Eyas's Blog

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

Hussein After Karameh BattlePublic Domain

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.


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 the 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 1950s 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 afterward.

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.


_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 country1. 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 gunshots3 the life of the 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

While initiatives such as acknowledging the opposition, integrating it into the political system and cabinet, selecting more representative Senators in the upper house of the parliament, and liberalizing the state as a whole were important and highly welcomed by the people, Talal and Prime Minister Tawfiq abul-Huda’s biggest and most far reaching achievement is Jordan’s re-written constitution.5

Talal’s 1952 constitution translated Jordan’s monarchy from an absolutist authoritarian regime into a constitutional one, with a basic framework of checks and balances. Indeed, the 1952 constitution proclaims “the Nation is the source of all powers”6, replacing previous proclamation that, in the King is vested executive7 and legislative8 power. The constitution also attempts to safeguard some basic human rights, as Satloff puts it, “banning discrimination on race, language, or religion (Article 6i); ensuring work, education, and equal opportunity (Article 6ii); guaranteeing freedom of opinion in speech, writing, ‘photographic representation,’ and the press (Article 15i/ii)”.9

The constitution also created a bicameral parliamentary system; the upper house, the Senate, constitutes of notables appointed by the king and makes no more than one-third of the parliament, while the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, constitutes elected representatives.

Looking from the outside, the system of government created by Talal and Abul Huda was a basic democratic constitutional monarchy, with the king as the Head of State, a Prime Minister, appointed by the head of state, acting as the head of government, both heading the executive branch, where the king rules by royal decree (analogous to U.S. President’s Executive Order). These two entities can propose legislation, but ultimate authority is vested in the separate legislative branch, the Parliament, which is bicameral and includes an elected body, and can also interfere with the executive branch (checks and balances), especially with votes of no-confidence, in which two-thirds of the elected chamber of deputies could revoke government actions or call for its dissolution. The head of state can still veto parliament decisions, as is typical in many political systems.

However, the political system was still flawed by giving the King and Prime Minister the absolute advantage; almost all articles in the constitution secure rights to the people and parliament conditional upon the “limits of the law”, giving the ruling elite – specifically the king and prime minister – unprecedented leverage, tipping over the balance of the system in their favor. Such “loopholes”, indeed, were ‘exploited’ several times through the course of history, both positively and negatively, in shaping future election law, enabling absolutist martial law with a dissolved parliament, and even enabling the 1994 Wadi Araba Israel-Jordan treaty of peace.

On August 11, 1952, the new constitution was put through the ultimate test, when King Talal’s worsening schizophrenia prompted Abul Huda to appeal to the parliament to depose the king. By Article 28v, the king was required to be mentally sound; accordingly, the parliament deposed him.10

The Young King and the Nasserist Wave

Nineteen days before Talal’s deposition, on July 23, 1952, was the beginning of Egypt’s 1952 revolution, led by the Free Officer Movement, which ended with the abdication of King Farouk of Egypt. The revolution also marked the beginning of Gamal Abdul Nasser’s rise to power and influence, and the spread of a distinct pan-Arab, Arab Nationalistic school of thought: Nasserism.

Meanwhile, Hussein was proclaimed king on August 11, 1952, but was under the legal age of 18 years of the lunar Islamic (Hijri) calendar, and as such, Tawfiq abul-Huda continued to rule as Prime Minister, until 2 May, 1953. Dissatisfaction of abul-Huda’s “reign” culminated opposition, with growing “conservative opposition” in Amman, and “semi-liberal opposition” in the West Bank11. Thus, by the time King Hussein was to be enthroned and assume full power, there was already a well-established opposition force within the public sphere, the royal palace, and the government. These opposition groups included Arab Nationalists, mainly constituting of Nasserists, national socialists, mainly constitution of communists and Ba’athists, Islamists, mainly constituting of the Muslim Brotherhood12, as well as Palestinian nationalists. This section focuses on the Nasserist wave, but the influence of political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the PLO (or more formally the Fedayeen) will be studied in future sections.

