Constitutionally speaking, Jordan is a Monarchy in the middle of “supposed democratic” parliamentary “hereditary Republics” and is arguably the only truly legitimate monarchy in the region, given that the Hashemite family are direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammad, and that King Abdullah II is his 43rd descendant by father. This factor gives the Kingdom a “de jure” advantage that secures its religious and political legitimacy.
This explains why unlike the other Arab “dominoes,” Jordanian protesters are not calling for regime change. Although the existence of complete loyalty to the King is debatable, given the high percentage of Palestinians in Jordan, “State transformation” has not been demanded; the opposition is not against the monarchy but against the government. The King should take advantage of this and open up to concrete dialogue with the leaders of the protest movement.
The Jordanian’s needs are clear. Jordan lacks natural resources (oil) and geostrategic assets (water), and is dependent on foreign assistance. However, if we compare the microeconomic indexes of the Kingdom to the regimes that have collapsed, we can observe that Jordanian institutions are stronger and more prepared to face changes.
The rise in the price of bread and oil was what led the protestors to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Rifai. His replacement and the announcement of a rise in the salary of civil and public servants and more than 100 million dollars in subsidization for primary goods have not been enough to calm the waters, but they have shown the Kingdom’s promptness and ability to change.
The tribal nature of Jordan’s society is mirrored in Jordan’s moderate domestic and foreign policy, which has contributed to the attraction of foreign direct investment into the country. The fact that the Kingdom relies on external aid exposes it to Western influence, and allows the Jordanian society to be one of the most “open” in the region.
The priority for the country, however, is political. Like most Arab countries, Jordan lacks a political class. Until now, the Parliament has been run by the Tribal leaders, and the only organized political party in the country, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), has always been excluded from the decision making process. King Abdullah II has wisely invited the Islamic Brotherhood into the political dynamics of the country, henceforth responding to the needs of a social movement that could have instead stimulated more protests.
For the regime to survive, the King has no choice but to genuinely open the doors to the opposition and the IAF, and to reform the political and electoral system. The Jordanians are calling for more democracy and the King has to give more power to Parliament if he wants to maintain the status quo.
It is impossible to predict how the institutions will adapt to the needs of the people in the near future, but the regime’s pre-emptive action has avoided the “unavoidable”. A further step is however needed; Jordanians want to see immediate change, this is why demonstrations will probably continue considering the time needed for the adjustment process to take effect.
Stability in Jordan is in the West’s interest. As a member of the NATO Mediterranean Dialogue, Jordan has proven to be a reliable partner to the Alliance. Thus, given the basis of the Jordanian case and its difference with the other “dominoes”, the West should encourage and assist the King and his advisers to implement the changes required by his people.
Stephanie Mazzola works in the Middle East Faculty of the NATO Defense College in Rome and holds an MA in International Relations from LUISS University in Rome. The views expressed in this article are her own.