless. Persons aren’t.
I’ll start my post with a quick Thomas Paine quote (a mandatory read for every Jordanian, every Arab):
“Male and female are the distinctions of nature, good and bad the distinctions of heaven; but how a race of men came into the world so exalted above the rest, and distinguished like some new species, is worth inquiring into, and whether they are the means of happiness or of misery to mankind.”
Whether King Abdullah is liked is debatable. You might have people singing about him in public, but in their private homes they are a lot more honest. Example: I’ve yet to meet a Jordanian outside of Jordan who had something good to say about the Monarchy. This just shows the level of hypocrisy the Jordanian people are at. Also, the King is not as popular with the tribes and their leaders, the key to his monarchy.
While I agree with you wholeheartedly that the government is just a scapegoat for decisions made higher up, I disagree that the people see the king on their side. The only reason that appears be true is because the people are becoming more willing to criticize the government, when fully knowing who they are truly criticizing.
I disagree the state is allowing people to vent. You over-estimate the power of the state in Jordan. These are not protests led by Palestinians or Islamists, they are protests by southern Jordanians who are finally beginning to feel poverty. For the last 5 years, with land prices extremely overpriced, these people experienced money like they’ve never before. Now, with the government having absolutely no money, these people are feeling the grips of poverty. The days where a Jordanian household had 2 cars and 6 cellphones are definitely over. And the soldier making 200 dollars a month is not very far from this poverty, another worrying sign for the regime. In fact, a worrying sign is that the people who are the angriest are those who cannot be corrupted, teachers and workers. A Ministry of Interior worker can easily get paid for favors, a teacher not so much. While I agree with you that a Tunisian-style revolution is not possible, a Jordanian-style one is definitely plausible.
Also, I’d like to congratulate you on a great post, truly a gripping read. I love the cynicism and if there is anything we need in Jordan is to be more cynical.
Another interesting blogpost from The Black Iris. An important point is also that HM Abdullah is not like Ben Ali and the Hashemite family is in no way like the Trebulsi clan. Late king Hussein made it a point of order that his family should stay out of Jordanian private business – and I believe this is to a certain degree still the case. Jordan is not an example of a kleptocracy – the Hashemites are to clever for that.
“Saying the only reason the King is in power is because of western support, is akin to Arabs who believe that should the US stop supporting Israel, we would be able to defeat it, when in reality, the latter is strong enough to defeat all Arab armies combined, with or without US support. While the Monarchy has its support from the west, and specifically the US, no doubt, as I said before, it remains an intricate part of what this country is, and its removal is akin to dissecting a butterflyâ€™s wing and still expecting it to fly.”
I disagree again, US military aid to Jordanian government security and it’s various wings not only play a major role in sustaining the regime upper hand in which at the end of the day is not going to keep the status quo evolving, but exposing the weakness of the regime.
The unholy alliance between The US empire and the mini western constructed Jordanian state will come to an end, due in part to the collapse of the American empire that we are witnessing right this moment(it might take 10,20 or thirty years but it is coming rest assured ladies and gentlemen) .
Luckily for us, US support to Jordan security wings will dwindle and vanish because the US empire would not be able to aid it’s self let alone aid it’s puppets and it’s client state through the world .
Once that support is no longer available to prop the rigem and it’s loyal costumers, the cronies and their customers around the rigem will most likely abandon it at the end of the day..
Great post even though I disagree on some points.
As a Jordanian, I am yet to find any of my friends who likes HM but yet, they are all loyal. We all want stability and the king is doing OK despite the many mistakes he’s been doing. About freedom of speech, the situation is extremely bad. Some don’t even have privacy on chat! And they get jailed while the king is 100% aware of it but as always, ppl get the impression that he isn’t and he’s on “their side” as you said, Naseem. People are in denial/scared, that’s why they like to think their king is “perfect” while actually, no one’s perfect.
One thing that would shock the West, a poll. Ask Jordanians on the street “Is the king perfect? Has he done any mistakes? Is he prone to mistakes?” I am sure 99.9% would answer in favor of him and think of him as a god. They are scared and they are oppressed.
Rule: Scared ppl are not happy and they don’t like the person who is pressing them and limiting their freedoms.
Humans are born free and they like to remain free, even in their speech. It’s genetics. Don’t convince me that ppl like the king because they do not.
Although I agree with your stance and pretty much everything you said – you and I (and a good chunk of people commenting here) live in West Amman. Remember that the demonstrations started from al Husseini mosque and not from Kalouti – and Yasser Abu Hilaleh is pretty much in tune with the pulse of refugee camps and East Amman residents.
