Will Jordan pass the Arab Spring test?
It’s been nearly one and a half years since the Arab Spring knocked on the doors of Jordan, a country of balance in the Middle East with a population of nearly seven million including nearly three million Palestinians.
Contrary to its northern neighbor, Syria, the Arab Spring is passing in a rather smooth and tranquil way in Jordan as no casualties have been observed in the nearly 4,000 protests since the beginning of the spring.
According to Jordanian Prime Minister Abdoullah Ensour, Jordan’s experience vis-a-vis the Arab Spring is worth studying. “Our process is very different from almost all Arab nations with the exception of Morocco, that it was the establishment and the King who led the reforms. He did not wait for the people to revolt and ask for reform. He started the reforms and sometimes he surprised people with how far he went,” Ensour said during a meeting with visiting Turkish journalists.
In the last year, Jordan amended one third of its Constitution and established an Independent Election Commission to conduct elections and a Constitutional Court in a bid to give more power to the legislative body and to the judiciary.
Elections were held in January and the new Parliament has started consultations to select the prime minister for the first time in Jordanian history. “This is a turning point for Jordan,” Ensour said.
The short-term plan of King Abdullah is to change the Political Parties Law in a bid to create a healthier political life based on well-defined political parties and then, in the mid-term, to shift the regime to a “constitutional monarchy” as observed in several European countries. The most important asset in this process, according to Jordanian officials, is the highly educated human capital of Jordan. The transformation of the country has been planned under a carefully crafted plan in a bid to prevent the streets of Jordan from becoming like the ones in Syria, or even in Tunisia or Egypt.
“There have been nearly 4,000 protests in the last two years but thank God not a drop of blood spilled,” Ensour said, adding that the motive of the protests were not to topple the regime but to ask for more rights, contrary to other Arab Spring nations.
One of the concerns in Jordan is the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which boycotted the elections as their demand of proportional representation was not fulfilled. This well-organized movement could possibly get most of the 150 seats of the Jordanian Parliament under a proportional representation system. Ensour vowed that Parliament would revise both the Election Law and Political Parties Law once the new prime minister is selected.
Another challenge Jordan is facing is the economy. Surviving thanks to the generosity of rich Arab countries, Jordan is currently undertaking important economic reform due to huge economic problems. Arab countries are no longer granting money but giving credits in return for concrete projects, which cause cash deficits. The fact that the Syrian crisis cut Jordan’s land transportation with Turkey and Europe has hit its economy in the last two years. Yet it’s also trying to host 400,000 Syrian refugees that already cost the weak Jordanian economy 600 million dollars.
The talks for a stand-by agreement with the IMF worth two billion dollars are also bringing additional problems to Jordan, as it had to remove subsidies on gas and electricity prices. “It became necessary and inevitable to take these difficult measures. We did it. Only 50 days ago, we had the harshest oil price hike as high as 45 percent. And there were protests, of course, and very difficult times. But finally our message touched the convictions of the people and they accepted that what we did was right,” Ensour said.
Credit should be given to the Jordanian leadership for successfully sailing in this unprecedented climate hitting the entire Arab world and for carrying out substantial reforms with the idea of the democratization of Jordan. A democratic and prosperous Jordan will further strengthen its position in the Middle East and at the same time provide a better environment for a solution to the problems of Palestinians and for a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian peace.