With the turmoil in Egypt and Syria there remains one country that has been relegated from media attention, Jordan. Jordan is more crucial for Israel than Egypt or Syria. Jordan is a crucial player for any Palestinian solution; for any Palestinian solution relies on a politically stable and economically thriving Jordan. It is essential for Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan that Jordan remains stable and does not fall victim to the trials and tribulations affecting other Middle East states. This depends not on the King nor on opposition movements nor on the civil-military relations that typify Egypt and Syria, but on the economic state of affairs.
Superficially Jordan has been shaken by the regional turbulence of the Arab Spring but has weathered the storm. The line from the Palace in Amman is that there is a “Jordanian vision” of making progress towards a democratic system while preserving a monarchy which remains broadly popular. This follows the line of Samuel Huntington’s classic “King’s dilemma” of how far to promote a controlled opening of the system without surrendering power or becoming genuinely accountable. Criticism of the King, once utterly taboo and still risky, is finding its way into social media. Repression has been mild by regional standards and no-one has been shot just for demonstrating. However all is not well in the Hashemite Kingdom. There have been constitutional reforms over the last year but elections in Arab monarchies rarely make much impact.
The recent overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was not only a turning point for Egypt but also for Jordan. The demise of Morsi was viewed with undisguised glee by the Hashemite Kingdom. King Abdullah was one of the first leaders to call and congratulate the new interim Egyptian president. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Joudeh was the second top Arab official to visit and meet with the new Cairo leadership. This was not surprising for the main opponents to the Jordanian King are the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Since the overthrow of Islamist Morsi in Egypt the Jordanian MB has tried but has not been able to mobilize mass demonstrations. Its alliance with liberal and leftist groups has all but collapsed. Digging in the knife and turning it, a coordinated media campaign against Jordan’s MB movement was launched by two leading pro-government newspapers. Commentators known for their close ties with the security apparatus lambasted the MB for inciting public opinion against Egypt’s new rulers and for meddling in the affairs of a brotherly country. Jordanian authorities have implemented a crackdown and have shut down 300 websites with little protest.
It could be conjured that without Jordanian MB pressure reforms in Jordan will recede. However the economy is the weak point, and both the King and his opponents know this. The problems that gave birth to the Arab Spring uprisings have not been solved. The underlying economic issues which prompted the protests that toppled governments across the Middle East and North Africa remain in place. Any ruler is mistaken if he thinks that he can rely on generals and political reforms to produce long-term stability. In a region where 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30, the economic problems are colossal. The global economic slowdown halved economic growth in Jordan from 6.0 percent to 3.0 percent over the last three years. Jordan’s official unemployment rate is 12.5 percent. More than 550,000 Syrian refugees have flooded the oil- and water-starved desert kingdom of 6 million that is foreign-aid-dependent. Next month, Jordan will implement a long delayed, International Monetary Fund-mandated (INF) increase in electricity prices. When an IMF required cut in fuel subsides was enacted last fall, riots erupted.
Believing that kings and generals can bring instant stability to today’s Middle East is whimsical. King Abdullah must enact sweeping economic reforms, crackdown on corruption and also cede power to an elected government. The clock cannot be turned back. In the short term, more turmoil lies ahead. In the long-run, growing economies, not growing democracy will foster stability. Jordanians are waiting, but are less aggressive toward the King because they saw what the Islamists could do. They are waiting for the right time to attack and only substantial economic reforms will prevent Jordan from sliding into oblivion. If this were to happen then not only Jordan but also Israel would rue the consequences, for a Palestinian solution relies on a political stable and economically thriving Jordan.
Dr Glen Segell, FRGS, is Researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies Tel Aviv, Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Senior Researcher for the Ariel Research Center for Defense and Communication.