Three recent books on Jordan trace authoritarianism in the mundane rhythms of daily life.
In the summer of 2021, street artists in Amman risked crossing the Jordanian government’s red lines when they painted murals and graffiti expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Kyle Craig spoke with the artists about this unexpected shift in their public art practices and the sometimes contradictory responses of state officials. He examines the entanglements and power dynamics between artists, the government and institutional art patrons revealed by this unusual moment.
On April 3, 2021, Prince Hamzeh bin Hussein of Jordan was confined by the Jordanian armed forces to his home and cut off from outside communication. While many observers speculate about palace politics, Matthew Lacouture delves into the significance of the prince’s statements decrying corruption and economic mismanagement. He shows how Hamzeh’s words echo the grievances of activists as he traces the evolving discourses of labor, youth and popular mobilizations across Jordan.
November 2020 is election season not only in the United States, but also in Jordan where the prospects for a shakeup in parliament are quickly receding. Based on interviews with Jordanian political leaders, E.J. Karmel explains the shifting dynamics among candidates, lists, parties and currents that are undermining the potential for a changed parliament and seem to be leading to another business-as-usual election next Tuesday.
On a dark, empty lot along Garden Street in Amman, Jordan stands an illuminated sign for Victors Café, a subterranean game space advertising pinball, pool and snooker, where pigeon breeders in the know secretly gather every Friday at 9pm for one of the best bird auctions in the capital.
Jordan’s strict nationwide curfew and ban on car traffic in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is complicating crucial aid delivery to refugees. Amanda Lane, executive director of the Collateral Repair Project, explains how they are coping with the new restrictions and why the situation was already so precarious for refugees.
The Jordanian government’s severe restrictions on movement to contain the spread of COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting refugees and low-income Jordanians. While the government has established a national fund for needy Jordanian families, resources for the large population of already insecure refugees are drying up as international agencies scramble to shift gears.
In response to multiple waves of protests, including a surge of protests in 2019, the Jordanian state has worked hard to establish and enforce five red lines for the protests not to cross in order to rein in the potential impact of unified protests across the kingdom.
Dhiban shares with much of rural Jordan a long history of seismic societal shifts and gradual economic marginalization. This history forebodes continued unrest in underdeveloped areas as long as economic problems remain unaddressed.
The Jordanian government has gone to great lengths to hide information about its 2014 multi-billion dollar gas deal with Israel from the public. But the government’s attempt to keep the public in the dark has only energized a popular campaign demanding full disclosure of its terms.
The Jordanian citizenry remain unwilling to pay more taxes. The old system no longer works, but the way forward demands that Jordan’s leaders address the need for substantive reforms in both the economic and political systems that currently govern Jordanian lives. Any new social contract between the ruler and ruled cannot function by raising taxes while withdrawing services to struggling lower and middle classes.
Amman has absorbed influxes of refugees for decades, each perpetuating political and cultural tensions in a country already fragmented by tribal allegiances. While these divisions provide an easy scapegoat as to why the country continues to struggle financially, politically and developmentally, state policies and practices are at least as responsible as external pressures for exacerbating Jordan’s domestic troubles. Most significantly, the state’s deregulated planning practices and its haste in undertaking neoliberal policies to attract transnational capital investment have resulted in numerous failed development projects. Instead of fast-tracking projects that might bring economic growth, deregulated planning practices have produced a series of incomplete and poorly planned projects, among them the Jordan Gate Towers and the Limitless Towers.
The expansion of humanitarian aid in Syria and its neighboring states has gone hand-in-hand with a growing restriction on refugees’ right of movement and ever-stricter control over refugees’ personal information and biometric data. UNHCR and the Syrian and Jordanian governments share two interests in particular: to raise humanitarian funds and to centralize information and control over refugee populations.
What had started as protests over a taxation draft law and an increase in gas prices quickly led to a popular uprising against the neoliberal path on which the state has embarked.
Activism in the modern Arab world saw its peak in the Spring of 2011, but Jordanians have returned to the streets in a new round of protests triggered by recent economic policies and long standing grievances. How should we understand these protests?
In January 2011, hundreds and sometimes thousands of Jordanians began protesting like clockwork on Friday afternoons; they continued to do so for nearly two years. The crowds were small compared to those in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain, but the turnout was sustained and marked a significant uptick for Jordan, where peaceful protest had not been uncommon. But by 2013 the demonstrations declined in both size and frequency. The regime weathered the main storm of the Arab uprisings, and without having resorted to violent repression. Many in the regime credited top-down reforms, including a revised constitution and amended laws on parties, public gatherings and elections. The political elite, including King ‘Abdallah II, spoke in terms of a reformist democratic march, through which Jordan would show the region a third way between the stark alternatives of revanchist authoritarianism, on the one hand, and upheaval and civil war, on the other. Jordan’s “Arab spring” would be about evolution, not revolution.
In late 2015, hundreds of Sudanese staged a sit-in outside the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Amman, Jordan. Their hope was to obtain recognition of their rights as refugees and asylum seekers, and to receive better treatment from the agency. A previous protest in 2014 had ended when Jordanian police persuaded (or compelled) the Sudanese to leave the site. This time, however, after the Sudanese had camped out for a month in the posh neighborhood of Khalda, the police arrived in force in the early hours of a mid-December morning. They dismantled the camp and transported some 800 protesters and others—men, women and children—to a holding facility close to Queen Alia International Airport.
Despite promises otherwise, in the past four years, King ‘Abdallah has peeled the veneer of parliamentary governance off an increasingly autocratic system.