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96

MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIX, NO. 1, SPRING 2012


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Sarah A. Tobin
Dr. Tobin is a Mellon Post Doctoral Fellow in Islamic Studies at Wheaton
College. She holds a PhD in Anthropologv from Boston Universitv.
2012, The Author
Middle East Policv 2012, Middle East Policy Council
T
he Hashemite Kingdom oI Jordan
was watched closely during the
early events oI the Arab Spring
in 2011. Many Western analysts
expressed concerns that it would be the
next country in which large protests and
social and political mobilization would
shiIt the scales oI power away Irom the
ruling regime to the protestors on the
street.
1
Despite this anticipation in the
popular media, along with widespread
desire Ior political and economic reIorm
on the part oI Jordan`s populace, the
country neither mobilized en masse nor
saw their interests culminate in calls Ior an
ousting oI the monarchy. The Arab Spring
in Jordan was maniIest mainly in media-
based activity such as blogs and in rela-
tively Irequent, but small, contained and
nonviolent protests in Amman. In Iact, the
deposing oI King Abdullah never made the
list oI demands Ior political and economic
reIorm. In comparison to most other coun-
tries swept by the Arab Spring, the lack oI
large anti-regime protests and revolution
are unusual.
Why is Jordan an exception? Why did
the people`s desire Ior reIorm not material-
ize in large-scale protests and revolution?
Why has King Abdullah not Iaced the same
pressures as other rulers throughout the
region? Based on ethnographic feldwork
and recent interviews, this paper examines
the role oI the emergent middle class in
Amman in shaping national politics, espe-
cially anti-revolutionary positions during
the Arab Spring. I argue that a heightened
notion oI middle-class status and 'aspiring
cosmopolitanism provides a newly signif-
cant Iorm oI social organization in Amman.
This reorients the populace away Irom
Iailed political reIorms and serves as a
means to reinIorce the status-quo, particu-
larly in the context oI deepening internal
divisions and a region in turmoil.
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In Jordan, there are serious internal
political and economic issues that could
become sources Ior amplifed agitation and
protest. From perpetual ethnic tensions to
economic woes, Irom religious tensions
to the lack oI a genuine democratic voice,
the Jordanian populace shares many oI the
same demographics and concerns as neigh-
boring countries that are now embroiled
in protest, revolution, rioting and their
consequences.
The ethnic demography oI Jordan is
largely the result oI warIare and reIugee
Tobin.indd 96 2/20/2012 12:56:04 PM
97
TOBIN: JORDAN`S ARAB SPRING: THE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANTI-REVOLUTION
creation in neighboring countries. Though
the government conducted an oIfcial
census in 2010,
2
it does not document the
population in terms oI ethnicity or religion.
Nonetheless, it is believed that the major-
ity are not ethnic Jordanians.
3
Rather, the
demographic majority are Palestinians (50
percent), Iollowed by ethnic Jordanians
(30-35 percent) and Iraqis (15-20 percent),
with smaller numbers oI Assyrians, Arme-
nians, Chechens, Circassians, Mandeans,
Syrians and migrant workers Irom Egypt,
Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
4

In terms oI religious identifcation, 8
percent oI Jordanians are Christian, while
92 percent are Muslim.
5
Muslims in Jordan,
however, are not a homogenous group.
They are overwhelmingly Sunni, and the
Salafs among them are growing in number.
This is largely attributable to the infuence
oI migrant workers returning Irom the GulI
countries with Iunds they have earned and
religious ideologies they have learned.
There are Iew Shiites and Druze, but a
larger number oI non-practicing, secular
Muslims. There is also a small but notable
Suf sect comprising mainly Western adher-
ents oI an American convert to Islam who
is a long-time resident oI Amman.
Such internal diversity raises the ques-
tion: 'Who is a Jordanian? In particular,
does one need to be an ethnic Jordanian
and a Muslim to be 'Jordanian? Through
popular media and in public discussions,
these questions oI inclusion in the state are
regularly raised. In terms oI religious inclu-
sion and the state, ethnic Jordanian Chris-
tians are not a largely contested group,
6

which is attributable to the longstanding
cooperative relationship between the royal
Iamily and the native Christian popula-
tion.
7
The same cannot be said oI Palestin-
ian Christians,
8
or minority Christian sects
such as the Mormons or Jehovah`s Wit-
nesses. Religious diversity, however, is just
one contested Iorm oI state inclusion.
Even among the political leadership in
Parliament, the question oI Jordanianness
and state inclusion came to the Iore when
a legal move was passed that required all
members oI parliament to hold only one
passport a Jordanian one.
9
Categorically
disallowing parliamentary members, gov-
ernment ministers and senior-level Royal
Palace employees Irom holding dual citi-
zenship or attaining Iree access to another
country provides signifcant challenges Ior
political inclusion Ior some oI the most
educated and well-trained Jordanians. It
creates a symbolic standard against which
political aspirants who may also be
holders oI Syrian or American passports,
Ior example must measure themselves
and each other. This move opened a space
to challenge those who may make political
claims, reminding them that 'real Jorda-
nians would not hold multiple passports,
thereby raising the bar Ior admission to
positions oI political power.
Most saliently, the question oI Pales-
tine arises in these discussions oI ethnic
divisions and state inclusion. Visions and
Iears oI al-Watan al-Badeel (The Alterna-
tive Nation) have arisen again during this
time oI uncertainty, and have been Ieatured
in international discussions oI the Iuture oI
Israel and Palestine.
10
The concern is that
the instability and political delegitimiza-
tion oI the Hashemite regime might lead to
the creation oI a new governmental struc-
ture, one that would establish Jordan as a
Palestinian state. The Alternative Nation is
a scenario that the ethnic minority Jordani-
ans would preIer not to see play out, given
their politically privileged status; at least
some Palestinians would also hesitate to
support it. This is because the Alternative
Nation provides justifcation Ior the expul-
Tobin.indd 97 2/20/2012 12:56:04 PM
98
MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIX, NO. 1, SPRING 2012
tax codes put the burden on the backs
oI the poor. Finally, the war in Iraq has
eliminated the gas and oil subsidies that
provided most Jordanians with aIIordable
transportation and winter heating Iuel. De-
spite these alarming economic diIfculties,
Palestinians in Amman were still hesitant
to protest, preIerring to identiIy with the
overwhelming majority oI Jordanians in
Amman who chose not to protest as well.
