The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was monitored carefully by politicians and scholars alike during the events of 2011 that come to be known as the Arab Spring. Some voices predicted it might be the next Middle Eastern country to be thrown off-balance by statewide protests aiming to oust the ruling regime. However, despite the overall dissatisfaction with the status quo and the relatively low speed of political and economic reform, the time of the Arab Spring manifested itself chiefly through increased media activities, especially among activist bloggers, and through local-range non-violent demonstrations. Thus, compared to the overall atmosphere and tendencies in the region, Jordan’s case could be considered as extraordinary.
The main reason why Jordan managed to avoid political revolution can be attributed to its social structure. It is true that the state has been experiencing problematic issues of political and economic nature that could serve as fuel for nation-wide protests. Even the population of Jordan is largely shaped by foreign military operations – consider e.g. that due to the long-running Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the largest demographic group are Palestinians comprising approximately 50 percent of the total population. Ethnic Jordanians constitute the largest minority in their own country, and their number is estimated between 30 and 35 percent. The rest of the nation is formed from Iraqi people (15-20 percent) and multiple other minorities from the Middle East, countries of the former Soviet Union, Southern Asia and the Far East.
To make matters even more complicated, Jordan is a country of considerable religious diversity, despite the Muslim majority accounting to approximately 92 percent of the population. Jordanian Muslim do not comprise a homogenous social group – even though most people declare themselves as Sunni, the number of Salafis is gradually increasing, and there are numerous Shiites especially among members of the Iraqi minority. The remaining 8 percent of people are mostly Christians, not including minor religious groups formed by migrant workers from various countries. What must be added, though, is the fact that among both Muslim and Christian part of the nation, a large proportion are non-practicing people leading their lives according to secular rules.
As a consequence, the image of a typical Jordanian is blurred. Jordanian ethnicity is no longer an attribute of the majority, nor is the strict cultivation of the Islamic principles of everyday life. The government and the royal family have been maintaining solid cooperation with most ethnic and religious groups; hence discrimination is not a widely-discussed topic in Jordan.
The next point is related to the consequences of the potential removal of the Hashemite family from power. A new governing structure would likely turn Jordan into a Palestinian state, due to the current demographic distribution and the scenario called Al-Watan Al-Badeel (in Arabic الوطن البديل. “the alternative homeland”). The status quo is, therefore, convenient for the ethnic Jordanian minority. What is more, such a situation would not be beneficial for the Palestinian majority, either. If Jordan became known as a safe Palestinian ground, Israel might gradually adjust to the new regional setting and force the Palestinian inhabitants to relocate and systematically reduce the so-called Right of Return (in Arabic: حق العودة, Ḥaqq Al-Awda). It must also be taken into account that without an active support from the ethnic Jordanian community, any protest would be seen as an expression of Palestinian discontent and an attempt to seize more power in the country.
From the economic perspective, the part of Palestinian majority living in large urban centers did not have sufficient reasons to protest against the government, as the current situation allowed then to lead decent lives. They felt that the actual Arab Spring was a demonstration against poverty, unequal political treatment and social exclusion – matters that did not seem to relate to the situation in Jordan.
Interestingly, the conviction described in the previous paragraph was not fully confirmed by the statistics from the late 2000s and the early 2010s. Between 2003 and 2008 inflation increased from 1.6 to 13.9 percent, whereas the official unemployment rate remained at the level of 13-14 percent, even though independent research indicates the actual value to the closer to 30 percent. Moreover, the regressive tax system added more burden to the lowest strata of the Jordanian society. Finally, the end of Iraqi petrol supplies caused by the unstable political situation in the neighboring state caused the transport in Jordan to suffer considerably.
However, despite all the unfavorable numbers and statistics the Jordanian community did not opt for a statewide process. One of the points explaining the lack of action was related to the fact that in the capital city of Amman, the majority of inhabitants are ethnic Jordanians – without their consent, no other social group would commence a protest, lest it might be viewed as a local issue, instead of a national movement.
To shed lighter on the issue, some scholars have also discussed the development of the Jordanian middle class that has grown progressively more homogenous and concentrating on the ideas of one nation and cosmopolitanism. In spite of the unsolved economic problems, and delayed political progress, many people have managed to find their ways of adjusting to the conditions in Jordan. The emerging middle class found itself following similar patterns of work and leisure that had previously been restricted for the elites. As the new social class group in numbers, it also brought more stability to the entire state.
Last but not least, political and economic problems in Jordan do not match the issues that ignited the events of the Arab Spring. In truth, the Hashemite Kingdom has been facing the same problems for decades, and while the progress has been relatively slow, the country has not experienced a remarkable decline in overall living standards since the surge of April 1989, when an economic reform caused a rapid increase in the prices of food. The demonstrations that ensued sent a clear warning from the Jordanian society, and afterwards, the state monitored its decisions with greater care, not to mention the assistance offered by allies, notably the USA, and various organizations in order to maintain a stable situation and, possibly, encourage progress in Jordan. Symbolically, in 2013 President Barack Obama visited the Middle East with the intention to meet with the leaders of Israel, the Palestine and Jordan. Obama stressed the American role to support the Hashemite monarchy while fostering democratic reform.
Abdellateef Al-Weshah holds a doctoral degree in Political Science/ International Relations, from Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan (2016) and a master’s degree in American Studies, from the University of Jordan (2013).