Jordan: how the monarchy manages change

Nermeen Murad Garlick
19 May 2002

From the early 1960’s, the concept of monarchy in Jordan was synonymous with the person of King Hussein. The ‘Plucky Little King’ he may have been, but in the thirty-odd years that he ruled Jordan, he succeeded in making most of his subjects accept – albeit begrudgingly - they were all part of one family. The national identity or make-up of that family was not seriously questioned or challenged.

One outspoken critic of the Hashemite monarchy once accused the regime of feeding off and sustaining itself by presenting Jordanians sometimes as a noble tribe (in reference to the regime’s political play on the Hashemite lineage to the Prophet Mohammad), and at other times exaggerating their numbers, expanding their roots and birthplaces when it sees fit – in order to allow itself a larger role in determining the future of the Palestinians.

Hussein was the Provident father. His prodigal sons were the East Bank Jordanians and the Jordanians of Palestinian origin. He played them against each other, but at the same time allowed them privileges that ensured their allegiance and, more importantly, membership of the Hashemite family. Some would argue that he did not allow for the development of any singular identity for fear that it may define itself against his family’s claim to power.

Except for a Palestinian insurgency in the early 1970s that was brutally squashed by Hussein’s predominantly Bedouin army, this unique claim to legitimacy that juggled Islamic hierarchy with Jordanian and Palestinian political representation was not seriously challenged. Any internal opposition largely amounted to a squabble for power by small factions without enough popular support to topple the monarchy. The largest organised political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was contained and co-opted by the regime, ensuring in turn that it never turned against the Hashemites. Any external threat was foiled by a combination of effective intelligence and the support of the Western world.

The country miraculously survived the passing away of Hussein three years ago. Social scientists may have proposed justifiably that Jordan’s survival is testament to the stability of the monarchy and the strength of civil society. Some may even have argued optimistically that the democratisation process, introduced by Hussein in the mid 1980s and again in the early 1990s, has succeeded enough in weaving a strong social fabric and relaxing political restrictions to protect the country from collapse.

All these factors may have a margin of truth. Yet the real secret behind the regime’s endurance is the population’s absolute need for stability in an otherwise turbulent region. The mixed make-up of the population is a source not only of insecurity but paradoxically also of stability. The mostly Palestinian and now Iraqi refugees will not rock the boat. Their original countries are embroiled in endless conflicts. The indigenous East Jordanians continue to control the seats of power and the moderate Hashemite monarchy continues to rule the country with the support of its friends in the West.

The young King Abdullah may not be as subtle or as ingenious as his Machiavellian father. But he has a few aces up his sleeve. His queen is a glamorous and well spoken Palestinian refugee whose family fled Kuwait in the aftermath of Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. His military background has gained him the respect of his army. His English mother facilitated the continuation of good relations with the West. His vision for Jordan, unlike Hussein, is one based on economic rather than political viability. His success in attracting foreign investment into the country and making it economically sound is not guaranteed. But even if the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan were to successfully turn into a Royal Jordan Dot Com, the population of this small kingdom, even when doubting its exact identity, would still be happy to claim it as ‘national’.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData