The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has been relatively quiet as waves of unrest and civil conflict reshape the Arab world. Could that be about to change? According to a Washington Post report, Jordan’s King Abdullah is facing growing discontent among his traditional supporters:
That one of the most overt challenges yet to the authority of Jordan’s king took the form of a song-and-dance routine speaks to the restraint with which the Arab Spring has unfolded here over the past 16 months. . . .
The men who were singing were native Jordanians, “East Bankers” who belong to the tribes from which most members of the army and security forces are drawn, and whose loyalty to the monarchy has never been in question—until now. . . .
But the civility masks deep and growing tensions that call into question the stability of this strategically significant kingdom of 6 million people, a bedrock of U.S. influence in the region and Israel’s last reliable Arab ally since the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.
Jordan has long been an anomaly in the Middle East. Since being created by the British in 1922, its Hashemite rulers have somehow survived myriad challenges, including major Arab-Israeli wars, Palestinian refugees, assassinations and uprisings. Amid all these past challenges, Jordan’s monarchy has relied on its relationship with the West and support from its base of “east bankers.” But that base is increasingly upset about the lack of political and economic reforms over the past two decades.
Yet Jordan is more stable than it sometimes looks. As Foreign Policy’s Marc Lynch highlights, Jordan has looked fragile for a long time, yet the ruling family and its allies have kept power even as stronger and more powerful looking regimes around them fell. Compared to the Assads, Saddams and Qaddafis, the Hashemites have been moderate and humane and King Abdullah continues to follow in the family tradition.
But in this new era in the Middle East, the public wants more power and less supervision than in the past. The monarchy in Jordan probably still has a real political role to play as a ‘moderating power’ ensuring that each of Jordan’s many groups and interests are represented in the state without dominating it. But playing that role successfully in the future will probably require a lighter touch than in the past — even as the instability and violence in neighboring countries threatens Jordan’s security and cohesion.
King Abdullah has his work cut out for him; Via Meadia wishes him every success as a stable, progressive Jordan under an evolving constitutional monarchy would be a blessing to its own people and to the region as a whole.