News / Middle East

    Is Jordanian Uprising a Threat to King Abdullah's Rule?

    Jordanian supporters of the Islamic Action Front carry a giant Jordanian flag as they demand for political reforms during a protest in Amman, March, 4, 2011.
    Jordanian supporters of the Islamic Action Front carry a giant Jordanian flag as they demand for political reforms during a protest in Amman, March, 4, 2011.
    Cecily Hilleary
    Every Friday since late 2010, small groups of protesters have been gathering across Jordan to air complaints about basic things like rising prices and high unemployment in the kingdom. Fearing a full-scale uprising similar to the one that has gripped neighboring Syria, King Abdullah II early on began promising fundamental reforms. But the protests have begun to escalate, and some analysts fear that if the king doesn’t deliver soon, Jordan’s “peaceful” Arab Spring could go from a simmer to full boil.

    Sean Lee Yom, assistant professor of political science at Temple University, says the protests include Jordanians of a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. He also says he is surprised at the level of “vitriol and dissent” aimed at both king and queen. “It’s unprecedented in the kingdom which has been ruled by the same family since 1950,” says he.

    In February 2011, a group of Bedouin tribes published an open letter to the king, accusing his wife, Queen Rania, an ethnic Palestinian, of corruption. The 36 signatories called on the king to return “to the treasury land and farms given to the [queen's] Yasin family.” They also called for the introduction of modern election laws to ensure free and transparent voting in the kingdom. And, they warned that if their calls were disregarded, Jordan could be thrown into the same kind of chaos as has been witnessed in other countries affected by the Arab Spring.
    Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania (file photo)Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania (file photo)
    x
    Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania (file photo)
    Jordan's King Abdullah and Queen Rania (file photo)

    "It’s not that they demand ethnic purity in the royal family,” says Yom, “except that they see [Queen Rania] is Palestinian and they see a very lavish lifestyle, and they hear reports about massive corruption in the state, and there are not enough jobs and the governments are ineffective and the parliament does nothing but bicker.”

    This has come as a shock to the monarchy, says Yom, because tribesmen in Jordan’s heartland have always been the kingdom’s political backbone.

    Economic woes

    Jordan is a small country with few resources, which relies heavily on foreign aid. Since inheriting the throne in 1999, Abdullah has made economic development a priority. Jordan joined the World Trade Organization and signed a free trade agreement with the United States. But these steps have offered little protection from the global economic slowdown and resulting rise in oil prices. Regional instability has reduced gas imports from Egypt. The United Nations estimates that Jordan now hosts more than 30,000 Iraqi refugees and 2,000 asylum-seekers from the Horn of Africa. An additional 30,000 Syrians have now fled to Jordan, further straining its resources.

    Syria is one of Jordan’s biggest trading partners, but the unrest there has cut trade in half; Syria is also an important conduit for Jordan’s economic relations with Turkey and Europe, which have also been impacted. More than 14 percent of Jordanians are said to be living below the poverty line and more than 12 percent are unemployed, even though unofficial statistics put the latter number at 30 percent.

    Rising ethnic tensions

    Jordan has a population of 6.5 million, more than half of whom are Palestinians, refugees from the 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars or their descendants. Demographics are a very sensitive subject in Jordan. For one, some, including factions in Israel, have suggested Jordan as a Palestinian homeland alternative to the West Bank and Gaza – a vision that has been deemed unacceptable by both Jordanians and Palestinians. Fear of being outnumbered has also led to a rise of nativist sentiment among Jordan’s tribes, which seek to protect and preserve Jordan for “real Jordanians.”

    "These conservative tribal Jordanians,” says Yom, “because of the 1970 civil war and a host of other historical legacies, will never, ever accept that their country is majority Palestinian and will do everything in their power to make sure that the monarchy represents the tribal communities before it represents the Palestinians.”

    Only few Palestinians are participating in the protests, which may explain why Jordan’s Arab Spring has been so small in size. That is not to say, however, that Palestinians don’t have anything to complain about. While some of them have attained prominence and affluence, in general, they face ongoing discrimination and have little access to positions of political power.

