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Jordan on the brink again, really?

Apr 13,2019 - Last updated at Apr 13,2019

Since the 1940s, with each wave of instability in the region, we hear voices talking about the imminent “collapse of Jordan”, with titles such as “Jordan on the brink”, now add “again”, then add: “How did Jordan manage through?” Each wave is associated with a set of strong external and internal reasons that support the “collapse theory”, which has become a heavily used grand theory. The said theory has provided an easy way out for those who do not want to dig deeper to understand the centrality of Jordan’s geopolitical importance and its implications for internal and external political actors, whether they are rational or not.

External reasons would include fluctuating and unstable international and regional alliances. Today, some of these voices point to a changing role of Jordan vis-a-vis Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Jordan has been through far more drastic changes in the past 70 years and it proved resilient. Though challenged these days, its resilience is very likely to endure the stormy winds of the current high regional and international tides. One indicator of this possible endurance is the global and local recognition of His Majesty King Abdullah’s role.

Fuelled by the recent events in Algeria and Sudan, dubbed Arab Spring 2.0 (AS 2.0), and the unprecedented levels of discontent with consecutive governments, the current government’s ministerial team in particular, and perceived lack of accountability as compared to responsibility, some observers of Jordan and its politics expect a mass protest to take place in the next few weeks, especially during Ramadan. Is this going to really happen? And if it happens, is it really going to be consequential?

First, let us differentiate between research, advisory, advocacy, lobbying and activism among “observers” expecting such a wave. Policy advisory research, whether shallow or deep, is not blind advocacy, although it might be used for advocacy. Some have argued privately and publicly that a mass protest supported by the middle class and the elites seems to be in the making, repeating last year’s protest that toppled Hani Mulki’s government. These arguments are put forward by activists with wishful thinking, advisers with cautious minds and rigorous calculations and “lobbyists” who have competing interests.

Although, theoretically, protest possibility is exacerbated by an increasing belief among economically marginalised segments, particularly the 388,000 unemployed people and the youth among them, weak belief in the state’s seriousness to fight corruption and a significant increase in the percentage of Jordanians believing inequalities and injustices are widespread, the translation rate from theoretical attitude and even anger to action remains very small. As small as it may be, it should not be discounted. After all, not all Algerians took into the streets in AS 2.0.

Although the sense of inequalities and injustices may have increased after the unemployed marched to Amman, and some untimely government appointments of the past few weeks, coupled with its inability to respond convincingly to public criticism, it remains unclear yet whether these developments are going to mobilise more “automised people” to move from “idle observers” to “active participants” in a potential protest. A possibility that cannot, and should not, be ruled out.

Unlike previous waves of protests, the “expected new one” could build on discontent among the unemployed youth and politicise it as its backbone with a significant high moral grounds and familial support of potential participants. If that happens, a new wave of protests is not likely to be contained without major structural changes addressing “deeply seated issues”.

If not politically averted in a preemptive manner, it will become rather difficult for the state to “manage” a headless and unorganised mass movement fuelled by anger, disappointment, hopelessness and a legitimate demand: jobs. The likelihood of mobilising the unemployed alone as the backbone of the movement is serious and can lead to a mass protest that may take the country to an uncharted journey.

Moreover, there is a significant build up among activists of various backgrounds to prepare for another “Ramadan Fourth Circle” episode. The solution to such a new wave of protest is economic and cannot be a via a security approach. Since the economic solution requires time, a preemptive political solution ought to be seriously considered as soon as possible.

Today, more than ever before, people are observing how the state and the King are going to rebuild public trust in state-society relations by leading a “white revolution” from the top to avoid a potentially protracted political crisis. This starts with a serious association between responsibility and accountability from top to bottom. All those who are making decisions and /or spending public funds affecting peoples’ lives must be held accountable to their policies and spending. Jordan will pass this time too at some cost, as ever, and the “brink” will be put, once again, farther away.

 

The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions [email protected]

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