The first culmination of tension occurred in 1955, when Britain tried, eventually in vain, to get Jordan to sign the Baghdad Pact. While initial Prime Minister Said al-Mufti of the Old Guard harshly opposed joining the pact, other forces disagreed, and he finally resigned his government. The new Prime Minister, Hazza’ al-Majali, announced Jordan’s readiness to enter negotiations with the British on the pact. Meanwhile, radios from Cairo (such as “Sawt al Arab” meaning The Arab Voice) prompted Jordanians to refuse. As popular opposition turned to protest, the government complied and rejected the pact13. With that, another major step had to be taken, to further align Jordan for the ever-more-powerful pan-Arabism and Arab Nationalism trends, and it occurred on March 1, 1956. On March 1, the king dismissed General Glubb, also known as “Glubb Pasha”, from his post as the commander-in-chief of the Arab Legion, Jordan’s army. The people, and the Arab world, reacted very positively, considering it a (re)declaration of independence14, to the point that the king and the monarchy were hailed even by the most liberal and anti-monarchy opposition15.

But as Hussein was moving closer and closer towards Nasserist Arab Nationalism, Nasser’s pressure began to be felt. Especially because, by then, the July 26, 1956 nationalization of the Suez Canal already took place, transforming Nasser and Nasserism into idolized figures and ideologies, respectively. Free elections occurred in October 1956 that resulted in a parliament dominated by the opposition, mainly West Banker Nasserists and Communists, unsurprisingly, given recent events. Thus, with parliament pressure, King Hussein asked Suleiman Nabulsi, a pro-Nasserist and founder and leader of the National Socialist Party, to head the government. A mere two days after entering office, the tripartite alliance of Britain, France, and Israel, entered Egypt in what is now known as the Suez Crisis of 1956, after which Nasser was defeated, yet nevertheless managed to emerge as a hero in the Arab world.

The parliament, and the newly appointed government, as well as sizable portions of the public sphere, especially amongst liberals, began advocating a union with Egypt. As an article in TIME states, in the West Bank “there were more pictures of Nasser to be seen on the shop walls than of Hussein. […] The country’s new [Prime Minister], Suleiman Nabulsi […] proclaimed flatly: “Jordan’s destiny is to disappear.” ”16. Nabulsi’s government also reduced diplomatic relations with the West, targeted pro-Western officials in civil service, and entered into diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union (as a response to Hussein’s request to dismiss a number of communist elements from the cabinet), thus strengthening the position of leftists, specifically socialists and communists within the country. The position of Hussein seemed weakening with time.

Worse yet for the 21-year old Hussein, was that the dismissal of Glubb from the army resulted in “senior vacancies […] occupied by nationalist and Ba’athist officers, who were to challenge the monarchy […]”17, among these was Ali Abu Nuwwar. Indeed, the Arab Legion continuously became more and more politicized, with Ba’athist, Nationalist, and Socialist political parties attempting to recruit members of the army; after all, the Free Officers Movement has shown that the shortest and most effective path to power was through the army.

As the relationship between the Palace and the Cabinet sunk to an all-time low, with Hussein acting ‘behind the cabinet’s back’, and the cabinet calling for a federation with Egypt and Syria, Nabulsi’s government retaliated, threatening resignation if a list of demands is not met. Hussein ultimately responded, on April 10, 1957, by requesting the resignation of the cabinet.

