Jordan faces many challenges due to its geographical location and historical developments since independence. The exodus of Palestinians after 1967 led to a divide in the nation between the Jordanian East Bankers and the Palestinian/Jordanian West Bankers. These divisions have been further exacerbated by tribalism in parliament and populist discourses. The Hashemite monarchy bases its legitimacy on religion and a Hashemite identity and guarantees its continuance by relying on tribalism and clientelism.
Jordan is a small country in the Middle East surrounded by Israel, the West Bank, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. For much of its history, Jordan lacked a defined political and territorial identity, as the area was part of different empires and Kingdoms and was a buffer zone between the desert tribes to the east and the settled Mediterranean to the west, across the Jordan River. World War I provided an opportunity for peoples in this region to rise up against the Ottoman Empire, in 1916. The first emir and later King Abdullah I, a Hashemite, vowed Jordan would be a place for all Arabs, stressing an acute Arab nationalism that would unite Iraq, Syria, and the countries in the region under the Hashemite family.
However, the post-WWI colonial division gave a different shape to the region. While the French colonised Syria, the British controlled Iraq and Palestine, which was divided in two. The eastern portion of the Jordan River, Transjordan, was administered by a local emir, Abdullah, under the supervision of the British commissioner of Palestine. Abdullah and his council created a military force known as the Arab Legion, which supported Britain in World War II. At the end of WWII, Transjordan has declared a kingdom and a new constitution was issued. Since independence, the history of Jordan has been linked with the regional wars with Israel and the flow of Palestinian refugees from the West Bank (European Forum, 2020; Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020).
King Hussein ascended to the throne in the early 1950s and for the next four decades, he balanced a pragmatic relationship with the West and the rise of pan-Arabism and nationalism, both of which threatened the monarchy. Jordan found itself opposing its Arab allies on many occasions, such as the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the wars between Israel and its Arab neighbours. The Arab-Israeli wars culminated in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and more refugees crossing into the East Bank (Shlaim, 2020).
The exodus of Palestinians after the 1967 war with Israel led to a divide in the nation between the Jordanian East Bankers and the Palestinian/Jordanian West Bankers. These divisions were further exacerbated by an attachment to tribalism that has deepened ethnic divisions. Eastern Jordanians, who often consider themselves pure Jordanians, adopted tribalism as a link between the King and his citizens, but also as a socio-economic safety net. They are often found in important positions in the public sector. The Palestinian/Jordanians do not enjoy the same political tribal support but rather have to rely on family or their own effort for social mobility. They mostly work in the private sector (Oxford Business Group, 2020).
King Hussein’s populism focused on several themes: a hostile “other,” which is Israel; the army as the defender of the holy shrines in Jerusalem; and the legitimacy of the ruling family anchored in religion, namely Islam. These three aspects aimed to minimize the divide between the eastern and western populations. However, despite trying to emphasize a resistance-based nationalism on an external “other or enemy” (Israel until the 1994 peace treaty), the divide between the different factions remained.
In 2002, King Abdullah II (the actual monarch), launched a campaign known as the “Jordan First” campaign. It aimed to move beyond tribalism and nationalism as resistance and develop a Jordanian identity on a set of frameworks encouraging equality, rule of law, transparency, democracy, and human rights (Goldberg & Satloff, 2000). This campaign aimed to emphasize diversity, uniting different groups under the Jordanian Flag. It also ended – at least officially – the pan-Arab visions, making the King, the King of Jordan and not of Arabs. Despite these efforts, the tensions between the two sides remains a mirror of a fragmented nation that emphasizes ethnic and tribal connections as a sign of pure Jordanian heritage (Jadaliyya, 2020).
Political parties in Jordan were established after independence and for a few years enjoyed a high level of activity. Due to protests in the 1950s, political parties were banned from 1958 to 1989. This resulted in a reduction of political activities, which became clandestine and weakened any strong opposition in the country. Political parties are not considered left-wing, right-wing, or centre, but instead follow particular ideologies; these include Islamist, Arab nationalist, and leftist parties. However, alliances between different ideologies have occurred, such as the alliance of Islamists, who traditionally represent a conservative right-wing ideology, with nationalist or more leftist parties. The clans’ and tribes’ representatives traditionally comprise the majority in parliament (Jadaliyya, 2020).
Alliances with the military and rural middle classes, similar to Nasserism or the practices of other populist regimes, allowed for the consolidation of a base that would support the monarchy. In exchange for political loyalty, supporters were placed in public sector jobs and critical positions.
Though there have been frequent protests in the East Bank hinterland, they aim mostly to attract attention to daily grievances and do not represent serious opposition to the monarchy. The country’s main opposition is the Muslim Brotherhood, but they often fail to generate a large mobilization of support sufficient to influence the political process. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is quite different from its counterparts in other Muslim countries. It was established in 1945 and served as an ideological platform for teaching and spreading the Brotherhood’s ideology. However, unlike the Egyptian branch, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has focused less on internal political issues and more on the liberation of Palestine.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with the monarchy has been symbiotic, with the Brotherhood supporting the monarchy while the monarchy allowed the Brotherhood to have a parliamentary presence. Despite their presence in parliament, most of the Brotherhood’s activities since the 1950s have focused on social activities and education. They set up their own primary schools that stress an Islamic lifestyle while simultaneously engaging in campaigns to influence the wider Jordanian education system. The Jordanian curriculum was deemed “Western” and incompatible with Islam, and, as a response, the Brotherhood tried – and succeeded in – changing some aspects of the curriculum by placing party members in key jobs at the ministry of education and turning schools and universities into recruitment spots for the organization (Chedor, 2020; Wagemakers, 2020).
