There’s nothing in this article from the Washington Institute to suggest that Jordan is on the precipice, but it’s a timely reminder that a Jordanuan collapse would be catastrophic to Western interests in the Middle East.
Jordan has numerous key population blocs, each of which are influential for different reasons and to whom the establishment must cater.
The Bedouins that make up the original population of Jordan, but who are today a minority in the kingdom, form the bulk of the military’s officer corps and the public service. They feel that ‘their’ country (and the privileges to which they feel entitled) has been progressively given away to foreigners.
Palestinians, most of whom are descended from the refugees of 1948, form the country’s majority. Though most have full Jordanian citizenship, they have retained their own national identity, and form a pressure group within Jordan for the King not to be too friendly to Israel. They make up the bulk of the private sector, but are relatively excluded from the public sector.
There are also hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Some are rotting in refugee camps, others are living in the country’s few cities, begging, working for next to nothing and paying sky-high rent.
Jordan has long been a loyal, if not particularly influential, member of the Status Quo Bloc. Its wants and needs are closely aligned to those of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel (the latter being only a proxy member of the bloc) – stability and US security guarantees. The problem is, Jordan has next to no resources, which limits its influence.
Support for Islamist movements ranging the full Sunni Islamist continuum – from Muslim Brotherhood to Islamic State is growing in Jordan. And, as elsewhere, the perceived exclusion from the ‘rightful privileges’ of individuals belonging to various communities is often a pathway to Islamist extremism.
With poverty, unemployment, cost of living, competing communities, fresh waves of refugees and a relatively impotent government (mostly because of unintentional constraints rather than unwillingness or incompetence), the challenges to Jordan are immense and unlikely to lessen soon.
Were Jordan to descend into chaos, it would mean the instability that is characterised by Syria and Iraq would continue into Jordan – a contiguous slab of chaos in the Middle East. It would mean more ungoverned territory in which extremist groups could train and operate. Jordan’s long border with Israel would be a nightmare should the country collapse, as jihadis would seek to attack the Jewish state. This might well draw Israel into fighting in a way that the violence in Syria never has. It would also be a powerful symbol of failure if a pro-Western, pro-Saudi country going under at a time when Iran is on the ascent.
While I don’t think it’s inevitable that it will happen, I can’t actually think of any pragmatic policies (i.e. affordable, actually implementable policies that wouldn’t create serious blowback) the West can implement vis-a-vis Jordan to help prevent it from happening.