Incident: Parliamentary elections on 23 January were billed as King Abdullah’s reform remedy for stemming the tide of rebellion. The opposition Muslim Brotherhood boycotted the polls because the King’s reform plans are not nearly expansive enough. In fact, the King’s electoral reforms have not met any significant demands of the opposition, other than to increase the quota for women’s representation. This comes amid an atmosphere of ongoing protests and tensions over the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Bottom Line: Jordan faces a major dilemma on two fronts, which are (or will be) interlinked: it can either give in to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood’s demands for a constitutional monarchy that would give it more power, or it can try to hold out a bit longer on reforms even though it is threatened by rising socio-economic unrest; 2) on many levels, Jordan is supporting the rebels in Syria against Assad, but the fall of Assad would be devastating for the kingdom.
Analysis: On the domestic political front, Jordan is in a tough position. The Muslim Brotherhood opposition has traditionally been a “loyal” opposition, but that is changing inevitably due to the conflict in Syria and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood elsewhere in the region. King Abdullah could pursue reforms that would require the integration of the Brotherhood into the political system right now while the MB would only make moderate demands. Alternatively, he can try to hold out longer and risk having to deal with a more extremist MB later on. The first option would not only give the MB an early foothold, it would also alienate the monarchy’s tribal Bedouin support base, which is already anxious about losing their lucrative patronage deals with the kingdom and feeling threatened by the country’s restive Palestinian population. The King has chosen to hold out longer. This key support base is comprised of powerful East Bank tribes and clans (non-Palestinian tribes) who see their interests intimately linked to the preservation of the regime and its lucrative patronage (they also are privy to key security jobs).
At the same time, Jordan is training Salafi Jihadists to fight against Assad in Syria, and absorbing dangerous numbers of Syrian refugees. Salafi Jihadists (plenty of them Jordanians) are also using Jordanian territory as a launch pad for offensives against Assad in Syria’s south. When the war is over, these fighters will likely descend on Amman.