While the international media has been focusing on the latest in the conflict between Iranian-backed groups in the Gaza Strip and Israel, events have started to boil over on the East Bank, in Jordan. Short synopsis: For well over a decade, King Abdullah II of Jordan has been promising reform. The reform has seldom moved beyond the promise, however. Abdullah II and his wife, the beautiful Queen Rania, may be popular in the West, but they are viewed through decidedly cynical eyes at home. Abdullah’s English is better than his Arabic, and Rania’s profligate lifestyle chafes ordinary Jordanians.
Jordanians see both as corrupt. The king has a scheme in which he sells crown land to the government, and pockets the money. No one points out that crown land and government land are pretty much the same thing. Another anecdote: Back in 2006, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was rushed to Jordan for emergency medical care. As he recovered, he handed out wads of cash to the doctors, nurses, and attendants. The hospital administrator ordered the tips collected, and then redistributed the “bonus” equally to those working, including those whom Talabani may not have seen. The comment among the doctors was it was a good thing Abdullah and Rania were nowhere around, because they would have simply taken the money, and not given any back.
At any rate, to the spark: After massive fuel price hikes, protests erupted and Jordanian security forces killed a protestor. After Friday prayers, protestors poured into the street and now openly call for King Abdullah II’s downfall. For a sampling of what some more radical Jordanian clerics were saying, Abu Muhammad al-Tahawi is a good place to start. Here’s how he explained it:
There are important observations regarding the decision to raise the price of fuel. First: The truth of the decision of the shadow government is a plague that is caused by Abdullah Ensour.
Second: They are implementing the recommendations of the World Bank so they can receive a $2.5
Third: The deficit has been in the budget for thirty years and is not something new.
Fourth: The true reason for the deficit and the high debt is the gang of corruptors who have taken
The true and legitimate solution is to return to the rightly-guided Islamic Caliphate, to apply the
rulings of Islam completely, and to destroy [the borders setup by] Sykes-Picot.
Jonathan Schanzer, Foundation for Defense of Democracies research director, has been following the story since its very beginning, and his tweets are a good place to follow it.
In October, Elliott Abrams penned an article for COMMENTARY looking at the Arab Spring entitled, “Dictators Go, Monarchs Stay.” It was an excellent piece, even if it focused more on the weakness of the dictators than on the staying power of the kings. Still, Abrams identified an important theme. “The monarchies face enormous challenges as well, or at least those not favored by heaven with the combination of tiny populations and enormous oil and gas wealth…” he wrote, adding, “Still, the surviving monarchs appear to have more tools at their disposal today than the dictators had, to resist reform slyly or to guide it slowly and carefully.”
Let us hope for the sake of U.S. national security that Abdullah has the ability to navigate these waters. The Jordanian king relies on handouts from the Persian Gulf emirates to co-opt his adversaries and has been less than serious about reform. He is a deeply flawed man—with a reputation at home and in the region far worse than in Washington—but the alternative in Jordan will make Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood appear positively moderate.