Jordan - the next Middle East flashpoint?
December 12, 2012
Protesters from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties shout slogans during a demonstration against rising fuel prices after Friday prayers in Amman November 23, 2012.REUTERS
For the West, the Jordanian monarchy is an anchor of stability in the Middle East - but one analyst argues that ignoring the discontent there to maintain the status quo could deepen tensions in the country.
As rebellion continues to sweep one Arab nation after another, Jordan`s diplomatic importance seems to grow. Quite apart from its relative domestic stability, the Hashemite Kingdom is currently the only Arab country with a resident ambassador in Israel, a vital point of contact given Jordan`s large Palestinian population.
Jordan is also unique for another reason - its leadership, under King Abdullah II, remains peculiarly confident. Despite thousands of nationwide demonstrations over the past two years, political uncertainty brought on by a succession of no fewer than five prime ministers in two years, and a brutal conflagration on its Syrian border that is filling up its refugee camps (there are 200,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, by the government`s last count), the monarchy seems convinced that it has overcome the worst of the Arab Spring and is back on the front foot.
The story in Amman was very different a year ago, when the king openly spoke of instability in the country and frantically promised democratic reforms in the hope of heading off a potential rebellion. Earlier this month, Abdullah felt assured enough to consider postponing the upcoming parliamentary elections set for January 23, a move that duly stirred an opposition outcry.
Hasan Momani, director of the Regional Center on Conflict Prevention at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy - a research institute established by the Jordanian foreign ministry - described the mood in the country as generally calm. But he acknowledged that the situation in Syria and the precarious economic situation were a threat.
“We are in a critical situation, but there is danger and risk everywhere - I don`t think Jordan is descending toward instability,” he told DW. “If you are talking about our geo-political position, we are squeezed - we are in the eye of the storm. Yet there is very little violence in Jordan. I`m not ruling out that violence did occur on certain occasions, but violence can also take place in the most democratic states.”
Abdullah`s relative security is partly down to the continued support of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the US, and the European Union. Apparently for the sake of regional stability, those international powers are showing more willingness to overlook the slow pace of constitutional reforms, which were meant to invest the Jordanian parliament with more power. (Despite promises made nearly two years ago, the king still has the power to arbitrarily appoint and dismiss governments and is only obliged to consult parliament over the appointment of a prime minister at his discretion.)
This foreign support often comes in the shape of financial aid to prop up Jordan`s struggling economy. In August, the country took out a loan of $2.05 billion (1.58 billion euros) from the International Monetary Fund - though that was contingent on commodity price increases and public subsidy cuts that will almost certainly rile the population further. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, provided some $1.4 billion in aid in 2011 alone.
But there is a price to pay, argues Julien Barnes-Dacey, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). He believes the international community`s pragmatic myopia is exacerbating instability in the long run. “There are political and economic tensions that if they are not resolved will potentially create a measure of discord,” he told DW. “So long as you provide enough funds to maintain the status quo, the Jordanian authorities don`t feel the need to address the fundamental problems that are coming their way.”
“For two years now, the European countries have been willing to give the king the benefit of the doubt in terms of his promises of change, and yet we see very little on the ground,” he added, though he underlined that this is not to say that Jordan will suddenly descend into calamity and bloodshed. “I don`t think that will happen, but the question is this: Is there a danger that Europeans will continue to buy the lie of reform? The desire for stability and the desire to take the king at his word is trumping the EU`s other stated objectives to engage with democratic forces.”
But Momani said much had been achieved in the past two years - such as the establishment of an independent commission on elections and a supreme constitutional court. He also said there was a reason for the slow pace. “King Abdullah made it clear that reforms have to be gradual - we need to build consensus, we need to build institutions to make reforms successful,” he said. “We don`t want to end up with a chaotic situation. You need to have a safe transition where everyone will participate.”
Not as stable as it seems
An obvious palliative influence in Jordan is the fact that the regime`s human rights record is much cleaner than, say, Syria`s. The government has largely made no attempt to suppress demonstrations, which has helped to keep the deep divides in the country from international attention.
“The protests have not gained the critical mass where they have seized the imagination of the foreign media, but certainly it`s been unprecedented in scope,” said Barnes-Dacey. “Over the last few months we`ve seen very large demonstrations calling for serious reform. This is not something that can be relegated as meaningless - this is fairly widespread and deep discontent.”
