Economic woes could drag Jordan into Middle East unrest
Arab royal families have been feeling the heat during the protests sweeping the , though Jordan may be better placed than others to manage change, argues one of the Hashemite dynasty's senior figures.
The western-backed kingdom has remained fairly quiet since demonstrations early on in the Arab spring – but that might not last, with calls by activists to take to the streets next month unless goes far enough, fast enough to satisfy demands to open up the political system and tackle corruption.
– the king's famously cerebral uncle, and the crown prince during the long reign of his late brother Hussein – believes that the regime he characterises as a "reforming monarchy" will weather the storm.
"Jordan should be ahead of the game," he argued in an interview in London. "It is one of the more intelligent, well-educated countries in the region. If the Jordanians play their cards right, they could become an inspiration."
But the lack of resources, Hassan warned, is a very big issue. While the new governments in Tunisia and Egypt have been offered help by the G8, Jordan has been given a $400m (£250m) Saudi grant and (with fellow monarchy Morocco) – dubbed the Gulf Counter-revolutionary Club by its critics.
"We are on the side of the people's aspirations but at the same time our economy is not conducive," he insisted.
So a more regional approach is one answer: "cohesion funds" – modelled on the way the EU doles out money to promote development in its poorer members – are something he wants the Arab League to present to the UN general assembly this September.
Two factors scream out: youth unemployment in the region is worse than in sub-Saharan Africa while vast sums are spent on largely redundant weapons.
Another message is that regime change alone does not guarantee the good life: "Egypt's youth may have helped topple its leader, but they still can't find jobs," Hassan said in a recent . "Reform cannot progress very far where acute poverty remains."
On the political front, he frets about the rise of Islamists – in Egypt, Syria and Palestine – where, in the absence of a peace process with Israel, is being challenged by more radical groups.
"If those in the west who say let's talk to the Islamists are right, I hope that they are thinking of talking to them in the context of the rules – of respect for the other, of respect for minorities," he warns.
"The Salafi jihadis are the revival of the with another name. When you see the Salafis with their long beards and iron bars and breaking heads and confronting the youth – you ask what is this about, is it about reform?"
Islamists kept a low profile during January's Egyptian revolution, but he recognises that they are a force to be reckoned with.
"Change cannot be effected either by the government or the people while ignoring the main socio-political bloc," he agrees.
But , he has said – in a clever play on the words of the Muslim Brotherhood's famously simple slogan – "is neither the problem nor the solution."
Jordan's Islamic Action Front, the brotherhood in all but name, is active in the country's reform movement, though unrest is fragmented and localised, with recent protests centred in the underdeveloped south.
Abdullah's latest offering in a speech on 12 June was to have governments selected by parliamentary majority rather than appointed by him, and to strengthen political parties – though, crucially, he gave no timetable for these changes.
Critics like gave it a cautious welcome but warned of the limits of "top-down shifts" and said change had to come from below.
Hassan is loyal and defensive: "It is not just a question of the king giving – he has made clear that he believes in reform – but it takes two to tango."
Nervousness about the mood in Jordan was obvious shortly after Abdullah's speech, at the royal motorcade in the southern town of Tafila.
A spat over exactly what had happened was followed by a thuggish attack on the news agency the authorities claimed had misreported the incident.
This week, in another straw in the wind, Taher Edwan, the information minister, resigned over an illiberal press law – and posted his statement on Facebook.
Hassan enjoys an international reputation as a respected thinker on global and regional issues and is more comfortable talking about water, industrialisation and interfaith dialogue than risking brickbats by sounding off-message about his own country at an unusually sensitive time.
And there is no hint, of course, that radical change may be coming to the Hashemite kingdom – though he does relish what is clearly an often-repeated quip: "As I used to say to my late brother – our job is to do ourselves out of a job."
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