Opposition rallies expressing support for al-Nabulsi’s outgoing government broke loose, putting more pressure on Jordan and the monarchy. Hussein tried to appease the public by appointing Hussein Fakhri al-Khaldi, a Palestinian, as PM, who resigned 24 hours after appointment. Opposition became stronger18. The king tried to commission others to form a government, but they also failed. The country seemed “on a verge of chaos” and on April 13, 1957, units of the army loyal to nationalist Abu Nuwwar clashed with those loyal to the king. It was, to say the least, a coup attempt19. The king himself, in a surprising turn of events, went to the said army camp in Zarqa on that same day, after having secretly gained the Bedouins allegiance against Abu Nuwwar (and “his Palestinians”). Then, as described in an article in TIME:

[…]taking the untrustworthy Abu[Nuwwar]with him, he rushed out to confront the rampaging Bedouins, narrowly saved his quaking general from being shot, and won wild cheers from the tribesmen by leaping atop an armored car and shouting: “If you do not want me as your King, I will go!”[…]As his Bedouins swarmed over Amman, with faces blackened by charcoal as a sign they meant business, Hussein began warily to consolidate his opening triumph. There were, after all, other armies in Jordan. (TIME, 1957)

Two days later, on April 15, a government by al-Khaldi was successfully formed, with al-Nabulsi still in the cabinet as minister of Foreign Affairs, despite disapproval from the king. On April 16, it was announced that Jordan would receive financial assistance under the Eisenhower Doctrine, had it become victim of aggression20. Cairo’s radio, “The Arab Voice” talked about a plot in the palace against the Jordanian people. The street roared; people shouted “long live Nasser” and “down with the Eisenhower Plan”21, and another unsuccessful coup against Hussein took place, this time linked indirectly to al-Nabulsi. Hussein shifted again to a conservative government from the Old Guard, by appointing Ibrahim Hashem, banning all political parties, and declaring a state of emergency and along with it martial law.

Political parties were dismantled, dissolved, and banned officially, but in reality ‘went underground’, and remained illegal until 1992. The Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to continue as a “charitable organization”. The “democratization” of Jordan that had occurred since 1953 was reversed in two weeks in April22. The post-1957 political setup of Jordan was changed:

[…] the Jordanian polity was divided into two parts: the majority that supported the king […], and the minority, comprising the political opposition. Unlike the latter, the majority were inactive, counting on the government to be their spokesperson; this created the “silent majority” in Jordan. (Abu-Odeh, p. 82)

It was then, as a result these events that some form of political “Trans-Jordanization” of the then-two-Banked Jordan started to unfold, with the East Bank generally more favored. The 1957 riots and coup attempts had proven that the huge Nasserist influence on the West Bankers was a threat to the kingdom and monarchy.

Such events could very well be understood through the concept of National Identity. First, the concept of an independent Jordanian state, especially at that time, where no cultural or national distinctiveness has yet developed, was thus mostly intertwined with ‘loyalty’ or support of the Hashemite throne. Transjordanians were generally loyal to the monarchy, but for Palestinian-Jordanians, it was more complicated; a more powerful Palestinian national identity had already developed as a result of political events since the beginning of the century. Nasser’s Arab Nationalist rhetoric was more effective on Palestinian-Jordanians than Transjordanians, since was often coupled with commitment to “liberate Palestine” and solve the Palestine Question, but also since they had less commitment to a separate, independent “Jordan”, compared to Transjordanians.

The Six-Day War

Since 1964, while Jordan remained pro-Western, it also aligned itself more with Arab Nationalism as well, signing a mutual defense treaty with Egypt, agreeing to the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, becoming a founding member of the United Arab Command, etc. The state of emergency had almost seized, and martial law had been relaxed. However, the post-1957 opposition shifted to “external opposition” as numerous opposition leaders fled to other countries, and as such radios of Damascus and Cairo, now joined by Baghdad, intermittently campaigned against the Hashemite Kingdom nevertheless. Regardless, the monarchy’s political relationship with Nasser was in good shape.

