Has pragmatism saved the Hashemite kingdom?

Posted: February 9, 2015 in Discussion

Here is how Jordan escaped the Arab Spring


The kingdom has exploited the chaos in the region to guarantee the perpetuation of the status quo.

Last updated: 09 Feb 2014 09:09
Nermeen Murad
Nermeen Murad is a Jordanian writer based in London.

The price for Jordan’s stability is the perpetuation of the status quo [Getty Images]
The story is that Jordan has survived. Full stop. As for how and why the country emerged unscathed from the Arab Spring, there are myriad theories, variously citing the “maturity” of the Jordanian public, Western financial support, the UN’s management of the influx of Syrian refugees and last but certainly not least, the kingdom’s official “web masters”.

The truth is that all of the above helped the small nation to evade the promise – or threat – of change that everyone expected would eventually come, despite resistance from within, and finally usher in the political freedoms necessary to lay down the foundations for a modern, democratic state.

Instead, what we got was stability. The price for that stability is the perpetuation of what can only be described as the status quo and with it, the security apparatus’ firm grip on government and the preeminence of the old guard.

Consider this story: A young Jordanian musician, while introducing his group’s next act, made a light-hearted joke about the government’s mishandling of the recent snow storm in the kingdom. A security guard at the state-owned theatre took offence. An exchange of words led to a scuffle, after which the security guard called for reinforcements. The incident has now spurred a petition[Ar] calling for the resignation of the director of the theatre. For now, it seems the director of the theatre, Abdul Hadi Raji al-Majali[Ar], a well-known columnist, is going to remain in his post – basically, he’ll get away with it.

Although the musicians and their supporters pledge to continue their campaign calling for Majali’s resignation, there is no doubt that many Jordanians feel the incident was used as an example to warn the youth at large not to cross those invisible, but ever-present lines, even by jest.

Lip service to reform

Above all, the story highlights a general malaise where officials, with close ties to the system or at least  have shared interests, enjoy a degree of  impunity. The government, which has consistently paid lip service to reform, has essentially reaffirmed the old system of governance with its policies unchallenged and its agents above the law.

Case after case came up, where officials failed to deliever on their promises but got away unpunished. One example was when the government failed to take any action against perpetrators oftribal-inspired violence in Jordanian universities.

That is not to say that there are no repercussions for such bad governance in Jordan. While they- the officials-might be able -in some cases- to escape punitive measures in a court of law, however, in the court of public opinion, ordinary citizens, backed up by social media, professional associations and political activists, will continue to document such violations.

While they – the officials- might be able – in some cases – to escape punitive measures in a court of law,however, in the court of public opinion, ordinary citizens, backed up by social media tools, professional associations and political activists, will continue to document such violations.


Legal instruments – or what analysts have come to call “scarecrow tools” – are aplenty to ensure that anyone who oversteps the boundaries is very quickly brought back to “reality”.

Among the most important of such tools is the the Press and Publications Law, which continues to restrict freedom of speech rather than liberate it. In June 2013, the Jordanian government ordered three local Internet service providers to shut down nearly 200 news websites that have not been licensed by the state-run Press and Publications Department.

It claimed that they were not registered properly. Activists realised the move was meant as a gentle reminder that the taps can be closed at any time and that regardless of the freedom they feel in the “space” they inhabit, it was still a space the government can control. Despite their initial cries of protest, most bloggers and social media journalists eventually fell into line.

The government has also used state security courts to try civilians for participating in peaceful protests. Arrests included a young man who burned a poster of the king in 2012 for “undermining royal dignity” and 13 activists accused of “insulting the king”. Another 100 peaceful activists were dragged into the state security courts – where they have no right of appeal – to face a range of charges including disturbing the peace, damaging public property and insulting security officials. The court cases were seen as part of an overall plan aimed at addressing the public and warning them against acts of dissent. The activists facing charges were basically collateral damage.

Skillfully managed

In Jordan, the scene has been very skillfully managed through a number of tactics: A security apparatus that holds the keys to many of the state’s functions, a government with the power to guide the population, mainstream media in a single direction as well as the “scarecrow” tactics that serve as reminders of the perils of getting out of line. In sum, the population is suitably conditioned to protect the status quo for fear of the instability that may ensue.

Of course, the big story from Jordan is not only that it manoeuvered itself so skillfully while neighbouring countries fell to their knees around it, but that it managed to maintain the country’s socio-economic and political constancy in the midst of a bloody triangle. And, perhaps more interestingly, the real tale is how Jordan, somehow, exploited the regional chaos to guarantee its own stability.

As refugees continue to pour in from Syria – and now, again from Iraq – Jordanians are fully aware that there is no time for their domestic concerns. Despite their full knowledge that they have been outmanoeuvered by the system into submission, for the moment, they are willing to let it slide.