Jazeera doesn’t stir up things (although they do dramatize) for the sake of opposing the government – again, I acknowledge that they dramatize, but they usually have some truth to fall back on. What bothers me is that you’re projecting your stance and opinions on the rest of Jordanians – write this post on Mahjoob forum and I think that there’s a good chance that reactions will be significantly different. I understand why and how one would do it, but it’s not an absolute truth.
What I am trying to say is that yes, there won’t be a revolution, yes, bread comes before freedom, and yes, I doubt that anyone would set himself on fire. But all that doesn’t mean that there isn’t resentment towards the Monarchy and not just the government (every person knows that the government is dissolved and formed by HM) and the fact that now it is more permissible to criticize, even attack, the government, given the events in Tunisia, only means that all of the demonstrations weren’t warning signs of a revolution, but are simply to absorb the anger of the masses. The same applies to the super civilized attitude of the policemen – I see it purely as another mechanism to absorb anger and also a stunt for cameras. Our Monarchy realizes all this and that you cannot impose anything on the population, otherwise, the pressure cooker might just blow up.
I have no clue what will happen, but a part of me *really* feels that that portion of the population, along with the other portion who are blind, staunch advocates of the Monarchy, have zero interest in reforms in Jordan. The former want their bread and butter (and Jordan cannot give it to them), and the latter want the status quo. The in-betweens (aka the razor-thin educated class, intellectual elite and other “tourists-in-their-country”) who are genuinely vested in reforms, such as yourself and the people who share your stance, are a miniscule emerging class in Jordan. And guess who will be the first barrier to stand in your way? 🙂
Just my two piasters, and would love to know what you think.
@Nas The problem I have with your post is that you are recognizing the status quo and then talking about it like its going to change from within. You are absolutely right to point to the fact that protests in Jordan have had very specific demands and that the Monarchy continues to be a red line, either out of loyalty or fear. I’m especially appreciative of you pointing out the second point. But you don’t seem to recognize the consequences of this fact: the inherent limits of reforms within the existing system. The problem isn’t what Maha says it is, that the King is human and has flaws. The problem is that the priority of a king, or any other type of ruler, is always going to be the stability of the system (in our case the Monarchy) before anything else. This is the case irrespective of the violence required, the corruption entailed, the lack of transparency necessitated, or bad development policies decreed. We are way past the idea of a benevolent dictator and any suggestion that that is what is happening is either blind allegiance or pure ignorance. But your post, and many others of them, are guilty of this very fact. I can understand not wanting to take a public stand against the Monarchy given the possible consequences. But that doesn’t mean you have to sing the praise of the “reform game” which is ultimately orchestrated to maintain the status quo. I know that not giving praise would mean you wouldn’t get to be part of the game and that seems to be something you are not willing to miss out on. In some ways that makes sense. But isn’t that why the Monarchy continues to be a red line (or is popular in your analysis)? Because people want to stay in the game either by getting money, getting jobs, getting food, or getting permission to speak publicly? Instead of accepting the game that creates popularity and joining it, a more courageous and principled position would be to not play the game. Or at least not in the way you are playing it. If the reform process is one step forward and three steps backward as you put it (and I agree though I think that is intentional), then your posts read like one criticism and three praises for the Monarchy. I understand why you might not criticize the Monarchy. But how about simply not praising it for things it is not doing out of good will but rather out of survival.
@Maha Your justification for the continued denial of democracy is really sad. Democracy and self-determination are rights not privileges. It doesn’t matter what people think or want, you can’t deny them democracy because of it. And there are plenty of ways to ensure that the type of violence you keep mentioning is avoided. History shows that the setting up of democracy is always a difficult and sometimes violent process. But once in place, its a much more stable and less violent system (politically speaking) than a monarchy because everyone has a stake and everyone knows that during any election they might get their turn to be on top. And if they don’t then its because they were unpopular not because they were denied the right to try. Your usual song and dance about the people is simply justifying the current situation. There is little to conclude from your comments except for that Jordan doesn’t deserve democracy because its people aren’t fit for it. In the mean time, you are benefiting quite a lot from this continued lack of democracy. This is not because you are getting paid or something like that, but because the present system lets you go about your hopes and dreams to a much larger extent than it does the majority of people in this country.
Some may not be aware of what’s really happening in Jordan and the world or do not have courage or the abilities to make the change, or the current situaion is very convenient for them. If not now, when will Jordanians be ever ready? status quo means business as usual, for a long long time. Goodnight.
i agree that jordan is not tunisia and that the tunisia scenario will not happen in jordan .. but i disagree with the reasons you gave for why that is ..
nice article… remember that the revolutionary potential of any nation is hard to predict in advance.
