Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The King and Jordanian Politics

Politics in Jordan is interesting. The current ruler of the country, King Abdullah II, is a monarch who still retains lot of power. The country has a parliament, but the King sets their agenda and can (and often does) replace the Prime Minister and other government figures at will.

Perhaps the most interesting article about King Abdullah's reign is this March interview with him by Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic. The overall gist of the article is that the King loves the US and wants to transition to an American style democracy as soon as circumstances allow. But the king also made numerous blunt and somewhat derogatory comments about various Jordanian political factions that he claims stand in the way, calling tribal leaders "dinosaurs" and the influential Muslim Brotherhood (known as the Islamic Action Front in Jordan) a "Masonic cult".

The king seems to believe that he cannot give up his authority without first creating a strong and diverse political culture in Jordan, lest the nation fall into the hands of the Brotherhood or devolve into tribal factionalism, which remains a challenge in Jordan:
Earlier that day, in his private office in Al Hummar, which overlooks the wealthy neighborhoods of West Amman, the king had explained to me the reason for the trip to Karak: he was trying, in advance of parliamentary elections in January, to instruct these tribal leaders on the importance of representative democracy. He wanted, he said, to see Jordanians build political parties that would not simply function as patronage mills but would advance ideas from across a broad ideological spectrum, and thus establish for Jordan a mature political culture.
The interview provoked a strong reaction from many Jordanians. The Royal Hashemite Court here backtracked on Abullah's comments, saying he was misrepresented. If you read the comments on the article, many supporters of the King claim the interview was fabricated wholly or in part.

Over at the Black Iris blog, Nasreem Tarawnah (a Jordanian political scientist and blogger) offered a critique of the King's interview, which I strongly suggest reading. Some highlights:
The picture of the King that emerges is one of a leader who, at heart, is a reformist and a modernizer but has been unable to carry out his agenda for 14 years because the General Intelligence Department and tribal conservatives (the “dinosaurs”) have been too powerful a force, working against him or rejecting his changes. In other words, the portrait of a leader the West can sympathize with emerges. It’s an image that sells well in the Western hemisphere but if you simply live in Jordan, you probably recognize the holes in that picture....
And as for conservative forces – this is just as troublesome for me. For while the GID remains a mystery, subject to rumors and assumptions, political appointments are not. And the overwhelming majority of the people the King appoints and the names he puts his Royal stamp of approval on, are simply put, old guard conservatives.... 
If the King came out and, for instance, said to his people: ‘let’s shelve reform for now – we live in an increasingly unstable region and are faced with new destabilizing forces such as Syria, and we need to buckle down for the time being’ – then I would have no problem with that kind of honesty. I might not agree with the decision, but I’d recognize where he’s coming from and respect the fact that no one is trying to peddle me something I’m not buying.
Tarawnah is skeptical of the idea that the King cannot control the conservatives and security apparatus that he claims stymies, and critical of what he sees as 90s-esque doublespeak: telling Western audiences one thing and your own people another. I don't necessarily agree with him, but his opinion is certainly one worth reading.

The two articles and their accompanying comment section are a great 30 minute primer if you're not familiar with Jordanian politics, and I strongly suggest reading both of them in full if you have an interest in the subject.

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