di Alice Marziali
We had the opportunity to discuss with Ibrahim Gharaybeh, researcher at the University of Jordan and a Jordanian journalist and writer specialized on Jordanian politics and on Islamic movements, about the Jordanian political system and its relations with the current social and political protests that are shattering many Middle Eastern countries. His analysis was revealing.
What’s the impact of the regional unrest in the Jordanian political situation, mainly speaking about the Syrian neighbor?
Certainly the ongoing regional events, particularly in Syria, affect the political and social situation in Jordan. The reform movement in the Arab countries is a source of motivation for young people aspiring to freedom and justice. There is no doubt that the success in Egypt and Tunisia is a model emulated in other Arab countries.
Political and social conditions and economic development in Arab countries are nearly identical, and what happened in Egypt, Tunisia, and what is happening today in Syria, Libya and Yemen reflect a sense of the general Arab frustration, a loss of confidence in the political system and least, and worst of all, the absence of social justice and corruption.
Before the events of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions in Jordan there were movements with economic and communitarian aims, such as the movement of teachers, daily workers and port workers; then the movement for reforms and the social movement demanding freedoms and the development of a legislation regulating political life became bigger and stronger.
As regards to what is happening in Syria, it is certain that the outcome of the revolts will affect the future of the region, its relations and its social, political and economic life. Imagining a new and democratic Syria, it will have consequences in Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.
This new situation could end the domination of Hezbollah in Lebanon and it could enable the Lebanese people to build a democratic country based on the interactions of internal influences, instead of regional ones; it will move the Arab-Israeli conflict to a new phase, and it may end the conflict forever. We can imagine also the potential broad economic links created among Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan… including perhaps Israel and Palestine.
Therefore, the success of the movement for political reforms in Syria is an opportunity to realize the hopes in Jordan and in the region to build political and economic positive relations and to stop conflicts and tensions, reducing and perhaps ending the Iranian influence in the region. This situation might challenge Iran itself to the internal struggle for reforms, bringing it back into the global system.
Which is the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and of its political branch, the Islamic Action Front Party in the reforms’ process?
The Islamic Movement (Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front) the main opposition political force allied with the other political forces, mainly the nationalist and the leftist traditional opposition, did not yet materialized in a new clear and independent reform movement. The Islamists are still expressed in other movements, in which their role is not clear, such as the movement of teachers, the retired military, and March 24. In a geographical point of view they are present in the cities and areas where the mobilization is stronger, such as Tafileh, Maan, Karak and Theban. The Islamic Movement traditionally focuses its work and its objectives on the Palestinian cause; from a national point of view, its main aims are the application of the Islamic law, calling people to Islam and to the religious values, the opposition to the Jordanian-Israeli Treaty and to the Oslo agreement, the resistance to the normalization of the relationship with Israel and the support to Hamas.
In the last years a new stream (called the centrists) grew up, in an attempt to lead the movement to national reforms; this current sharply divided the movement from within. The centrists, with the participation of personalities and of other political currents created the initiative for a constitutional monarchy, but the Islamic movement did not endorse the initiative, leaving a number of leaders and activists inside the movement working independently on this initiative. In any case, the Islamic movement today seems to be the main actor and partner of the largest reformist political movement in opposition to the government, but it was entirely absent in the early mobilization.
Which is the role of the tribes in this process?
There is no political formation based on tribes in Jordan. Tribes do not constitute a group politically organized, there is not a real pronounced tribal hierarchy in the leadership, and there is no tribal influence in an organizational, political, institutional or legal point of view. Therefore, the activities and the political initiatives advertised under the name of «tribal communities» are not necessarily reflecting the official position of the unified tribe or clan; on the other hand those initiatives reflect the positions of a part of the political opposition or of pro-government groups over a certain policy.
This does not mean that the influence of tribes is absent, but they are not influential as organized or institutionalized groups; their influence is rather based on the employment of kinship in the establishment of blocs of political opposition or in favor of the government, and this influence can have partisan and ideological effects, mainly related to some tribes whose components are active and influential.
