Conflict and Fragility

Policy briefs

Examining the interplay between elites and social movements in Jordan

25 Jun 2024 - 15:29
Source: ©Reuters - People hold Palestinian flags as Jordanians gather during a protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza,
Never waste a good protest

This Policy Brief offers insights into the bargaining process that both reflects and sets limits for political change in Jordan. It argues that neither permissiveness to organise protests nor their actual occurrence improves the prospects of meaningful political reforms. Instead, protests usually serve as a strategic tool in the interests of particular elites. In Jordan, elites and social movements commonly develop vertical ties instead of different social movements working together to press for change bottom-up, as is more usual elsewhere. Broadly, Jordan’s political context makes it possible for elites and political authorities to co-opt social movements by supporting limited changes that respond to their demands, as long as these fit within the prevailing political settlement. Ultimately, protests tend to reinforce the status quo rather than challenging it. Social movements are therefore faced with the dilemma of accepting co-optation to facilitate incremental changes, or to stick to a more radical stance that risks being ineffective or even triggering repression. But mounting economic headwinds mean that some reform of Jordan’s political system is inevitable if political instability is to be avoided. Mechanisms such as referendums and popular initiatives can provide a viable path forward if they are designed to operate on the frontiers of the existing framework and respect the position of the monarchy. Such initiatives can engage citizens more directly in reform processes and ensure their voices are heard in a more meaningful way. Jordan’s dependence on foreign funding provides European policy makers with a lever to condition continuous support on steps in this direction.

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