Nor is the anger in the country simply part of the wave of regional discontent, the so-called Arabellion - though clearly that has fed into it. The protesters` concerns are wholly domestic, and yet the issues would be recognizable to protesters around the world - corruption, unemployment, austerity measures, political disenfranchisement.
Fear of the Muslim Brotherhood
The fear that binds western powers and Arab monarchies alike is that democratization in the Middle East will open the door for the Muslim Brotherhood to seize power. But, as Barnes-Dacey points out, resisting such forces carries its own dangers. “One has to engage with the political realities as they stand on the ground,” he said. “In Jordan it`s clear that the Brotherhood`s political arm, the Islamic Action Front, is a well-organized political machine that has strong support across the country. So it`s not feasible to push them aside when they do represent a wide spectrum of public opinion.”
Then again, the Jordanian opposition is more than simply an Islamist movement. “There`s a much wider sense of discontent which draws in a much larger part of the population,” he said. “The danger is that the authorities in Jordan and even some of their backers in the West make this purely about the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not really fair.”
As yet, Jordan is a long way from the verge of collapse - the monarchy continues to enjoy popularity and protesters on the streets are calling for reform rather than revolution. “The king still has a lot of room for maneuver,” said Barnes-Dacey. “The danger is that the country will continue down the same path whereby you don`t have a more inclusive system being created, and potentially that leads to more discontent and polarization. That means that perhaps in a year you have a much more uncertain environment.”
© 2012. Deutsche Welle.
Two years on, Jordan Spring remains focused on reform
Jordan Times Online
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a demonstration following an announcement that Jordan would raise fuel prices, including a hike on cooking gas, in Amman November 13, 2012. The placard read “Empty bellies do not know of belonging and loyalty”. Violent protests that shocked Jordan this month have mostly subsided, but unprecedented chants for the “fall of the regime” suggested a deeper malaise in a kingdom so far spared the revolts reshaping the Arab world. Picture taken November 13, 2012. REUTERS
After almost two years of protests and popular demands, the Arab Spring in Jordan remains different from that in other countries, according to experts, who mainly blame public discontent on “wrong economic policies”.
Jordan, which has its own unique situation, has been unable to resolve its political and economic crisis because of the lack of immediate solutions, political and economic analyst Zayyan Zawaneh said.
“This is the first time in the country`s history that both the economic and political files are so interrelated, and feeding each other,” Zawaneh said.
He cited the example of the anger triggered by a recent government decision to lift fuel subsidies, a purely economic factor that has created among many a negative attitude towards the upcoming parliamentary elections, slated for January 23.
The analyst said there is a social conflict in the Kingdom, with the majority of Jordanians seeking to get rid of elites who have controlled power and decision making for many years.
“Although this elite group is the main reason behind financial and political problems in the country, they still insist on remaining in power,” Zawaneh added.
Social Leftist Movement leader Khaled Kalaldeh said that the main cause for Jordanians` anger was the economic situation that deteriorated by the liberalisation and privatisation policies followed in the past 20 years.
Jordan has witnessed unprecedented levels in rising living costs, unemployment, economic inequality and corruption, Kalaldeh said, adding that these results were caused by politicians who are still in power.
In order to exit political congestion and economic challenges, he remarked that Jordan needs “out-of-the-box solutions” that guarantee sustainable development and fair distribution of fortunes, in addition to political reforms that could bring people who are trusted by Jordanians to the helm of executive power.
However, despite the political crisis, pro-democracy and reform activist agree that His Majesty King Abdullah and the Royal family are a point of consensus for the country, Kalaldeh said, adding that what people are calling for is reforming the regime and not its downfall.
“No political party or group has adopted slogans that call for the downfall of the regime,” he said, indicating that such slogans were raised by a minority of angry youth.
Kalaldeh believes that real political reforms are the remedy for Jordan`s economic crisis, but he charged that influential elites are fighting against real reforms because it would jeopardise their interests.
“This group should be removed from the scene for the sake of all Jordanians,” he concluded.
However, Muslim Brotherhood Spokesperson Murad Adayleh believes the crisis in the Kingdom is political rather than economic, elaborating that there is a problem in managing the country`s agencies and resources, which, according to him, resulted in corruption.
