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Jordan’s resilience and vulnerabilities

Dec 29,2018 - Last updated at Dec 29,2018

A country is only as resilient as its people. Despite its internal economic troubles and the sense of disenchantment among a significant number Jordanians with the government and its policies, many observers are perplexed by Jordan’s resilience. 

Explanations of its resilience range from an unwritten yet apparent “international insurance policy” for geopolitical reasons to the agile “adaptation” and “repositioning” abilities of its political leadership. While these explanations hold some truth and credibility in strategy and international policy circles, they remain short of accounting for the internal sociopolitical factors underpinning state-society relations. 

State-society relations in Jordan constitute — despite recent pressures, critique and negative descriptions — the foundations for Jordan’s successful international performance and internal resilience. 

Despite its vulnerabilities since 2011, Jordan’s responses to the latest few crises and, before that, to the Arab Spring protests, demonstrate how state-society relations are proactively and responsively managed. 

During the regionally difficult time of 2011-2014, state polices were reflective of its internal resilience dynamics. Being smartly adaptive with reasonable efficiency, timely-responsive and self-learning, the set of policies deployed to handle protests were based on a thorough understanding of state-society relations that goes beyond momentary hype. 

An understanding of mutual and dignified respect that guides His Majesty King Abdullah’s proactive and responsive policymaking processes. Owing to this understanding, and despite 4,110 demonstrations in the year 2011 alone, where 2,070 were held in Amman in addition to 2,040 others held across other governorates, a fifth of which were in Karak, Jordan emerged a rejuvenated and reform-oriented state, driving a major decentralisation plan aiming to give people more power over the decisions affecting their lives. Despite this assertive drive, and a few rounds of parliamentary and municipal elections, there will always be some vulnerability associated with turnout rates and efficacy of political participation.

Since 2011, at a policy level, the state was responsive to public opinion. A major shift in public opinion took place between 2006 and 2012, prioritising “gradual” over “immediate” reform. This shift was mainly driven, speculatively, by rational people who have calculated in response to the bloodshed and destruction that has engulfed the region since January 2011, partially sponsored by role-seeking and aspiring powers.

In essence, its unspoken motto was living with certainty, while being critical of it, is preferable to living with uncertainty and paying for it not only with peace-of-mind but also physical safety and treasure. This basic logic of public rational choice was evident in crime rates data. Despite the huge number of demonstrations, crime levels decreased during the peak of the Arab Spring. Crime levels were lower in the period of 2011-2013 than they were in the period of 2008-2010, as revealed by Department of Statistics. Confidence in the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) as a symbol of the state did not change in any statistically significant manner since 2001. In a nutshell, 90 per cent reported that they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the JAF, the highest recorded figure in the region. Unlike other countries in the region, confidence in the Public Security Department (PSD), the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) and the General Directorate of Gendarmerie Forces are the highest among 12 Arab countries from which credible survey data are available. 

This confidence in security institutions secures a great deal of safety perception, both at the nation and neighbourhood levels. When people report on the safety of the neighbourhoods, they report an immediate experience of their circumstances. 

Generally speaking, people report more positive results for their satisfaction with safety at the neighbourhood level than they do at the country level. 

In Jordan, however, there is no statistically significant difference between those reporting that they are “very satisfied” with safety in their neighbourhoods (72 per cent) and in the country as a whole (74 per cent). The fact that Jordanians report a 2 per cent points higher level of satisfaction with country safety compared with neighbourhood safety means that their level of trust in the overall security environment is very strong, unlike other comparable Arab societies in the same research project (Arabtrans).

The challenges to Jordan’s resilience are compounded. Despite the fact that it has been a few years since the height of the Arab Spring, the region is in evermore turmoil. 

While the nature of chaos during the Arab Spring movement was symbolised by the striving for more, inter alia, economic opportunity and civil and political rights, the current chaos in the region has rather taken people to basic materialist needs such safety, security and physical peace. Jordan has been concerned with both waves of regional turmoil, especially that they constitute a direct threat to its national security with refugees’ influx, radicalisation, violent instability and unprecedented strain on already meagre resources. Recent surveys conducted in 2017-18 demonstrate that the levels of confidence in security institutions have remained stable at high levels although there has been a steady decline in confidence levels, in other governmental institutions, such as the Cabinet, especially when its performance on unemployment, poverty and fighting corruption is evaluated. 

The challenge is that the security establishment is handling issues that the government should be dealing with first and foremost. When the directors of the PSD and Gendarmerie are in the field, it means the civilian government is not efficient enough. The PSD and the Gendarmerie ought to be last resorts. Pushing them to what is otherwise a political arena has serious implications for state resilience and state-society relations. First, it is an acknowledgment by the government that we cannot handle it. Second, these institutions, along with the JAF and GID, should not be negotiating on behalf of a strong or weak government. Third, relying too much on these institutions to play a civilian role is going to take away from them and their status as highly trusted institutions by the overwhelming majority of people.

 

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

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