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Citizenship, Tribalism and Statehood in Jordan

Session VII-13, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Saturday, December 3 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • While corruption exists in all political systems, it flourishes in authoritarian states given the absence of transparency and the predatory nature of rulers. In Jordan, for instance, bribery, graft, extortion, and embezzlement and other acts of malfeasance have typified the political economy of neoliberalism under King Abdullah. Yet, like many other authoritarian regimes in the Arab world and beyond, the Jordanian regime has also pledged to prosecute these alleged crimes by creating an official anti-corruption agency, and periodically imprisoning various elites caught in corrupt acts. Herein lies the puzzle. In the Hashemite Kingdom, powerholders cannot ignore corruption completely, because such neglect inflames a Jordanian public capable of mobilizing anti-regime opposition and mass protests. However, clamping down wholesale upon corruption also risks alienating the ruling political and business class, which represents a core constituency for the regime. What, then, determines “how much” an autocracy like Jordan cracks down upon corruption, and who it targets? Drawing upon new corruption-related records culled from Jordanian judicial reports, donor white papers, and third party monitoring since 2009, our paper provides an innovative answer. The politics of anti-corruption campaigns revolves around three interrelated goals. First, aid-dependent states like Jordan must respond to demands from donors, such as the US and World Bank, to clean up their politics. Those demands do not stipulate democratization or major political changes—only marginal legal reforms designed to beautify the image of those donors. Second, the Jordanian leadership frequently times anti-corruption initiatives, such as jailing high-ranking officials or empowering its anti-corruption agency, to placate popular protests. This tactic entails finding sacrificial lambs in contingent moments of crisis to swing public opinion towards the palace. Third, the regime periodically purges its own ranks in order to eliminate ambitious elites whose influence threatens the king himself, regardless of either international pressure or public opinion. Past directors of the mukhabarat, for example, as well as former royal court officials have been ensnared in this way. We find that the vast majority of all corruption-related prosecutions in Jordan reflect these three goals, and not the putative objective of improving the quality of governance or strengthening the rule of law. Hence, anti-corruption crackdowns are neither meaningless political charades nor meaningful advances towards democracy: they are eclectic strategies aimed at pleasing multiple audiences while pruning the hedges of a ruling coalition.
  • The impacts of large-scale climate and environmental changes on migration and conflict is a growing and widely debated topic. Whether the compounding effects of climate change will lead to migration, conflict, or adaptation depends on how communities respond to environmental and related socio-economic stresses. A gap in the discussion of this nexus is the role of institutions in mediating or shaping the different outcomes of community coping strategies. My doctoral project examines how rural agricultural and pastoralist communities in the WANA region cope with climate and natural resource stresses, and how their coping strategies are influenced by dynamics within and between formal and informal institutions. This includes kinship and tribal networks, social relations, and traditional norms. Central to this inquiry is understanding of the political economy/ ecology of state and tribe relations and community vulnerability/ marginalization in relation to access and control of natural resources, resource management, and rural livelihoods. Across the region, power holders and their relationship to society is changing and existing power structures are being questioned. While some studies on tribes in the WANA revolve around their influence on political processes and culture, this study attempts to understand their socio-economic influence in resource-poor countries. This paper is an attempt to understand the relationship between tribes and state in WANA generally and Jordan specifically, as it related to Natural Resource Governance (NRG). As part of this inquiry, it is important to unpack and even problematize existing definitions of tribes in the region, especially in relation to their role in politics, as well as the state formation dynamics. The focus is specifically on rural communities, for which both natural resources, as well as informal institutions play an important role in livelihood arrangements. Given the historically nomadic nature of many rural communities, tribal arrangements serve multiple economic, political, and conflict resolution purposes. The process of state formation as well as relations with tribes are relevant to understand claims and management over natural resources crucial for nomadic and rural livelihoods. Key words: Environmental Change, WANA, Tribes and State, Political Ecology, Natural Resource Governance
