Friday, November 18, 2005

A centrist movement now

In the past week or so, three articles in three major US newspapers have been published on Jordan. The first appeared in the Los Angeles Times, and was on the topic of Jordanian intelligence cooperation with the US, with concentration of the issue of "extraordinary renditions", and allegations of subcontracting of interrogation and torture to the Jordanian GID. The second was in the New York Times, and was on heavy handed suppression of dissent by the GID, and how it preventing of development of democracy in Jordan. The third is in the Washington Post web site, and focuses on the covert cooperation between Jordan and the US in the period prior to the invasion of Iraq until now. Marwan Muasher vehemently denied this report, but ignored the other two. He didn't criticize the Washington Post, but Al Jazeera, which had repeated the WP report.

Now, one would have to be pretty naïve to think that this is all coincidence, and that the US press has suddenly decided, at the same time, to discuss various embarrassing aspects of US-Jordanian cooperation and Jordan's political freedoms. While there is probably partial truth in all of these reports, I want to focus on what this means and it's implication on Jordan.

First, these revelations are largely to embarrass George Bush. Traditionally, the press gets after the US president after he is reelected, in order to disable him, probably. This happened to Clinton (Lewinski), Reagan (Iran-Contra) and Nixon (you know). Now, the failed Iraq invasion and the ongoing Valarie Plame investigation promise to hobble the president for the rest of his second term. Second term presidents become free of election considerations, and become more critical of Israeli policies. The fact that the administration was lying about Iraqi WMD before the war was clear to most observers and for many parts of the CIA at the time. The press ignored this, and the democrats meekly went along. Cheney and Bush are right in saying that the democrats publicly agreed with him. I am sure that privately they did not, but they were too chicken to say it out loud. My point is that now that Bush has done what the Israelis want, he has become a burden, and the press is working on crippling him.

Second, if these published reports are true, then King Abdullah has intricately tied himself to Bush and his (failed) agenda. I am sure that the Israelis are uncomfortable with a strong working relationship between Jordan and the US. Such a relationship takes from the types of roles that Israel likes to play, and gives it to a rival Arab country. Moreover, this strong relationship is a significant because it can be used to ward off pressure on Jordan vis a vis the solution of the Palestinian problem at Jordan's expense. Making this relationship an embarrassment will pressure the US administration to lean on Jordan, just to prove that they are not beholden to Jordan.

Third, the failed Iraq policy is the major reason why Jordan has become so important to Bush and his administration. When the US leaves Iraq (probably pretty soon), the King will be left high and dry, with no leverage to use. Even Jordan's cooperation in the war on terror might become a liability, since it seems that the press has decided to put it in a negative light.

Fourth, in the event of a collapse of the US in Iraq, we can expect renewed pressures on the monarchy. These will come from the inside and from the outside. Internally, the opposition will seize the opportunity to call for what it calls more democracy. Of course, the opposition (the IAF mostly) wants more freedom for itself. Abdul Majid Thunaibat, wants the government to hand over sermons in mosques to activists of the IAF. Certainly, the IAF has gained advantage by using religion in the past to further its political agenda, and it wants to continue to use this unfair advantage over its political opponents. Any systematic deconstruction of Islamist discourse has never been allowed, and the IAF is surly not the party to call for this to happen. Therefore, the IAF will pressure for a self-serving form of increased democracy, where it benefits from greater freedom of action, and at the same time does not allow anybody else to argue their point, since that would be perceived as anti-Islamic. I look forward to comparing the restrictions that will be placed in the National Agenda on the press with what will be proposed with regard to election campaigning.

External pressures will intensify in order to take advantage of Jordan's weakened state, possibly to try and fix the Palestinian problem through Jordan. I doubt that there will be an attempt to transfer Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria to Jordan. However, pressure will probably build to establish a confederation between Jordan and whatever Israel feels it wants to give up in Palestine. The majority of Jordanians and Palestinians reject this scenario, but who will be able to resist?

An anti-terrorism law is being drafted. I think that the point will be to muzzle criticism after US efforts in Iraq go down the tube, and more embarrassing disclosures are made. I have previously said that discourse justifying terrorism should be restricted and punished, and I stand by that. However, I worry that this is not what the government has in mind. I will withhold judgment, but what has been published is not encouraging.

I have previously argued that the Jordanian state has systematically weakened centrist movements. Even a poem by Sameer al Qudah was enough to jail him for a year. He is not an Islamist, but that is why he is deemed dangerous.

I would argue that the politics of the past are becoming increasingly untenable. The majority centrists are without an agenda or organization, and the state is using a threatening Islamist movement as a stick against the moderate center. This political status quo will be extremely fragile if external pressures are brought to bear in order solve the Palestinian question by way of Jordan and at Jordan' s expense. If this happens, the IAF will likely lean towards such a solution, as it has in the past. The business class will also lean towards this option, since it means more business for them. The king will have to bear the pressure alone.

A strong organized centrist movement can help in many aspects. It will allow for the development of real democracy, and deal with the challenge posed by the fundamentalists. This, of course, is contingent an allowing real free speech, that includes the right to challenge the use of religion in political discourse. Another advantage will be that Jordan's decision would be that of Jordan, and not that of the king. The reason that nobody can make Israel do what it doesn't want to do is that it is a democracy that allows the entire political spectrum to take part. Jordan will be stronger if does the same thing.


At 7:32 PM, Blogger Rami said...

Dear Khalaf,

There's always a question, in the back of my head, about what kind of democracy can Jordan develop? Is it really possible for the country to become democratic, where it has only been more authoritarian since the peace treaty with Israel? I think what happened recently poses alot of questions, but the most interesting one, is how long can the government keep promising without implementation? Time is no longer on anybody's side, I believe.

At 8:33 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hello Rami: This is a good question. I disagree that the country is more authoritarian since the peace treaty. This is a myth spread by the Islamists, because of the one-vote law. In reality, Jordan has been increasingly moving towards democracy for a while, though I think that there is a problem in integrating the Islamist discourse into the framework of democracy. At present, they are largely incompatible, which is the main problem.


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