Following activities by Fedayeen elements against Israel prompted it to launch military operations against the West Bank, these quickly escalated, with Nasser requesting removal of peacekeeping troops from Sinai, and on June 5, 1967, the War had officially started. Hussein would later state that Jordan’s particular engagement in the war was “imposed on our nation”23. Within hours from the beginning of the war, Jordan was losing in the West Bank, and the palace was flooded by cables from Nasser supporting Jordanian withdrawal from the West Bank, allegedly stating to Hussein “when history is written, your courage and bravery will be acknowledged […] gave-and-take is part of [history] and so is progress and retreat.”24

On June 10, 1967, the Arabs had officially lost the war, and thus Jordan had lost the West Bank, with a second wave of refugees entering the East Bank, some of whom have been displaced for a second time since 1948. Martial law was strictly enforced again. Transjordanian-Palestinian relations were again impacted as a result of the war; with the army composed of a majority of Transjordanians and new figures showing that only 696 lost their lives created feelings of guilt amongst Transjordanians, and feelings of betrayal amongst Palestinians, who thought that the Jordanian army conspired with Israel to defeat Nasser25, contrary to Nasser’s cables, supporting withdrawal from the West Bank as early as twenty-seven hours from military engagements.

Politically, Jordan was to be subject of new “ethnic” tensions that will last decades. Economically, Jordan was in ruins. Jordan’s immediate post-war agenda was the reclamation of the West Bank, and as such attempted maintaining strong bonds with the West Bank, as well as an open bridge allowing the passage of West Bankers and East Bankers alike, in any direction. Israel did not mind, as long as its end of the bridge was controlled by them. Israel on the other hand, made the “West Bank question” more critical, where the option of an independent non-Jordanian control over the West Bank was raised to the international community. By then, the PLO was still not given the status of “sole representative of the Palestinian people”. The position of the PLO, which advocated a liberated Palestinian state, whose destiny is then decided by its people, was not always parallel to the wishes of West Bankers, many of which demanded restoration of land and Jordanian unity.

Still, for Jordan, retrieval of the West Bank was to happen peacefully, through talks and international pressure, rather than militarily with Israel. Hussein emphasized during the Arab Summit that Arab attitudes towards Palestinian liberation were impotent, and emphasized the Jordanian element of the West Bank, calling its people “our family on the West Bank of Jordan”, and hailing their nationalistic and patriotic steadfastness26.

Black September and the Jordanian Divide

The 1967 war led to a new era, in which Palestinians “were beginning take matters into their own hands”. Guerilla groups, forming since Nabulsi’s era, were empowered and consolidated, most of which were known as the Fedayeen, meaning freedom fighters. The most important of these groups was Yasser Arafat’s Fatah27. Fedayeen groups launched attacks on Israel from within the East Bank, and the Israeli army was to retaliate by sizable military action against the Jordanian town of al-Karameh (meaning “the dignity”) in March, 1968.

For the first time, the Jordanian army and Fedayeen fought side-by-side, with unprecedented cooperation, and while Israel’s military objectives were indeed achieved, they had done so with considerable damage to their own army, and as such as seen as some type of victory. Regardless of cooperation, Massad argues that “depending on whose account one reads, both the Jordanian army and the guerillas minimized the role of the other […] and claimed victory for themselves.”28 Such contention in crediting one side for the victory marked the beginning of tensions to come. The Fedayeen were receiving more public attention, to the dismay of many Jordanian army officers, who saw that their efforts, their more advanced weaponry, and their greater numbers disregarded29. Indeed, while around 15,000 Jordanian soldiers with artillery, tanks, and canons fought, while most estimates state that 300 Palestinian fedayeen fought30. Jordan will also however change the rhetoric of al-Karameh to market it as a Jordanian cause, rather than a national Palestinian cause.