I agree entirely with this post; the King and Hashemite family have far too much respect for anyone to worry about a Tunesia-style revolt. I only lived in Jordan for 7 months in 2009, but this fact was very clear to me. I also helped facilitate several interviews for my internship that dealt with conflict assessment in Jordan, including non-violent conflicts such as those that occur through use of the tribal “wasta” system and others. One thing that was emphasized in all the interviews was the faith that was put on HM to prevent too much violence from occuring. People blamed the Parliament, foreign actors, and tribalism, but the King was never blamed. Also, this is an awesome blog; thanks for the consistently good analysis.
Michelle, people didn’t blame the king because they can be imprisoned and/or fined for criticizing him, and it isn’t worth that risk to them to voice their concerns to a woman who was only in the country for as short a time as you were. So they blame Parliament, of which the king appoints the Senate, as his proxy.
I don’t agree at all that the regime is popular in Jordan, and I also think one needs to factor in the influence of the diaspora when assessing whether/when big change will happen. And the Jordanian diaspora is relatively wealthy, educated, free thinking, freedom loving, and large in size. Many would love to return, but won’t until meaningful change happens.
@Anonymous: there is this misconception that the regime actively silences everyone who dares say anything in this country, and in recent years especially, this has been far from the truth. people speak their minds with relative freedom now than ever before. i am not saying that people wouldn’t change their words once placed in front of a camera or microphone – I am talking about having conversations with ordinary people as an ordinary citizen. it is these conversations the yield the perception of support the King has, which I believe to be true, and widespread enough for the hashemite rule to be sustained. I would further argue that much has changed since that 2003 survey (a critical time in our recent history). We have protesters outside the prime minister’s office accusing him of being corrupt out right. That has never happened before, or been allowed to happen.
@Mohanned: completely agree on the aid issue. however, note that the hashemite rule had support long before there was aid, and those that it trickles down to today are some of the most impoverished and outspoken critics of the government. we can argue that these are the so-called trans-jordanians who having been stirring much of the pot this past year. I would also point out that this assumption that should western funding disappear tomorrow, so would the Hashemites, is not one I completely buy in to. Jordanians are fairly politically aware of the country’s situation. Most of these tribal leaders are massive land owners and do not rely on the state directly, to say nothing of the fact that the Hashemites have long been recognized as the wedge that keeps the jenga pieces from toppling. Thats the role.
@Observer: First, the king’s bedrock of support, the tribes, continues to support him. There is disatisfaction, but one hand quickly washes another, and that disatisfaction remains at bay due to a process that has been alive and well for over 60 years. Secondly, I am not saying all the people believe the King is on their side, but this perception does in fact exist amongst some, and i will re-emphasize my use of the word “some” in my original post.
third, i dont think i’m over-estimating the power of the state when it comes to protest. this dynamic of allowing people to vent in times of high frustration in order to appease them for a while has been long proven in jordan. this includes protests “led by palestinians” (which by the way include massive amounts of southern jordanians as some of the biggest protests on that issue always unfold in places like karak and irbid) as well as protests that are seen as solely being “trans-jordanian” or what have you. The 90’s bread riots, where poverty was an issue, is just one example and there are others.
As for poverty. The levels of poverty amongst the trans-jordanians you are emphasizing is not as extreme as what exists in either tunisia or egypt or yemen. No where close. While the average wage in the public sector and army is around 300jd or so, do not forget that the state covers their health care, subsidizes their staple goods, and after 15 years of service these people retire at the age of 40 only to continue receiving their monthly paycheck until they die.
I want to emphasize something once again: none of this is to say that things are peachy in Jordan. People are struggling economically, but what I am saying is that it’s not as bad as what exists in fellow arab nations that are suffering from its extremes, and more importantly, the regime has enough support to sustain it. this is what i believe.
@FreeJordanian: I agree, as I mentioned to Mohanned, that western financial support plays its role, but the support for the regime has existed long before people were “payed off”. It is now the state’s purview to recognize the need to decrease the dependency of public sector employment and help people shift to the private sector. In other words, in order to ensure its stability, there is a need for the government to help facilitate the creation of private sector jobs in order for transitions to take place.
@Med Student: first, as someone who’s life depends greatly on the levels of free speech and expression in jordan i will say what i believe to be true. I will always fight for greater freedoms of speech, but I recognize that today we are more free to say what’s on our minds than we have ever been. anyone who fails to recognize that has seriously lost sight of the context. The critical voices of today, even in the newspapers, are, in my belief, unprecedented in modern jordanian history.
second, i am not basing my perceptions on polls and surveys, which i place little faith in when it comes to such matters. i am basing it on conversations and interactions with jordanians, specifically those outside amman where i often find myself. these are not journalistic interviews, these are ordinary conversations. this is based on events where you see people demonstrating these perception in the most oblivious of ways – ways where no one is going to reward them or is even monitoring them to do so in the first place. again, the hashemite rule is not seen as something far removed, like that of a presidency, but rather part of the social fabric of what it means to be Jordanian. many continue to believe that loyalty to the throne is loyalty to the people and the country. it is unfortunate, as i think loyalty to the land and people must come before all else, but that’s just the reality of it.
again, this not to say things are peachy and everyone kneels before the king in awe. this is to say that he has more than enough support to maintain the throne right now, and talk of a revolution in jordan is, in my opinion, far fetched.
