Jordan faces regional challenges

Posted on May 7, 2012

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Map of Arabic-speaking countries.

Today, the shifting sands of Arab politics present seemingly insurmountable challenges to individual states. The Syrian issue has become the epicenter of the new round of changes, but its problems are overflowing into neighboring states. Analysts are convinced that the shape of the Middle East will be subject to further change. So, everyone is curious to understand, what transformations are on the immediate horizon? Will it be in the nature of regimes? Systems? The identity of states?

In my opinion, the region is reacting in a fairly predictable way to the new global political order, in recognition that restructuring the area has become an imminent obligation. However, we should be prepared to come to terms with the birth of new emergent powers, new friends or alliances, new players and a new style of conflicts.
In this scenario, many countries will struggle to survive, especially those incapable of pacing development to sustain inevitable change. Monarchies, especially the Absolute, are under the most pressure to change. However, with such instability in the region, rather than pushing for reform, global players seem more interested in preserving the status of monarchies, as potential allies in calming the waters.
Given the international fear of upsetting the balance in the Arab status quo, it would be interesting to consider what tools might be used to prop up monarchies or states with recently deposed monarchs. The logical answer would be to suggest the simplest strategy available, the support of Salafism.
It is not surprising to see the awakening of Salafist activities in countries like Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. For over a year, Salafis have received an unusual amount of press due to their growing involvement in politics and are beginning to use the Arab Spring to their advantage. Although they are usually opponents of the regimes they live under, as fundamentalists they have never been pro-democratic (despite their participation in Egyptian elections), which is worrying. If we consider the popularity and wide networks they hope to gain by promoting social causes such as charities and free medication for the poor, this is not, and never can be, a substitute for effective, democratic reform as an integral part of state policy. Egypt is a prime example of Salafist activities and it doesn’t take much to understand  their evolvement. We are soon to witness the strong appearance of what has been coined “Bourgeois Salafism” on the socio-political arena.
Syria is the obvious strategic target for attack as the more trouble caused there, the better it would be for Qatari and Saudis. Logically, they could become key players on which the world would rely and never exclude. Certainly, the ties and potential role both can play in controlling the situation in Syria will enhance their global standing. If there is any truth in this hypothesis, it would suggest that Jordan and Lebanon could also be –soon- targets for such a ‘chaos’ strategy.
A country like Jordan should realize that national security is linked to internal and external factors. Reform does not just consist of achievements on the ground, but also an interest in meeting the needs of the people, as legitimacy comes from within. The Jordanian regime in particular, should be wary of falling into the trap of letting external pressures dictate its reform program. The pace of reform should be planned with realistic objectives in mind. Not the demand for acceleration tempered by assurances that, for example, the US will turn a blind eye when it suits their politics.
Furthermore, external factors are valid for both Lebanon and Jordan. Much will depend on the ability of the state to control the threat of possible interference by other countries in their internal affairs. Whether interference is demonstrated by alliance with groups or parties in order to create internal confusion or whether it be strong pressure applied on decision-making circles to come out in open confrontation or facilitate operations that may help topple the Syrian regime, the state should be aware of the possible consequences. It’s a Catch 22 situation where nobody wants to support a dictatorial regime who is savagely acting against its own people. But who will take the responsibility for toppling a regime in favor of the fundamentalist, anti-democratic movements who constitute the main opposition?
In this moment Jordan and its counterparts are faced with a reality that is far more complex than the black and white scenario presented by the media.
They should take both the external and internal factors as the challenge that will seriously test their capacities. Therefore, the Jordanian state should take both of the external and internal factors as the real challenge that would test seriously the domestic capacities of the Jordanian system.