'Demanding reform, not regime change'

'Demanding reform, not regime change'

Jordan is facing the same socio-economic contradictions plaguing other West Asian countries.

Jordan has so far weathered the Arab Spring without a major political upheaval and kept the Syrian conflict from infecting the kingdom with rebellion. Nevertheless, Jordanians are anxiously watching for contagion across their borders with chaotic Syria, anarchic Iraq, and the ever unstable Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Jordanian military has denied reports that the US has deployed 150 military experts here, allegedly, to help the Jordanians deal with the flood of Syrian refugees and provide aid in case Syria’s stock of chemical weapons come under threat from rebel forces supported by the Saudis, Qataris, and the West. But Jordanians suspect that the reports are true.

Prominent Jordanians spoken to gave several reasons why the kingdom has avoided challenges to the monarchical regime and unrest. While Jordan faces the same socio-economic contradictions plaguing other West Asian countries where the rich get richer and the poor, poorer, these contradictions are not as dramatic as they are in, say, Egypt.

Corruption, which is endemic in this region, is also not as flagrant as in other countries.

The police, army and security services are professional and act as a stabilising force. 

They are recruited from every family, clan and tribe of the 40-plus per cent of Jordanians of tribal origin and are loyal to the king. Although Jordanians of Palestinian origin - refugees from areas of Palestine appropriated by Israel in 1948 - constitute a politically under represented majority, a large proportion has prospered here and have a stake in the political system. Furthermore, dissidents are constrained by concern that if they pose a serious challenge, their citizenship could be revoked.

Fearsome threat

For people of refugee stock, statelessness is a fearsome threat. While there are human rights abuses in Jordan, the security services are not as brutal as they are in countries like Libya, Egypt and Syria. Since the Arab Spring began, there has been "no blood shed in Jordan," observed former minister Musa Maaytah, a liberal socialist figure.

The main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has for more than half a century been part of the establishment. Until the country's first relatively free and fair parliamentary election in 1989, the Brotherhood made common cause with the king against leftist and nationalist opposition groups.

Ali Abu Sukkar, head of the advisory council of the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood's political arm, told Deccan Herald that the Front is demanding reform not regime change. “We are not asking for a constitutional monarchy but for a representative parliament that appoints the prime minister. This is the first step towards democracy.”

Mr. Abu Sukkar said radical Salafi fundamentalists, who have gained ground in Egypt and North Africa, have not become major players in Jordan. Mr. Maaytah observed that Jordan's “opening to the west,” its ties to the US and Europe, are a “force for stability and make Jordan an important country in the region,” particularly because destabilising Salafi extremists are present in both Iraq and Syria.

There is general agreement that change is essential. There are 70,000 new university graduates every year who need jobs. People demand better pay, health care, and education. Dr. Khalid Kalaldeh, a physician, argued that the “king needs to change his way of thinking” by adopting the social-market economic model exemplified by Sweden and Germany rather than the free market espoused by the US.  Jordan needs a “dynamic private sector and a generous public sector,” he stated. The current drive for privatisation is destroying the good school system and health services built over the years and corrupting the administration and even the courts.

He said Jordan needs “good politicians” to achieve change rather than self-interested politicos who benefit from the current system and resist change. If Jordan fails to make essential politico-economic changes, Jordanians under the age of 30 could take up the Arab Spring demand for regime change. In Jordan this could mean ending not just the term of a president but the monarchy. The influx over the past year of 180,000 Syrian refugees is the lastest challenge faced by Jordan which has absorbed or accommodated huge waves of refugees over the past 64 years.

Of the seven million people living here, 1.5 million are non-Jordanians. Jordan hosts more than half a million Iraqis, many of whom fled after the US occupation of their country in 2003. Cash-strapped and water-deficit Jordan has neither the funds nor the water to sustain the Syrians. Jordan's trade with Syria and Turkey has been disrupted by the conflict while regional instability has reduced the number of tourists coming to Jordan, cutting revenues at a time the kingdom needs an injection of funds.

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