The Limits of Democracy in the Middle East: The Case of Jordan

By Wiktorowicz, Quintan | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Limits of Democracy in the Middle East: The Case of Jordan


Wiktorowicz, Quintan, The Middle East Journal


Despite movement toward democracy throughout the Middle East, limitations to political participation persist. In Jordan, the accomplishments of democratic political reform are marred by continued authoritarian tendencies. The presence of repression in the midst of democratic change reflects the regime's intent to perpetuate its political control. This article examines the limiting effect of regime practices on voluntary organizations, demonstrations, the press, and formal political institutions.

Despite the persistence of authoritarianism in the Middle East, recently there has been sp Pe Y movement toward democracy in the region.' Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen have all enacted political liberalization measures which provide new opportunities for expanding the scope of participation. Political parties, elections, and civil society organizations have become more common and incorporate broader segments of society into the political process.

Formal institutions, practices, and participatory structures, however, do not inexorably lead to liberal democratic polities; and lingering authoritarian practices limit the prospects for liberal democracy in the Middle East. Multi-party politics (ta`addudiyya) and elections-the symbols and institutional face of democracy-are frequently accompanied by political repression and manipulation which sabotage the underlying principles of democracy. Though many regimes have curtailed the use of raw coercion, they continue to project power through legal codes, the administrative apparatus, and instruments of repression to constrain opposition and dissent. Democratic institutions and authoritarian practices are temporally juxtaposed as incumbent elites perpetuate their political control. Samih Farsoun and Lucia Port describe such a political system as "an electoral regime embedded in an authoritarian state."2 It is a "facade democracy," guided by regime imperatives rather than democratic precepts.3

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan provides an interesting case study for examining the limitations of democracy in the Middle East. Since 1989, the regime has held three relatively free and fair Parliamentary elections (1989, 1993, 1997); supported the National Charter (a blueprint for democratic reform); legalized political parties; lifted martial law; and enacted political liberalization measures. Jordan is arguably one of the most democratic countries in the region. Yet, despite these remarkable reforms, repressive practices persist. Grassroots voluntary organizations are tightly controlled and managed by the state; public demonstrations are strictly limited; and the press is under siege. There is a disconnect between democratic principles and actual reform.

This article argues that these authoritarian tendencies in the midst of democratic change can be viewed as part of an attempt to channel political participation into a discrete, state-delineated political space, a process which has not changed since King `Abdullah II came to power in February 1999. As in other Middle East countries, democratic reform in Jordan was initiated from above as a tactical strategy to maintain social control in the face of severe economic crisis. Political change was driven by a stability imperative, not by a benevolent desire for enhanced political participation. As a result, the regime attempts to limit political participation to a narrow, relatively stable political space comprised predominantly of formal political institutions such as parties, elections, and Parliament. Political activism outside this space is discouraged by regulative and repressive state practices. After briefly explaining the process and underlying imperative of democratization in Jordan, this article outlines how the channeling process affects the prospects for broader political participation by examining its effects on grassroots voluntary organizations, public demonstrations, and the press.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Limits of Democracy in the Middle East: The Case of Jordan
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?