How Serious Is the Threat to Jordanian King Abdullah's Rule?

By Daniel Wagner & Giorgio Cafiero
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That said, many of King Abdullah's opponents fear Al-Qaeda affiliate groups more than they resent the palace. As Jordanians observe the influence of Salafi extremists in post-Gaddafi Libya, post-Hussein Iraq, and Al-Nusra's rise within the ranks of the armed Syrian opposition, King Abdullah's argument that his legitimacy has been earned by protecting Jordanians from the violence that surrounds the Kingdom is generally well received by many of his people. Last October, the regime foiled an Al Qaeda plot to attack several sites in Jordan. All eleven plotters were Jordanian nationals with connections to Al Qaeda in Iraq, who acquired their weapons in Syria. Clearly, the region's conflicts have already had a spillover effect in Jordan. The King is positioned to effectively exploit these crises for political gains as his legitimacy is challenged.

As a landlocked country without oil, Jordan's economy has been foreign-aid dependent. Last year, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each agreed to provide Jordan with $1.25 billion in aid. Without question, the GCC's financial support for the Kingdom reflects Jordan's strategic importance to the Gulf monarchies. While certain GCC states were quick to provide military, financial and diplomatic support for rebels in Libya and Syria, none of them -- Saudi Arabia in particular -- have any interest in King Abdullah falling from power.

The fall of the Hashemite Kingdom would further underscore Saudi Arabia's geostrategic vulnerability in the Levant, especially if forces hostile to the Saudi royal family were to assume power in neighboring Jordan. It is within this context that Amman is likely to acquire more financial support from the GCC if deteriorating economic conditions continue to bring Jordanians into the streets. It is not certain that GCC aid would be an effective counter-weight to all of Jordan's ills, and some assistance will likely come with strings attached.

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Later this month parliamentary elections will be held for the first time since the Arab Awakening began two years ago. Electoral law reform aimed at making Jordan appear to be on the path of democratization will take effect this month. However, the IAF's boycott of the election, along with widespread skepticism regarding the King's reform agenda, will underscore the monarchy's preference to rein in the opposition within the scope of the existing system. Additionally, recently adopted anti-corruption measures have been dismissed by some opposition members as merely tactics of distraction. It is unlikely that the election or the regime's top-down reforms will placate the Islamist opposition, or bring the King's opponents over to his side following the election.

Many foreign governments are paying close attention to events in Jordan, as the stakes are high. King Abdullah's regime has long served as a linchpin of U.S. Middle East foreign policy, has cooperated closely with the U.S. on military policy, and is one of only two Arab states at peace with Israel. The IAF's approach to foreign policy implies that Amman's relationship with Washington would change if the Muslim Brotherhood ran the country - similar to what has occurred in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Cairo, the unknown future of a post-Assad order in Syria, and the possibility of civil war returning to Lebanon all constitute new security dilemmas for Jordan and Israel. In this context, Washington and Tel Aviv will face grave challenges if King Abdullah's rule collapses.

The Jordanian regime has withstood many challenges to its rule since Jordan gained independence in 1946 -- during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, the Nasserists' attempted coup in 1957, the events of Black September in 1970, and Al Qaeda's attacks in recent years, the Hashemite monarchy has proved resilient. The deep ethnic, tribal and ideological divisions in Jordanian society create wedges that the regime has managed effectively in the past and will perhaps continue to do so. The Syrian crisis threatens Jordan's security, with the potential to distract Jordanians from widespread corruption, human rights violations and economic ills, thereby making stability the top priority. Thus, while it is still too early to determine that the winds of change blowing through the Middle East will topple King Abdullah from his throne, there seems every reason to believe that once the Syrian conflict reaches a conclusion, Jordan could be next in the crosshairs.

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Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions, a cross-border risk management consulting firm, and author of the book Managing Country Risk. Giorgio Cafiero is a research analyst with CRS. Originally published by INEGMA.

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