Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Should We Pay Attention to Jordan?

I spend a lot of time reading about the Middle East. Too much time perhaps. Yet, with so much happening all across the region, I still can barely keep up. So it was a complete surprise when a Jordanian friend told me that the monarchy is in trouble right now in Amman. Here’s what she told me:

First, people are criticizing the monarchy more openly than ever before. For example, check out this interview with a well-known opposition figure, Dr. Ahmed Al-Abadi. 

For those who don’t speak Arabic, he says: “A republican system of governance is coming, and it’ll happen within two years at most […] The monarchy system has become anachronistic […] We refuse a constitutional monarchy completely […] What is a constitution? Who put the King upon us? […] He is an occupier. It’s necessary to free Jordan from the Hashemite family […] We will have a revolution […] The people are what’s important. Not the army, or security, or the intelligence services. In today's world, it is a match of the brightest, not a match of the strongest […] We’re ready for a constitution of the Arab Republic of Jordan.” 

Now those are some pretty powerful words. The title of the video calls them "dangerous" in fact. And, not surprisingly, Dr. Al-Abadi was arrested shortly after saying them. 
Second, even though protests failed to catch on in mass numbers last year, they still continue. Here’s a video of Jordanians performing the traditional “Debka” dance in a protest against corruption. Fittingly, they’re dancing in front of the “Jordanian Anti-Corruption Commission.” 

Third and finally, the government is responding to these protests in a completely inflammatory and self-defeating way. In a recent interview, former Crown Prince Hassan boasted he would put the protesters through a “sieve” to get rid of them. Many Jordanians viewed this comment as a direct threat of physical violence. One blogger who criticized the Crown Prince’s comments was stabbed by a masked man. He apparently proclaimed that “this stabbing is in the name of His Majesty the King and His Royal Highness Hassan” and threatened to “slaughter” her if she continued to criticize the royal family.

Now I’m not sure what to make of all this. The Hashemite monarchy has maintained power historically by pitting tribe against tribe and by pitting all the tribes against the significant Palestinian population in the country. This recent unrest has come primarily from the tribes, which traditionally constituted the monarchy’s primary source of support. My friend says she herself comes from one of the major tribes, and people are seething with anger.

If we’ve learned anything from the past year, such anger can materialize into widespread protests quite suddenly. As an editorial in Al-Arab al-Yawm explains (translated by Mideast Wire), “The Jordanians do not tolerate insults, neither to themselves nor to their country, regardless of their source. In the past, they used to respond to them via some of their sons who put their lives and futures at risk. Today however, they are responding to any insult to their dignity in a collective way…, the biggest proof of that being what we saw during the last three days in terms of consecutive and strong reactions carried by the news and social networking websites."

I honestly do not know enough about Jordanian politics to predict what may happen next. And frankly, even the experts probably couldn’t say either. But I do know I’m going to start paying closer attention to the Kingdom of Jordan. And I suggest you do too.

UPDATE: My friend Boaz Munro also recently blogged about the situation in Jordan, providing some background context to recent events. 

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