As paramilitary entities, the Fedayeen, with their growing popularity became both a military and “existential threat to the Hashemite rule”, as Fruchter-Ronen describes it. He also describes this period as:

[…] characterized by the strengthening of [Fedayeen] organizations and their entrenchment in Jordan by means of the establishment of autonomous military, political, and social institutions. (Fruchter-Ronen, p. 244)

Their presence as “a state-within-a-state” was thus strengthened. While the official Jordanian story accuses the fedayeen of acting as ‘bandits’, Massad says that “serious guerilla misconduct” was, in a number of cases, caused by “Jordanian agents”31. Regardless, a significant rift within the Jordanian population was on the rise. While Hussein initially did not respond, some32 say because of his sympathy with the Palestinian cause, while others, like Fruchter-Ronen attribute it to the initial popularity of the fedayeen, which later decreased as trans-Jordanians and middle-class Palestinians objected to their “violations”. During the beginning of 1970, Hussein arranged meetings with Bedouin tribal leaders to garner their support, but they were not mobilized.33

Even before Black September proper, Jordanian retaliation against fedayeen was often directed at refugee camps, which, indeed, harbored some fedayeen, but also shows how, by that time, “the army looked on all Palestinians as an extension of the fedayeen and vice versa.”34

Tensions increased further when Prince Zaid Bin Shaker’s wife was murdered in her home. Hotels were supposedly shelled, and courts were “completely out of action”. By then, Amman’s streets were completely controlled by the fedayeen. The Royal Palace was also targeted, as was the broadcasting center and power station. Threats culminated when, On September 1, an attempted assassination of Hussein took place. The three hijacked planes in the Dawson’s Field hijackings were landed in al-Zarqa by a fedayeen group, after which they were eventually blown up with 54 passengers still on board35, the rest of the hostages remained in possession of the fedayeen. Queen Noor claims that, in a phone call with Fatah leader Yasser Arafat, Hussein was told that he had twenty-four hours to exit the country and surrender the throne36.

And as the official Jordanian government story goes, Jordan had “no choice” but to act militarily if it was to preserve the Hashemite throne37. International pressure to reclaim the hostages also mounted on the government. On September 15, a military government was set up and the army began its violent operations; martial law was reinforced. That day, Arafat became commander-in-chief of the Palestinian Liberation Army. It was a Civil War. The Jordanian army moved to Amman and northern towns. But Black September was not a one-sided operation; the fedayeen continued to attack the palace, but also military and intelligence headquarters. In response to fedayeen attacks on September 17, the army launched a massive, unorganized counterattack on fedayeen, regarded as some as “a cleansing campaign and general slaughter of the Palestinians”38.

Hussein and his government maintained that the death toll was 1,500-2,000, mostly Palestinians. International journalists, as well as the guerillas reported a toll between 7,000 and 20,000. Guerilla forces were defeated, and remaining fedayeen were assaulted and forced to leave the country. The PLO also reassessed its role in Black September, and “admitted to a number of mistakes that helped to precipitate the clash”39. Jordanians, however, as stated, still assert that military action was the “only choice” to preserve the kingdom.

The war itself was fought by trans-Jordanian and Palestinian-Jordanians alike, both, on both sides, with many Palestinian-Jordanians and trans-Jordanians remaining neutral. Still, the divide between Palestinian national movements, supporters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Palestinians in general on one hand, and the Jordanian army, Jordanian loyalists, and even Transjordanians in general on the other hand grew further by these events. Black September symbolizes a serious “clash” between Palestinian Identity and Jordanian Identity, as described by ex-Minister of Information Laila Sharaf.

In the periods between 1967 and Black September, “the state of Jordan lost some of the characteristics of its sovereignty” in favor of the PLO, says Fruchter-Ronen, and adds:

[These events] have been imprinted in the collective consciousness of both Jordanians and Palestinians as events bearing symbolic, social and national meaning, and carrying internal implications on Jordanian society and the Palestinian–Jordanian relationships even until these very days. To a large extent, it may be claimed that the Civil War of 1970–71 was a turning point in enhancing the growth of trans-Jordanian national consciousness. 40