  • What are the origins and effects of legal ambiguity in authoritarian regimes? Much work on authoritarian legality identifies extensive ambiguity in how legal institutions operate——often simultaneously serving as sites of top-down authoritarian control as well as bottom-up societal resistance (Gallagher 2006, 2017; Moustafa 2007; El-Ghobashy 2008; Stern 2013; Chua 2012, 2014; Massoud 2013). In addition, underneath such operational ambiguity, many authoritarian systems also exhibit a great deal of ambiguity in the content of law itself: in what law says, what it allows, what it forbids, and sometimes——perhaps more fundamentally——whether particular rules or commands even count as “law” in the first place (Collier 1976; Stern 2010; Varol 2014; Druzin and Gordon 2018; Arslanalp and Erkmen 2020). Indeed, many features of authoritarian legal systems often appear vague and indeterminate, not just to those who study them but also to autocrats who rule over them, citizens who are ruled by them, judges who interpret and apply the law, and bureaucrats who operate the state’s legal machinery on a day-to-day basis. This paper develops a historical and institutionalist framework for understanding the dynamics of legal ambiguity under authoritarian rule. Leveraging a myriad of rich qualitative evidence, including 230 interviews with key Jordanian ministers, judges, lawyers, and activists, collected throughout more than three years of fieldwork in Jordan (January 2016–October 2019), we argue that path-dependent legal ambiguity can emerge——and plant deep institutional roots——through autocrats’ intentional, short-term efforts to address historical episodes of crisis. We do so through a fine-grained analysis of glaring ambiguities in how Jordan legally regulates one of the most basic questions of any political community: who is, and is not, a “citizen.” Our empirical inquiry begins by tracing the historical conditions that produced long-term and path-dependent legal ambiguity in policies governing the conditions under which one can lose Jordanian nationality. It then proceeds to probe the effects of legal ambiguity in Jordanian politics and courtrooms, which we find impacts how the state exercises its power just as much as it impacts how individuals experience the exercise of state power in their lives. Overall, this paper works to build a fruitful theory on how legal ambiguity emerges, as well as how it matters, in authoritarian environments using rich, difficult-to-access data from the Jordanian context.
  • Drawing on oral histories and archival work, this paper explores how the Hashemite Kingdom’s bread subsidy reconfigured the habits and practices through which the citizenry fed themselves and their families. It asks and seeks to explore how this welfare program altered social relations while implementing an entirely different aesthetic regime of ordering. The set of transformations described not only modified gastronomic routines and patterns of subsistence; they also introduced new modes of sensorial engagement with conduits of state power. Like roads and electricity, bakeries took root in the corporeal immediacies of individuals and neighborhoods, while also linking them to a broader public, what Jacques Rancière terms a “community of sense.” Bakeries quickly became crucial nodes in Jordan’s welfare infrastructure, fashioning attachments through which a heterogeneous public was fostered. Building upon 20 months of ethnographic work, the paper then turns to a consideration of the ways the bakery molds a set of embodied attributes crucial to Jordanian political subjectivity. By carving out space and time and fusing daily routines under a particular rubric of intelligibility, the bakery and the bread subsidy induce particular modes of experience, ‘felt’ individually but produced socially, in what I will term stately sensations. The result is a citizenry not interpellated by nationalism or monarchical ideology but conjoined by quite tangible patterns of consumption and commensality. The bakery does more than ensure subsistence. It works to naturalize the state by making it seem part and parcel of everyday life, cultivating stately sensations, and through rather delectable means.
  • Despite the political upheaval and challenges that accompanied the Arab Spring, Jordan managed to stay largely immune to this regional turmoil. However, Jordan’s internecine affairs ultimately surrendered to the Hirak movement and its political activism in more recent years. While this nonviolent grassroots movement has no affiliation to the traditional opposition or political parties and no training in nonviolent resistance, activists maintained nonviolence and sent a very sophisticated message to all nonviolent protesters around the world. Drawing from 30 semi-structured interviews, this study investigates how activists were able to organize, plan, unite, and commit to self-control and nonviolent resistance, even when police periodically shifted to violence. Intriguingly, these youth opted for nonviolence without any training or education in nonviolence and no previous practical experience. In addition, this study looks into the shift of protests from big cities to rural and tribal communities that once were the backbone of the Hashemite government. It also explores how the shift in culture has empowered women and removed cultural restrictions around gender roles. The sample ranged from activists (arrested and not arrested, educated and uneducated, men and women, urban and rural) to social control agents. The findings demonstrate that the Hirak movement committed to using nonviolence to avoid what happened in neighboring countries. However, lack of strategic planning, leadership, and selectiveness of approaches limited the movement’s success. Finally, the shift of Jordanian tribal society from the government side to the opposition created a stronger platform for the movement.