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Thursday, December 13, 2012
Challenges and an Internal Balance of Deterrence: Jordanian Discourse on the Social Networks

Challenges and an Internal Balance of Deterrence: Jordanian Discourse on the
Social Networks,
December 2012 INSS Insight No. 391, December 13, 2012
Dekel, Udi and Perlov, Orit
http://www.inss.org.il/publications.php?cat=21&incat=&read=10701

An analysis of internal processes underway in Jordan based on the discourse
in the social media is limited, given the regime’s control (in September
2012 a censorship law on op-eds on the internet and the social media was
passed) and the scarcity of in-depth analyses by public opinion leaders in
Jordan. Young Trans-Jordanians and Palestinians, who understand the power of
the new media, have used the networks to sound demands for reforms and a new
socio-political order. The new media is also host to members of the
political echelon and business community, but their rate of participation
falls short compared to other Arab countries

The protest in the social media is influenced by developments in the entire
region, but especially the domestic, social, and political processes within
Jordan. The network discourse intensified after the demonstrations of
November 2012, which were sparked by the increase of fuel and gas prices in
the country. Labeled the "November Uprising," the protests were
distinguished by their severity and spread through the kingdom, bringing all
elements critical of the situation in Jordan into the street. In tandem,
social media contributors expressed a lack of confidence in the kingdom’s
ability to confront the range of domestic and foreign challenges.

In light of the political instability and in advance of the parliamentary
elections scheduled for January 23, 2013, network discussions have dealt
with the election process, the demand for additional changes to the
constitution, the status of the opposition and the impotence of the
government, and criticism over corruption. Other frequent topics are
Jordan's socio-economic problems; the Syrian refugees, the struggle between
the Trans-Jordanian elite and the Muslim Brotherhood; and the situation in
the West Bank. Together these issues could undermine Jordan’s stability and
further damage the status of the king. Three issues that dominate the social
network discourse are discussed below.

The Trans-Jordanians versus the Muslim Brotherhood
The Trans-Jordanian opposition, comprising primarily army veterans and youth
opposition organizations, was the first to express dissatisfaction and
expose the cracks in Jordanian society when the regional upheavals began.
The public criticism against the king and his regime came from an unexpected
direction: the tribal chiefs and clans, the Hashemite royal household’s
traditional bastion of support. They pressured the king and court to
undertake socioeconomic reforms and expand financial support for the rural
and urban sectors. The Trans-Jordanian labor market focused on the public
sector, especially government employees and the military. The younger
generation, seeking professional opportunities, has not managed to break
into commerce, finance, and industry, fields traditionally dominated by
Palestinians. The harsh criticism directed at the king led to funds –
essentially hush money – distributed to the tribal leaders.

Ironically, the calls for reforms by tribal leaders led to the awakening of
the second opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist group
seized the opportunity provided by the protest wave of the Trans-Jordanians
and the rest of the Arab world, while stressing the fight against corruption
and the demand for democratic reforms, including changes to the
constitution, curtailment of the king’s authority, and expression of the
movement’s political power.

A balance of fear has been created, with neither group interested in helping
the other gain strength. The Trans-Jordanians are not interested in
democratic reforms, as the demand for a parliamentary government would
strengthen the influence of political Islam and the Palestinians in Jordan,
possibly even leading to their dominance in the domestic arena. The
Trans-Jordanians, who hold most of the key positions in the country, also
worry about being sidelined. For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood is
interested in political reforms, making the people the true sovereign of
Jordan and expanding its influence in the country, but they are also
concerned about moves by the trans-Jordanians against the movement.

Open Calls to Topple the King
In response to the demonstrations, the king has dissolved five governments
in the last two years. Every attempt to undertake some type of political
reform has failed. New legislation has increased protests, which immediately
halted implementation. The "November Uprising" brought harsh criticism of
the king to the surface, and for the first time people burned pictures of
him and called for toppling the regime.

While criticism of the king and his government has resounded increasingly on
the social media in recent months, talk about the king’s removal is more
moderate, with reservations of the legality of such a move and the concern
about a loss of control, changes in the rules of the game, and the creation
of anarchy. On the other hand, the king’s weakness is mentioned frequently,
and which puts pressure on the trans-Jordanian tribal leaders who openly
express their dissatisfaction with the king’s performance. They are even
calling for the appointment of Prince Hassan Ibn Tallal, the king’s uncle,
to the post of prime minister during this period of upheaval, and would like
to restore the title of crown prince to Prince Hamza Ibn Hussein, who is
very popular with the younger generation of Trans-Jordanians.

The Regional Events

The Palestinian arena affects the mood of Jordan's Palestinian population,
seen as riding the coattails of the Muslim Brotherhood's political protest.
As for Syria, the common assessment in the new media is that in every
possible scenario the ramifications for Jordan will be negative, both in
terms of peace and stability and in terms of the economy. This assessment
gains credibility as the waves of Syrian refugees entering Jordan increase
(there are currently some 250,000 Syrian refugees in the country), creating
further socioeconomic stress, bringing cheap labor, and producing more
security and personal safety problems (arms dealing, infiltration of
jihadists, rape, and murder).

The influence of government propaganda is evident in the social media, where
participants have voiced bitterness toward the Gulf states, especially Saudi
Arabia, which have not come to Jordan’s aid and do not understand the
implications for themselves should the kingdom collapse, namely, “the last
barrier between the Gulf states and the flood of the Islamic anarchy wave.”

Future Directions

This is the first time ominous sentiments in the social media suggest that
the kingdom will fail to confront its many complex challenges. There is a
dire foreboding about a wave of anarchy that will be exploited by radical
elements at home and abroad. Still, the assessment is that the escalation
has not yet changed the rules of the game because of the internal balance of
forces. The Trans-Jordanian protest movement is not interested in switching
the rules out of fear this would both lead to a takeover by political Islam
and enhance Palestinian influence in Jordan. Meanwhile, the Muslim
Brotherhood is flying the flag of social justice and demanding democratic
and constitutional reforms. The assessment in the social media is that the
Brotherhood has not yet attained a critical mass of Palestinians public
support.

There are contradictory assessments about possible developments. On the one
hand, there is the fear of a brutal domestic struggle, caused by the
Trans-Jordanians’ inability to accept a Muslim Brotherhood takeover. On the
other hand, voices in the social media are also insisting that “September
1970 will not recur.”

Those active in the social media are expressing unprecedented criticism of
the king and his ability to lead Jordan in a rapidly changing era of
regional and domestic instability. The more the king tries to strengthen his
hold using restrictive legislation, the more he will lose the support of the
masses. In the social media, the king is variously described by his
opponents as susceptible to pressure, weak and spineless.

Public opinion in Jordan has become a key player on the political and
socioeconomic arenas. The question is whether the main players – the Muslim
Brotherhood, the National Front for Reform, and the Trans-Jordanian
opposition – can control public opinion and enlist the masses to promote
their goals, or whether they will be overcome by radical trends, leading to
anarchy and a real threat to the kingdom’s survival.

The election is the king’s next test. The key question is whether he will
support a change in the election law so that the results are representative,
with the next government parliamentary and more legitimate, or will he
uphold his most recent decision, which is liable to prompt the opposition’s
boycott of the elections.

The Institute for National Security Studies • 40 Haim Levanon St. • Tel
Aviv 61398 • Israel • 03-640-0400 • e-mail: info@inss.org.il

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