Jordan: Democratic Hope of the Middle East or Another Monarchy?

The state's leaders are often lauded in Western press, but some warn we're exaggerating things

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The Middle Eastern state of Jordan is often lauded in the Western press as the ultimate ideal of a liberal, Western-friendly Arab nation. Jordan is ruled by a monarchy, the members of which are extremely popular in the West. Queen Rania al-Abdullah has appeared on the covers of many American magazines, including Vanity Fair. King Abdullah has signed a number of free trade agreements with Western states. Jordan, majority Sunni Muslim, also includes a Christian minority. But do Americans over-estimate Jordan's liberalism? Is it less Western, and more Middle Eastern, than we want to believe?

  • Not-So-Democratic  The New York Time's Michael Slackman reports that King Abdullah has "dismissed the prime minister and replaced him with a palace aide and loyalist, dissolved Parliament and postponed legislative elections for a year." Slackman explains:
While King Abdullah often talks about human rights and democracy, the reality here is often quite different, rights advocates say. Last month the internal security forces were criticized by human rights groups when two prisoners died in custody.[...]

Jordan’s actions are nothing out of the ordinary in the Middle East, where kings, emirs, sultans and presidents rely on elected institutions to claim legitimacy and give citizens the perception they have a stake in the direction of the state, political experts said. But those institutions have little independent power or authority.
  • Jordan's Approach Works  Reuters's Alistair Lyon quotes Beirut-based analyst Rami Khouri. “When you look around the Arab world, there are not a lot of calm, stable societies," Khour says. "Jordan is a model that works, whether we like it or not.”
  • Closest We Get to Middle East Democracy  Syria Comment's Joshua Landis agrees. "He is probably right and this is in the face of the king’s recent dissolution of parliament. Democracy has few real proponents in the Middle East today." Landis writes, "Despite all the Washington institutions that are ostensibly designed to 'promote democracy' in the Middle East, Washington has few real proponents."
  • Dating in Jordan Reveals Conservative Culture  Global Voices writer Amira al-Hussaini explores dating in Amman, Jordan's capital. "For me, the question of the 20- and 30-something singles scene in Amman continues to sadden me with its lamentable stratification and fragmentation — everyone having to keep so many secrets. It seems that most of the singles in Amman struggle with similar issues — disclosure of who is seeing whom, when to disclose any such liaison, and of course, the steep drop off between the generations, where family members’ opinions are significant in relationships between adults. Of course there is the added complication of Muslims and Christians mixing on the dating scene in Amman."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.