A Good Student in A Bad Class?
Jordan’s Relationship with the West
Jordan lies in a region plagued by conflict. To the West, it borders Israel and the West Bank, territories afflicted by disputes for centuries. To the North lies Syria, where war has been raging since 2011. To the North-East, Jordan borders Iraq, a country synonymous with conflict and instability. And yet, Jordan remains peaceful. Amman has not been seriously at war since the 70s. The country has a stable economy and can boast access to services unavailable in other parts of the region, like water, electricity, free education, and healthcare. Moreover, the Kingdom has become a popular destination for Arab and Western tourists, with low-cost carriers offering cheap flights from different European airports.
What lies behind this stability, and is Jordan really a good student in a bad class? Parts of the answer may lie in Jordan’s relations with the West.
Notably, Jordan is a close ally and a vital partner of the United States (US) in the Middle East. It was the 5th country designated as a Major non-NATO ally (MNNA) in 1996, a symbol of close relations and a demonstration of deep friendship. The designation also set in st
one the military and economic privileges Jordan has been enjoying since the 1950s. Currently, there are 3000 American troops stationed in the Hashemite Kingdom. For the US, the country represents stability. Amman has a peace treaty with Israel and is a primary interlocutor with Palestinians.
In the past, the Hashemites have been willing to aid US interests. During the US invasion of Iraq, Jordan allowed the US military to use some of its bases, despite the overwhelming hostility towards the war among the Jordanian population.Today, nostalgia for Saddam runs high in Jordan, as illustrated by the many portraits of the former leader hanging inside and plastered over cars.
Entering a souvenir shop in Madaba, a small city south of Amman, I notice old Iraqi currency. “Saddam Hussein,” the owner says as he points towards the bill I was glancing at. “Do you miss him?” I ask. A short but resounding “Yes” is followed by silence.
Still, strategic positioning on complex issues is something the Royals have got the hang of. Jordan played a tactical game appeasing both its Western ally and the general population by officially opposing the invasion while tacitly supporting the US-led effort. Post-Saddam Iraq gradually became a friend of Jordan. Today, Baghdad participates in US-led military exercises along the Jordan-Syria border.
Jordan has built a friendly relationship with Washington and subsequently avoided the hardships nations that are not or were not US partners in the region, namely Iraq, Syria, or Palestine, have had to deal with. A notable exemption followed Jordanian support for Saddam during the Gulf War, which left the monarchy isolated. In due course, Jordan was devastated both by the defeat of its leading economic partner and the sanctions that followed the war, which put Aqaba, the country’s principal port, under siege.
Amman’s economy was only salvaged by the International Monetary Fund, which demanded neoliberal reform. The policies soon led to massive protests that left a lasting impact on the Royal family and undoubtedly presented a lesson for the future.
Relations became significantly warmer in the following decades. Today, Washington is Jordan’s largest contributor to foreign aid. In the last decade, aid to the country has nearly quadrupled. Strolling through the Kingdom, it is hard not to notice the logo of USAID plastered on the bottom of most information signs next to the country’s many tourist attractions.
A further example of the delicate game the Kingdom has been playing concerns the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Royal family has been forced to balance regional realities of the power both Tel Aviv and Washington hold in the region and the strong support for Palestine voiced by most Jordanians. Talking to a group of boys in Aqaba, they cheer as I express my support for Palestinians. Similarly, my support for the cause meets reverberant respect from a T-Shirt seller in the streets of Amman. Conversely, the Royals regularly condemn Israeli aggression toward Palestine. Even so, Jordan still cooperates with Israel in critical sectors like energy and water security. Jordan remains cautious as it could well end up isolated again, a position that, given the damage to the tourism sector and the country’s economy by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kingdom can hardly afford. Unlike Jordan, however, the United States can choose to ignore the opinion of its smaller partner. For instance, Jordan was left humiliated when former president Trump unilaterally announced Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move labeled “deeply disrespectful” for King Abdullah since it was his father who lost Jerusalem after Israel won the 1967 war.