As one human rights worker in Jordan told me recently: “A ruler is best served by the status quo. The regime is comfortable today and is sitting on its podium surveying the scene. It doesn’t need to make any serious effort to fix or improve [things] because the status quo is stable.”

  1. Rya Inman says:

    The pragmatism of both rulers and citizens has definitely played a huge part in saving Jordan from any mess that could have (and probably would have) resulted from an Arab Spring-inspired revolution. While there is certainly some discontent among certain groups and people within Jordan, no one (supporters or opponents) has actually taken action to radically change the government because everyone knows what is at stake.
    After seeing the outcomes of the revolutions in other Arab countries, it is clear that they are not clean, glorious, overnight shifts to a people’s democracy. Instead they involve brutal crackdowns, shift after shift in power to various different hands (e.g. dictators, military, etc.), and much uncertainty for the future of the government, economy, and society.
    Because of the high risk of such a radical movement, Jordan as a whole has taken a safe and pragmatic route through the period by accepting the status quo. They’d rather have the minor issues of the current government in conjunction with food, shelter, safety, etc. than risk giving that all up for a new government and society founded in some idealist view of how the country should or could be.
    Rather than dream and debate on hypotheticals, Jordan has stayed safe in the name of long-term stability.

  2. Maya says:

    I think pragmatism is a big reason why Jordan escaped a revolution. King Hussein seems to be as frank as he can be. He acknowledged that there would be a spike in gas prices. Because he doesn’t give Jordanians false hope there is nothing to feel misled by.

    Also, as Rya said, Egypt and Syria are examples for Jordan as down sides for revolution. The pragmatic thing for Jordan as a county to do is to be happy with its leader.

  3. Hassan Boqaei says:

    I think with this:

    and with an intelligent leader, who knows how to use his army efficiently, Jordan were able to escape the Arab Spring.

  4. salehqadi says:

    I genuinely think that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan had really escaped the Arab Spring under the leading of His Majesty King Abdullah II for following a studied procedure. First of all, they did not attack the people in protests like the surrounding countries did so they gave them that kind of freedom. Second, the protests laws did not change, so the protests started violent and many people were arrested for making these violent acts, but then the protests went back to peaceful ones. The social media played a very big role in making the people direct their hatred power to only one side, which was the Muslim Brotherhood political party in Jordan and even Egypt… Loyalty played a VERY big role in this, because every TRUE Jordanian grew up with the idea of loving and having loyalty to the King and the Hashemites so it did not make sense to the people that some were protesting against the King. Now, the protests that go out contain only small number of people and they protest against the government not the King. The fact that Jordan is the safest place compared to the other surrounding countries made the Jordanians realize what they could end up in if they did not stop what the Muslim Brotherhood was going for. Also the fact that our King is not corrupt, and he is not in any way the one to blame for the Jordanian financial and other political conflicts is something that made the Jordanians rethink who they should protest against.

  5. eunsoljun15 says:

    Having lived in Jordan for about four years now, I have fallen in love with its people, its land, and mainly its leader, His Majesty King Abdullah II. Whenever something foreshadows chaos, his majesty stands up and speaks with poise, and everything calms down. Honestly speaking, I think Jordan was able to stay this stable until now because of the true humanity this country and its people hold. His majesty knows how to deal with issues from the perspective of a commoner, and does not abuse his power to lay out solutions that aren’t achievable. One incident that really made me feel honored to be in this country is when King Abdullah II spoke on the death of Mua’th (allah yerhamho). I was able to tell he was outraged, but he spoke about unity rather than attacking the terrorist group. He spoke about standing up as a family hand in hand rather than standing up to fight such animals. His majesty speaks with the most humane heart. Although this might seem idealist, it’s pragmatism because it helped the situation to become more stable. The whole country mourned for the innocent soul rather than firing up instability in the whole nation.

    • abbyhungate says:

      I agree with you Eun. I think that the stability of this country can be attributed to the ruling of His Majesty. Jordan has been consistently surrounded by violence and yet remains a safe, secure, and strong country. The pragmatism that the King has reflects upon his people and the lessons of reacting calmly and strategically to problems is why this country remains strong. His Majesty does not just say what he thinks his people want to hear, but what he believes they need to hear. He directs his country in the right direction by always thinking of what is best and not necessarily what everyone wants, and it is this pragmatism that is so important for a leader to have and is what I think will keep this country strong and secure.

    • Mallak Al Husban says:

      I agree with you Eun. It’s all about finding that crucial balance that satisfies all sides.