@FH: i agree there is discontent, as such a thing exists in all countries. what my post emphasizes (and my responses here) is that this discontent is not widespread enough, nor is support dwindled enough to expect a full blown revolution. for the most part, the system that has been in place is still working. it is a machine that is chugging along and blowing black smoke and requires massive reform of all its parts – but it continues to exist and work for the time being. second, my beliefs are formed by on-the-ground perceptions i’ve gleaned from all my years of living and working in this country, and operating outside the west ammani, or even ammani bubble in general. i agree with everything else you said in that comment.
@Firas: Just to address some of the accusations you’ve made against me, which either stem from misconceptions or pure ignorance, and quite possibly both — i have no interest in being part of the “game” or benefiting from the system. I do not “refrain” from criticizing the King out of fear or out of loyalty, but because i am interested in genuine reform, and i do frankly believe in his vision for this country as outlined in the national agenda. Not completely, but it is enough to instill some realization that such aspirations are similar to the ones I have for my own country. My criticisms tend to revolve around implementation. Many of the complaints we as citizens have when it comes to government are not about removed issues that may or may not affect us directly (such as corruption) but rather what happens when we have to deal with the public sector employee, when we have to file our taxes, or renew our passports, or what have you. That’s where most of the dysfunction occurs.
Secondly, if you feel my posts are a dance of one criticism and three praises for the king, then i recommend you stop reading because you’re analysis is flawed and all evidence points to otherwise. One need only follow my posts to disprove your conclusion with ease.
Lastly, to clear things up. I am a true believer that the country needs reforms on a political, economic and social level. I do not pledge any blind loyalty to any entity. I believe reform is more than just what the state or anyone else defines it to be. It is about constructive change and I dont need others to define it for me or for us. It is WE who define it.
If you want to have a real debate about the issues, i would encourage you to break with jordanian tradition and avoid relying on ad hominem arguments that center on me personally, and let’s debate the actual issues at hand.
if you’re interested in a genuine debate that is.
@mo: there are other reasons, but this one is what i chose to highlight simply because it is the most assumed. whether by non-arabs, other arabs, media or even some jordanians. this assumption is something that i do not believe to be true.
@neda: absolutely. and i could be proven wrong tomorrow. but for now, im quite confident that much of what i said is valid and it will manifest in the unlikelihood of another tunisia or egypt on jordanian soil.
@AC: I think your assumption that there is a wealthy Jordanian “diaspora” that wont return because the king is the ruler does not ring true at all. those who leave tend to do so for economic prospects and would continue to do so even if we had a democracy tomorrow morning.
In my mind the popularity of the king is not the issue here. In England and Spain the Queen and King are very popular and in some cases well liked, yet they democratic systems that preserves the symbolic traditions of monarchies without sacrificing people’s right to elect their governments. What Jordan needs is a democratic government that will work hard for the people. I personally do not want to see the king deposed or ousted, nor do I want to make the discussion about the the HM. I simply wish to see officials get elected or appointed to work for their people and not to fill their pockets. Holding everyone accountable and no one above the law is what Jordan needs. Jordan is no Tunisia for sure, but if the status Que does remains, I do expect the evolution to become a revolution at any unpredictable time. Also, let us not ignore the external factors that has a great deal of influence on the stability in Jordan. Simply, The US (Israel) would never allow such a revolution to take place in Jordan any time soon. If anything, I hope the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt will serve as a lesson for all Arab leaders, including Kings, Shaikes and presidents that some kind of reform is warranted before things spiral down hell. Folks, these are all subjective point of views and no one for sure knows who is right and who is wrong. I dream of Democratic Arab nations where the people will regain some of their dignity and honor. In his book “” The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope Are Reshaping the World” Professor Dominique MoÃ¯si argues that it is the feelings of fear, humiliation, and hope that are reshaping world politics, and it is these sentiments which are just as influential as the cultural, social, and economic factors that breed political conflict. Moisi define three emotions as particularly significant in shaping the world and outlines three world regions to be respectively shaped by these emotions: hope for Asia, humiliation for the Islamic world and fear for the West.”” That was a direct quote.
I apologize, but I did not proof read my comment before I hit submit it. I guess I was excited about the dialogue. Thank you NAS.
lesson from Tunisia and Egypt is one and only – change is there for those who seek it, dignity is earned and not freely granted, period.