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September 29, 2022

What next in Jordan?

A message posted by a reader in the ‘Comments’ section of a story published by ‘The Economist’ regarding a possible start of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Jordan – in other words the beginning of destabilising the Hashemite monarchy – gives an insightful opinion: “It seems to me that Abdullah just doesn’t get it and that the regime’s days are numbered. /…/ The regime is crumbling under the weight of the Arab Spring, poverty issues that haven’t been properly addressed, rampant corruption at the highest levels, the Islamic Action Front, long-standing inequitable treatment of the Palestinian majority, the clampdown on certain freedoms such as speech and press, and a host of other issues that Abdullah has talked big about but not truly addressed. After 13-1/2 years of this, even the dimmest people can figure out that it’s all just posturing in an effort to buy time. But time is running out. Abdullah is being propped up for now, but for how much longer?”

The reader, mirroring the author’s views, thus wonders how much time does the Jordanian king still have to avoid the fate of the other leaders of the region that heave been deposed – one way or another, meaning by violence (Libya) or by ‘agreeing to it’ and going into exile (Tunis, Yemen) – and deprived of the authoritarian power they had in the past. The Arab turmoil that led to this result, now called ‘The Arab Spring,’ initially was seen as a revolutionary movement aimed at changing the very basics of the ways of the society along the guidelines of democracy, but now it is increasingly perceived as a launching pad for Islamist political forces, with the strongest appeal to the electorate, but remaining opaque when it comes to their future orientation. Above all, the reference of these religiously-oriented forces to a past that is practically incompatible with the democratic ways of society casts a shadow upon the future of these countries and, especially upon the regional geopolitical evolutions, as their exclusivism concerning the existence of Israel as a state is of notoriety for this entire area, not just for Iran.In Jordan, King Abdullah dissolved the Parliament on October 4 and announced new elections next year. These elections – against the opposition parties’ demand, especially against the wish of the Jordan version of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ – resulted in a large protest rally. The opposition demands that elections are no longer held according to the past procedure – i.e. accepting the electoral competition between parties only for one place out of five, with the remainder being reserved to individual candidates, hence easier to influence by the regime – and threaten to boycott the ballot otherwise. Until now, at least, the king gave no hint about his intention to amend the Constitution with this regard, although an expert committee was set up to identify the most appropriate ways of modifying the fundamental law. Apparently, the king’s wish to keep for himself the prerogatives of dissolving the Parliament and issuing decrees are conditions that make impossible an agreement between political forces. Moreover, the king said on American news channels that the main political force of the opposition, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) – the Jordanian version of the Muslim Brotherhood – only represents 12 pc of the country’s electorate, so the boycott threat implicitly would not have a significant impact on the general result. “They are not running because they are not going to do well,” the king said on an influential American TV channel.When the king made the announcements about dissolving the Parliament and holding legislative elections next year, the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties organised a massive protest meeting. Two days after the announcement, 15,000 people rallied in a large square of Amman, carrying protest banners and shouting slogans of which some were poorly disguised threats against the king, like ‘Remember Ghaddafi’ or ‘Next stop, Tahrir Square.’ Maybe the number of protesters is unimpressive, although the rally was the largest seen by Amman since the start of the ‘Arab Spring,’ but one must bear in mind that authorities tried hard to discourage people from attending the protest. Also worth mentioning is that the rally, a prelude to what will come soon, has been attended neither by all the opposition parties – the most important of them is led by a former secret service chief – nor by the leaders of Bedouin tribes that represented so far the main supporting pillar of the Hashemite monarchy.The Jordanian problem has both a political and an economic aspect. As a matter of fact, the country’s economy is in trouble – high unemployment and an oversized state apparatus – and the need for an IMF support through a massive cash injection is imperative. Or, this can only happen if a rigorous austerity programme is set in place, meaning the suspension of subsidies for utilities and massive layoffs throughout the state sector, as well as a stricter fiscal regime. The certain recipe for an increase of people’s unrest. Until now, the king has postponed twice in the last months the enactment of such measures. The recent measure of dissolving the Parliament, preceded by the replacement of the premier (repeated several times these years) is probably meant by King Abdullah to absorb the widespread unrest. But, as some experts believe, such measures already lost their efficiency and what is needed is an agreement with the significant political factors, especially with the IAF, in order to enforce the reform programme.In the Mideast, as it is known and can be seen on this occasion too, everything is connected to everything. Naturally, a political destabilisation of Jordan, at a moment when the government of neighbour Syria continues the repression of insurgents, and Turkey masses military forces at the Syrian border, would have a significant impact upon the entire region. This would also be a major threat to the stability of Lebanon, and the large number of Palestinians living in Jordan – with their own reproaches towards the monarchy, besides the Bedouins that traditionally support it – could play a significant role in the stance taken by the neighbour state towards Israel in the future.But, as another reader posted in the Comments section of another story dedicated to this topic by international media these days: “Jordan’s young King is probably the only Arab royal intelligent enough to read and understand the writing on the sands of History, but will he be allowed to set an example by Saudi Arabia and its Western backers?” The situation of Jordan deserves being kept under close scrutiny.

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