Jordan has not avoided Arab awakening or Arab Spring completely but there were actually some protests. And a number of protests that took place in the country over the last two years is actually incomparable with the number of protests that used to take place earlier. Also the ceiling of the demands by protesters was increasing over time since the Arab awakening. Over the last two years they were demanding the reform of the regime and then they wanted to introduce new issues like constitutional monarchy and to limit the king’s power.
So, there was a kind of movement at the streets level and within the elites level and the need to introduce new changes. So, Jordan is one of the countries that are actually going through I would say a transitional moment now. But we can also argue that it is a smooth and managed transition in a way, that so far the opposition parties, including the Islamist and other parties, are not having the critical mass as yet to have something like a popular uprising similar to other countries, like Tunisia or Yemen, or like Egypt in that regard.
And for that there are several reasons that we can consider in understanding why the protests have been minimal, why that so far has not been going up to a way out revolution. There are reasons behind this regarding the nature of the regime, regarding the nature of the social contacts between the state and the society, and the due politics that has been unfolding in the region for that matter.
Sir, but you said that Islamists have not reached the critical mass in power structures and you said – as yet. Does that imply that you do not rule out the scenario of more turbulent development?
Actually if we think about scenarios for Jordan and what would happen, I wouldn’t rule out any of the scenarios. The most likely scenario is that we will continue in this managed transition. But if there is a sort of severe economic deterioration and there is a severely high rate of unemployment, as we witnessed around the end of the last year, and increasing number of poor people, and also the rising sentiment against corruption and lack of action in that regard – that would drive increasing numbers to the streets and could witness a serious trouble in the country. This is one of the scenarios.
But the second scenario which as I argue is the most likely is that the Government is trying to respond to demands at both levels by fighting corruption and having a more participatory policy making. The latest parliamentarian election which by far at least can be characterized as fair election in the sense that there was no forgery, there was no intervention as happened before in the previous elections, though it was boycotted by the Islamists and some opposition groups. But at least the outcome was uncontroversial compared with other previous elections.
So, now we at least have a legitimate legislative body that can take some more fierce measures regarding the political reform in Jordan and introducing a new election law or a new set of rules for governing the new affairs in Jordan.
Several times I’ve run into an assumption that Arab Spring poses a certain challenge for monarchy regimes. So, does that mean that Jordan might be one of the models to argument that position? Or is Jordan's case absolutely special?
Actually I think there are some certain challenges and there are some certain threats. It depends on how you response to this new political landscape in the region and the new political landscape in Jordan. And this challenge could be turned into a threat if you do not act, if you do not react, also if you are sometimes too active and take serious steps towards changing the way that the state-society relations are shaped and how you gain the public support.
But so far actually, since the revolution or the Arab Spring has started, Jordan has amended its constitution, which is for the first time in 50 years when they introduced some constitutional amendments which reduce the absolute power granted to the king and gave it to the Parliament, also reduce the executive body’s power and empower more the elected legislative body in that regard. So, actually there is a new dynamics that is taking place.
Sometimes you would argue that maybe they are slower than they should be and they are quite hesitant but I think this is quite natural in a country where there is an entrenched interested groups that have benefiting from the existing arrangement for a long time and you would expect them to resist the shift to a new dynamics whereby new elites and new interests would emerge and take positions in the new political and economic landscape.
Of course, if you wait, if you don’t react, if you think that all policies would apply today and would reach a conclusive agreement with your own society – then you are definitely mistaken. And a challenge is how really to predict and draft a new social contract and a new political arrangement whereby you increase the level of participation and you don’t take responsibility as a monarchy on your own part or as an individual institution, or a singular institution in the country.
But Sir, definitely there are other factors which are out of control of the Government, like the situation around the country. So, in what ways does the situation in the neighbouring countries affect Jordan? And can the Government efficiently counter those dangerous effects?
There are actually two aspects to what is happening in the region, and particularly in Syria. One thing is that this refugee crisis, which is a kind of humanitarian crisis which puts more pressure on the Government and its own resources and how they are responding to this. And this event unfolding in Syria, so far we don’t know how this would end and what kind of new political regime would prevail in Syria. That fight and that geopolitical threat is out of the Government’s hands, and I agree that that is something we have to include when we talk about the regional aspect of this Arab Spring in that regard.
The second aspect is actually people at the street when they are watching what is happening in Syria, that devastation, that destruction of their infrastructure, the divide in the society, the casualties, the way that the Government and the Army is dealing with its own people has actually put a kind of break to the protest in the street and the public support in the sense that although we are demanding for reforming the polity and reforming the regime in Jordan but nobody wants Jordan to get into the chaotic state that we are witnessing in Syria in that regard. And therefore they are really backing off from supporting any uncalculated movement.
So, I would say that what is happening in Syria to great extent has weakened the more drastic political demand in Jordan and you would find a lot of people actually leaning towards a managed transition. And probably the outcome of this election is actually the reflection of that, I mean the level of participation and the quality of the parliamentarians who reached the Parliament would reflect that flavor of the opposition but also the flavor of how can we improve the status quo and how can we move forward with the light at the end of the tunnel instead of jumping into the unknown. I think this is where the support and Syria has played a significant role in really creating a group of hesitant people because they are unsure about how this would unfold in Syria and what role could the international community play in the crisis similar to the ones in Syria.
Dr. Saif, thank you so much. And just to remind you our guest speaker was Ibrahim Saif – resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, in Beirut.