Jordan's "New Bargain:" the Political Economy of Regime Security

Article excerpt

The author argues that the progression and regression of liberalization in Jordan can be explained by the Jordanian monarchy's desire to maintain budget and 'regime security in an era of economic austerity. He illustrates how the monarchy has manipulated election laws and economic reforms in order to obtain the external financing necessary to keep the state solvent and ensure the political support of two key domestic constituencies: Transjordanians and the business community.

In 1989 the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan adopted an economic liberalization program sponsored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and held its freest and fairest Parliamentary election since 1956. Analysts of Jordanian politics attributed these two events to exigencies resulting from the Kingdom's deep economic crisis in the late 1980s and the crisis of the rentier state.1 Rentier states are states that rely more heavily on external sources of revenue than on domestic taxation.2 Full rentier states are principally oil exporting states that depend almost exclusively on rents generated by the sale of oil on the international market. Examples of such states include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Semi-rentier states are those that rely on external rents in a more limited fashion. Instead of oil, semi-rentier countries usually depend upon foreign aid or workers' remittances as their main sources of rent. Jordan falls within the latter category.

While the economic crisis of 1989 is widely acknowledged to be a critical factor behind King Husayn's decision to pursue liberalization in 1989, less attention has been paid to the non-economic factors behind his decision.3 In an effort to explore further the politics of liberalization in Jordan, this article offers an alternative perspective on the origin and practice of economic and political liberalization in the Kingdom. The most important contribution of this perspective is its illustration of the ways in which liberalization serves as a means of restructuring relations between the monarchy and two critical constituencies during an era of economic austerity. Whereas the old "authoritarian bargain" ensured the regime's security during the oil boom period, the notion of the "new liberal bargain" put forward in this article seeks to help scholars to understand better the essential functions of economic and political liberalization in Jordan during the current period of economic adjustment. Second, the research also demonstrates the importance of electoral politics for regime survival in Jordan. While other Arab countries have adopted their own liberalization programs, Jordan's is unique in its extensive reliance on competitive electoral politics to distribute patronage to key constituencies. Third, the article explores and seeks to explain the important linkages between liberalization policies and national, economic, and regional cleavages within Jordanian society. Finally, it proposes an innovative analysis of the progressions and regressions of Jordan's political liberalization process. While other explanations of "de-liberalization" in Jordan emphasize the effects of the Israeli-Jordanian peace process and the rise of a popular Islamist opposition, this article argues that these explanations cannot account completely for the shifting tides of liberalization in Jordan.4

Jordan's liberalization measures, particularly the revival of national elections and Parliament, are products of the monarchy's efforts to strengthen and maintain its relationship with two key domestic constituencies. The most important constituency is the monarchy's traditional base of support: Transjordanians, or Jordanian citizens whose families originate from the East Bank of the Jordan River.5 The second key constituency targeted by liberalization efforts is the local business community. Both constituencies have served as critical bases of support for the Hashimites since Jordan's creation.6

Prior to the 1980s the monarchy relied on an authoritarian bargain to maintain the political support of these two constituencies. …