These were all reasons that many cited
Ior not protesting, despite the existence oI
signifcant internal divisions. Although the
context Ior religious and political inclusion
was not ideal, the majority oI terms were
tolerable, negotiable and provided a more
secure and stable position than the alter-
native. But 'better saIe than sorry only
explains part oI the reticence to protest and
Ioment revolution in Jordan. A closer ex-
amination reveals that 'middle-classness
and aspiring cosmopolitanism serve as new
ways oI elevating like-mindedness and are
an emergent means oI constructing internal
homogeneity.
-$!".(/!))'$(0'&++
As Schwedler has described,
14
the
neoliberal economic reIorms implemented
by the Jordanian regime have created new
space Ior the 'aspiring cosmopolitans oI
Amman. Despite the real divides between
the economically globalized and culturally
emergent West Amman and the members oI
the poor and working class who occupy the
vibrant but relatively unchanging East Am-
man, increasing numbers Irom the east are
crossing into West Amman Ior work and
leisure. New patterns oI work and leisure
have combined with easier access to pri-
vate commercial spaces and employment in
the service sector. In such spaces, both East
and West Ammanis prioritize cosmopoli-
tan constructs oI economic, political and
sion oI Palestinians Irom Israel and ne-
gates the ideological claims Ior the Right
oI Return. In this scenario, it is not that
Jordan wins or that the Palestinians win
per se, but that Israel wins and the Right
oI Return is diminished in its symbolic and
political power. Though it would provide
Ior some kind oI resolution to the reIugee
status oI the ethnic-majority Palestinians
in Jordan, it would also represent a major
shiIt in political realities and Iuture options
Ior a large majority oI the citizens.
There were additional reasons that
many Palestinians were hesitant to protest,
which also Iell along ethnic and economic
lines. There was the sentiment that Pal-
estinians would not protest unless the
ethnic Jordanians were already protesting.
Without ethnic Jordanian participation, the
political read would be that this is 'just
more Palestinian complaints. The concern
about a weariness with Palestinian dissent
on the part oI the Jordanian government
emerged in the Arab Spring as well: any
calls Ior political reIorm by Palestinians
would be dismissed as mere complaints
rather than a legitimate demand Ior politi-
cal revisions.
Along economic lines, many Palestin-
ians in Amman indicated in interviews that
the Arab Spring in Jordan was 'not my
fght, and that the 'real Arab Spring was
being Iought by the abjectly poor and the
politically disenIranchised, not by those
who have some marginal ability to par-
ticipate economically and politically. This
is notable because, in the last Iew years,
Amman has experienced an economic
downturn. Infation rose Irom a low oI 1.6
percent in 2003 to a whopping 13.9 per-
cent in 2008;
11
poverty rates hover around
13-14.2 percent,
12
and unemployment is
oIfcially at 12 percent, but unoIfcially
at 30 percent.
13
Furthermore, regressive
Tobin.indd 98 2/20/2012 12:56:04 PM
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TOBIN: JORDAN`S ARAB SPRING: THE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANTI-REVOLUTION
aIfliations. The coIIee shop is a point oI
entree into shared time, shared space, and a
shared Irame Ior meaningIul relationships.
These points overlap. Time is spent in a
number oI diIIerent Starbucks, Irom the
wealthiest residential neighborhood oI Ab-
doun to the commercial center and outdoor
shopping-
mall area oI
Sweifya to
Mecca Mall,
Amman`s
largest indoor
shopping
center. In
those places
and times,
the ability to divulge one`s sense oI selI to
another and develop a close Iriendship is
engendered. Furthermore, that these neigh-
borhood Starbucks are ubiquitous in West
Amman is notable, as it places the Iriend-
ship, quite literally, on the map. Mapping
one`s Iriendship according to the neighbor-
hood Starbucks in which you have shared
coIIee and time represents an immense re-
structuring oI time and space Ior purposes
oI meaningIul interpersonal connections.
Social and cultural capital are now being
built in terms that reIer to commercialized
venues, elevated consumption, and leisure
time with Iriends over and above the more
traditionally valued Iamily arrangements.
Elevating consumption with peers
over and above Iamily relationships is a
signifcant shiIt Ior social organization in
Amman. Historically, the city has been
understood as Iamily-centered and orga-
nized around one`s tribe, in the case oI
ethnic Jordanians, or geographic areas oI
origin Ior 'West Bankers and Palestin-
ian reIugees.
16
One reason Ior this diIIer-
ence is that Transjordanians were largely
organized around tribal aIfliations that
cultural Iorms oI sociality that closely re-
semble those oI the elites. They emphasize
inclusiveness and democracy rather than
'internecine confict, resurgent nationalism,
and all sorts oI bloody othering,`
15
par-
ticularly through the practices oI elite and
exclusive consumerism learned through
service-sector
employment
and leisure-
time patterns
in commercial
spaces such
as malls and
coIIee shops.
Working-class
Jordanians
are now able to emulate the consumption
habits and patterns oI the elites as 'aspiring
cosmopolitans.
This aspiring cosmopolitanism carries
important implications Ior social organiza-
tion. One oI my East Ammani inIormants,
in her mid-thirties, is a low- to mid-income
(250 Jordanian dinars per month, or $350)
Jordanian mother oI a three-year-old girl.
Her husband works Ior the Hashemite
Civil DeIense, and they live in govern-
ment-subsidized housing. She told me:
Do you know why we`re Iriends?
Because you know what Starbucks is.