Another actor that closely cooperates with Jordan is the European Union (EU). Jordan is part of the European Neighbourhood Policy, a framework that aims to foster stability, security, and prosperity in the neighboring regions of the EU. Brussels is the Kingdom’s second-largest donor and a vital partner. Like the US, the Union recognizes Jordan's strategic role in the region. Both actors have similar regional objectives, so an “alliance” makes perfect sense. Reading through the positions by European Union for the fourteenth meeting of the Jordan-EU Association Council, it is clear there is a strong partnership between the actors. Even the language concerning human rights seems purposely optimistic. The EU welcomes democratization efforts while encouraging Jordan to further progress in the legal framework, press freedom, civil society, and gender equality.
The reality is, of course, not what the EU may want it to be. Jordan ranks in the bottom third of countries in press freedom and is considered “not free” by Freedom House, a U.S.-based non-profit focusing on human rights and political freedom.
Nevertheless, the EU recognizes the importance of a stable partner in the region, so it prefers to look the other way in cases where the two actor’s values do not meet. The fact also remains that most Jordanians support the monarchy and want it to lead the battle against future challenges.
To conclude, it is not hard to understand where Jordan stands. The country lies in an unenviable geographic position and has been forced to rely on foreign allies for survival. All is not perfect, however. Despite what the friendly lady at the new Museum of Parliamentary Life, which aims to present the country’s political system in a positive manner, may say or what the European Union or the United States State Department might wish for, Jordan is still far from becoming a “constitutional monarchy” or a bastion of human rights. Moreover, nearly half of Jordanians wish to leave the state citing economic motives and a lack of faith in the country’s political institutions and the judiciary.
Nonetheless, so far, the monarchy has proven successful at quelling discontent. Still, while Jordan seems to be recovering from the Covid-19 crisis, we live in a world where one calamity seems to follow another. Austerity measures and a privatization drive enforced in exchange for Western loans have caused grievances and opposition in the past. Another crisis too tricky for the Hashemites to handle could lead to more dissent and, consequently, suppression. Jordan’s relationship with the West has ensured that most Jordanians live better than their neighbors in Palestine, Syria, and Iraq. What the future holds, however, is still unknown. For now, the Kingdom has successfully presented itself as a good student in a bad class.
Perhaps, calling Amman a “teacher’s pet” would be more appropriate.
But is that a snub, or is it a show of pragmatism among the Jordanian elite?
 Sharpm, M. J. (14 April 2022). Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations. Congresional Research Service. Retrieved from https://sgp.fas.org/crs/mideast/RL33546.pdf  Aftandilian, G. (8 February 2018). Jordanian-Iraqi Relations on the Mend, but Problems Remain. Arab Center Washington DC. Retrieved from https://arabcenter dc.org/resource/jordanian-iraqi-relation s-on-the-mend-but-problems-remain/  Swaidan, Z. and Nica, M. (2002). The 1991 Gulf War and Jordan's economy. Middle East Review of International Affairs. 2(6). Retrieved from https:// web.archive.org/web/20020804061624/http:/meria.idc.ac.il/journal/2002/issue2/jv6n2a7.html  Ibid  The New Arab (17 August 2022). Where is Jordan's relationship with Israel heading? Retrieved from https://english.alaraby.co.uk/analysis/where-jordans-relationship-israel-heading  Younes, A. (6 December 2017). Jordan »humiliated« by Trump's decision on Jerusalem. Al Jazeera. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/12/6/jordan-humiliated-by-trumps-decision-on-jerusalem  Council of the European Union (3 June 2022). European Union's position for the Association Council's 14th meeting. Retrieved from https://www.consilium.europa.eu/ en/meetings/international-ministerial-meetings/2022/06/02/  Ibid  Vohra, A. (13 April 2021). Jordan's King Is His Own Worst Enemy. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/13/jordans-king-is-his-own-biggest-enemy/  Ibid  Al-Naimat, T. (12 September 2021). Why do so many Jordanians want to emigrate? The New Arab. Retrieved from https://english.alaraby.co.uk/opinion/why-do-so-many-jordanians-want-emigrate