With the end of Black September, we would see another main shift to Jordan’s agenda, both internally and externally. Jordan changed its stance towards the PLO, accepting it gradually as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” and as such letting go of its claim for the West Bank. Jordan’s involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict remained, and its involvement with the Palestinian cause continued, albeit shifting from “our family on the West Bank of Jordan is suffering” to “our Palestinian brothers are suffering”. In 1974, in the Arab League Rabat Summit, a resolution was passed proclaiming the PLO is the sole representative of the Palestinian People, and the 1982 Fez Summit, in which it was agreed, unanimously (i.e. including Hussein) on the establishment of an independent non-Jordanian Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank. And, on 1988, in an address to the Nation, King Hussein formally letting go of the Jordanian claim for the West Bank, and declaring full support of the “Palestinian Cause” and the PLO.41 This happened after, based on a PLO request, the Arab League unanimously voted in 1988 for a Jordanian disengagement with the West bank.

Islamic Movements in Jordan as Friends of the Throne

When Islamic Movements are mentioned, especially in Jordan, mind goes immediately to the Muslim Brotherhood, and rightfully so. The brotherhood is Jordan’s largest, oldest, and most influential Islamic group, and its political party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), is the most influential opposition group today. The Brotherhood’s official presence in Jordan began after the elevation of the status of Transjordan to a kingdom in 1945, and the movement was granted legal status as a charitable organization in January, 1946, and was granted status as an “organized group” in 195342. The relationship between the Brotherhood and Abdullah I flourished as he supported their conservative Islamic agenda, and saw it as a good tool to counteract the effects of communism and socialism post World War II, whereas the Brotherhood supported the union of the two banks and “respected the religious credentials” of the Hashemites43. It is important to recognize that while the Muslim Brotherhood itself is not a political party per se, it is highly politicized, whether today through the IAF or before as a grassroots movement with legitimacy and leverage.

As mentioned earlier, the Muslim Brotherhood also continued during the 1957 crisis, in which it was allowed to continue as a charitable organization. However, it was also helpful to Hussein in combatting the wave of Nasserism discussed above44, and was, in the 1950s and 1960s, a good source of support to the monarchy. The Jordanian branch operated like its Egyptian parent a popular grassroots movement, supporting the idea that Islam is an all-encompassing religion, that shari`a law should be implemented as state law, and opposing general views of pan-Arabism, Arab Nationalism, and other nonreligious schools of thought.

Since 1967, but especially since some years after, the strength of Nasser’s Arab Nationalism, as well as general secular nationalism started to fail in the Arab world, as many saw the disaster of 1967 as a proof of the failure of these ideologies. With these, the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Movements in general began to prosper. Then came the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which later proved to be an Islamic Revolution, that, for many, showed the possible success of an Islamic state. For many, the Islamic revolution, along with socioeconomic woes of the time lead many to favor the Brotherhood’s slogan “Islam is the solution”45.

Return of Parliament Life and the Islamic Opposition

Post the 1988 disengagement from the West Bank, Hussein believed that Jordan’s stability and institutions were able to sustain political development after decades of martial law and parliamentary elections. The National Assembly convened to vote on Hussein’s decision on West Bank disengagement, and along with it a modified election law where the West Bank is no longer represented. Since “house of representatives” in that assembly was unelected, thus basically just allowed the new laws to go to action for the 1989 elections. The elections themselves were a response to popular riots in April of 198946, which themselves criticized economic policies. The elections themselves were considered honest and democratic47. While political parties themselves remained outlawed, the ban on political activity was lifted; members of multiple parties were among the parliament, from far left to far right. Chief among these was the Islamists, who claimed 40% of the seats48.

Now with considerable power, “the Brotherhood became the regime’s main opposition both inside and outside the parliament” says Tal49. The Jordanian government, on the other hand, had already by 1985 regarded the Muslim Brotherhood as a “strategic threat” over concerns of increased fundamentalism and concerns over their ‘secretly-planned’ education and preaching programs50.