Thus, it is difficult to classify scientifically and analytically the political activity in Jordan as tribal; the tribe is just a framework.
There are of course links to tribal affiliations in Jordan, but they don’t necessarily have political connotations or they are not necessarily indicators of support, loyalty or opposition.
More than half of the Jordanian population is Palestinian. How does this factor influence the transition to effective political reforms? Is the regime exploiting this division in order to slow down the reform?
There is no official statistics showing the proportion and the number of citizens with Palestinian origin; although the former Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb said in a press statement in 2003 that the percentage of citizens of Palestinian origin is 43% of the population. Of course this percentage excludes the Palestinians living in Jordan without Jordanian citizenship. In all cases, the Palestinian question in Jordan is a complex issue and the problem, which includes political, social, legal, and regional dimensions, is not faced systematically on a scientific basis, presenting related issues, which are difficult to be addressed, and moreover they are highly mediatised.
The actual movement for reforms shows how the Palestinian issue in Jordan is one of the biggest problems in the country. Palestinians are generally less involved in the movement for reform, and they generally take a negative neutral attitude toward this issue. However, in general they support the idea that the Prime Minister should be directly elected by the citizens, and that the House’s seats should be redistributed according to the population’s density; they demand participation in public functions according to their proportion of the population, and they tend to have a sense of political marginalization, being absent from public, military and security functions. On the other hand, Eastern Jordanians are afraid of the Palestinian political dominance in addition to their economic domination. Thus, there is a silent mutual concern between Jordanians and Palestinians; no doubt that this concern can, and it is already be employed to block democracy and reforms in Jordan.
Is the Israeli-Palestinian question influencing the outcome of this transition? Which would be the effect of the declaration of a Palestinian state in September in the Jordanian transition to effective political reforms?
I think that the future Palestinian state and the general political situation in Palestine concern mainly Palestinians living in West Bank and Gaza. I do not expect that this will have a significant impact in the future situation of the Palestinians in Jordan who acquired Jordanian nationality, and of those living in Jordan without getting citizenship, because they are integrated in the political, economic and social development in Jordan.
Why did the protests slow down in the last two months?
The analysis of the mobilization for reforms in Jordan needs a research and a consideration going beyond the capacity of an interview, and deserving to be discussed longer. What can be said here, in short, is that the mobilization for reforms in Jordan is suffering from a confusion in priorities and objectives. The movement is also subjected to political system’s efforts to disperse and weaken it. But this does not mean that the reforms’ movement has ended or stopped. I expect it will be shaped in four or five trends and groups, one of the most important of which is linked to the mobilization of the youth for freedom, justice and reforms.
The formation of the National Front for Reform, led by the former Prime Minister Ahmad Obaidat constituted a big change for the political forces of the traditional opposition. The Front includes various opposition’s currents and political figures, various geographical areas and communities; it is based on the demands for reform and development related to certain areas and on the demands for better conditions of labor and life. However, the mobilization of political extremists may harm the action of the reformists. Finally, the movement for reforms and labor rights is growing and really influencing the public policy, but it is also internally contradictory and fragmented.
Which was the regime’s reaction to the pressure for reforms?
The political system showed in response official and formal reactions, such as the formation of the National Dialogue Committee and the Committee for Constitutional Reforms promising more freedom and reforms; however, these measures did not lead to real reforms, and the interaction between the people and the system is still characterized by a see and wait attitude in response to the claim for reforms.
Which impact would have the possible entry of Jordan in the GCC in the process of reforms?
It is certain that Jordan’s accession to the Gulf Cooperation Council would bring economic gains, and it will improve the standard of living. In return the Jordanian participation to the GCC may have implications in a political point of view strengthening the counter-reform in the case of a Jordanian security role in the Gulf against freedom and democracy… this scenario would be unlikely, though.