The Hashemite Kingdom has long prided itself on being a haven in the Levant. Surrounded by countries which have sporadically been engaged in domestic, regional and international wars, Jordan has often been viewed as somewhat apolitical. It has had rough episodes in its history, to be sure, but relative to its neighbours it has managed to provide its citizens with a degree of stability.
This is something Jordanians value. While recognizing the limitations of this stability and the artificial premises that are propping it up, the kingdom and its citizens have nonetheless enjoyed its benefits. Jordanians have managed to carve a middle ground between the virulent political debates of Beirut dinner parties and the furtive political comments amidst extreme state control in the Gulf, Syria and Iraq. Here was a society which was acquiescent in having eschewed active political participation for relative stability.
I say ‘was’ because that situation was never sustainable and it has indeed begun to unravel at the seams, facilitated by a number of internal and external factors. Economic hardship, a universal catalyst for uprisings, has not spared Jordan. This became explosive with flagrant corruption in the upper echelons of the political establishment. Regional uprisings have given hope for change while identity politics between ‘East and West Bankers’ added a dangerous element to the tension.
These factors are intertwined, and they have been reinforced by a degree of resentment and a desire for change which has long been maintained just below the sparking threshold. Arguably, that threshold would not have been crossed had it not been for the most catalytic factor; the apparent willingness of the regime to placate the public with meaningless political reforms in return for goodwill.
Jordanians have always admired their monarchs; even a year in from the start of these weekly protests, Jordanians have lagged behind their Arab counterparts in seeking regime change. They have consistently called for reform to be rolled out under the auspices of the current regime. A political system akin to that of the UK has often been invoked.
This goodwill - calling for change to be led by Hashemite rule - has unfortunately not been sufficiently appreciated or leveraged. Perhaps the urgency of the situation had not been fully grasped, causing a continued aversion to the structural reform being demanded.
The dismantling of four governments (including one which held much hope for political reform under Awn Khasawneh) has left Jordanians seething. They now view their goodwill as having been used to prolong the status quo rather than initiate political reform. Unfortunately, rather than leveraging popular goodwill to personally lead the reform, King Abdullah has squandered it and aroused people’s suspicions in his intentions.
This has resulted in unprecedented incidents of public condemnation of the ruling family, a significant development in a country which has consistently favoured stability.
Arguably, the confidence of the people could still be reclaimed with real change, but time is running out. Unless structural reform – rather than scapegoat corruption cases – is rolled out, Jordanians will see value in the fresh starts and clean slates being demanded by their Arab brethren. Stability might just be demanding too high a price.
This is a column for Arab Awakening's This week's window into the Middle East.
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