In 1992, after Parliament Life had returned, the ban on political parties was lifted. As such, the IAF was founded the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, and many underground parties were re-established.

The Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty of 1994, which will be discussed next, was the final blow in regime-Brotherhood relations, which transformed the Brotherhood’s party, the IAF to a true opposition move. In the 1993 parliament, the IAF occupied 16 of 80 parliament seats, and firmly opposed “any peace deal with Israel” adding “on whatever terms”51. Since, the IAF has not been significantly included the cabinet, though its voice in the parliament, as well as demonstrations and rallies are often heard and not silenced. The IAF has especially been a proponent of Jordan’s slow normalization of relations with Israel, and continuously stressed the use of education to promote the ‘Palestinian cause’ and keeping the public aware of the ‘Zionist threat’.

The 1994 Jordan-Israel treaty of Peace in the Context of Parliament, Political Freedom, and Political Development

In August, 1993, the parliament was dissolved three months before its end of term, in preparation of new elections under, in which electoral rules had been modified. Such modification was done supposedly “to reduce fundamentalists’ advantage”52 according to Boustani, referring mainly to Islamic fundamentalists and the IAF. Islamists indeed lost 14 seats, now with 18 IAF seats, and leftists won only 2 seats, with the rest going to centrists and conservative loyalists53.

According to Raffaella Wakeman, changes to election law did not alter representation in terms of number of seats per district, but did change the system from Bloc voting to Single Non-Transferable voting (SNTV)54. Wakeman also identifies attempting to drive IAF out of the parliament as the main motivation behind the 1993 and 2001 election laws. However, since the original 1986, representation was not proportional, especially in the capital and other cities such as Zarqa, as a residual consequence from Black September, thus high amounts of Palestinians suffering malapportionment.

An interpretation of the 1993 modifications to election law is to facilitate moving forward with the peace treaty with Israel, which the parliament very well may have blocked its ratification. Thus, in facilitating the treaty by election mechanism “reform”, two parties took the hit: Islamic Movements in Jordan, mainly the IAF, which, still, remains the largest centralized party in the parliament, and Palestinian-Jordanians in general.

The 1994 Wadi Araba Jordanian-Israel Treaty of Peace created an additional rift in the country, one that empowered IAF opposition. More seriously perhaps, is the social issue of marginalization of Palestinian-Jordanians, who make up around 50% of the country, depending on which statistics you read, and yet are misrepresented within the Parliament.

Conclusion: Today’s Political System in context of the Past

Jordan’s political system today can definitely be seen as a result of decades’ worth of political repercussions, especially during Hussein’s time. Crises in the first decade of his term put significant strain on Jordanian national identity, highlighted differences between opposition and loyalists, often aligning these along racial lines. Hussein’s response in 1957 preserved Jordan and the regime’s stability, but cemented in the constitution basis for extended dissolution of the government and authoritarianism if the head of state sees it fit.

Black September had many long-standing political effects as well, it being most responsible for current social issues between Palestinians and Transjordanians in Jordan, and the basis for serious malapportionment in the government.

Today’s Political System includes two main issues of public concern, which are also possible hurdles to future democratization: first, the issue of Palestinian-Jordanian marginalization in the parliament and government, and second, the relationship between the government and the Islamic Action Front. The former can be described differently, as an issue of mis-proportional representation, especially in the country’s political and intellectual capital, Amman.

As for political development in the country, it has been very limited today. While press is partly to blame, the bulk of this issue comes from the nature of political parties in the country, with most opposition parties, with the exception of the IAF, weak, with no real political presence. This is a main hurdle to political development. The underlying reasons for this can be linked to Hussein’s policies of 1989 and 1992, which returned parliamentary life and political parties, and were hailed as positive steps in the direction of democracy. The problem is, given the History of Jordan since 1957, most political movements in the country have been of external influence, whether from Egyptian Nasserism, Egyptian Islamism, Syrian and Iraqi Ba’athism, Palestinian Nationalism, or Syrian Socialism and Communism. By the 1980s, these parties lost relevance in Jordan’s internal politics, and were only given legitimacy and popularity due to the political oppression of the regime. By 1989 and 1992, no party had a real agenda relevant to Jordan, other than blind support or criticism for the regime depending on its parent party, whether in Syria, Damascus, Baghdad, or others.

