Middle East

July 11, 2012

Is More Democracy Always the Best Option?

At the outset of the Arab Spring, there were some protests in Jordan, calling for an elected prime minister. But in a country whose monarch is actually doing a great job of working in the interest of his people, has been an active force in the country’s development and has maintained peace and security domestically and in the international affairs of the state, should the authority of that monarchy be challenged at the risk of completely destabilizing a state that has managed to remain peaceful despite the ongoing volatility of its neighbours, particularly when that monarch’s moderate policies are perhaps far more liberal than those of an elected prime minister would potentially be?

Most Jordanians support their king and they have very good reasons to. Not withstanding the recent global financial crisis, Jordan’s annual economic growth has doubled since Abdullah II became king in 1999. His reforms have set up five new special economic zones in the country, increased foreign investment, developed Jordan’s ICT sector and progressed free trade. King Abdullah is also actively involved in efforts to reach a peaceful solution between Israel and Palestine, and has effectively maintained the peaceful international relations that his father established, despite sharing borders with Iraq and Israel.

But there are deeper reasons to why an elected prime minister may not be in Jordan’s best interests. Unfortunately, a good portion of the Jordanian population still has a rather tribal mentality, and votes based on allegiance to and connections with candidates, not because of their policies. Furthermore, they are not afraid to use violence.

Just last weekend, a Jordanian parliamentarian pulled out a gun on national television during a live debate with an activist, throwing a shoe at the opponent. We have seen footage of fist fights breaking out in Italian and Greek parliaments, but a gun takes things to a whole new level. To top it off, having a shoe thrown at you is a highly degrading insult in the Middle East. Could this perhaps be an indicator that King Abdullah is actually acting in the interest of his own people by choosing Jordan’s prime ministers, and not leaving the population to elect someone that could commit such a political faux pas?

Two summers ago, Amman’s city centre was brought to a gridlock after Jordanian police officers entered into a household where drugs were being dealt. The men they had come to arrest immediately locked the doors of the house and pulled out weapons, provoking one of the policemen to fire on one of the men in self defense. In retaliation, the man’s entire extended family declared war on the police force, attacking police cars and stations with fire, stones and any other weapons they could get their hands on, bringing the city center to a standstill. If one family is able and willing to wreak so much havoc because of an act committed by one policeman, what would be the limit to their reactions against policies that they may not agree with? What would stop candidates’ loyalists from tearing each other apart in an attempt to get their way?

In such a volatile region, Jordan could so easily become a hotspot for violence if it were to fall into the hands of the wrong leader. Should its security be risked for the sake of greater democracy?

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About the Author

Nadine Tewfik-Saad
Nadine’s background is both multi-national and multi-cultural. Born and raised in Jordan, she is part English - part Egyptian, and has spent the past ten years relocating across three continents. She began her career as a teacher in Jordan. After moving back to the UK in 2010, she began working in the Political Section of a London-based embassy, where she truly found her passion. Her main areas of interest include current Middle Eastern affairs, UK foreign policy and education in international development. She loves travel, writing, literature, experiencing new cultures and learning to cook.

One Comment

  1. Race Capet

    I live in a nominal democracy (the USA), and I can honestly say that I have never chosen a single one of my “leaders”.

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