I can talk to you about my liIe, who
I am, and what I really believe. You
know, I can`t talk to my husband`s
Iamily about my liIe like this. They
don`t even know what Starbucks is.
Can you imagine?!?! And you and I,
we`ve been there. We`ve been to the
Starbucks in Abdoun and Sweifya,
and Mecca Mall too. So, you under-
stand me; you understand this.
Starbucks in Amman has become an
index Ior a host oI symbolic and social
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9:?=@(A>3(2(<>81(>A(8B;4>C96(2:?(8>692C(
afliations. The coffee shop is a point of
entre into shared time, shared space,
2:?(2(8<23=?(A32;=(A>3(;=2:9:DA5C(
relationships.
Tobin.indd 99 2/20/2012 12:56:04 PM
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MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIX, NO. 1, SPRING 2012
and are relieved not to discuss the Civil War
oI the 1970s and to retreat to their apart-
ments and villas in sympathetic disdain Ior
Israeli raids oI the homes oI Palestinian
Iamily members and Iriends just 60 miles
away. They are consumers oI political in-
Iormation put Iorth on blogs, news and In-
ternet sites, but are not otherwise politically
engaged. Instead, they organize around
certain places and times Ior consumption
and around economic points Ior solidarity.
Most saliently, this middle-class orien-
tation has emerged as a kind oI imagined
community displacing overtly political
nationalism and replacing ethnic, religious
and other Iorms oI elitism, Iactioning and
sectarianism with a class-based cohesion
that still carries important political impli-
cations. This reprioritization oI modes Ior
social cohesion and political and economic
solidarity emerged quite strongly during
Jordan`s Arab Spring oI 2011.
E%,#$+#(&+()!+0,F%+$
When I was conducting feldwork in
Jordan during the Israeli bombing oI Gaza
in January 2009, protests were a nearly
daily event in Amman. Many oI my Iriends
and colleagues who worked Ior the U.S.
government expressed to me their con-
cerns that the numbers oI protesters would
grow to disconcerting levels, rendering the
public spheres dangerous, particularly Ior
Americans, or that Amman might come
under extreme political repression in order
to end the protests. While U.S. govern-
ment employees anticipated a fashpoint,
many Jordanians I interviewed expressed
deep ambivalence. Protests were, in their
experience, nothing more than 'yelling
against the wind. Though my Jordanians
Iriends appreciated the ability to speak
their minds and agitate Ior certain changes,
at least to some degree, they Iound protest-
cut across class. Palestinians, on the other
hand, came Irom a society that highly
emphasized class: 'Arab townsIolk and
the peasants lived, socially, in two diIIer-
ent worlds.
17
By the 1980s, middle-class
Muslims were a sizable demographic in
Amman,
18
and now many political scien-
tists and Western analysts point to a post-
Islamist orientation
19
that opens up lines
oI social organization around non-political
and non-religious interests.
Contemporary Amman is incredibly
diverse, and the wide swath oI the popu-
lace who imagine and orient themselves as
middle class and aspiring cosmopolitans
are typically proIessionals. They include
students who may make as much as 25
JD ($35) per month, government employ-
ees who make 200 JD ($282) per month,
and service-sector employees, who make
slightly more: 250 JD ($352). The highest-
income earners are oIten the landowners
and business proprietors, who make in
excess oI 1,000 JD ($1,411). One resident
oI Jordan`s wealthiest neighborhood told
me, as he moved his laundry Irom washer
to dryer, 'Oh, I`m middle class. I`m def-
nitely not elite. Given the wide range oI
economic markers, the salient point Ior
orientation as middle class is less about
monthly income, and more about a set oI
social and cultural practices that bring to-
gether this diverse society into a new kind
oI imagined community.
Most selI-described middle-class
Jordanians articulate a kind oI suburban
consciousness. They have some level oI
post-high-school education; they are con-
versant in Western particularly American
cultural reIerences oI leisure, including
coIIeeshops, malls and TV shows. Many
Jordanians hone their English by watching
'Friends episodes with Arabic subtitles.
They are a population who 'want peace
Tobin.indd 100 2/20/2012 12:56:04 PM
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TOBIN: JORDAN`S ARAB SPRING: THE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANTI-REVOLUTION
The frst protests oI the Arab Spring
occurred on January 28, 2011, and again
in early February. Each one attracted 3,500
people, believed to be Irom the Muslim
Brotherhood, trade unions and non-Is-
lamist opposition parties. The primary de-
mands were Ior the prime minister frst,
Samir RiIai, then newly appointed MarouI
Bakhit to step down. In addition to calls
Ior governmental reIorm, protesters raised
their banners,
signs and
voices in pro-
test over ris-
ing Iood and
Iuel prices,
infation and
unemploy-
ment. Be-
yond sacking
and reappointing new prime ministers,
King Abdullah responded by meeting with
leaders oI the Muslim Brotherhood and by
putting $500 million into salary increases
Ior government employees and subsidies
Ior Iood staples and Iuel. The largest
protests oI 7,000-10,000 people occurred
in late February, organized by the Islamic
Action Front in coalition with 19 other
political parties. Following these much
larger protests, King Abdullah pledged
additional governmental reIorms within a
three-month deadline.
At frst glance, these events oI early
2011 appear to ft into a pattern oI protest
and agitation, Iollowed by governmen-
tal reIorms, by more protests and agita-
tions, and fnally additional governmental
reIorms. The back-and-Iorth in this pattern
signals that there is a very public fow oI
inIormation happening here, albeit con-
tained and 'saIe. In these protests the
government appeared to be allowing some
measure oI Iree and public speech, and
ing was not a particularly eIIective means
Ior reIorm. Both prior to and aIter 2009,
Jordanian ambivalence towards protesting
has been in place, yet many Western gov-
ernments and academics have not under-
stood this disconnect between the ability
to protest and the lack oI overwhelming
interests or desire Ior change.
As Schwedler discussed, protests in
Jordan can be understood historically in
terms oI law,
space and
spectacle.
