Between Resilience and Vulnerability: Understanding the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
by Romy Haber
Last week, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan hit the headlines—gripped by perceived palace intrigue and an alleged coup. At the behest of the Jordanian government, security forces arrested several high-profile figures in the Kingdom, including a former Chief of the Royal Court and a member of the Royal Family. The half-brother of King Abdullah, and the former heir to the throne, Prince Hamzah bin Hussein, publicly stated that he was placed under house arrest for allegedly mobilising ‘clan leaders against the government’ and plotting with foreign agents to destabilise Jordan.
The Prince has denied such accusations and insisted he would defy orders that restricted his movement. Defiantly, he said: ‘I am not the person responsible for the breakdown in governance, the corruption and for the incompetence that has been prevalent in our governing structure for the last 15 to 20 years and has been getting worse […] And I am not responsible for the lack of faith people have in their institutions […] It has reached a point where no-one is able to speak or express opinion on anything without being bullied, arrested, harassed, and threatened.’
However, a few days later Prince Hamzah’s tone had calmed dramatically. He then back-peddled and signed a letter pledging loyalty to the King noting that: ‘I place myself in the hands of His Majesty the King […] I will remain committed to the constitution of the dear Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.’
The rapid fluctuation and then deflated intra-family feud sparked exaggerated fears of losing a bastion of stability in the Middle East. The story is not necessarily over, but once again, the Hashemite Royal Family proved to be resilient—and not for the first time. Just as Michael Raimer wrote all the way back in 1998, the idea that ‘(t)he staying power of the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan is among the most remarkable phenomena of contemporary Middle East history’  is just as true today in 2021.
The Hashemites have remained steady in their rule since Jordan’s independence from Britain in 1946, surviving an attempted military coup by Nasserists and leftist officers in 1957, the 1967 Six Day War with Israel, a string of assassination attempts, the Black September movement against Yasser Arafat’s PLO, persistent Arab nationalist movements in the 1970’s, followed by Iraq’s revanchism, the Iranian revolution and the unleashing of Islamist movements across the region all topped-off by the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, the proliferation of Al Qaeda and the 2011 Arab uprisings.
Many variables converged to enhance the monarchy’s survivability amidst the chaos and persistent challenges and the Royal Family has a long history of meditation that helped it defuse internal and regional tensions. It also benefits from strong Western support and a skilfully managed security apparatus. While stability can be seen as the result of Hashemite rule, it also preserves their power. Fears that the status quo would erode and regional chaos would become contagious drives internal, local, regional and international support for Jordanian stability—and this scenario is very real.
Jordan’s External and Internal Challenges
By all measurements, Jordan’s geography works against it: with Israel and the Palestinian West Bank to its west, Syria to the north, Iraq to the northeast, and Saudi Arabia to the East and South it is no exaggeration to suggest that Jordan is located in a troubled region. While the borders with Saudi Arabia are quiet, they are the exception rather than the rule.
At the best of times, Jordan-Syria relations are tense (note the 1970 Syrian invasion of Jordan). More recently, Syria’s civil war is preoccupying all levels of the Jordanian government as a set of complex security issues is knocking on the Kingdom’s door including: Islamic radicalisation, increased terrorist activities infiltrating and attacking Jordan and arms and criminal smuggling through shared borders areas. From a broader perspective, the war in Syria has produced economic spillovers—affecting tourism, regional commerce, capital flows and investor confidence. Hosting some 665,000 registered Syrian refugees — or an estimated 1.3 million Syrians in total — is producing serious consequences for Jordan’s socio-economic and environmental contexts  . The number of refugees is simply too great for a relatively small country, like Jordan, to deal with. National authorities estimate that the Syrian crisis cost Amman $6.6 billion (USD) only between 2011 and 2015 .
Additionally, Jordan continues to be concerned about the unfolding developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since it is deeply affected; not only due to its geographical proximity but because some 65% of Jordanians have Palestinian roots and the Hashemite Kingdom maintains special status in the Arab world as the official Custodian of the Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, such as the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa mosque. Each time Israel and Palestine sneeze, Jordan catches cold.
Domestically, Amman has expended much energy trying to kickstart its struggling national economy and reduce its high — particularly youth — unemployment. Tribal fragmentation can bubble-over at any time and they can cause much damage especially if accompanied by radical opposition figures. Fanning the flames is Jordan’s precarious environmental situation, especially its water scarcity problem—it has one of the lowest levels of water resource availability, per capita, in the world. According to Jordan’s Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, ‘70 per cent of Syrians and Jordanians had access to less than the national standard of 100 litres of water per person per day’ in 2015 . The strain of the ongoing refugee crisis will make Jordan’s water problem even more challenging—as the population doubles.
For surviving such conflicts, vulnerabilities and challenges, resilience is what defines the Hashemites’ rule.
The short-lived, but revealing, political crisis that unfolded last week peaked international attention. Arab states, the EU, the US and the international community have all reiterated support for King Abdullah II with EU spokeswoman, Nabila Massrali, noting that ‘The EU fully supports King Abdullah II and his moderating role in the region.’ The international community understands the crucial role Jordan plays in the region and that instability would further undermine the Middle East: encouraging the proliferation of Islamic radicalisation, the expansion of jihadist and extremist groups with malign foreign financing. Turkey, Qatar, Iran and other foreign powers would try to fill the vacuum their way. As such, the international community should keep on providing Jordan the financial support it remains dependent on and continue supporting its reforms.
13 April 2021
1 Michael J. Reimer, ‘The Modern History of Jordan, Kamal S. Salibi,’ Digest of Middle East Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, July 2000, p. 88, 10.1111/j.1949-3606.2000.tb01080.x.
2 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ’Jordan,’ Syria Regional Refugee Response, Refugees Operational Data Portal, Last updated 31 March 2021, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria/location/36.
3 Lorenza Errighi and Jörn Griesse, ‘The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Labour Market Implications in Jordan and Lebanon,’ European Economy Discussion Paper 029, European Commission, May 2016, p. 9, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/dp029_en.pdf.
4 Salem Ajluni and Dorsey Lockhart, ’The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Its Impact on the Jordanian Labour Market,’ WANA Institute, Royal Scientific Society in Amman, Jordan, March 2019, p. 2, https://www.mercycorps.org/sites/default/files/2019-11/3_SyrianRefugeeCrisisImpactJordanianLabourMarket.pdf.