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June 22, 2005



This seems like a highly simplistic analysis. The Amman (and Zarqa) area and its residents basically are what Jordan is. The badia is just that, badia.

To support the idea that a modern state should be operated on behalf of a tiny local interest group (southern "transJordanians") is the route back to the debt, dependence and impoverishment that Jordan is only now growing out of thanks to the economic reforms since King Hussein met his maker.

Of course economic reform makes some worse off -- those who benefitted from the unfinancable largesse and subsidies that were so freely handed out in the old days. But on average, reforms that encourage intrinsic economic activity rather than reliance on handouts from abroad (Saudi, Iraqi or American) make the vast majority better off. Ideally, there should be a way to "pay off" the losers one way or another, but it's hard to find a way to compensate a group for its loss of politcal power.

The "alternative homeland" argument is a red herring used by those who miss the handouts and the control of the state that went with them -- as well as by those with a suspicious nostalgia for the anti-democratic and anti-economic policies of the past.

If we care about Jordanians, i.e. those human beings who live within the boundaries of today's kingdom of Jordan, then we should care about the wellbeing of the residents of Amman, Zarqa, Salt and even Irbid.


Fred -
I don't think we disagree - my point has to do with the emergence and political potency of this kind of political coalition, not as to whether or not Za'atra (or the Transjordanian nationalists) are "right." The "AH" is a red herring all right, and has been for many years, but it's astonishingly potent in Jordanian politics.. as is anything to do with the Jor/Pal divide.

The big question, it seems to me, is whether or not the advocates of *political* reforms can actually form a workable coalition with the ethnically-aggrieved Transjordanians and Palestinians to create an actual alternative to the regime's *economic* driven reform agenda. Personally, I doubt it - but that seems to be what at least some of them are trying to do.


Sorry to be dense. When you mention "liberal reformers" in a "new opposition" alliance with Transjordanian conservatives, who or what do you mean by "liberal reformers?"

the aardvark

I mean civil society types, almost all based in Amman, who don't really want anything to do with the TJ conservatives - their main goal is political reform, public freedoms, civil liberties, the election law, etc. But the TJ conservatives have the horses that they lack, so you get the prospect of an alliance of convenience - similar to the uneasy one with the IAF.

Last week (I think) I broke it down this way: in Badran's cabinet, the political reformers mainly objected to Awadallah and the economics-first, neo-liberal (IMF) vision of reform he represents; while the TJ conservatives objected to their (ethnic, regional) exclusion from the cabinet. I don't think many of the political reformers cared about having southerners in the cabinet, but they were willing to push that issue in order to get the TJC support against Awadullah. That's how I read it, anyway.

What's surprising is that the Palace/Badran wasn't able to split that coalition and buy off the TJC with some extra cabinet seats, while keeping Awadallah.


A knowledgeable friend sends in this comment, which I post on his behalf:

First, I wish you had written that the Badran reform agenda is IMF imposed. There is an element of choice in what the government is doing and not doing, but it's the IMF/Washington consensus that has built the neoliberal pen for Jordan's government and economy. Is there another ME state more in line with the Washington consensus?

Second, I don't want to impose my vocabulary on you but there surely has to be a better way to distinguish between the regime's Palestinian-origin/ Transjordanian clients versus constituents.

Also, for all my interest in the topic I'm wary of using the dichotomy of a "Transjordanian-dominated state" and a "Palestinian-
dominated private sector." I'm especially wary of the latter phrase because on its own it doesn't distinguish between contracting, heavy
manufacturing, and the so-called "Big Five," which are still the preserve of T-J people, and finance, services, and light manufacturing, where Palestinian-origin boards are the rule. It is true that national economy's restructuring favors the latter sectorsat the former's expense. I prefer to see this as bad luck for T-J clients and people, they obviously may interpret all this otherwise.

Avshalom Rubin

AA - Fascinating post; I always enjoy your stuff on Jordan. A few questions, though -
How can the Badran government tilt toward the Palestinian bourgeosis in the economic sphere mesh while maintaining the size and 'ethnic' composition of the military and the security services? If this were only a matter of shrinking the (Transjordanian-oriented) public sector in favor of the (Palestinian dominated) private sector, it'd be a bit simpler. But if he wants to preserve Hashemite rule, Abdullah can't afford to downsize the army and the security services, nor to "Palestinianize" them, and they've always accounted for a large part of the Jordanian budget anyway. How neo-liberal can Abdullah get without messing with his national security apparatus?


I think you go overboard and mischaracterize Awadallah and his policies as neo-liberal or IMF-imposed. These adjectives would be more appropriately applied to the policies of Michel Marto and Muh Abu Hammour after him, who were very strict about maintaining budgetary and monetary rigor under the IMF's aegis, whatever the social and political costs. In fact, there was extraordinary tension between Marto and Awadallah when Awadallah was economic advisor at the palace and later planning minister.

Awadallah was an aggressive proponent of what the Marto team (and the IMF) saw as irrepsonsible spending and debt-incurring policies. Rather than economics-first, Awadallah was much more preoccupied by the political and social impacts of economic change than were his economically orthodox predecessors. The so-called Social and Economic Transformation Program that Awadallah championed was a heterodox, big-government, big-spending initiative that was designed to bust budget constraints and transfer resources to the south and rural areas that were declining (relatively) as the Amman area grew. It also concealed a fair amount of goodies for the military and other "pillars" of Hussein's reign.

You may say that whatever the reality of Awadallah's policies, it is popular perception that counts. But it seems to me that Awadallah's real problem stemmed from his genius and aggressive personal style, which had their limits in a consensual society, and his lack of protection from a strong family, sadly a necessity in Jordanian politics. For the old families that thrived on royal jobs, subsidies, and directed contracts it was too easy to potray Bassem as the rootless "Palestinian."

Bassem is much closer to the "civil society types," as represented by Muasher and ilk in the government, as well as to the NGOs than to Transjordanian tribalism or economic purists. The reformers have lost an ally and the TJs have lost somebody who cared (if only for tactical reasons). It's not clear yet, but it looks like the economic believers may have won, which (imho) would be a good thing, since it has been the government-shrinking policies supported by the IMF that have been pulling Jordan into the modern world.


That's really interesting... I admit that my take on Awadallah may be too influenced by second hand impressions... at any rate, thanks for the detailed discussion. Very, very interesting.

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