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A Decade of Struggling Reform Efforts in Jordan: The Resilience of the Rentier System

July 12, 2011, 3:15 p.m.


King Abdullah II of Jordan has worked to bring about political reform since he came to the throne in 1999.  While reform efforts have been a major theme within each new parliament they have not come to fruition.  The Carnegie Paper, A Decade of Struggling Reform Efforts in Jordan: The Resilience of the Rentier System, looks at the reasons behind the failure to see change, espeically as the reform efforts are backed by the King.  The main argument of the paper explains the reason as being due to an “entrenched and ossified” system made up of political elites and bureaucrats who oppose a merit-based system.  The current rentier system provides them with extensive privileges based on their blind, loyal support of the King and current system of government.  They have had no incentive to change which would require them to give up their special privileges even if their refusal comes at the expense of the state.

In the case of Jordan, this group has become so entrenched, powerful, and ossified that it is now not only resisting such reform from below but—more dangerously—from above. In other words, these elites have become recalcitrant, self-appointed guardians of the state who believe they alone should decide how the country ought to evolve. They have no qualms about opposing the directives of the leaders or systems that created them in the first place if those leaders are seen as adopting policies that threaten their interests.

 An examination of the political reforms conducted by successive governments in Jordan over the last decade suggests that, in most cases, the king’s directives were ignored, diluted, and, at times, directly opposed. This does not imply that the objectives of this class and the monarch were always in contradiction, but suggests that the rentier system has, over time and through entrenchment, created monsters who will only acquiesce as long as the system perpetuates the old policy of favors.

 These groups are therefore more likely to pursue policies that are antithetical to political reform, thus resulting in the gaps and imbalances lamented by the king’s latest letter. These rentier systems have already proven to be difficult to maintain and, in an Arab world that is increasingly demanding better governance and greater accountability, such ossified systems will come to pose significant threats to stability, particularly in resource-poor countries such as Jordan.

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