The Social and Economic Origins of Monarchy in Jordan
Tariq Moraiwed Tell; American University of Beirut, Lebanon
Published in 2013 by Palgrave MacMillan
Available at: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1057/9781137015655
Within a short period of six weeks in 2021, the government of Jordan celebrated two historical anniversaries: 11 April 2021 marked the centennial of the country’s foundation as a state in the year 1921, when the so-called Emirate of Transjordan was established as a post-World War I British Mandate in the Middle East. A short time later, on 25 May 2021, the Jordanian government celebrated the 75th anniversary of the state’s formal independence from British tutelage in the year 1946 and the country’s transition from Emirate to Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (still the official name today).
Jordan’s double jubilees in 2021 brought back one of the central scholarly debates among historians, sociologists and political scientists of the country and of the Middle East more broadly: what have been the dominant sources and central dynamics enabling Jordan’s survival as a state over the last hundred years, overcoming the country’s alleged status as “political anomaly and geographical nonsense” (Shlaim 1988) or “epitome of artificiality” (Krämer 1994)? And, relatedly, what have been the dominant sources and central dynamics enabling the survival of the Hashemite monarchy that has dominated the Jordanian state over the same century – a royal family that hails not from the area of (Trans )Jordan itself from the Hijaz in Western Arabia?
In my view, one of most comprehensive and convincing answers to the puzzle of Hashemite Jordan’s longue durée is provided by Dr Tariq Moraiwed Tell, a Jordanian political economist who teaches in the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in Lebanon. Drawing on an impressive wealth of Jordanian and British-colonial archival sources and being well-versed in theories of state-society relations and rural political economy (including those of Haim Gerber, Michael Mann, Joel Migdal and James C. Scott), Tell presents a revisionist account that goes against many contemporary interpretations of Jordanian politics. The usual explanations have been, put simply, dominated either by an emphasis on the Western-funded monarch and his elite allies (the so-called “king’s men”) or by Jordan’s dependent position in the larger Israeli-Arab and especially Israeli-Palestinian conflict (2013: 1–14).
Rather than placing the king or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict centre-stage, Tell advocates for a focus on the “inner workings of the East Bank” (2013: 3), especially the transformations in the political economy of the rural communities east of the River Jordan – hence, the terms “East Bankers” or “Transjordanians” – before both the arrival of the Hashemites in the mid-late 1910s and the later mass influx particularly of Palestinians from historical Palestine, especially the West Bank. Tell summarises the rationale of his book as follows (2013: 132): “… a historically informed account of the transformation of the ‘local order’ on the East Bank in an attempt to unravel the political economy underpinning Hashemite authority.” He adds that the “sources of Hashemite social power are located in the ‘social control’ afforded by the ‘Hashemite Compact,’ a monarchical social pact that traded political loyalty for resources necessary to the ‘survival strategies’ of the Bedouin and fallahin (Arabic for ‘peasants’) of Trans-Jordan” (ibid.).
What I particularly like in Tell’s approach is his systematic inclusion of the societal communities that have historically provided the most central support to the monarchy, especially through the incorporation of rural Transjordanians into the emergent and steadily growing army and other security agencies, as well as into the state bureaucracies. In his detailed, rich historical chapters ranging from the mid-19th century to the early 1970s, the author provides much evidence that the Hashemite-Transjordanian alliance was not a foregone conclusion – but rather that specific social, economic and geopolitical constellations at the end of World War I allowed for its emergence, not least with the help of British foreign aid, as well as for some kind of (financial) consolidation in subsequent decades.
So rather than merely advocating for “going local”, Tell presents an analysis that is cognizant of local political-economic transformations but acknowledges their frequent link with both the national and sometimes also regional or transnational scales, especially via financial investments and demands for labour. In this way, the “Hashemite Compact” could emerge and consolidate over decades of Jordan’s pre- and post-independence history. At the same time, Tell’s understanding of the dynamics between the regime and rural community is flexible enough to recognise that the decades-old, allegedly fixed “Hashemite Compact” can still be challenged – provided that integral elements of the compact have changed. And this is precisely what can be seen in recent decades of Jordan’s political history, when segments of the previously relatively well-incorporated Transjordanians became marginalised (again), leading to anti-monarchical protest movements in 1989 and 1996 and especially in Jordan’s Arab Uprisings post-2011.
While I agree with Ziad Abu-Rish’s criticism of Tell’s relative neglect of the Palestinian dimension in his account, especially of the post-1948 periods (Abu-Rish 2014: 269), I still find that Tell’s study provides important historical and contemporary lessons about the workings of the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. That is arguably also why The Social and Economic Origins of Monarchy in Jordan continues to be quoted, as in two recent volumes, one on the history of protests in Jordan (Schwedler 2022) and one on the politics of bread and the political economy of subsidies in the kingdom (Martinez 2022). These two recent volumes will also likely bring “Jordanian studies” back into the limelight of critical analyses of political power and state-society dynamics of the Middle East and beyond.
Reviewed by: Dr André Bank, Senior Research Fellow at GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies, Hamburg and Associate Researcher at ABI, Freiburg
Additional works cited:
Abu-Rish, Ziad (2014) “Review of The Social and Economic Origins of Monarchy in Jordan.” Arab Studies Journal 22 (1), pp. 265–269.
Krämer, Gudrun. 1994. The Integration of the Integrists: a comparative study of Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia. In: Salamé, Ghassen (ed.). Democracy without Democrats? The Renewal of Politics in the Muslim World. London: I.B. Tauris, pp. 200–226.
Martinez, José Ciro. 2022. States of Subsistence: The Politics of Bread in Contemporary Jordan. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Schwedler, Jillian. 2022. Protesting Jordan: Geographies of Power and Dissent. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.
Shlaim, Avi. 1988. Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist movement, and the Partition of Palestine. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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