  6. Daniel Leal says:

    It is remarkable that Jordan is essentially held together by loyalty. The monarchy and tribal system of coexistence in Jordan is one of respect to the other party, making sure not to offend the other side too much. However, this system of walking on egg shells is only good to maintain a status quo but inefficient in terms of progress. Under such a system all legislation must be approved by Parliament, tribes, and King in order for the edict to be imposed on the country on a large scale. Ironic that is it trust which holds Jordan together but which may result in its divide in the long run, for pleasing all and doing what is necessary do not always go hand in hand, one gives out.

  7. farah sinokrot says:

    of course pragmatism is the reason Jordan is still Jordan and still alive. pragmatism is defined as “an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.” Jordan is a small country in middle of all the a war zone so the Jordanian monarchy needs to be politique about the decisions they make and why do the Arabs blame the king of being friends with the American and the Israelis that they are the reason of why Jordan doesn’t have a civil war and that it is not conquered why Israeli.

    • Mallak Al Husban says:

      I completely agree with what Farah said. The strategic approach that Jordan takes most of the time helps in preventing the country from encountering and facing great dilemmas that it wouldn’t have been able to get out of. It’s all about finding that balance between two opposing ideologies; Pragmatism and Idealism.The Hashemites do a great job at this and they’ve led Jordan through victories and tried to maintain a stable environment for the citizen.

      • Does this ‘maintaining a stable environment’ justify, however, shutting down “200 news websites”, arresting people for peaceful protest, and paying “lip service to reform” (all mentioned in the article)? Yes, Jordan has so far been able to keep its stability amid the violence and chaos of the Middle East, but how stable is it really when it is only skillfully managed to shush the oppositions. The stability in Jordan is not just admirable, but also has its dark side as well that we should not forget.

      • Mallak Al Husban says:

        if shushing these minor oppositions meant saving a whole country and over 8 million people and millions of refugees, then let it be. I completely agree that it might not be perfect, no system is; however, if it has been efficient throughout these years and has been sufficient when it comes to preventing wars and bloodshed, again let it be. Every strategy has its dark side and no system satisfies all the people, but satisfying the majority of the people is what we should look at. keep into consideration that Jordan is a buffer zone, when it makes a decision it doesn’t only think of Jordanians, it has to take into account every refugee trusting us with his/her life.

      • So far these ‘strategic’ approaches of Jordan has worked. You’re right, Jordan has survived the most violent era of the modern Middle East, took in millions of refugees and still managed to make it all work. But my question is, how long? Already with the refugee situation, the Palestine-Israel situation, and countless other issues happening in and around Jordan, there are oppositions and resentment, and so far it all has been controlled through nationalistic loyalty. But how long can this last when day after day, new events threaten to shake this carefully managed tightrope walking? I feel that Jordan has to change little by little to better accommodate these rather ‘cataclysmic’ changes the Middle East and Jordan in particular is going through.

      • Mallak Al Husban says:

        I agree with the change part .However, if Jordan has to initiate a change, it has to take into account the tribal system and how things work. It has to take baby steps in order to create a bigger one.

  8. miralobaidi says:

    HIs Majesty King Abdullah II is very much like King Abdullah I when it comes to pragmatism. He is aware of his country’s situation and the way his people feel towards what is going on in the Middle East. Thus he takes the appropriate actions in order to keep his people satisfied while giving them what they need and want, keeping his country safe and stable.

  9. Zaid Khalaf says:

    because of the high risk of such a radical movement, Jordan as a whole has taken a safe and pragmatic route through the period by accepting the status quo. I think pragmatism is a big reason why Jordan escaped a revolution. King Hussein seems to be as frank as he can be.

  10. Leylandin Kurdi says:

    I agree with Miral on the idea that King Abdallah II is pragmatic just like King Abdallah I. If he took the pathway of being idealist just like Gamal, I think that Jordan would have been going through a lot of political problems and instability with the kingdom. I personally think that pragmatism saved this country from revolutions, wars and attacks.

  11. Yasmine Malas says:

    I agree with Eun that the modesty of King Abdullah has helped shape the government and country in a very pragmatic way. It is a big reason as to why we were able to avoid being apart of the Arab Spring and why we haven’t fallen into a dangerous path of idealism. His Majesty, as well as his father, the late King Hussein, have always been figures who think rationally and logically in order to overcome obstacles in the region. This way of thought, to me, is a greater power than Gammal ever had as an idealist.

  12. Hamza Ali says:

    Pragmatism is what has gotten this monarchy to survive to this day. Living here for almost fifteen years now I love how realistic the government of this country is. With all the chaos breaking out with its neighbors, Jordan has still managed to maintain political stability to a certain extent, very greatly compared to the nations it borders. I believe this is solely because of the realistic mindset the royal family has. If they were to chase ideals like lets say Egypt, we all know how their government ended up…

  13. Pragmatism has undoubtedly saved the country of Jordan in several instances. Even during the six days war, it was a pragmatic decision to join into the war given that if they hadn’t, they would have lost the kingdom.

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