Nov 11,2017 – JORDAN TIMES –
One of the first lessons I learned as a rookie Jordanian journalist back in 1983 was that Jordan had a special and unique place that allowed it a historic purpose and a pivotal role beyond its size.
Of course, that space manifested itself differently over the years.
When I first started writing, Jordan had the “longest confrontation border with Israel” in the days when our public relationship with Israel was that of a “confrontation state” and “occupier”, and our role was to safeguard Arab countries from Israel’s “expansionist” policies.
We had on and off relations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and created a role for ourselves as a state with a modern language that embraced the West and East equally while speaking in a peace-seeking tone.
When the drums of war became less appealing regionally and the buzz sentences like “Middle East peace process” gained momentum, we started moving towards a “democratisation process” and “disengagement” from the long-held Jordanian responsibility for “administrative and legal” authority over the West Bank.
The mixed West Bank/East Bank Parliament that cemented our vision for a “confederated” Palestine and Jordan was dissolved; national elections were called and the state started playing politics designing a “containment policy” to frame its public relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and its new offshoot, the Islamic Action Front, investing in “confidence-building measures” not only to serve the cause of regional peace with Israel, but also to build bridges between citizen and government.
As a backdrop to this whole evolution of our role, there were constants: a security role not only vis-à-vis the “Arab-Israeli conflict”, but also in the Gulf countries, where we found our Arab financial and political depth and alliances: an “Arab political legitimacy” role — positing an Arab and Islamic legitimacy narrative represented by the Hashemites’ credentials; a “moderate” role accommodating Western storylines and negotiating with Arab nationalist and Islamist movements; a “host role” making space for “refugees” in the first waves of Palestinians forced migration from Israel and then accommodating “guests” within its safe borders as regional turmoil brought in the Iraqis escaping their war, and now the Syrians as a result of the so called Arab Spring.
The rentier economy label that has become synonymous with Jordan as a result was seen to be built on an astute political leadership and negotiation skills based in maximising the return from our otherwise challenging “demographic”, “regional”, “geographic” and “limited natural resources” realities. And this all happened in parallel to the cementing of Jordan’s existence as a credible and world-recognised nation state.
Digging back into the language of Jordan’s recent history is very telling and international relations analysts studying Jordan will find plenty of material within the country’s political landscape to feed the theories on our relationship with Israel, with the Palestinian leadership, with Arab states, with the West.
They will also be able to look at Jordan’s internal political evolution and build conclusions about state formation, nation state indicators, “containment” of Islamic movements, integration of trans-generational refugees and inclusion/exclusion politics in general.
What we focus on ourselves, however, is that we, as a people “of all origins and backgrounds” have stayed fast and steady as much of the Middle East disintegrated into “risk areas”, “conflict areas” and “war zones”.
What we learned while witnessing our growth towards state actualisation is that change is global and regional change constant, but Jordan’s stability and continuity is our common national priority and number one purpose as a state, government and, most importantly, as a people.
The tactics that safeguarded our security and stability throughout our history could be described as “responsive and realistic” by those who seek to see us through a positive lens, or “self serving” by our critics, but most Jordanians have internalised the majority of those steps as strategically essential, regardless of where we individually fall ideologically.
Looking at our reality today, it is evident that the region continues to shake and shiver from the second winds of the so-called Arab Spring.
The question that many Jordanians are considering quietly is: Where will these winds take Jordan?
The answer, obviously, is as unclear as the situation that is influencing it at this moment. But it is prudent to expect that Jordan will be where its pivotal role dictates.