The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed comments on the MENA region’s most critical issues and trends. Today, we turn the spotlight on Jordan – a linchpin for the region – where rumours of a conspiracy to oust the king have brought the country’s structural weaknesses to the fore.
Jordan’s image, painstakingly built by the country’s authorities as an oasis of relative stability within a turbulent Middle East, took a hit on April 3, when former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein was accused of cooperating with “foreign entities” to destabilize the state. The incident, widely presented as a family disagreement, resulted in the arrest of eighteen individuals and Hamzah’s oath of allegiance to the Crown and the Constitution two days later. While investigations are still ongoing, the recent controversy comes as an unexpected novelty for the country. Since the Hashemite kingdom’s origins, Jordan has always been seen as an island of stability in an otherwise unstable neighbourhood. At the same time, King Abdullah II has long been held in high regard in the United States, as Washington has relied on his steadying influence and views him as a highly reliable partner. Today, Amman remains one of the United States’ closest allies in the region, especially in counterterrorism operations and intelligence-sharing in the fight against al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Nevertheless, despite its apparent stability, the country faces substantial socio-economic challenges. Jordan has been hard hit by the coronavirus (it ranks among the highest COVID-19 infection and death rates per capita in the region), while its unemployment rate reached one-fourth of the population in 2020. Furthermore, the country is currently home to over 660,000 Syrian refugees while also hosting a large community of Palestinian refugees. Hence, coming at a particularly uncertain moment for the country and combined with pre-existing structural problems, the tensions within the ruling family risk detracting attention from long-needed socio-economic reforms.
Experts from the ISPI MED network react to the recent events in Jordan.
Jordan’s uneasy geopolitical position
“The kingdom of Jordan has so far been spared a visit by the Arab Spring, apart from several random and discontinuous waves of protests. For years now, economic demands have been growing and calls for less corruption, and more transparency have been rising. Against this backdrop, the ruling family is not only facing challenges on the economic front but also subtle opposition from the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been very active in other countries visited by the Arab Spring as well. Moreover, Iran and its hegemony over Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon puts Jordan in a difficult geopolitical position that requires close collaboration with GCC countries to counterbalance, especially that these countries are also ruled by monarchies. Thus, at the moment, the ruling family is trying to avoid having these geopolitical challenges spill into the local political scene and cause a serious threat to its rule via a combination of chaos and uprisings.”
Farah Al-Shami, Research Fellow, Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)