The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been following a precise branding strategy. The country became one of the most attractive business and touristic destinations in the Middle East. One slogan dominates the center stage and is the core of the official ideology: Jordan is a haven in the war-torn Middle East. This is a great leap for a country with little historical importance (except archeological), without a coherent national identity and deprived of natural resources. Amman, Jordan’s capital, is trying to be Beirut and Dubai at once – a liberal cosmopolitan city like Beirut and a business hub like Dubai. What is the cost of such a transformation?
Defensive democratization characterizes regimes which respond to threats by cyclic political liberalization are usually aborted when stability is restored. In addition, Jordan’s economic liberalization is taking place not only at the expense of the deprived, but also at that of political liberalization, thus leading to growth without development. In fact, political activity is nearly non-existent in the traditional monarchy. Today, frustration is the key word in many Jordanian cities and among a number of Jordanian groups.
Zarqa, a mostly poor city a couple of minutes outside Amman, is also home to the very infamous Zarqawi (who holds the city’s name) – an Al-Qaeda militant killed in 2006. Many young Jordanians are recruited to join organizations linked to Al-Qaeda fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even Amman’s luxurious hotels were not spared by violence in the 2006 bombings. Every summer, a number of tourists are subject to violent acts (stabbing, shooting) in the more popular areas of Eastern Amman. At the same time, the king of Jordan seems to believe that the most prominent threat comes from Tehran and its Shia crescent – putting an end to the construction of the first Shia mosque in the country in 2006.
Observers, scholars and diplomats in the West are rarely concerned with Jordan’s political development process (unlike that of its neighbors). On the contrary, many praise the Hashemite’s unique management of the country failing to perceive Jordan’s “defensive democratization” as such. When King Abdullah II arrived to the throne, his focus was on fostering Jordan’s modern identity. He launched national campaigns such as “Jordan First” and the “National Agenda” promoting social cohesion. His business plans however slightly shook the traditional support base. He concentrated on pleasing the business elite (majorly Palestinian) at the expense of the tribal leaders.
The Hashemite Kingdom, alien to the region where it established its reign since 1946, sought legitimacy through a support base among tribal chiefs and minorities. These groups were integrated in the state machine through governmental, administrative and military jobs. Facing regional and internal threats, specifically those created by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knowing that an estimated 70% of the Jordanian population is Palestinian, the government has constantly responded with authoritarian measures (martial law, banning of political activities and parties, suffocating civil society, growing role of intelligence, etc.). During the 1980’s, the government was not capable of financing his support base anymore. The IMF recommended the restriction of governmental expenditures. At that point, King Hussein launched a liberalization process that was enhanced by the signature of the peace treaty with Israel in 1994. Once economic prosperity was re-established, political liberalization came to a halt, specifically to paralyze the Muslim Brotherhood which was radically opposed to the peace process with Israel.
Western media, diplomats and scholars seldom have anything to say about Jordan’s democratic development and political liberalization. This is principally explained by the fact that Jordan is a vassal state serving the interest of mainly the USA in the Middle East. It comes as no surprise that according to the Jordan-US free trade agreement, products exported to the USA from Jordan should have a minimum requirement of value added in Israel.
By our contributor: M. Marji