The Jordanian parliamentary elections, due in two days, will not feature the end of the conflict between the regime and the opposition, but rather a waiting station or a means of buying time. Both parties—the regime and the Brotherhood—are getting ready for the aftermath of the last round in Syria, if it is to happen any time soon.
This is what many circles in Amman expect. Throughout the past two years, the opposition could not manage to force King Abdullah the Second to respond to their demands even though there seems to be a tendency to follow the Moroccan example in which King Mohamed VI gave the parliament the right to appoint the prime minister. The regime in Jordan has actually been learning from the Arab Spring which threatened its existence and still does.
The regime decided to go ahead with the elections despite the boycott of the opposition, on top of which is the Islamic Movement. Domestic and external pressures cannot allow for a political vacuum and the financial situation constitutes the real challenge even though Gulf money has temporarily eased the tension and abated the impact of price hikes. The security situation is the most critical factor in a country in which rifts are growing over politics and the Syrian crises. There is no doubt that the presence of a parliament under these circumstances will reduce the pressure on the government and the palace.
The percentage of registered voters has reached 65%, which means that the opposition could not garner much support. This was shown in the protests they staged last Friday, a few days after the deadline for registration. However, boycotting would result in a parliament made up of one faction is not a sign of democracy even though the concession offered by the government through amending the election law (27 seats out of 150 are to be elected across the kingdom) would take to the parliament what can be called “super MPs” in comparison to those brought by “one vote.” This would result in a discrepancy in the relationship between the representatives of the people and might lead to a sort of internal opposition of no leverage. It is noteworthy that most of the candidates are familiar faces and some of them were interrogated on charges of bribery and vote buying.
One of the positive aspects of this election is that fact that it is for the first time supervised by the independent body that was established in accordance with the new constitutional amendments and not by the government as had been the case before. The elections will also be monitored by foreign observers from the United States and Europe and would, therefore, stir clear of rigging accusations like what happened in 2007 and 2010. But the opposition is not counting on that as much as it is waiting to see the percentage of voters especially in major cities like Amman, al-Zarqaa, and Irbid. The turn out would be an indication of the size of the opposition, especially Islamist factions in it and which according to surveys are not that popular and do not exceed 25% yet still influential.
Egypt discourage Jordanians
There is no doubt that Islamic Movement was counting on the ambition of some tribal powers for a bigger share in business, economy, and political decision-making and was inspired by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood following the Arab Spring. But the developments in Egypt discouraged Jordanians, who now prefer to stir away from a radical change similar to the one that took place in Egypt. This is what the regime in Amman is counting on and those are the people it is trying to confront through holding elections while not handing the country over to Islamists and while maintaining security and stability. This is especially important in a country bordered by two neighbors in which religious extremism is gaining ground. It is no secret that some Jordanians do go to Syria to take part in the jihad and had done that before in Iraq. Amman is also aware of the danger posed by the Syrian crises and whose impact on the kingdom is inevitable regardless of the final outcome.
This does not mean that the calculations of the Islamic Movement, which is waiting for the antidote from Syria and Iraq, will turn out to be correct and that it will be able to take the regime it is now slamming to task. This does not mean that the regime’s calculations are necessarily correct either. Jordan will not undergo a substantial change with the election of the parliament, which might not even last till the end of its session. This parliament will only help everyone to wait in a stop that might not last for long. True the regime was concerned about the repercussions of the Arab Spring, but several national powers that were calling for reform, more political participation, the elimination of corruption, and the curbing of security institutions have now slowed down as they saw development in Cairo and Damascus.
The new government was hoping it would attract those, but it didn’t. Would some of those powers, like Ahmed Obeidat’s front and leftists and nationalist factions, boycott the elections too? The government was also unable to deepen the rift between the ranks of Islamist factions and to attract more parties that reject radical change especially as far as the king’s powers are concerned and that do not want to see Islamists in power. Jordan could have turned into one of the most unstable spots had the regime not been monitoring the developments taking place in the north very accurately. It could have actually turned into another front in the Syrian conflict for the borders with the northern neighbor are in no way similar to those with Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. The regime is also benefiting from the stance of the majority of Jordanian-Palestinian citizens who are anxious that a drastic change would entail a reshaping of the state and its components so that they might be stripped of their political, social, and economic standing. Their concerns grow with the rise of the extremist Right in Israel and which threatens to eliminate what remains of the Palestinian cause.
On the regional and international levels, the regime in Jordan is aware of the importance of its position vis-à-vis the open conflict with Iran on its northeastern borders. Wasn’t King Abdullah the first to warn of a “Shiite crescent” years ago as he was watching the development in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza? This sensitive position of the kingdom is what drove the GCC to offer Jordan membership and financial assistance to prevent an anticipated economic collapse. This is also what drove the United States and Europe to count on military and security institutions in Jordan to intervene in case the Syrian conflict develops in a way that enables extremist groups, labeled terrorists by the West, to get hold of arsenals of prohibited weapons.
There is no doubt that many Arab and international powers would depend on Jordan on the day after the collapse of the Syrian regime or the prevalence of absolute chaos in Syria and there no way a comparison could be made between Jordanian and Turkish intervention. There is also no doubt that Americans and Europeans as well as Gulf countries prefer that Jordan be the power that steps in owing to calculations related to the stance of those countries on the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the influence of Iran.
Jordanian elections cannot be seen as a drastic change or as a step towards democracy even though the king might seem willing to give up some of his powers without a constitutional amendment. They cannot also be seen as a means to curb the opposition because the parliament will not be able to do so. But the opposition might not be able to mobilize more powers. Both parties in Jordan need to buy time and to remain in a waiting station until the situation in the region becomes clearer.
This article first appeared in al-Hayat on Jan. 21, 2013.
Lebanese writer George Semaan started his career as the local political affairs editor in An-Nahar newspaper. He moved to London where he contributed to re-establishing al-Hayat, and was appointed as the managing editor. Being a deputy editor in chief at al-Hayat, he was also assigned as the editor-in-chief of al-Wasat newspaper. Later, he was assigned editor- in-chief of al-Hayat. Now he is the chief editor of the newsroom at al-Hayat LBC, an Arabic newspaper and television channel.