Political reform is a priority for United States Middle East policy, and Jordan is often showcased as a model of a moderate, pro-American Muslim country that is successfully democratizing.  For two decades, the Jordanian monarchy has introduced positive reforms, such as legalizing political parties and modernizing its economy.  Yet the impact on democratic change has been limited, with the reforms serving more to stabilize the regime amid severe regional and economic challenges. 

Today, deteriorating conditions on Jordan’s borders, a lack of tangible economic success, and an unpopular foreign policy are emboldening an increasingly vocal Islamist opposition movement while simultaneously eroding the regime’s traditional support base.  Jordan faces a critical choice: either to promote more meaningful democratic reform, or risk undermining many years of progress by limiting political freedoms.

In a new Carnegie Paper, Illusive Reform: Jordan’s Stubborn Stability, Julia Choucair argues that Jordan’s stability is best maintained through political reform. She contends that the United States and Europe, for short- to medium-term reasons, have shied away from urging Jordan to undertake further reform, which would be in everyone’s long-term interest.

Choucair recommends the U.S. and Europe press the Jordanian regime -- in both public and private statements and by leveraging economic aid -- to deepen formal and informal channels of communication and representation; and to acknowledge the demands of Jordanian activists by, for example, expanding legislative powers, adopting new press legislation, decreasing regulations on NGOs, and undertaking electoral reform.

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Julia Choucair is an associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment and deputy editor of Carnegie’s Arab Reform Bulletin.

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