A wave of democratic protests has swept over Jordan. The protesters demand a wide variety of reforms, including getting the King Abdullah II to relinquish part of his power and allowing for democratic elections.
This offers a new dimension to the Arab Spring. Previously, all of the Arab Spring nations were nations with low standards of living, such as Libya, Algeria, Syria, and even Egypt to a great extent. Jordan, though certainly not a first world nation, has the highest quality of life of the Arab Spring nations, with the best healthcare, high literacy and education rates (for men), low infant mortality etc. There are no crimes against humanity taking place in Jordan and it is a haven within the Middle East for foreign investment.
Therefore, this marks the first Arab Springs on purely political grounds. Although greater democracy was always a demand by protestors in other Arab Springs, it was often viewed as simply a tool to end atrocities and raise the standard of living; it was never viewed as an ends in itself.
What I wonder, though, is whether in Jordan’s case, an elected government would truly be more ‘democratic’ than the current King Abdullah II. After all, democracy is simply a representative government. And a king who is representing the people’s wishes in effective governance is perhaps more democratic than a ‘democratic’ bureaucracy as in the United States and other Western nations that are constantly stalemated and partisan.
In Jordan’s case, moderate reforms, the current demand by protestors, are the best option. However, all the Arab Spring protests started out as simple demand for reforms. They then progressed, upon violence from the regime, to a full scale demand for democracy and the regime to step down. In Jordan, however, the protestors should work to keep the king in power at all costs. The previous Arab Springs have shown that the transition to democracy is never as clear cut as was intended originally and they have led to the rise of jihadists. Thus, even if radical reforms the protestors demand are not met, they should resort to political, not militaristic, ways to achieve their goals.
At the same time, the King Abdullah II will have to work to prevent violence. In Jordan, there are strict laws against protests and, in normal cases, the peaceful protestors would be met with arrest. However, the King should realize that this is a special case. The King should recognize that his response will be proportionally and even more response from the protestors.