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JORDAN - The Political Prospects.

Most observers concur that King Abdullah is not likely to make any major transformations to the political scene in Jordan in the foreseeable future. Basic elements of a democratic system, free elections to parliament and multi-party politics, are already in place. Indeed, in terms of political freedoms, Jordan's stature as one of the most democratic states in the Middle East is not challenged by even its most vehement critics. At the same time, no one in Jordan would challenge the fact that the king's authority is absolute.

As such, it is often the case that during times of regional tension some of the democratic freedoms available to Jordanians - like freedoms of the press, for instance - are curbed or altered if it is thought to be affecting stability. Observers say Abdullah is well aware that his main challenge will be to balance the growing calls for reform with the stability which his father worked hard to maintain. But his first priority will be to keep consolidating his rule until he is confident about the kingdom's economic prospects on the one hand, and about its long-term political stability on the other.

This means, among other things, a regional atmosphere which does not allow for radical Islamist groups to appeal successfully to public opinion. That would be impossible unless there is a comprehensive Middle East peace solution. In other words, Israel would have to reach a final settlement with the Palestinians - very important for Jordan since people of Palestinian origin make up some 60% of its population - as well as with Syria which shares a border with the kingdom. Until then, Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot Hamas will have an appeal based on slogans rather than what they can actually deliver on the ground in terms of improving the life of ordinary Jordanians.

There is a huge support base for the Palestinians in the kingdom. This translates into backing for Hamas and other Palestinian Islamic movements which have been operating in the kingdom for years. Under King Abdullah, some of these movements have been facing a tough crackdown, with the Hamas in particular coming under pressure in the second half of 1999. Yet the king has tried to maintain a balanced position with regard to the Islamist opposition.

For their part, the Islamists in Jordan - mainly the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing the Islamic Action Front (IAF) - have kept quite a low profile over the past year and a half. Partly this has been in deference to the fact that, following the death of King Hussein who was much loved in the country, his son Abdullah should be given some time to settle into his new role. This was openly indicated by the IAF, which has a significant presence in the Jordanian parliament. On March 18, 1999 Jordan's official news agency 'Petra' said that the Secretary General of the IAF, Abdel Majid Dhuneibat, pledged allegiance to King Abdullah during his first meeting with the then newly-crowned ruler. Abdullah, in turn, praised the group for its contribution to the stability of Jordan. The Brotherhood had supported the former his father's policies against left-wing groups, but it had opposed his Western outlook and moderate policy with Israel (see SBME, Vol. 40, No. 1).

Apart from the Islamists, there are around 23 parties of nationalist, leftist and various other political inclinations. These are all allowed to function with relatively freedom, but they are also tightly monitored by the Jordanian intelligence (Mukhabarat) which is regarded as one of the most efficient and sophisticated such agencies in the Middle East. These parties have been keeping a relatively low profile since King Hussein's death, but the time will come when parties begin to sense that they have given King Abdullah enough time to "settle into his job" - and this is likely to happen before parliamentary elections in 2001.

Gradually, King Abdullah would find these groups are less co-operative than they were at the beginning of his reign. The opposition parties are already challenging his economic liberalisation policies and efforts to get closer to Israel in business and strategic terms, but the challenges could become more intense. Only when King Abdullah begins to face the complexities of handling nearly two dozen political groups on a continuous basis, his commitment to political reforms would be really tested (see FAP, Vol. 37, No. 5).
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:7JORD
Date:Sep 25, 2000
Previous Article:JORDAN - Managing The Transition.
Next Article:JORDAN - The Economic Prospects.

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