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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Interesting read on the reign of Talal of Jordan: “Jordan in Transition”

King Talal of Jordan is one of the personalities that always alluded to my interest; with little information available on the 11-month-reigning king, the figure remains mysterious on multiple levels. I recently came across a very interesting book, entitled “From Abdullah to Hussein: Jordan in Transition”, a book by Robert Barry Satloff (@Amazon). A chapter within the book discusses the short reign of King Talal, offers much more details on the historical background of the rewriting of the Jordanian constitution, and presents a much more comprehensive insight on the king’s history than I have seen before.

A limited preview can be seen on Google books here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=3-JWbAkLVbEC&pg=PA42&dq=King+Talal&cd=8#v=onepage&q=King%20Talal&f=false

I would disagree with the cynicism surrounding the constitution; though its technically right. The book highlights that Jordan did not become a democracy, but rather a pseudodemocracy. However, given current context, it seems that people on the outside (and sometimes the inside as well) mistake Jordan for a dictatorship or an authoritarian-ship; pseudodemocracy as a description shows: an element of democracy does at least exist. My view of Jordanian democracy is closer to “democracy-in-transit”, a system that is largely flawed technically, but practically – and for the time being only – generates freedoms.