WASHINGTON—Jordan’s resilient class of political elites have thwarted efforts to open up the political system in the last ten years, writes Marwan Muasher in a new paper. Muasher, the former deputy prime minister of Jordan who led the effort to produce a ten-year plan for political, economic, and social reform, explains how reform efforts have largely stalled despite numerous attempts.
The answer to why Jordan’s reform efforts continue to falter is clear: in order to protect itself, the regime created a loyal political and bureaucratic group, but this group is now entrenched and has no qualms about turning against its creator when its interests—as opposed to those of the country—are threatened. This phenomenon is not unique to Jordan, but can be found throughout most of the Arab world.
- King sought change. Since acceding to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah II has entrusted almost every government with some aspect of political reform, but elites have blocked all moves away from the decades-old rentier system to a merit-based one.
- Elites see themselves as guardians of the state. Political elites believe they alone should decide how the country ought to evolve. They are likely to pursue policies antithetical to reform and have no qualms about opposing the directives of leaders that threaten their interests.
- Lack of reform hurting Jordan. Jordan’s resistance to reform has resulted in successive weak parliaments, a rise in corruption, and an erosion of public trust in state institutions that have created unprecedented social tensions in the country.
The rentier systems “have already proven difficult to maintain and, in an Arab world that is increasingly demanding better governance and greater accountability, such ossified systems will come to pose significant threats to stability, particularly in resource-poor countries such as Jordan.”
Marwan Muasher is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment, where he oversees the Endowment’s research in Washington and Beirut on the Middle East. Muasher served as foreign minister (2002–2004) and deputy prime minister (2004–2005) of Jordan, and he played a central role in developing the Arab Peace Initiative and the Middle East Road Map. His career has spanned the areas of diplomacy, development, civil society, and communications.
The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, socio-political, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key cross-cutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The Carnegie Middle East Program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics throughout the region. The program produces the Arab Reform Bulletin, a monthly analysis of political reform in the Middle East.
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