The adoption of a law in 1992 obliged all non-political movements to create political parties to participate in elections. Consequently, a party branch of the Brotherhood was created: the Islamic Action Front (IAF).
The Arab Spring in 2011 contributed to changing the political map within the country. It saw the emergence of civil groups that turned towards political actions and organized entities similar to political parties. The successes of Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia provided the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan with an opening to gain support and advance its political agenda. Most of the protests in the county were more about improving the system than removing it entirely. The East Bank Jordanians, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Palestinian population were all vocal in their demands for change and reform. The Palestinians demanded more representation in the country’s political structures and a betterment of their political, social, and economic rights. The Muslim Brotherhood also asked for greater political participation and political reform in general (Human Rights Watch, 2020; Wagemakers, J. 2020).
Jordan, which has a long tradition of hosting refugees, notably Palestinian refugees, is pragmatic when it comes to international aid and support. It faces serious chronic challenges, including resource shortages (specifically water) and problems like unemployment in the economic and social sectors. The delicate balance built by the Hashemite family depends on clientelism, Bedouin tribes, and the loyalty of ideology-driven parties.
The Syrian refugee crisis awakened the emerging political narrative of marginalized populations. The competition over services, employment opportunities, and resources has increased the populace’s frustration in Jordan, leading to a growing chasm between marginalized factions and elite citizens. On the one hand, the Syrian refugee crisis helped the monarchy to create a buffer against critics and to halt the call for reform, thus gaining more time to appease competing groups. On the other hand, the monarchy has had to appease different key political players, including the East Bank Jordanians, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Palestinians, at a time when resources are scarce and reliance on external aid is the main solution (Salameh et al., 2020; Francis, 2020).
Given Jordan’s history and geographical location, different streams of populism have evolved over time. The Muslim Brotherhood constitutes one of the main contemporary populist streams. However, unlike similar Muslim Brotherhood movements in other countries, they remain limited to the Palestinian cause. Despite an opening during the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood in Jordan remains concentrated more on charitable actions rather than political ones. Political parties in Jordan remain weak and divided and are based on tribes’ loyalties. The Hashemite Monarchy struggles to balance satisfying the East and West Bank populations and their grievances while still maintaining its legitimacy through religion, clientelism, and tribalism.
By Imane Bendra
October 4, 2021.
— (2020). “Jordan – Ḥussein’S Last Years And The Ascent Of ʿabdullāh II.” Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Jordan/Husseins-last-years-and-the-ascent-of-Abdullah-II (accessed on December 13, 2020).
— (2020). “Jordan.” European Forum. November 26, 2020. https://www.europeanforum.net/countries/jordan (accessed on December 08, 2020).
— (2020). “World Report 2020: Rights Trends In Jordan.” Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2020/country-chapters/jordan (accessed on November 20, 2020).
— (2020). “Traditions Continue to Shape Modern-Day Jordan.” Oxford Business Group. https://oxfordbusinessgroup.com/overview/ground-traditions-continue-shape-modern-day-jordan (accessed on November 25, 2020).
Abu-Rish, Ziad. (2020). “On the Nature of The Hashemite Regime And Jordanian Politics: An Interview With Tariq Tell (Part 1).” Jadaliyya. August 22, 2012. https://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/26928/On-the-Nature-of-the-Hashemite-Regime-and-Jordanian-Politics-An-Interview-with-Tariq-Tell-Part-1 (accessed on November 14, 2020).
Chédor, M. (2020). “La Branche Politique Des Frères Musulmans En Jordanie: Contexte Historique Et Enjeux Politiques.” Observatoire Pharos. November 09, 2020 https://www.observatoirepharos.com/pays/jordanie/la-branche-politique-des-freres-musulmans-en-jordanie-contexte-historique-et-enjeux-politiques/ (accessed on November 13, 2020).
Francis, A. (2020). “Jordan’s Refugee Crisis.” Carnegie Endowment. September 2015. https://carnegieendowment.org/files/CP_247_Francis_Jordan_final.pdf (accessed on November 13, 2020).
Goldberg, J. and Satloff, R. (2000). “Jordan Under Abdullah: A One-Year Review.” Washington Institute. February 08, 2000. https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/jordan-under-abdullah-a-one-year-review (accessed on November 8, 2020).
Ryan, C. (2020). “Jordanie: Détérioration Des Relations Entre Islamistes Et Royalistes.” Centre Tricontinental. https://www.cetri.be/Jordanie-deterioration-des?lang=fr (accessed on December 13, 2020).
Salameh, M., Abudalbouh, W. and Al-Silwani, R. (2020). “The Socio-Political Implications of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on Jordan: 2011-2018.” Journal of Politics and Law. 13(1), p.89.
Shlaim, A. (2020). “Peacemaker: The Legacy of King Hussein Of Jordan.” Middle East Eye. January 26, 2020. https://www.middleeasteye.net/big-story/peacemaker-legacy-king-hussein-jordan (accessed on November 13, 2020).
Wagemakers, J. (2020). The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood: Exceptional or Common After All? Fondazione Internazionale Oasis. July 22, 2020. https://www.oasiscenter.eu/en/the-jordanian-muslim-brotherhood-exceptional-or-common-after-all (accessed on November 11, 2020).