The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East hosted a private roundtable on August 5 to release a new issue brief, “Jordan’s Youth: Avenues for Activism,” and to discuss how Jordanian youth are engaging in the political process and prospects for coordinated efforts. Hariri Center Director Michele Dunne moderated a discussion with Deputy Director Danya Greenfield, Jordanian journalist Rana Sweis, and Resident Director of Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Jordan Office Anja Wehler-Shoeck.
The issue of political reform in Jordan is increasingly relevant due to growing economic pressures and frustration with the concentration of power in the hands of the palace and narrow elite. Given that young people represent 55 percent of Jordan’s population with an estimated 30 percent unemployment rate, there is significant impetus for Jordanian youth to engage more actively and potentially lead political reform movements.
Greenfield began by noting that regional events such as the Syrian civil war and the Egyptian political crisis have overtaken political reform as a priority in Jordan, but that Jordanian youth share their regional counterparts’ aspirations for greater economic opportunity and freedom of expression. She presented four possible avenues for Jordanian youth to more deeply engage in politics: unity among East Bank-affiliated Herak movements; an alliance among the Islamic Action Front, youth protest organizations, and leftist political groups; the emergence of new political parties; and the increased activation of youth movements through social media. Sweis noted that Jordanian youth are disenchanted and disconnected, citing the lack of political parties and policy-centered discussion in Jordan as a factor in their inactivity. All three speakers agreed that while the prospects for genuine political reform in the near future are limited, the grievances of an increasingly world-aware Jordanian youth cannot be held in check indefinitely.
The discussion also touched on a commonality in the grievances among different protest groups, but diverging conceptions of a political solution. Internal disagreements and a lack of leadership within the opposition have prevented potential unity. On the issue of the Jordanian monarchy’s legitimacy, the speakers emphasized that even the most active opposition groups do not call for an overthrow of the king, but rather advocate for a true constitutional monarchy. Specifically addressing the consequences of a change in electoral law, Sweis pointed out that many protest groups have not fully considered the implications of a more representative parliament and how that might diminish their own political power and access to resources. The impact of the recently imposed Press and Publications Law was discussed, and Sweis emphasized that the impact was mostly symbolic since access to social media has not been restricted; however the government sent a powerful and negative message with the implementation of the law. Commenting on the ability of Jordanian youth to mobilize, Greenfield asserted that electoral reform would be necessary in order for Jordan to have strong political parties that encourage youth engagement in politics.