In the past several days, the Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz has mentioned repeatedly the importance of Jerusalem’s strategic relationship with Amman. While observers have been predicting Jordan’s imminent demise since at least the 1950s, the kingdom recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and, compared to neighboring Iraq and Syria, appears stable and successful. Even the still-mysterious conflict between King Abdullah and his half-brother that came to the surface in April seems to have been resolved, at least for now. Asher Susser takes stock:
In one critical feature Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon differed markedly from Jordan, and it was this feature that spelled their undoing. All three were heterogeneous conglomerates of multiple sects that did not exist in Jordan. Jordan is 90-95 percent Sunni Muslim and Arab. In this respect, Jordan is more similar to homogeneous Egypt than to its heterogeneous neighbors in the Fertile Crescent, whose sectarian conflicts have led to their destruction.
Jordan is indeed divided between the original East Bank Transjordanians and its large Palestinian population, [made up of descendants of refugees from Israel’s War of Independence]. But these are relatively new national identities that have only taken root in the latter part of the 20th century. They are historically shallow in comparison to the sectarian identities that originate in the early 7th century. . . . There are real and palpable tensions between Jordanians and Palestinians, but in these days of more emphatic sectarian schisms their sectarian common ground tends to outweigh their national divisions.
This dynamic, Susser explains, has begun to reverse itself in recent years, with Abdullah alienating many East Bankers while earning increasing respect from the Palestinians:
In the eyes of many East Bankers Abdullah was an outsider, too Western and not really one of them. There were some who said of him that he was more comfortable in the company of foreigners than with other Arabs. Abdullah, in appointing officials, believed also in merit and not just loyalty. Tribal East Bankers complained that instead of traditional loyalists like them, Abdullah preferred “the digital crowd.” Abdullah, in turn, had his frustrations with East Bankers, and thus his angry reference to tribal elders as “dinosaurs,” who were holding Jordan back.
Jordan’s problems—the tensions within the [royal] family and the cracks in the political elite, coupled with the country’s endemic corruption, socioeconomic distress, and popular political disaffection, [are] far from over. There [are] no miraculous solutions for Jordan’s structural economic problems. They [go] beyond corruption and stemmed, in the main, from the underlying imbalance between population and resources.