But the current regime can do a lot for harboring political development, from the de-marginalization of Palestinian-Jordanians and Amman, to increased transparency, political party laws, or other programs. And there is one important motivation here:

In support of my main objective in the abstract, the paper should have shown the malleability of the political system. For instance, the return of political party law in 1989 in an effort to please the people after riots regarding economic woes, but also all the way since refusing to sign the Baghdad Pact. Even if one doesn’t pass judgment on current state of “democracy”, the power of public pressure and the malleability of the political system have been integral to political development in Jordan even during periods of martial law and suspended parliament life.

Works Cited


  1. (Abu-Odeh, p. 62)

  2. See (Abu-Odeh, pp. 56-57) and (TIME, 1957)

  3. As described by (The Hindu, 1951)

  4. (Satloff, p. 42)

  5. Ibid., pp. 42-43

  6. Constitution of Jordan, Chapter III, Article XXIV; as seen in (Tawfiq Abul Huda, 1952)

  7. Constitution of Transjordan, Chapter II, XXII;

  8. Ibid., Chapter III, XXXIII, source: (The Middle East Journal, 1947, pp. 324, 326)

  9. (Satloff, p. 43)

  10. (TIME, 1952)

  11. (Abu-Odeh, p. 69)

  12. While the Muslim Brotherhood will later be shown to have been a strong source of support to the Hashemite throne, it is still to be considered a force of opposition; in terms of monarchy, the brotherhood were loyalists, but in terms of policies, it functioned as an opposition group. The difference is that its opposition to Nasserism and its popular nature allowed it to continue to benefit the Hashemite regime during the Nasserist wave.

  13. Ibid., pp. 75-76

  14. (TIME, 1957)

  15. (Abu-Odeh, p. 72)

  16. (TIME, 1957)

  17. (Aruri, p. 131)

  18. (Massad, p. 194)

  19. (Abu-Odeh, p. 80)

  20. Ibid.

  21. (TIME, 1957)

  22. (Abu-Odeh, p. 81)

  23. Ibid., p.146

  24. (Al-Watha’iq al-Urduniya [Jordanian Documents], p. 55) via: (Abu-Odeh, p. 133)

  25. (Abu-Odeh, p. 137)

  26. Ibid., p. 147 |

  27. (Massad, p. 239)

  28. Ibid., pp. 239-240

  29. Ibid.

  30. (Fruchter-Ronen, p. 246)

  31. (Massad, p. 240)

  32. Such as Queen Noor of Jordan, in (Queen Noor, 2003, pp. 123-124)

  33. (Fruchter-Ronen, p. 249)

  34. (Abu-Odeh, p. 177) via: (Massad, p. 244)

  35. (Fruchter-Ronen, p. 249)

  36. (Queen Noor, pp. 123-24)

  37. (Massad, p. 245)

  38. (Fruchter-Ronen, p. 250)

  39. (Massad, p. 245)

  40. (Fruchter-Ronen, p. 257)

  41. (Hussein of Jordan, 1988)

  42. (Wiktorowicz, p. 96)

  43. Ibid.

  44. (Tal, p. 187)

  45. Ibid., p. 204

  46. (Murphy, 1989)

  47. Ibid.

  48. (Tal, p. 204)

  49. Ibid.

  50. Ibid., 206

  51. (On the move: Jordan. (peace talks with Israel), 1994)

  52. (Boustani, 1993)

  53. Ibid.

  54. (Wakeman, 2009, p. 51)