20

Jordan has a
long history
oI all kinds
oI protests
that range
Irom anti-
Israeli/pro-
Palestinian public displays to labor strikes
and sit-ins. As Schwedler outlines, these
public agitations have been going on with
regularity since the 1950s. Since 1989,
however, the Jordanian government has
required protestors to request a permit
outlining where the protest will be held,
the expected turnout, and the topic and
Iorms oI protest. OIten the government
would balk at certain requests, noting that
planned protests were too large or were
scheduled to occur in an unsuitable space.
Protest organizers would then alter plans
and work with government oIfcials to
reach an agreement. These inIormal nego-
tiations, as a Iorm oI discourse, both con-
tained protests by rendering them 'saIe in
the eyes oI the government and provided
an outlet Ior the populace to express dis-
sent and disapproval. Given this context,
the events oI 2011 are signifcant both Ior
the discursive negotiations between the
government and the people and Ior the
absence oI violent clashes.
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discourse, both contained protests by
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the government and provided an outlet
for the populace to express dissent and
disapproval.
Tobin.indd 101 2/20/2012 12:56:04 PM
102
MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIX, NO. 1, SPRING 2012
many pro-reIormists expressed Iears that
the government`s anti-riot police would
engage the populace much like Egypt`s
baltagiva (thugs), who were paid by the
government to quell rioters. Considering
that 58 policemen and 62 civilians were in-
jured and one man died 'oI natural causes
according to the Jordanian medical exam-
iner, many Jordanians came to believe that
the violence wracking neighboring coun-
tries might also come to theirs.
Maintaining the discursive tenor oI
the protest and government response,
particularly in the interest oI saIety and
nonviolence, prompted activists to return
to the permit-seeking, pre-approved space-
honoring sort oI protest. The remainder
oI the protests approximately one or
two per month Ior the rest oI 2011 and
the government responses became what
Schwedler reIers to as 'spectacle, or
'protesting Ior a specifc audience and
gaining visibility.
22
Utilizing the highly
visible aspects oI protest particularly
by launching multimedia campaigns and
using blogs, Facebook and Twitter calls
Ior reIorm and their responses can main-
tain the discursive qualities oI protest and
ampliIy them into the international sphere.
As a case in point, King Abdullah
visited the city oI Tafleh on June 13, 2011,
greeted either by a riotous crowd that
threw bottles and stones or a celebratory
one that cheered enthusiastically, depend-
ing on whose reports you believe.
23
Tafleh
is a small city oI primarily ethnic Jorda-
nians in the south, known Ior its intense
loyalty to the ruling regime, but also the
subject oI jokes. Tafleh is a town one
passes through on the way to Petra Irom
the King`s Highway. When I would pass
through, many oI my Jordanian Iriends
in Amman would raise an eyebrow about
stopping in Tafleh: 'You know, they
providing a more responsive and poten-
tially democratic approach to resolving
internal dissatisIaction, Iurther heighten-
ing the Jordanian government`s apparent
acquiescence and public response. It reads
like a series oI discursive exchanges.
However, given the events that Iol-
lowed, reading the early Arab Spring in
Jordan as a narrative oI protest and agita-
tion Iollowed by a resolution by way oI
governmental response proves insuIfcient,
as it does not account Ior the rising level
oI protests and their culmination in the
Dakhiliya protests. On March 24 and 25,
2011, the largest and potentially most
threatening protests occurred
21
in the Da-
khiliya, or Interior, Circle (named aIter the
Interior Ministry nearby). The protestors
defed the permit requirement and modeled
their indefnite sit-in aIter protests in Tahrir
Square in Cairo. Dakhliya Circle carries
political and economic signifcance: it is
the site oI several major government oI-
fces including the Ministry oI the Interior,
major international hotels such as Le Me-
ridien and the Marriot, the Jordanian Stock
Market, Royal Jordanian Airlines, the
Housing Bank, and a primary traIfc circle
Ior those traveling between the north and
northwest parts oI Amman and the central
and southern parts oI West Amman and its
circles and throughways. For the protesters
to fagrantly violate the law and disrupt the
'saIe space with claims oI indeterminate
occupation rendered the protest 'threaten-
ing and 'dangerous. With these calls Ior
an occupation and sit-in, anti-reIormists
also showed up, surrounding and counter-
ing the protesters. AIter Friday prayers on
March 25, the two opposing sides began
throwing rocks at one another. The circle
closed, and the anti-riot police came to
quell the disputes between the two sides.
It is unclear what exactly transpired, but
Tobin.indd 102 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM
103
TOBIN: JORDAN`S ARAB SPRING: THE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANTI-REVOLUTION
cal organization. Most Islamic political
organizations in Jordan such as the Muslim
Brotherhood have distanced themselves
Irom many Salafsts. In mid-April 2011,
the police and Salaf mujahedeen returning
Irom AIghanistan clashed in Zarqa, a large
city to the north oI Amman well-known Ior
Iomenting religious conservativism.
The mastermind oI the November 9,
2005, attacks in Amman was born in Zarqa
as Ahmad Fadeel al-Nazal al-Khalayleh,
but changed his name to Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi when he became a part oI the
mujahedeen in AIghanistan with al-Qaeda
and Osama bin Laden. The mujahedeen
are now a noticeable presence in Zarqa,
particularly due to their showal qamees,
the traditional dress Iound in AIghanistan,
and their weapons oI daggers and swords,
which are reminiscent oI weaponry Irom
Central Asia in the nineteenth century or
beIore. The April 2011 clash between the
mujahedeen in Zarqa and the riot police
was documented on YouTube and then
brought into the regional news, includ-
ing Al-Arabiya.
25
Many oI my Jordanian
Iriends laughed at the irony behind the re-
turned mujahedeen using 'primitive dag-
gers and swords publicized on YouTube
and broadcast on a major satellite regional
news source. The spectacle oI the protest
and riot underscored that the least techni-
cally advanced in this case the Salafs
relying upon AIghan methods oI dress
and weapons oIten lose in the battle Ior
technology-based spectacle.