“This bad management also made Jordanians lose confidence in state organisations,” Adayleh added.
Europeans are protesting their governments` economic policies such as austerity measures but they trust state agencies, Adayleh remarked, pointing out that the Islamist movement believes the King is the consensus figure for all Jordanians.
“What we want is to reform the regime, as the country`s stability is of the utmost importance to all opposition groups, particularly since we live in a turbulent region,” the Islamist leader said.
However, he warned that if people feel there is an intentional delay or lack of a true will to carry out comprehensive reforms, things might get out of control.
Former political development minister Musa Maaytah also agreed that protests and popular demands in Jordan are different from those in other Arab countries.
Loyalists and opponents agree on the monarchy as a symbol of unity for all people, Maaytah, who has been an opposition leftist activist, noted.
Maaytah said that since the beginning of demonstrations, slogans were rational and confined to urging expedited reforms.
“Maybe what is happening in Syria and Egypt has made people more aware about the value of stability,” he noted.
Jordan needs a gradual and secure reform process that could be agreed upon by all people, he added, indicating that parliamentary elections, slated for January 23, will be an important step forward although Islamists are boycotting it.
People will continue to take to the streets demanding further reforms, particularly with Islamists not taking part in the legislative elections, he said.
The former minister urged Islamists to adopt the slogan of their counterparts in Egypt who insist that the solution for the crisis there should come from the “parliament and not the square”, in reference to the iconic Tahrir Square in Cairo, a popular gathering point for Egyptian protesters.
(Description of Source: Amman Jordan Times Online in English -- Website of Jordan Times, only Jordanian English daily known for its investigative and analytical coverage of controversial domestic issues; sister publication of Al-Ra`y; URL: http://www.jordantimes.com/)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Muslim Brotherhood Leader Al-Kufahi Interviewed on Zamzam Initiative
Friday, December 7, 2012
Amman Al-Dustur Online in Arabic, website of Al-Dustur, a major Jordanian daily with pro-Palestinian line partially owned by government, on 3 December publishes an approximately 6,000-word interview with Islamist leader Nabil al-Kufahi, who, along with a number of other moderate Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders, recently launched a reform initiative called the National Initiative for Building, or Zamzam Initiative, which some viewed as a dissident movement. The date of the interview, conducted in Amman by a number of Al-Dustur editors, is not specified. Al-Kufahi discusses Zamzam Initiative and the reform process in Jordan.
Al-Kufahi reveals that work on the Zamzam Initiative “started years ago” and is still continuing, but the founders held a public meeting recently “to send a message to more than one party, not the MB group but other parties.” He adds: “I believe the National Initiative for Building (Zamzam) reflects rational Islamic thought and entails a call for broad national action. We realize -- and we are still in the MB performing our organizational duties and preaching and political work -- that the message of the MB is broader than a closed organizational framework. Martyr Imam Hasan al-Banna (founder of the Muslim Brotherhood) says: `You are a new spirit running in the veins of this nation to extinguish the darkness of ignorance with the light of Islam.` Organization is essential for the creation of a group so that it can have visions, strategies, objectives, follow-up, implementation, and a kind of accountability. But reducing the idea of the MB to an organization is, I believe, not right, as it stifles and kills the idea. The MB in Jordan created many establishments that became national establishments and are no longer owned by the group.” He says these large establishments, like the Islamic Hospital and the Islamic Charity Center Society, are owned by the entire Jordanian people.
Al-Kufahi says it is the duty of the leaders of Islamic and national action to “provide broad frameworks that can accommodate many of those who are willing to work for this religion and this country.” He says those who organizationally commit themselves to the MB pay a heavy price on the personal and political levels. “Not everyone is able to pay this price,” he says. This is why Zamzam Initiative was launched as a broader framework for all those who want to engage in national action.
He adds: “After the stage of the Arab Spring, we noticed a duality here in Jordan: the State and the MB. Regrettably, State media seriously sought to create such duality; namely, that there is the State on the one hand and the MB on the other, with the people caught in the middle. We are against this duality. What I want to emphasize is that this initiative is not secession from the MB body. It is not a quarrel with the MB or others. And it is not confined to political action only.” He adds: “Some youths wish to get involved in political action. They have a place in the political frameworks of this initiative. Other youths wish to be involved in social, environmental, or voluntary action, but not political action. I believe there is an opportunity for all Jordanians, Muslims or non-Muslims, politically organized or not, men or women or youths, highly or modestly educated, to be part of this initiative, which was called an initiative, not a front, a group, or a party. It is an initiative for building. Any action that might add a block to the building of this country has a place in this initiative. There is room for many of these energies.”
