On the Edge: Threats to Jordanian Reform

Article excerpt

On many levels, Jordan continues to stand among Arab-Muslim countries as the best hope for facilitating peace and genuine democratic reform in the Middle East. Ten years ago, Jordan's King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a landmark peace treaty second only to Israel's 1979 accord with Egypt. King Abdullah, Hussein's successor, has overseen five years of moderate political and economic reforms and has distinguished himself among Arab leaders as the most consistent, liberal advocate of reform. Today, committed reformers, Muslim Brotherhood members, and several women all hold seats in Jordan's parliament. Yet in light of the stalled US-led "Road Map" and ongoing violence under the occupation of Iraq, hope for accelerated democratization in Jordan is waning. Indeed, external events and domestic pressures are encumbering Jordan's ability to serve as the region's leading voice for peace and model for reform.

The Jordanian monarchy's difficult relations with the majority Palestinian population have been exacerbated by developments since 2000. The construction of a security fence in the West Bank and the Israeli plan for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza have produced discontent. Critics have decried Abdullah's calls for the Palestinian Authority to complete institutional restructuring and to articulate more specific demands of Israel that could serve as a point of departure for renewed negotiations. The al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade issued a statement condemning Abdullah for betrayal of the Palestinian cause and many Jordanian Palestinians share this sentiment. While King Abdullah's marriage to a Palestinian woman with familial ties to the West Bank and his appointment of Palestinians to ministerial positions reflect a desire for inclusion, tensions are likely to remain high so long as the Israeli-Palestinian situation does not improve.

Second, Jordan's tactical support for the war in Iraq and assistance since the fall of Baghdad have raised the possibility of a violent response from Islamic militants. In a reversal of King Hussein's support of Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, Abdullah permitted territorial access to US Special Forces in 2003 and has helped with the training of Iraqi police and soldiers. The shift sparked a new cycle of outspoken criticism and Jordan, like other coalition members, has been the target of Islamic terrorism. Last spring, Jordanian police claimed to have disrupted a plot to employ chemical weapons against governmental and US targets in Amman. …