While turmoil threatens the regimes of many of its neighbors, conditions in Jordan have remained relatively calm. Although we have had more than 150 protests across Jordan since before the fall of the Tunisian regime, all demanding accountability, better living conditions, and an end to corruption and wider political reform, nobody has called for regime change ― so far.
The reason is simple. King Abdullah II, the current leader of the Hashemite dynasty, is the only unifying factor for all the different ethnic and sectarian groups in the country. If the Hashemites were toppled, there would be no Jordan as we know it today.
But that doesn’t mean that I, like other Jordanians, would not like to see an end to corruption. I would also like to see the patriarchal tribal-based system replaced by accountable governance and a parliament fairly elected by the people. I also want to see a system based on meritocracy, equal rights for all Jordanians, judicial independence and a free media.
Over the last 10 years, corruption has become the number one problem for Jordanians, shaking public confidence in state institutions and the regime. It is perceived as being sanctioned by the highest levels of government, and many of the king’s royal initiatives to improve the lot of Jordanians and to open up the economy to foreign investors have been tainted by charges of graft.
Today, Jordanians want to see corrupt officials put on trial. Many officials around the king have been accused of corruption, dishonesty and of running Jordan like a private company. The last two parliamentary elections were widely perceived to have been rigged, and most governments have stayed in place just over a year.
King Abdullah II’s reaction to the protests has helped. He sacked the prime minister who was viewed as part of the system of corrupt officials. He ordered certain taxes to be abolished, reduced some basic food prices and gave civil servants a pay raise. He has called for party political and parliamentary election reform and has shown openness to constitutional reforms that give parliament a wider political role.
A committee led by pro-reform Senate speaker Taher Masri, a respected Jordanian of Palestinian origin, has been appointed to study political reform. It should come out with its recommendations by the end of May.
But many Jordanians would like to see the king set out the reform process more clearly, with the final outcome being a constitutional monarchy.
To ensure long-term stability and security, the king will need to sacrifice some close allies that are seen as corrupt, and introduce more democratic laws and meritocracy.
This may not be easy for a man who built his career in the army and is not a naturally born democrat.
But for now, at least, the regime is not viewed as the enemy of the people. It doesn’t have blood on its hands. The royal family still enjoys widespread affection and respect.
Jordan has many things going in its favor, including a highly educated and relatively small population. A little economic investment could have a transformative effect.
Given what else is going on in the region, Jordan has a fighting chance of emerging as a transitional force in the Middle East.
By Rana Sabbagh
Rana Sabbagh is a veteran Jordanian columnist and journalist who writes for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. ― Ed.
(The Institute for War & Peace Reporting)
(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)