Recent regional developments, as well as events inside Jordan, have made it crystal clear that Jordan’s ruling family, which controls the government and parliament, has become not only an obstacle to Palestinian-Israeli peace, but a drag on the new global vision of uprooting violent extremism.
It is well known that the British handed control of Jordan to the Hashemites as a part of the British Mandate for Palestine, prior to the establishment of the state of Israel. Less known is the fact that the very creation of the Hashemite state was driven by strictly geo-economic motives. The new entity was envisioned as a buffer zone between the incoming Jewish migrants and the oil fields discovered then in Iraq. Protecting Jews from the Arab masses was never the true reason Britain created the Hashemite kingdom, as many pan-Arabists still claim. Today, this bogus reasoning has become even less credible with Israel’s cooperation with the Kurds on different aspects, as well as its rapprochement with the Gulf states over their shared interests in countering violent extremism and the Iranian threats.
On Syria, as well, the Hashemites are a destabilizing player: As understandings and arrangements are hammered out to defuse the crisis, Jordan is vested in the continuation of its northern neighbor’s civil war. The kingdom has been playing both sides to keep the factions fighting, training rebels and sending fighters into Syria, on one hand, and coordinating with the Syrian regime on the other to keep diplomatic channels open just in case of any unpredicted outcomes. The Jordanian royal family’s interest has been to simply keep the conflict alive to gain more advantage on the ground, not to mention cashing in on the Gulf and US aid that flows best at times of crisis, although that game is now over with the creation of safe zones in Syria.
With the founding of the Gulf States’ counter terrorism and radicalism coalition that aims at eliminating the roots of radicalism within societies, the Hashemites found themselves standing up for Qatar and its close coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the Jordanian government’s claims about confronting the movement, and its supposed alliances with Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain, the regime has an unwritten contract with the Muslim Brotherhood that allows them to control social policies and enforce social conservatism in exchange for their fealty to the Hashemite regime.
This can be seen most clearly in the Jordanian state’s social policies. An April poll by Pew Research Center found that Jordanians were the most anti-American nation out of 37 nations polled, with a staggering score of 82%. This finding caused shock to many, considering the unconditional economic, military, and diplomatic support the Hashemite kingdom receives from the United States. But the anti-American sentiment emanates from the top. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has never shown Jordanians any of the civil and international values for which the US stands. Cynically, while the king fails to counteract anti-American sentiment, he presents it as proof that there are no viable alternatives to his leadership in Jordan that could implement change and reform.
One way government enforces policies to incite radicalism, racism, and prejudice is through the municipality of Amman, which is under the direct control of the King of Jordan’s royal court. Amman’s City Hall names streets and urban areas within the capital after obscure Islamic figures, thus gradually lending the city an Islamist ambience. Last June, the government drastically raised licensing fees for nightclubs and pubs, despite those being some of the very few outlets of entertainment within Jordan’s pressure-cooker atmosphere. The new fee is a staggering 14,000 Jordanian dinars (USD 20,000) per license. In the UK, these cost just USD500. Last month, a reliable Jordanian news site reported that the Ministry of Interior had banned the formation of a political party because most of its founders were of black African descent.
Further, the regime has allowed a Muslim Brotherhood parliament member to launch a campaign against a Lebanese pop group, banning it from holding concerts in Jordan, because it allegedly employs sexually suggestive moves on stage. That campaign also extended to banning a gay magazine in Jordan. To some, this may seem artificial and irrelevant to the collective identity of the state, but it is part of a systematic effort to channel the average citizen towards radicalism, desperation and intolerance, thereby gradually radicalizing the society as a whole.
Since King Abdullah came to power in 1999, Jordan’s friends abroad together with local moderates have been trying to reform the regime and push it towards tolerance and political diversity. Nonetheless, it is apparent that the Hashemites are employing a wide variety of methods to obstruct any type of reform. Their chief motive remains the same: to grant themselves any excuse to stay in power. This has turned Jordan into a country with a schizophrenic identity, a liberal image abroad contrasting with its regressive and grim direction at home.
For the sake of Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis alike, as well as for peace lovers worldwide, the time has come for the Hashemites leave power.
Samer Libdeh is a British-Jordanian policy analyst and Managing Director of Interaction Forum. He’s a former FCO officer and Fulbright Scholar, and has held senior research analyst positions at think-tanks in Washington and London; In 2003, Samer worked as a reporter in Baghdad for MSNBC and later as a Foreign Desk Editor for Alaswaq Business Daily in Jordan.