A feature on The Atlantic about King Abdullah II of Jordan, “The Modern King in the Arab Spring”, was all the fuss on Tuesday all over Jordan’s news sites and on social media.
As someone who lived, studied, worked and got married in Jordan; there’s always a little place in my heart for the country, and I tend to try and catch up on what’s going on there every now and then.
I only got to read the full feature, which is pretty long, yesterday; and whoa, was that something!
The full feature can be found here “The Modern King in the Arab Spring”, and for some quick highlights, you can check out the New York Times’ article.
The article basically lays out what the king thinks of the internal players in Jordanian politics, the tribal leaders (whom he calls Dinosaurs), the General Intelligence Department (GID), the royal family, regional leaders, the Muslim brotherhood and more, painting them all mostly in a negative light.
Now all of these things aren’t that shocking in the sense that the king or anyone else thinks that way, heck I agree with most of the opinions in the article; what’s more shocking is that they’re released and made public this way, bypassing any of the usual PR or diplomacy filters we’ve gotten so used to from political leaders and their offices.
After the article was published, the Royal Hashemite Court responded saying that the article included “many fallacies and took matters out of their correct context.” Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the piece, confirmed on Twitter that both he and the royal court have recordings of the interviews, and that they’re well in context.
All that in mind, I’m going to lean more towards thinking that the Royal Hashemite Court is just scrambling to contain and get rid of this internal nightmare situation, while the article remains mostly accurate.
Many people think that maybe the king’s comments were made off the record, and they do really seem like things that would be said off the record, rather than on the record; but I don’t think that’s the case, I actually think the king intended these comments to come out exactly the way they did.
Why he’d do that? What exactly the reasoning and objective behind it is, isn’t that clear; but what’s for sure is it’s quite a gamble.
A western reader or an outsider with little to no knowledge of Jordan’s background, history and news would walk away with a pretty positive view of the king from this article, with an idea that this is a king who has been striving to reform the country and hand over power to the people, but who has found himself somewhat helpless in front of strong internal opposition to his plans, and that his only concern of moving forward quickly with reform is around power ending up in the wrong hands, more specifically the Muslim brotherhood.
That image sets him well apart from the other leaders in the region who are facing internal tensions and the ripples of the Arab spring revolutions within their countries; it portrays him as a reasonable forward-thinking leader who shares the same ideals as the West, has very good relationships with Israel, and who would be a good partner for the West to keep supporting, someone they can’t afford to lose.
I think that’s the main purpose of the article. The problem though is that I doubt it will help at all inside Jordan; it’s not going to help with the royal family’s decreasing popularity, and it’ll probably make life harder for him moving forward; the tribal leaders, GID and Islamists are facts within the Jordanian society and political scene, and he’s not going to get any closer to accomplishing anything by getting on their bad side.
There might be some hope that Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who make up over 50% of the population, might appreciate some of what’s in the article, like how he wanted to allow for a greater presence for them in parliament, but then again they’re not outsiders, and they’ve witnessed the king’s different choices and decisions over the years, and know he was never as helpless as he tries to make it seem.
I think the king knows all that, and just decided to take the risk and see how it all plays out in the end. He’s played his hand, and there’s no takesies backsies at this point, there’ll definitely be change over the coming period, maybe initially it’ll be behind the scenes, but it’ll start bubbling up to the public eye soon enough. Only time will tell whether the king’s gamble was a stroke of genius or the worst decision he’s ever made.
Finally, I have to recommend reading this blog post by my friend Naseem Tarawnah of The Black Iris for a Jordanian perspective on the article.