He says some people, however, are fishing in murky waters. “There are certainly enemies of the Islamic movement trying to create confusion about the initiative. And there are certainly people in the Islamic movement who do not wish to see such initiatives. But we believe that this initiative serves the MB`s vision of serving the Jordanian homeland and serves the vision of every Jorda nian wishing to see his country in a better situation. This initiative is open to everyone. We have MB members and non-MB members. We have Christians. Perhaps the MB-affiliated members are more conspicuous. But I believe this is a tax we pay. But we are not part of the MB only. We are part of the Jordanian people. For us, the MB is a choice and a will, but being Jordanians is not a choice or a will. This is a fact. We believe that we can give the higher national interest precedence over the interest of the individual and, we believe, over the interest of the MB group sometimes. I believe the initiative will attract many wasted energies that wish to engage and dream of engaging in national action in various political, economic, social, and voluntary frameworks but cannot pay a price here and there that organized members of Islamic and non-Islamic groups paid.”
Asked if the Zamzam Initiative is not a breakaway from the Islamic movement, Al-Kufahi says the initiative is not a framework outside the MB framework. He says that while the differences within the MB are generally “healthy and natural,” there are some “unhealthy” differences. “But I believe the Islamic movement is still too solid to be split or fragmented.”
He says: “We will not seek to license this initiative as a political party or as a nonpolitical party. Nor will we monopolize the MB name. We are part of the MB. We are Jordanian MB, joining everyone in a national initiative for building, accommodating MB members, Christians, and leftists within a general national initiative. We will not enter into vituperations with anyone, and we will not enter into conflict with anyone, within the MB or outside it.” He adds: “We did not ask for permission from the MB. How can it be a national initiative if it takes a decision from the MB? We believe the MB, as a reformist idea, is wider than an organizational framework. Regrettably, some of us made a mistake, and I probably made a mistake, when we tried to institutionalize the MB idea through an organization only. An organization is important and necessary, but I think the reformist idea is bigger than any organization.”
Al-Kufahi says: “I would like to stress that we are still Muslim Brothers and will continue to be. We will not break away or turn the table on our mother group. But at the same time, this group is not the property of anyone. I was a leading member. Now I am an ordinary member. No one, therefore, has the right to pass judgments. At the end of the day this initiative is a viewpoint. It might be unsuccessful. But I believe that after thorough thinking and examination of the characteristics of the Jordanian society and the political activity, this initiative has a good chance to succeed.” He says “the initiative is not a political framework seeking political rivalry with any other body.” He says “one of the main motives of the initiative was the pressure applied by the youths, especially university students, to create broader frameworks than those that exist.”
On the timing of the initiative, he says: “We delayed the announcement of the initiative. We said that perhaps the people of Jordan would achieve a real victory in their endeavors to regain their usurped powers and their control on their resources, country, and establishments. But it seems the Arab Spring in Jordan dragged on for long. I believe the initiative might add new momentum to the political and popular activism.” He adds: “The timing is right. In our political side, we did not propose an idea that conflicts with the decisions of the Islamic movement. For example, we still support an election boycott under the existing election low. This is a decisive position. It is in line with the position of the Islamic movement.”
Al-Kufahi stresses that the leaders of the initiative “do not converge with any official inclination to fragment the Islamic movement.” But he adds: “We are not against the regime. We are against wrong practices and corrupt laws. We are against a despotism-corruption alliance that still controls the capabilities of the country in one way or another. If some see the initiative as something that serves their interest, there is no problem with us because it ultimately serves the interests of the country. What is important is that intentions, measures, and alliances will be based only on the national interest. It might converge with the regime or with the MB, and it might diverge with the leftists or Arab nationalists.”
