On the Making of a Country: A Walk through the Course of Political Development in Jordan

This took a good portion of my energy for the past month, and discusses the history of political development, and its lack thereof, in Jordan. It is rather long, but nevertheless, if you have a comment or something to say, then at least more than the abstract. You can either view it here, or, for more comfortable viewing, check the PDF at Scribd.

Abstract

This paper discusses the development of a political system in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, in an effort to understand the state of the current political system in the country. Different phases and defining moments in the history of Jordan will be studied, and will often directly correspond to phases of Jordanian national identity. Starting from the assassination of King Abdullah I and the short-lived reign of Talal, through the numerous coup d’état attempts in early reign of Hussein I, up to the 1994 Wadi Araba Treaty of Peace, the effect of ongoing events in shaping a political system in Jordan will be explored.

The development of a political system in Jordan will be discussed hand-in-hand along with contemporary regional politics and political movements, coupled with internal views regarding national identity. As such, the rise of Nasser and Nasserism is examined, illustrating the impact of the increasingly popular Nasserist movements in the 1950’s on the government, its policy, and the political system. Similarly, the Arab-Israeli Conflict as a whole, including the Six-Day war, the influence of the PLO, the rise of Fedayeen, and Black September will be reviewed, showing how these also shaped state policy. In addition, the rise of Islamic movements, particularly the Islamic Action Force (IAF), the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and its relation to and impact on the political system will be discussed throughout the course of history.

It will be argued that the period of the late 1950s in King Hussein’s reign, the Six-day war of 1967, the battle of Karameh of 1968, and most importantly, Black September of 1970, have been defining moments in the history of a Jordanian national identity and the formation of its current-day political system. The paper will reason that Black September represents the climax of an internal political crisis that lasted throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The development of a Jordanian political system will be studied, beginning with King Talal and Prime Minister Tawfiq abul-Huda’s rewriting of the constitution and the establishment of some sort of a semi-democracy that is put to the test in the 1952 abdication of King Talal. The effect of Nasserist-inspired coup d’état attempts, as well as Black September on the Jordanian political system will be investigated, as well as the 23-year-long era of martial law, and the still-developing political system that emerged afterwards.

The essay aims to argue that the current political system – as well as its lack-thereof – in Jordan, is a result of a combination of organic development and non-development due to a century’s internal, as well as regional, political repercussions. It is my hope that this paper would illustrate the malleability of the political system and the possibility of continuous improvement. More so, it is my hope to illustrate that the existing political system (whether its current state is fortunate or unfortunate) is a result of internal, regional, and – seldom – external political repercussions, rather than a set static agenda by the ruling elite.

Background

Since Abdullah I’s reign, the newly-created kingdom of Jordan was particularly unstable; the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan (East Bank) has just merged with the West Bank, absorbing highly politicized Palestinian West Bankers, as well as refugees, giving them all Jordanian citizenship, and tripling the population of the country[1]. The entering population of Palestinians was more sophisticated, urbanized, and educated than the average Transjordanian population, which was predominantly Bedouin. Palestinians loyal to the Mufti also saw Jordan as an occupying power, and held a “high moral ground”, believing that Jordan’s Arab Legion, along with other Arab armies, have failed them, while others looked at King Abdullah as a “protector against Israeli aggression”. It is important to note that, until 1967, these Palestinians never demanded separation from the East Bank.[2]

Thus, with a tripled population, a Transjordanian-Palestinian divide, strong Palestinian nationalism, and a growing refugee problem, the newly-created Hashemite kingdom was in highly critical times…

Beginning of Change

With three fatal gunshots[3] the life of newly-created kingdom of Jordan’s first monarch ended, marking the beginning of decades of uncertainty and instability that continue to leave a distinctive mark on the country’s political system today. Abdullah’s successor, his son Talal, shaped by his father’s mistreatment during his upbringing, was resolved on becoming his father’s polar opposite, and as such initiated far-reaching reforms to the Jordanian political system.[4]

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Election Law & Selective Representation

As part of a final paper I’m working on, I requested, and obtained a copy of a M.Sc. and B.Sc. thesis in Political Science at MIT, entitled “Containing the Opposition: Selective Representation in Jordan and Turkey”, by Raffaela Wakeman, who also worked in the Center for Strategic Studies in the University of Jordan for a while.

So, I went through a good chunk of it and read it, and while it reaffirms most of what we hear already about representation being the most fundamental problems, it also hows how fundamental a problem it is. Cities like Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa are between 2-3 times under-presented than Balqa’a, Karak, and others.

However, upon reading this, a very common fallacy also came to mind, in which the ruling power’s decisions are always rationalized on the basis of self-interest/ill-intentions, which I think is not the right approach. For instance, Jordan’s sheer under-representation of Palestinian-Jordanians in the parliament (or rather, under-representation of intellectuals in the parliament), is not part of a master plan to create a nation with an idle mind, or dominate the people, but rather (very unfortunate) measures to secure the 1994 Peace Treaty, or (very unfortunate) responses to events ranging from Abdullah I’s 1951 assassination, to Black September.

In any case, saying Jordan’s selective representation (which is a real problem) is a plan to “contain the opposition”, ignores the strong opposition that many Islamists as well as Bedouin “loyalists” possess to many crucial Hashemite plans.

I do hope the new election law is more representative. Current rumors are not so promising; Amman and Zarqa seem to be getting more seats, but not nearly enough.

My two-cents.