Panel 4d. Democratisation or Much Ado About Nothing? Investigating Forces for and against Reform in Jordan

Chair: Curtis Ryan

Maneuvering Through the Arab Spring: Regime Security and Jordanian Foreign Policy
Curtis Ryan, Appalachian State University

This paper draws on extensive field research in Jordan, including interviews with foreign policy-makers in the Hashemite Kingdom – from foreign ministers to King Abdullah II. The paper examines the impact of regime security considerations on Jordanian foreign policy, specifically as it confronted challenges from Arab revolutions, counter-revolutions, civil wars, and the rise of terrorist movements such as the ‘Islamic State’ or Da’esh. The paper also addresses the tendency for foreign policy and regional security concerns to outweigh domestic agendas for reform and change. I argue, however, that domestic political reform is as pressing an issue for Hashemite regime as is the seemingly constant stream of external security challenges.

The domestic dimension of authoritarian resilience – the case of Jordan
Artur Malantowicz, University of Warsaw

The Historical Sociology (HS) approach to study state formation in the Middle East (Hinnebusch 2010, 2014) explicitly postulates looking at the decision-making process of the state-builders as a response to three primary challenges: nation-building, economic development and authority building. This response is being shaped by numerous possibilities, constraints and threats of both domestic and external character, and in result may lead either towards inclusive and competitive political system or, quite contrary, to authoritarian upgrade. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with its inseparable tradition of the neopatrimonial rule, seems to be a case of the latter. This paper thus looks at the way the authoritarianism has been incorporated into the state-building process in Jordan, how it has entangled the social fabric and manifests itself on different arenas of the socio-political reality of the monarchy. Specifically, the study aims to show how the intrinsic features of Jordanian society – tribalism, clientelism and lack of coherent identity – have in fact strengthened the position of authoritarian regime and allowed it to resort regularly to divide and rule, elite co-optation and crony capitalism strategies. Finally, the paper indicates the path dependency of the state-building process which has led to a resilient authoritarianism with only limited electoral contestation in the contemporary Jordan.

State, Society, and Leader Succession in Jordan
Andrew Spath, American University

Leadership change in authoritarian regimes can be trying episodes for incumbent governments and incoming leaders. Scholars have noted the “uncertainty,” “vulnerability,” and “crisis of legitimacy” that often follow from non-democratic leadership transitions, particularly those replacing long-term incumbents. The event creates an imperative for governments to manage the transition, and it simultaneously presents an opportunity for opponents to direct claims and grievances toward a new target. In this way, leadership change marks the advent of a new relationship between ruler and ruled. Through an investigation of the leadership succession from King Hussein of Jordan to his son Abdullah II in 1999, I seek to answer two related questions. First, how do leaders attempt to manage this key event through the strategic use of rhetoric, symbols, and public initiatives? Second, how are these efforts challenged or accepted by political opposition and activists? The study uses a mixed methods approach to events analysis, combining content analysis of Arabic and English newspapers and interview-based fieldwork to explore state-society interaction during the passage of power in Jordan.

A liberated parliament, a liberated monarchy? The meeting of the Twain in Jordan
Paul Esber, The University of Sydney

The discourse of liberation in Jordan has taken many forms in the twenty first century. King Abdullah II is intent on liberating the country’s stagnant economy, while the opposition, both formal and informal, have continued to pursue the cause of a liberated and accountable parliament. Each of these has adopted a renewed significance in the wake of the Arab Spring, which has revealed that although the reform game remains relevant in Jordan, it will not do so perpetually. Conventional analyses of political change generally posit the interests of one collective against those of another. Thus revolution or reformation can appear as binary trajectories, zero-sum games where one side is required to lose in order for another to gain. This is not to deny the reality that where the recalibration of power is concerned there will inevitably be those who gain more than others. However both reform and revolutionary movements in the Arab World have called on institutions of state to follow through on the cries for dignity, bread and liberation emanating from the street. Asef Bayat has designated this phenomenon an example of “refo-lution”, the amalgamation of a revolutionary agenda with a reform process. Demonstrations in Jordan fall into this category. This paper will argue that the Arab Spring and its aftermath have demonstrated that the interests of the Jordanian Monarchy must become closer aligned with those of the population. And that this requires liberating the parliament, making it more of an independent governing body.

Jordan’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: The Production of Feeble Political Parties and Perceived Perils of Democracy
José Ciro Martínez, University of Cambridge

Why does authoritarianism persist in Jordan? Leading approaches answer this question by emphasizing the importance of institutional arrangements and strategies which structure the choices made by members of the opposition, economic elites and the military. More recent works have highlighted the significance of international support and economic liberalization, along with the pathways and processes through which they have allowed Jordan’s ruling elite to bolster the coalitions supporting authoritarian rule. Undoubtedly, the intersection of institutional factors and external alliances are key factors in explaining ‘monarchical exceptionalism,’ but they cannot by themselves explain how the Hashemite regime successfully sidesteps demands for political change. Drawing upon Laclau and Mouffe’s theory of discourse (1986), defined as a horizon of ‘multifarious practices, meanings and conventions…through which a certain sense of reality and understanding of society are constituted,’ this paper scrutinizes the importance of Hashemite nationalism to authoritarian durability. The paper will focus on Hashemite nationalism’s articulation, the power relations and strategies through which it partially fixes the meaning of key nodal points, paying close attention to the regime’s depiction of democracy and opposition politics. The micro-dynamics behind long-standing divisions amongst the opposition, broad-based distrust in political parties and the cross-cutting coalitions that make authoritarian persistence in Jordan possible are not solely the result of material and institutional factors. Through the introduction of a new approach to democratization, this paper seeks to demonstrate the role and importance of hegemonic practices in the discursive realm, those that construct the imaginaries and ‘truths’ that make authoritarian rule possible.

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