Asked if the proponents of the initiatives believe the MB was “part of the crisis” in the country, Al-Kufahi notes that the Islamic movement is coming under heavy media pressure and says: “Do not, therefore, expect the Islamic movement`s reactions to always be 100 percent balanced. There is pressure. The Islamic movement is besieged. Maybe there were some unsuccessful views, and maybe we did not read the situation correctly sometimes, as we are, at the end of the day, humans who err, but I do not believe the Islamic movement is a partner to what happened.” He says “the mistakes of the Islamic movement are not as bad as the sins of others.”
He says: “No one in the Islamic movement or outside it denies that there were (reform) achievements in Jordan. Those were not a favor from anyone as much as they were a result of a popular pressure. These are rights for the Jordanian people. The regime took the initiative, and we thank it. It even reduced the political, social, and economic cost. But I believe there is still foot-dragging on the issue of reform. What was offered is good, but it is not up to the ambitions and capabilities of the Jordanians.” He adds: “We need measures to ensure fair election. If the parliaments that the single-vote election laws produced led the country to this situation, where debt reached about $26 billion, what will guarantee that the coming parliament will not repeat this if the ceiling set in advance for the reform forces, including the Islamic movement, is 30 percent” of the parliament seats?”
Asked if “political money” was used in the internal MB election, Al-Kufahi says: “The concept of political money does not exist in the Islamic movement. There are mistakes. We are humans who can be right or wrong. But it is not political money in the sense of political money used in elections. We asked that the payment of subscription fees as an election eligibility condition be cancelled in order to reduce such mistakes. But these are minor things. I believe there are wrong practices within the Islamic movement, but they do not shame it. We correct mistakes. I believe there were investigations and trials in this regard, and that mistakes were corrected.”
On the position of some MB leaders who are generally identified with the moderate and reformist trend, such as Salim al-Falahat and Abd-al-Latif Arabiyat, Al-Kufahi says: “As for the big names you mentioned, and in order to be clear, we did not consult with them from the beginning, but they were informed later. Some of them have fears, and they are legitimate fears that we appreciate. Perhaps these fears are related to the special nature of this stage. But I clearly say that there is always resistance for change, whether among the Islamists or others.”
Asked if the initiative will bridge the gap between the Islamic trend and the secular trend and serve as something like Erdogan`s Islamic party in Turkey, Al-Kufahi describes Erdogan`s experience as “successful” as it “managed to live with the situation and maintain the principles through a gradual approach, an approach intended to create a cultural and ideological change in the structure of the Turkish society, not to impose conditions through the ballot boxes.” He adds: “I believe Erdogan`s model should be viewed not only with respect, but also as a model to be emulated.” He says Zamzam Initiative “in effect, seeks to find an approach for reconciliation with everyone. I believe that this is the genuine Islamic approach.” He says there is no problem with the initiative working with “those who are historically identified with the trend of loyalty (to the regime)” and even letting these people lead the initiative if they serve its purposes.
On reports that the deputy MB leader admonished the initiative sponsors, Al-Kufahi says there was no contact between Zaki Bani-Irshayd and any member of the initiative. He, however, says: “We are not against any accountability now. The leadership of the organization has the right to question anyone.” He says “there are no differences in the vision and objectives” between the MB and the initiative, but there are differences in tactics. “We seek reform and the MB seeks reform. There are no differences between us. But we use different tools. Some believe that the MB base must be broadened organizationally to be able to lead the political and reform scene. Others have a different opinion. We believe that broadening the MB`s organizational base so that it can be a large, leading organizational body is not the right thing to do.”
Asked what will happen if the MB leadership asks the initiative members to choose between the initiative and the MB, Al-Kufahi says “no person has the right to give us a choice between the MB and the initiative.”
Asked if the initiative will reconsider the election boycott, he says that “if the circumstances of the participation in the election change, the Islamic movement might participate.” He adds: “I believe that if the rules of the election game change in a way that ensures better control and participation by the Jordanians, the Islamic movement -- and it is more represented in the initiative in terms of presence and thought -- might reconsider its boycott decision. If there is real response with regard to a fair and consensus-based election law and true guarantees for fairness, there is a strong inclination in the Islamic movement to accept a postponement of the constitutional amendments until a next stage.”
(Description of Source: Amman Al-Dustur Online in Arabic -- Website of Al-Dustur, major Jordanian daily with pro-Palestinian line; partially owned by government; features relatively influential contributors such as Yasir al-Zaatirah, Urayb al-Rintawi, and Mahir Abu-Tayr; URL: http://addustour.com)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.