Struggle for legitimation
Jordan’s politics, including domestic politics, are shaped by the Middle East conflict. An estimated sixty percent of the population of Jordan are of Palestinian descent. Not all, but many of them, deny the Hashemite dynasty the right to rule over them. Because of this legitimacy deficit, Jordan is in a kind of permanent crisis domestically, which, depending on the regional and international political economy, can sometimes be felt more, sometimes less. In the course of the Arab Spring, criticism of the king, the royal family and the power apparatus has grown louder. The traditionally loyal tribes and veterans of the military wrote open letters to the king criticizing Queen Rania’s luxurious lifestyle. Even calls for Abdullah II to abdicate.Crown Prince Hamza were loud.
In view of the manifold challenges, it is important for the Hashemites domestically to ensure the survival of the monarchy despite the demographic inferiority of the original East Jordanian population. This is achieved, among other things, by largely excluding the majority of the population of Palestinian origin from political participation.
According to computergees, political parties are generally considered weak in Jordan. For years, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) was the only political party to be taken seriously. The political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood had a strong base among Jordanians of Palestinian origin (an estimated 90 percent of members and activists) and was popular mainly because of harsh criticism of the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty. Since the IAF performed best in elections in Palestinian-dominated residential areas, it was underrepresented in parliament due to the arbitrary constituency. In 2006, the IAF made negative headlines because several IAF members of parliament publicly called the killed top terrorist Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi a “martyr” and were therefore brought to justice.
Since the IAF boycotted all parliamentary elections for more than ten years, the party lost political influence. The establishment of the so-called “Center Party”, supported by the security apparatus, withdrew further supporters from the IAF. The ongoing crisis of the Muslim Brotherhood (see above) also left its mark: In December 2015, around 400 members resigned from the IAF in one fell swoop, including some leading figures. In the 2016 parliamentary election, the IAF put candidates back into the running for the first time after around 10 years of boycott, but not directly, but as part of the National Coalition for Reform (NRC). Christian candidates were also involved in this coalition. Other Islamist candidates won seats in parliament through small parties or entered parliament as independents.
Insightful analyzes of the current political developments (Arab Spring, elections, political reforms) and the most important actors (parties, clubs, professional associations) can be found at the German political foundations (FES, KAS, HBS).
Rulers and power groups
Those in power and exercise of power
The pillars of political power in Jordan are the king, the royal family, the secret services and the army. The Jordanian Army has been a professional army since 1992. In 2007, general three-month military service was reintroduced for all men aged 18 and over. Members of the “tribes” hold many leadership positions in the police and the military. In principle, the police and the army are also open to Jordanian nationals with Palestinian roots. Circassian Jordanians are numerically over-represented in the police and military. There are historical reasons for this, as King Abdullah I already relied on a national guard made up of Circassian soldiers in the 1920’s. Jordanians with a Bedouin background are disproportionately represented in other special units.
Economically and administratively, a network of leading East Jordanian and Pro-Jordanian Palestinian extended families from trade, agriculture and industry dominates. Numerous doctors and engineers as well as a considerable part of the younger financial and administrative elite are also recruited from these families. Members of the East Jordanian and Palestinian families are systematically tied to the power apparatus by the king and as part of the so-called “elite rotation” and thus receive controlled access to resources and power. The political scientist Oliver Wils documented these mechanisms in his study of economic elites and reforms in Jordan, which was also revealing with a view to Jordan’s history.
Opposition power groups – the Islamist spectrum
The most politically influential opposition group for many decades were the Muslim Brotherhood (Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun). The Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1945 with the support of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and was later approved as an association. King Hussein I instrumentalized the Muslim Brotherhood in the fight against leftists, nationalists and the republican-oriented neighboring states of Syria and Egypt. On the grounds that it was not about a party but about an association, the MB were not banned and were able to steadily expand their social and cultural influence. In 1992 the Islamic party Islamic Action Front was founded, which was considered the political arm of the MB. The Jordanian MB cooperated with the Palestinian Hamas for many years; many of its members were Jordanians of Palestinian origin.