    Early on in his rein, King Abdullah acknowledged that Palestinians have been marginalized and vowed to change this. At the same time, according to Human Rights Watch, Jordan has arbitrarily stripped thousands of Palestinian Jordanians of their citizenship over the past few years, depriving them of basic rights to education and health care. In 2010, Jordan’s interior minister denied revoking anyone’s citizenship, saying Jordan had merely "suspended" giving out social security numbers “pending reunification of families" in the West Bank. Some suggest Jordan is trying to control and minimize the demographics of the Palestinian population in an effort to ward off any prospects of being designated a Palestinian homeland.

    Ironically, hosting a large Palestinian refugee population has worked to the benefit of Jordan’s economic development. The Migration Policy Institute says Jordan receives large amounts of development assistance from the international community to subsidize refugees.

    Reform

    For the past year, King Abdullah has managed the crisis in his kingdom by addressing protesters’ individual concerns. When Islamists, leftists, nationalists and others protested against the government of former prime minister Samir El-Rifai in October 2010, Abdullah sacked him and his government and appointed a new premier.

    “Throughout the year when small-scale protests broke out,” says Yom, “within traditionally loyal tribal towns like Tafileh and Karak, Abdullah responded by visiting these towns and giving targeted promises and pledges.” For example, after meeting with tribal leaders in Karak in June 2011, Abdullah instructed the authorities to create a craftsmen’s zone, build free housing for the poor, and open the door to young people's recruitment into the armed services and security institutions.

    Also in June 2011, King Abdullah made a series of big promises which Yom says go far beyond addressing individual grievances: “The promise of a future constitutional monarchy in which the parliament, rather than the court, would appoint the government…, the promise of a completely new election law that would be more fairly representative, as well as a far more transparent government…that would eradicate corruption and allow for equal participation.”

    Missed opportunities

    In October, 2011, Abdullah appointed former Hague Court judge Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh as prime minister of Jordan, replacing Marouf al-Bakhit who had earlier been accused of corruption. Al-Khasawneh was widely viewed as a “clean” politician.

    But according Amer Sabaileh, a blogger and political analyst who teaches at the University of Jordan, Al-Khasawneh missed a “golden opportunity” to institute reforms.

    “He had his chance for six months and he didn’t deliver anything,” Sabaileh said. “From the first day, he was blaming other powers for interfering in his government, which was not true because at the very end, he took no steps on the ground to show his willingness to reform.”

    For example, says Sabaileh, Al-Khasawneh did not even travel to rural areas to visit his constituents, nor did he connect with the people in any other way. "He didn’t meet with any politicians, political parties or what we call the ‘New Popular Movement.’”

    In late April 2012, King Abdullah appointed a new prime minister, Fayez Tarawneh, and tasked him with implementing a new electoral law in time for a parliamentary poll later this year. But Sabaileh is skeptical that even Tarawneh will be able to deliver.

    “I don’t think change is linked to people,” Sabaileh says. “Change is linked to [government] policy, it’s linked to willingness, it’s linked to a real reform agenda and proof on the ground… No absolute monarchy can remain an absolute monarchy. This is what history proves. Jordan has been governed in the same way for 90 years. It’s impossible to keep running the country with the same old faces.”

    The prospects

    So, whether King Abdullah will be able to offer the changes some of his people demand and stave off Jordan’s Arab Spring remains an open question. Will he turn his promises into concrete steps or will they remain declarative in nature? Sabaileh, for one, is skeptical. He says good intentions have never been enough to protect regimes.

    Still, Yom believes that the signs of any type of large-scale uprising aren’t there yet.

    “The indicators that political scientists pay attention to, if we’re trying to project a revolution in a country that’s ruled by a monarchical dynasty, are the slogans,” he says.

    “Are they turning from, ‘We want reform, we want policy changes, we want our king to rule differently,’ are they turning from that to ‘We want a different king’ or ‘We want a different regime?’”

    Right now, says Yom, most Jordanian critics still believe that the king has a right to rule and that the monarchy has the legitimacy to rule Jordan. But at the same time Yom believes that Abdullah needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing by his citizens. If he doesn’t, says Yom, everything could change.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora