Finding Jordan's True History

As various groups continue their calls for change in Jordan, it is necessary that all societal components come together to agree on a common identity before embarking on reform.

al-monitor Protesters from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties hold up Jordanian national flags and shout slogans demanding political and economic reform, and access to corruption cases, during a demonstration after Friday prayers in Amman, June 14, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Majed Jaber.

Topics covered

jordanian regime, jordan

Aug 18, 2013

Jordanians are demanding reform. They feel unsatisfied with their governments and have no trust in their elected representatives. They harshly and bitterly criticize the performance of public institutions, as they see basic services crumbling with no one expressing real desire for reform. Public non-official councils, the pages of social networking sites and popular and political movements have thus begun reflecting the overwhelming pent-up feeling of injustice. But no one seems to be listening or presenting proposals for possible reforms. Why is it that parliamentary elections and available freedoms are not able to afford them satisfaction and a better life?

The truth is that Jordanians do not possess socially endorsed, clear, recognized, or public answers to one obvious and simple question: How did we get here? And what or who got us to this point? They disagree on the history of the crisis prior to even disagreeing on future reforms. Perhaps the Jordanian crisis is characterized by a different kind of story that is dissimilar to the stories of other countries and cultures; one, maybe, with ties to the modern history of the state, its inception and prevailing philosophy. The political mind of the modern Jordanian state is hobbled by a structural crisis related to the history associated with building and evolving said state, for the prevailing account of Jordan’s history these days seems to be based on a collective memory that is full of holes!

When it was established in 1921, Jordan seemed devoid of resources, history, stories, myths, social leaders, cities and markets — not because it actually was so, but because its society's leaders had lost their nascent sense of initiative, which was appropriated and marginalized by an elite class that came from abroad and imagined Jordan to be thus. Jordan, much like any other country or place, possessed villages, cities, deserts, markets, communities, social leaders and institutions that were established by the people in order to manage and organize their needs and priorities. But Jordan also became endowed with a separate elitist narrative that had nothing to do with its actual history and culture.

Further undermining and colluding in the disregard of Jordan’s [true] secret history was the fact that the government that ruled over this entity called Transjordan, which established and made the country what it is today and relied on an elite that came from beyond Jordan’s borders, its majority composed of non-Jordanians. A collection of soldiers, officers, and civil servants who marched out of Damascus when the kingdom of Faisal I collapsed came from the Hijaz (a region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia), or else defected from the Turkish state!

This elite created its own cities and world and managed the state according to its own vision, which was separate and unrelated to its surroundings, and also according to its own perceived image of the country and people based upon what it wanted or imagined them to be. As generations came and went, the original fantasy soon became a reality possessing its own independent history. It safeguarded its survival and maintained its luster through modernization. However, modernization became a challenge and mutated into a curse, because new generations of globalized educated people grew into an imposing middle-class that looked forward towards participation, while the elite class’s new generations grew impotent and disconnected from reality as a result of them being isolated and entitled. Furthermore, and despite their long-standing failings, these generations continued to view the country’s communities as gatherings of Bedouins and peasants, much as they actually were during ancestral times.

Thus a strange debate still rages on in Jordan about the social contract that binds citizens with their land, state, social identity and national culture, all of which bring the people together and form a reference point around which citizens and their political and social entities gather and compete.

Although they should have been put to rest decades ago, there remain some questions and ideas that continue to be privately and publicly discussed about identifying with and belonging to a nation, its geographical components, established geopolitics of the state and the relationship of the people with that state. But Jordan, despite all the economic, urban, social, and political transformations that it has undergone, still seems — through the eyes of many of its citizens — a tribal Bedouin state, an impression that is being consecrated and exploited to avoid answering urgent yet unresolved questions and assertions. Right now, Jordanians perhaps do not need to demonstrate and protest on the streets as much as they need to carefully and patiently listen to themselves and to simply and smartly answer the question about who they actually are and what they really want, as well as define their needs and priorities while agreeing about how to best manage and organize their resources. But before any of that can occur, they must examine and review the story told by the dominant elites, and ask themselves about the nature of their relationship with that elite, as well as how it was formed, its necessity and their current need for it. Only then can they intelligently decide which course best reflects their ambitions and vision of the life and identity that they aspire for and would love to have.

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Ibrahim Gharaybeh