Long a constitutional monarchy – more monarchy than constitutional – Jordan has been an island of convenient stability in the Middle East. That image was shattered over the weekend when the government of King Abdullah accused his half brother, former Crown Prince Hamzah, of “destabilizing Jordan’s security.” Prince Hamzah claims he is under house arrest. With suggestions of an attempted coup, the palace intrigue continues like a segment of “The Crown” or “Game of Thrones” or even an Oprah Winfrey interview of disaffected British royals.
But the real spotlight should be on Jordanians. Their growing embrace of political equality has laid a broader groundwork for a challenge to hereditary rule in one of the Arab world’s many monarchies or emirates.
Jordan’s king, who can easily disband Parliament, has become more authoritarian as citizens increasingly demand basic rights and liberties. Last year, voter turnout was near a historic low for seats in a parliament described as merely decor. Hundreds of teachers were arrested for demanding better benefits. As more Jordanians connect by internet, they discover shared concerns. And as the historical demise of monarchies shows, they feel less like subjects and more like individuals capable of self-governance.
Prince Hamzah says he was not part of any conspiracy against the king. Rather, he said, “Even to criticize a small aspect of a policy leads to arrest and abuse by the security services.” That assessment of Jordan’s political climate is backed up by two global watchdogs, Freedom House and The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index.
Monarchs, which claim authority by a belief that bloodlines bestow legitimacy, often feel threatened by their extended family. Issues over succession are often a source of instability. Jordan’s palace turmoil is a case in point. Yet these days such challenges to dynasties more often come from an awakening of people about the key concept of sovereignty – that each individual is worthy and democracies are best able to recognize that.
The era of personalization of power is giving way to one of power by persons who see each other as equals and demand institutions that are accountable to all. That recognition of shared equality is thicker than bloodlines.