While the overall history oI protest in
Jordan has been one oI engaging in dia-
logue with the government, the underlying
threat oI strong, even violent, government
response to those who Iall outside the pur-
view oI acceptable and 'saIe demonstra-
tions such as those Iound in neighboring
countries has not gone unnoticed. Rather
aren`t the smartest Jordanians.
24
Adding
to the spectacle quality oI the protests, the
oIfcial government stories called King
Abdullah`s reception enthusiastic, warm
and welcoming, seemingly tapping into the
trope oI Jordanians in Tafleh as ignorant
subjects warmly receiving their king.
Meanwhile, sources tied to the internation-
al media, Internet and radio depicted the
Taflehis as engaged, Irustrated and willing
to throw bottles in protest.
These conficting stories oI King
Abdullah`s stop in Tafleh were particu-
larly important. On the one hand, the story
concerned the loyalists rising up in protest
against their king. On the other hand, the
government was denying any confict with
the 'ignorant loyalists. This revealed a
certain tenuousness: iI the government
could not even keep the 'idiot loyalists
Irom rising up, the more educated, anti-
regime portions oI the populace likely
carried some political weight and capital.
As the Dakhliya Protests showed, how-
ever, the populace lacked military might.
The Internet-based, spectacle quality oI
the protests in Tafleh raised the degree to
which the international media would render
verdicts on the 'successes oI the protests
and Iailures oI the government. Though the
populace may have garnered international
attention Irom the spectacle oI the Tafleh
protests, the military and police power oI
the regime continued to be recognized.
In another example oI the spectacle oI
protest, the rise in the number oI Salafs
has not gone unnoticed by the larger
populace in Jordan. For the most part, the
Salafs are interested in ampliIying public
ethics that support conservative values
such as restricting the sale oI alcohol,
pressuring women to don the hifab and
implementing certain rulings Irom Sharia.
They have been Iar less interested in politi-
Tobin.indd 103 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM
104
MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIX, NO. 1, SPRING 2012
than allowing protest to continue to be
co-opted by the regime, the heightened
spectacle oI notable, multi-media reports
and presentations tap into a wider vocabu-
lary oI middle-class cultural reIerence
points. This has amplifed the notion that,
more and more, discursive protests and
their counterpoints will be decided in the
public sphere and through the advances oI
international media and technology.
.,*$%"/$"#(%$+E,"+$+
It is analytically useIul to examine
the Jordanian government`s responses to
the events oI the Arab Spring as a series
oI consumerist political moves designed
to distract middle-class Jordanians and
aspiring cosmopolitans Irom issues that
substantively threaten to undermine the
stability oI the country.
Parliamentary elections occurred on
November 9, 2010, prompting one oI the
main complaints during the frst sets oI
protests in January and February 2011.
The early calls Ior political reIorms oIten
revolved around the notion that the elec-
toral processes, particularly parliamentary
elections, are highly undemocratic. Though
Jordan is technically a constitutional mon-
archy, this is a rather liberal interpretation.
Full executive power is vested in King
Abdullah himselI. When elections are held,
gerrymandering prevents women, Chris-
tians and ethnic minorities Irom gaining
political power except by quotas. Palestin-
ians are underrepresented based on their
demographic majority. Finally, votes are
oIten purchased, rendering null any hope
Ior one-person, one-vote.
In response to complaints about the
November 2010 elections, King Abdullah
sacked the parliament and the prime minis-
ter in February 2011, replacing Samir RiIai
with MarouI Bakhit and a newly appointed
government later in the month. Further-
more, the government set aside $500
million Ior salary increases Ior government
employees and subsidies Ior Iood staples
and Iuel. Later, in March 2011, King
Abdullah established a three-month dead-
line Ior the newly appointed government
to craIt reIorms. Such announcements con-
tinued later in the year. On June 12, 2011,
the king agreed to relinquish the right to
appoint prime ministers and cabinets, with
new election and political-party laws to
come. On October 17, 2011, he sacked
the prime minister again, appointing Awn
Shawkat Al-Khasawneh in his place.
At frst glance, one might be tempted
to see the governmental responses as a
continuation oI the discursive pattern oI
response to protests. However, the pri-
mary reason that the governmental oIIers
oI reIorm have helped to stem a tide oI
increased protest is tied less to any sub-
stantive change and more to the political,
consumerist distractions oI the middle class
and aspiring cosmopolitans in Amman.
Holding elections, sacking and reap-
pointing government representatives, and
increasing economic purchasing power all
heighten consumerism and provide politi-
cal distractions. Elections, Ior example, are
known to 'reorient political discourse.
26

All oI these actions by the government
serve to prioritize cohesion and inclusive-
ness and oIIer something refective oI
what the consuming populace is ultimately
hoping to achieve. Furthermore, the speed
with which these actions were undertaken
is much more representative oI a market-
modeled or economic response. The
populace wants a new prime minister? A
new parliament? With a brushstroke, King
Abdullah is able to change the holders oI
these powerIul and representative posi-
tions. In Iact, the speed oI King Abdullah`s
Tobin.indd 104 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM
105
TOBIN: JORDAN`S ARAB SPRING: THE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANTI-REVOLUTION
have, in the past 10 years, managed
to establish a credible middle class.
But any shiIts in oil prices, economic
challenges, that middle class becomes
very Iragile.
28
The idea that 'unity is the preserva-
tion oI the middle class has now become
the overt aim oI the Hashemite regime.
This is primarily because previous at-
tempts to build a cohesive society based
on political aIfliations have not worked.
Recent political campaigns and distrac-
tions that Iocused on overcoming ethnic
and religious diIIerences with promises
oI political reIorm have been largely seen
as inauthentic and propagandist.
29
Be-
tween 2003 and 2006, the three national
campaigns oI 'Jordan First, 'National
Agenda and 'We Are All Jordan each
attempted an internal political unifcation
that largely Iailed; the internal divisions
run deep.
It appears that the next-best hope
Ior internal unity is the construction and
maintenance oI a broadly construed middle
class that participates in political activism
as an extension oI their ethics oI consump-
tion, thereby diverting attention Irom in-
ternal divisions. The Jordanian regime has
engaged in a series oI political consumerist
practices impromptu elections, sacking
prime minister aIter prime minister and
passing temporary laws in an attempt to
distract the populace Irom the deepening
internal divisions that threaten to under-
mine this largely unitary outlook and Iorm
oI social organization. Such top-down
measures have been met with ambivalence.
To solidiIy this otherwise tenuous political
and economic unity, the regime has also
encouraged comparisons to neighboring
countries. In doing so, the government has
recognized that consumerist distractions
responses is more refective oI consumer-
ist behavior than democratic ideals: no
elections, quorums or external inputs are
deemed necessary. The quest to ameliorate
the people`s Irustrations or even to make
them happy is conducted without insti-
tuting substantive reIorms. It is more an
endeavor to rebrand the monarchy than to
make it more democratic. In Iact, the ethics
oI enhanced purchasing power as part oI
Amman`s middle-class cosmopolitanism
permeates political liIe here. Replacing the
prime minister is enacted with the same
penstroke as increasing salaries and Iood
subsidies. Enhanced purchasing power
by the middle class brings Iorth both new
governments and new goods.
Furthermore, King Abdullah has
recognized that such consumerist ac-
tions and political distractions tap into the
shared middle-class cosmopolitanism oI
Ammanis. Just aIter the Dakhilya protests
on March 27, 2011, King Abdullah called
Ior the populace to avoid 'any behavior or
attitude that would aIIect our unity.
27
In
perhaps the clearest understanding oI this
phenomenon, the king said on America`s
National Public Radio:
What bothers me in a lot oI countries
is |that| society is being led by the
street, as opposed to the light at the
end oI the tunnel. But we have got to
remember that the Arab Spring began
and there`s challenges all over
the world, including your country
because oI economic diIfculties:
unemployment, poverty. We have the
largest youth cohort in history com-
ing into the workIorce in the Middle
East. And that is how the Arab Spring
started. I mean, Tunis started be-
cause oI the economy, not because oI
politics.. What keeps me up at night
is poverty and unemployment. We
Tobin.indd 105 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM
106
MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIX, NO. 1, SPRING 2012
Ior instability came to other neighbor-
ing countries. There was little concern or
hope that the West would get involved in
deposing King Abdullah. The political,
economic and symbolic linkages between
the king and the West are well known in
Jordan. Particularly aIter Mubarak Iell,
most Jordanians held to the belieI that
any threat to Jordan was a threat to the
last bastion oI pro-Western, Arab regimes
in the region. Rather than reminding the
populace oI harsh rulers, comparisons with
Iraq served to remind the populace that,
should calls Ior deposing King Abdul-
lah be raised, the Iull support oI the West
could be invoked on his behalI. Should
the situation in Jordan come to that, the
costs oI such instability could be as great
as Western involvement and a civil war.
In Iact, such symbolic linkages served to
remind people that Jordan recently had had
a civil war; Black September is still pres-
ent in local memories. Such linkages also
prompted people to ask iI their situations
were really so dire that a U.S.-led invasion
and another civil war were really worth it.
Most agreed that they were not.
Given the close proximity oI Damas-
cus to Amman, comparisons with Syria
were considered most salient. Such com-
parisons reiterated the questions about civil
war, as they did with Iraq. However, they
also prompted questions about the role and
power oI the government`s secret police
(mukhabarat). Most Ammanis agreed that
Jordan`s security apparatus was much
less intrusive and alarming than Syria`s.
Jordan`s mukhabarat are not as secretive,
scary or as likely to be your neighbor as
they are in Syria. The consensus was that
the Jordanian police will kick you but
will not kill you. And, as the events oI the
Dakhiliya Protests indicated, the anti-riot
police and intelligentsia are not likely to
Irom deepening internal divisions are not
enough, and that supplementing them with
points oI comparison helps to distract Irom
internal divisions.
$J#$%"&'(0,/E&%!+,"+
This unitary construction oI social
liIe in Amman as middle class and anti-
revolution is Iurther reinIorced by an
outward-looking disposition. At the height
oI Western analysts` and media`s anticipa-
tion oI Jordan`s movement into the Arab
Spring, most Ammanis were frst look-
ing to their neighboring countries. The
'wait and see attitude oI most Ammanis
stemmed Irom Palestinian reluctance to
protest without Jordanians, and Jordanians
were not keen to trade the current regime
Ior the situations in Iraq, Syria and Egypt.
Comparisons with each country Iurther
confrmed that Amman`s middle-class
unity was not based solely on ignoring or
overlooking internal divisions, nor was the
middle class and aspiring cosmopolitanism
alone able to attain the heightened priori-
tization oI economic, political and cultural
Iorms that prevented revolution. Seeing the
experiences in neighboring countries solid-
ifed such unity and loyalty to the status
quo. Jordan as the Nation oI Security and
Stability (Belad al-Amn wa al-Istighrar)
was an oIt-repeated niche characteriza-
tion in a region otherwise wracked with
violence, occupation and civil war, and in
need oI signifcant political and economic
development. On the Daily Show, King
Abdullah characterized Jordan as 'stuck
between Iraq and a hard place.
30
Whatever
the diIfculties in Jordan, the alternative
was worse.
Certainly comparisons with Iraq were
made beIore the Arab Spring began. How-
ever, such comparisons were much more
Irequent and signifcant aIter the potential
Tobin.indd 106 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM
107
TOBIN: JORDAN`S ARAB SPRING: THE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANTI-REVOLUTION
inIormant said, 'II Egypt suddenly became
a place where everyone is happy and pros-
perous, there`d be a revolution in Jordan.
The notion that Amman is a wealthier
space, in which one`s opportunities might
grow into a kind oI middle-class, cosmo-
politan liIe and livelihood, was common
enough that the economic imperative Ior
reIorm was Iar diminished and best under-
stood as existing 'out there, particularly
in Egypt.
Many residents oIten repeated the
mantra that Jordan is the Nation oI Securi-
ty and Stability, asking, 'Is it worth identi-
Iying and conIronting the internal divisions
that threaten this? For many, the desire
was strong to overlook internal diIIer-
ences and compare their situations to the
instability in neighboring countries Ior the
sake oI preventing the violence and harm
undoing many neighboring countries. This
sentiment continues to be strong. For many
middle-class and aspiring cosmopolitans in
Amman, it is not worth risking their status
in the region. LiIe in Jordan, despite all its
diIfculties, is secure and stable, and most
believe it is best to keep it that way.
E%,+E$0#+(K,%(E,'!#!0&'(
%$K,%/
By defecting Irom the more imme-
diate internal divisions, jettisoning real
debates, and marginalizing those in Jor-
danian society with legitimate economic
and political claims, the middle-class and
aspiring cosmopolitans have secured a new
Iorm oI internal unity. This unity is Iurther
solidifed when one looks to the repercus-
sions Ielt in neighboring countries, includ-
ing violence, death and civil war.
Negative associations with neighbor-
ing countries have prompted links between
otherwise disparate and even tense sections
oI society. The sentiment that 'we are not
round up Jordanians en masse Ior inter-
rogations, torture or execution, as they
have in Syria. Amman`s middle class and
aspiring cosmopolitans compare Jordan to
Syria and consider the principles oI inclu-
siveness and peaceIul coexistence, even
in limited political Iorm, Iar preIerable to
Syria`s ruthless internal-security appara-
tus. Ammanis preIerred their consumerist
distractions over wrestling with diIIerence
and diversity in ways that could potentially
throw the country into the violence wit-
nessed in Syria.
In comparison with Egypt, Amman`s
cosmopolitan middle class expressed polit-
ical, economic and cultural distance Irom
the working poor oI Cairo. Comparisons
emphasized that Jordan is less internally
homogenous than Egypt, and that such di-
versity makes revolution less likely. As one
Ammani Iriend told me, 'They can have a
revolution. They`re all poor and Egyptian.
The guiding notion was that the diversity
internal to Jordan would result in a less
straightIorward experience oI protest-
revolution-political-reIorm. The sentiment
was that Egyptians can and should have a
revolution, given their perceived internal
ethnic and economic homogeneity and
the overwhelmingly unifed dislike oI
Mubarak. Should diverse Jordan destabi-
lize, the result would be closer to that oI
sectarian Syria than oI homogenous Egypt.
Economic comparisons with Egypt
Iurther emphasize the role that external
comparisons play among the emergent
middle class and aspiring cosmopolitans in
Amman. Ammanis Iound themselves with
space and political-economic opportunity
to engage in a reorganization and repri-
oritization oI Iorms Ior social liIe, such
that their economic Irustrations with the
government were not nearly as strongly
held as those oI the Egyptians. As one
Tobin.indd 107 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM
108
MIDDLE EAST POLICY, VOL. XIX, NO. 1, SPRING 2012
1
Oded Eran, 'Is Jordan Next? Haaret:, February 7, 2011, accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.haaretz.
com/print-edition/opinion/is-jordan-next-1.341727; Joel Rosenberg, 'Revolution in Egypt? And Could Jordan
Be Next? National Review, January, 28, 2011, accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.nationalreview.com/
corner/ 258304/revolution-egypt-and-could-jordan-be-next-joel-c-rosenberg.; Ivan Watson and Amy Hybels,
'Jordan Protestors Inspired by Tunisian Ripple, CNN, January 24, 2011, accessed December 15, 2011,
http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/meast/01/19/jordan.ripple/index.html?ireImpstoryview.
2
Hashemite Kingdom oI Jordan Department oI Statistics, 'Population oI Kingdom at End-year |sic| 2010,
Department of Statistics, January 18, 2012, accessed January 18, 2012, http://www.dos.gov.jo/doshomee/
main/index.htm.
3
This is a well-known and common understanding. Many Western analysts have also debated the possible
implications oI this. CI. Robert Fisk, 'Why Jordan Is Occupied by Palestinians, Independent, July 22, 2010,
accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/fsk/robert-fsk-why-
jordan-is-occupied-by-palestinians-2032173.html.
4
Wikipedia, 'Demographics oI Jordan: Ethnic and Religious Groups, Wikipedia, accessed December 15,
2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DemographicsoIJordan#Ethnicandreligiousgroups.
5
'Maps: Modern Socio-Political, PBS Global Connections. The Middle East, last modifed 2002, accessed
December 15, 2011, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/globalconnections/mideast/maps/demotext.html.
6
'Prince El-Hassan bin Talal: Jordanian Christians Are Fully Integrated,` Middle East Quarterlv (Winter
2001): 82-87, accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.meIorum.org/20/jordanian-christians-are-Iully-
integrated.
7
Kamal S. Salibi, The Modern Historv of Jordan (IB Tauris & Co Ltd., 1998), 100.
8
Immigration and ReIugee Board oI Canada, 'Jordan: InIormation on Christians in Jordan, Whether Fun-
damentalist Seek to Convert Them to Islam and on the Assistance Available to Them, UNHCR. The UN
Refugee Agencv, last modifed 2002, accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.unhcr.org/reIworld/publisher,I
RBC,,JOR,3ae6ac3c20,0.html.
9
Naseem Tarawnah, 'Dual Citizenship in Jordan: Not Acceptable, The Joices of the Middle East. MidEast-
sPosts.com, October 9, 2011, last accessed December 27, 2011, http://mideastposts.com/2011/10/09/dual-
citizenship-in-jordan-not-acceptable/.
10
Lamis Andoni, 'Jordan Is Not Palestine, Al-Jazeera, July 4, 2010, last accessed December 15, 2011, http://
www.aljazeera.com /news/2010/07/2010748131864654.html.
