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

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.