Story by Kate Lieb // Photo by Melissa Tabeek
AMMAN, Jordan – Unlike other countries in the Middle East that have endured sometimes violent demonstrations by activists trying to reform their governments, Jordan will likely remain relatively peaceful, a political science professor said this week to a group of American university students.
Bader Al Madi, a professor at the University of Jordan and an instructor at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy in Amman, said that the peace here is not necessarily a result of people’s contentment with the government. In fact, he said it’s widely believed here that the country’s government is more corrupt than ever before.
But the frequent Friday protests – which almost always involve complaints about corruption, he said – have so far been peaceful because the situation here isn’t as desperate economically as in the other counties involved, such as Egypt and Libya.
“Things are not as bad here in Jordan because the political regime is not as bad,” Al Madi stressed. Here, there is “a great relationship between the people and the government itself.”
Bader spoke to a group of 50 Northeastern University students about Jordanian history and government as part of a lecture series involving Middle Eastern culture and politics. The talks with the Boston-based students will continue through mid-June.
He covered topics including the absence of social justice in the Arab world, high unemployment rates here and the growing divide between upper and lower classes.
In fact, he said, the middle class is, in effect, disappearing.
“There is no middle class in the Arab world anymore,” he said. But “in order to achieve stability in those societies, there has to be.”
Mostly, in his talk, Al Madi discussed how the Arab Spring – now often referred to as the Arab Awakening – has both altered the political discourse across the region as well as between the region and the rest of the world.
The Arab Spring “brought a democratic dialogue to the Middle East for the first time,” Al Madi said. He added that revolutions in places such as Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo last year put pressure on international leaders to finally deal with a different set of players.
“There’s no more negotiating with just one person in Egypt,” he said. “Now they deal with the political parties. Same thing in Yemen, Libya. Things are different,” he said. “Things are changing.”
Al Madi also stressed that the protests here hopefully will force the United States government specifically to alter the way it interacts with leaders in the region. “The United States needs to not see Israel as the only political force in the Middle East,” Al Madi said.
But there’s still much more to do, he cautioned. For example, the U.S. and other world leaders must acknowledge other powerful political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Middle East’s largest opposition party. In Jordan, participation in the party is now about 25 percent, he said, adding that he believes alliance with the Brotherhood will continue to increase at a rapid rate.
Unlike in other countries in the region, that’s not a death sentence in Jordan, he said, because the government coexists with the Brotherhood.
“This coexistence between [the] Brotherhood and the regime allows for less volatility,” he said.
Al Madi said he cannot see the people of Jordan following their brothers in neighboring and nearby countries by calling for an upheaval of government. “Here we have a good political leadership,” he said. “One of the most important results of the Arab Spring was the fall of tyrannical regimes” – a reality he said does not apply to Jordan’s government.
You “can express yourself. You’re free to attack the government from sunshine to sunset [you] … can have democratic freedoms. As a professor, I can talk about [the] Syrian government without dying five minutes later,” said Al Madi.