11
Index Mundi, 'Jordan Infation Rate (consumer prices), Index Mundi, last modifed January 9, 2012, ac-
cessed January 18, 2012, http://www.indexmundi.com/jordan/infationrate28consumerprices29.html.
Egypt, 'we are not Syria, and 'we are
not Iraq provides a tenuous undergird-
ing Ior political and economic cohesion
between Salafs and secular Jordanians,
Palestinians and Jordanians, and others.
The Ieeling that most people in Amman
are not abjectly poor provides economic
motivation as well. Rather than the poten-
tially stronger bonds oI positive political
and economic associations, these negative
associations will only continue as long
as the political situations in neighboring
countries are worse than in Jordan. As long
as the negative political associations con-
tinue between middle-class Ammanis and
Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis, Jordan can
continue to hold together as a coherent,
cohesive society. The mantra that Jordan is
the Nation oI Security and Stability is true
only relative to neighboring countries. The
implication is that the Iuture oI Jordan is
inextricably linked to those oI neighboring
countries, even more so than its own inter-
nal political and economic situation would
otherwise indicate.
Tobin.indd 108 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM
109
TOBIN: JORDAN`S ARAB SPRING: THE MIDDLE CLASS AND ANTI-REVOLUTION
12
'Field Listing: Population Below Poverty Line, CIA World Factbook, last modifed 2011, accessed De-
cember 15, 2011, https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-Iactbook/felds/2046.html.
13
Index Mundi, 'Jordan Unemployment Rate, Index Mundi, last modifed January 9, 2012, accessed January
18, 2012, http://www.indexmundi.com/jordan/unemploymentrate.html.
14
Jillian Schwedler, 'Amman Cosmopolitan: Spaces and Practices oI Aspiration and Consumption, Com-
parative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, 30 (2010): 547-62.
15
Ibid., 555.
16
Philip Robins, A Historv of Jordan (Cambridge University Press, 2004), 2-3; Eugene L. Rogan, Frontiers
of the State in the Late Ottoman Empire. Transfordan, 1850-1921 (Cambridge University Press, 1999), 18,
72-76; Kamal S. Salibi, The Modern Historv of Jordan (IB Tauris & Co Ltd., 1998), 130.
17
Kamal S. Salibi, The Modern Historv of Jordan (IB Tauris & Co Ltd., 1998), 130.
18
Janine A. Clark, Islam, Charitv, and Activism. Middle-Class Networks and Social Welfare in Egvpt, Jordan,
and Yemen (Indiana University Press, 2004) 17, 63, 82.
19
AseI Bayat, Making Islam Democratic. Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn (StanIord University
Press, 2007), 236-8.
20
Jillian Schwedler, 'The Geography oI Political Protests, in Revolution in the Arab World. The Long Jiew,
Mimi Kirk, ed. (Center Ior Contemporary Studies, 2011), 9-14.
21
These protests were well documented by bloggers and in social commentaries by those in Jordan as well as
in international media outlets. Dalia Zatara, 'The Day aIter March 25. 7iber.com, March 27, 2011, accessed
December 15, 2011, http://www.7iber.com/2011/03/the-day-aIter-march-25/; Ranya Kadri and Isabel Kersh-
ner, 'Violence Erupts at Jordan Protest, New York Times, February 18, 2011, accessed December 15, 2011,
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/world/ middleeast/19jordan.html.
22
Ibid., 13.
23
For a report critical oI the government, see Ranya Kadri, 'Jordan: Protestors Clash with Police during
King`s Visit to Tribal Town, New York Times, June 13, 2011, accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.ny-
times.com/ 2011/06/14/world/middleeast/14brieIs-Jordan.html. For a report oI the government`s narrative oI
events, see 'Jordan: OIfcials Deny Protestors Attacked King, BBC News, June 13, 2011, accessed Decem-
ber 15, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-13751299.
24
Tafleh jokes oIten resemble 'blonde jokes in America. One example includes, 'A man Irom Tafleh had
been asking God Ior 15 years to be blessed with a child. One night he received a message Irom God that said:
Get married frst, you idiot!`
25
'Isaba 83 min al-amn Al-Urduny f tithahira lil Salafyeen, Al-Arabiya News, uploaded to youtube.com
April 15, 2011, accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?vHlvOaX5jPTc&Ieature
related. The frst minute oI the video translates as, 'Hussein Haza` Al-Mijali, leader oI the Police Dept.
announced today that 83 members oI the police Iorce were injured in the events oI Zarqa that involved the
Salaf fihadin and their opposition, who had called Ior police intervention. The police fred tear gas to separate
the two parties. Mijali said that 17 Salafs arrested were involved in attacking policeman using batons and
sharp objects. It is worth mentioning that the Salaf Iaction have been calling Ior protests over the last month
in various cities, asking Ior the implementation oI Shari`a and the release oI the 200 detainees Irom Jordanian
jails.
26
Jillian Schwedler, 'Jordan`s Risky Business as Usual, Middle East Research and Information Profect, June
30 (2010), accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.merip.org/mero/mero063010.
27
'Jordan`s King Calls Ior National Unity, Al-Jazeera, last modifed March 27, 2011, accessed December 15,
2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/03/2011327203224334931.html.
28
'King Abdullah: Jordan Needs a Stable Middle Class`, National Public Radio, Sept. 22, 2011, accessed
December 15, 2011, http://www.npr.org/2011/09/22/140670554/king-abdullah-jordan-needs-stable-middle-
class.
29
Batir Wardam, 'We Are All Jordan: The Issue oI Ownership, Jordan Watch, July 29, 2006, accessed De-
cember 15, 2011, http://batir.jeeran.com/archive/2006/7/75652.html.
30
King Abdullah II oI Jordan Extended Interview, The Daily Show with John Stewart, September 23, 2010,
accessed December 15, 2011, http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-september-23-2010/exclusive---king-
abdullah-ii-oI-jordan-extended-interview.
Tobin.indd 109 2/20/2012 12:56:05 PM