It is an open secret, seldom discussed, that the regime of King Abdullah II of Jordan is extraordinarily weak.
He is viewed in the U.S. as a close ally, whose counsel is sought by senior officials and foreign policy practitioners. But more than an ally, Abdullah is a dependent. Without the U.S. — and to a similar degree, without Israel — the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan would not long survive.
The weakness of the Kingdom has two sources. First, Jordan is poor. It lacks natural resources, and due to the regime’s failure to liberalize the economy or reform the legal system in order to cultivate economic growth and productivity, there are few opportunities for private advancement. The average Jordanian lives in poverty. Per capita income in Jordan is $3,238 per year.
The second source of the Kingdom’s weakness is the unpopularity of the regime. The Hashemites are Beduins. They were installed as monarchs of the area by the British in the aftermath of World War I. The vast majority of the population is Palestinian, not Beduin. The Palestinian majority in Jordan is systematically discriminated against by the regime. That regime-based discrimination has escalated steeply in recent years. Palestinians have been ejected from the military and denied the right to work in various professions.
The Hashemite regime is based on an alliance it built with the other Beduin tribes east of the Jordan River. But the bonds between the Hashemites and the other Beduin tribes have been steadily eroding. Over the past year, the Beduin have been leading mass, countrywide protests against the regime. They demand the transformation of the monarchy from an effective dictatorship, where Abdullah controls all aspects of the government, into a constitutional monarchy along the lines of the British monarchy. Several of the tribes are allied with Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda.