Factors Influencing Jordan's Information Revolution: Implications for Democracy

Article excerpt

Using the case of Jordan, this analysis examines the inter-relationship between four variables relating to the political/governmental dimension of the information revolution (regulation strategy, political openness, state vulnerability to international pressure, and the regime's economic liberalization level). Information technology is a means to alleviate enduring economic crisis which threatens the regime's political control. Regulatory changes and international agreements may significantly undermine the traditional state-societal contract with important implications for political change.

INTRODUCTION

Since the mid-1990s, Jordan has developed and implemented a policy to upgrade and develop its communications infrastructure. This process has accelerated and taken on a sense of urgency under King `Abdallah bin Husayn,l largely precipitated by Jordan's worsening economic situation. At issue is whether the country's Information Technology (IT) program is viable, whether it possesses the capacity to help the regime achieve its economic goals, and how it will impact the country's political system.

Jordan has undertaken a multi-pronged approach to facilitate its IT program which includes the following elements: privatizing key economic sectors; reforming its regulatory framework to foster foreign direct investment (FDI), protect intellectual property rights, and facilitate trade; taking a "liberal" stance on controlling information flows and content in cyberspace; capitalizing on its geographic centrality; strengthening and broadening functional bilateral relations with critical actors including Israel, the European Union, the United States, and Egypt; and exploiting and fostering human resources particularly in the form of highly educated workers. Despite the importance of these steps, Turkey, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar remain ahead of Jordan's privatization and regulatory efforts, and Jordan remains squarely amongst the region's "middle sector" that includes Egypt and Morocco in these sectors.

Jordan's technology program emerged within the context of a profound and ongoing economic crisis which included declining levels of foreign assistance, rising debt, and high unemployment. The contextual limitations of Jordan's economy raise significant questions regarding the drivers) behind the technology program, the infrastructure and human resources Jordan will be able to devote to the program, and its potential economic implications over the short-, medium-, and long-term. While the latter two issues will be explored later in this analysis, one of the more troublesome concerns pertains to the drivers) behind the country's technology program.

To date, Jordan's IT program seems to be conceptualized more as a means than an end. Traditionally, the regime has sought economic, political, and/or foreign solutions to its political problems, particularly those that threaten the regime's ability to maintain its power vis-a-vis society. As a result, there is a danger that the regime may view the IT program as means to maintain itself vis-a-vis society, particularly since the country's economic situation has continued to deteriorate throughout the 1990s. Problematic with this approach is that it may prevent the regime from making the kind of commitment necessary for achieving a truly viable, competitive IT program. Such an effort would require profound economic changes (e.g., deeper privatization, more robust regulatory changes, less government spending) that could have important political ramifications. Information technology may well be the regime's "economic safety valve," much as political liberalization was its "political safety valve" in the wake of the 1989 "bread riots." However, just as the regime managed political opening and curtailed its range when it became politically expedient and necessary, Jordan's leaders appear to be pursuing a "managed" IT strategy that may prompt the regime to limit, in whole or in part, elements of the IT program if it becomes too costly in terms of resources or unintended political effects, regardless of the program's actual "success" in generating revenue. …