Egypt ‘on a collision course’ as protests mark revolt anniversary

At least 110 people were injured in violent clashes between protesters and police during rallies to mark the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, AP reports:

The two sides clashed throughout the day Friday in Cairo, Alexandria, the cities of Suez and Ismailia on the Suez Canal and a string of others, with police firing tear gas and protesters responding with stones.

“Today the Egyptian people continue their revolution,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, an opposition leader who finished a close third in last June’s presidential elections. “They are saying `no’ to the Brotherhood state … We want a democratic constitution, social justice, to bring back the rights of the martyrs and guarantees for fair elections.”

The anniversary has highlighted the growing polarization between Islamists and secular groups, as well as growing concerns about freedom of expression, judicial independence and the Muslim Brotherhood’s penetration of state institutions.

“It is impossible to impose a constitution on Egyptians, a constitution which was sponsored by the Supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the revolution today will bring this constitution down,” said Alaa al-Aswany, Egypt’s bestselling novelist and democracy advocate who today marched with Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei to Tahrir Square.

Many activists and analysts believe President Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has hijacked the democratic transition, failed to consult or compromise with rivals and adopting increasingly authoritarian practices.

“Egypt is in a bad place. It’s been wholly consumed with issues of power, and governance has been left by the wayside. None of this had to be,” said Michael W. Hanna, a senior fellow at the New York-based Century Foundation. “It was a conscious decision to eschew reform by consensus. … For them (the Brotherhood) it’s not about reform it’s about power.”

The Islamists’ critics say the Brotherhood is trying to colonize state institutions and pursuing a process of Islamization by stealth.

“I am taking part in today’s marches to reject the warped constitution, the ‘Brotherhoodization’ of the state, the attack on the rule of law, and the disregard of the president and his government for the demands for social justice,” tweeted Amr Hamzawy, a prominent liberal politician.

His concerns are shared by many independent observers, some of whom accuse the Brotherhood of adopting a deceptive “dual discourse,” using democratic rhetoric to obscure autocratic practice.   

“Based on everything I have seen and read, thus far the Brothers have continued to use the language of democratic change, but they have dealt with internal challenges through a variety of authoritarian means,” writes Steven A. Cook, an Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“To be sure, it is still early in Egypt’s transition, but there is reason to be concerned that the Brotherhood/FJP/Morsi are setting the trajectory of Egyptian politics on a non-democratic course,” he asserts.

Analysts suggest that Morsi “is clearly working to install networks of allies over key parts of the state,” The New York Times reports:

He has named Brotherhood members as governors in 7 out of 28 provinces. In a cabinet shake-up, he named another Brotherhood member as minister of local development, who under the new Constitution could have new powers over day-to-day local government.

Although Mr. Morsi has the legitimacy of a democratic election, he has inherited the still-intact remnants of Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian state, built on fear, loyalty and patronage, and much of it permeated by a deep distrust of the Islamists. The bureaucracy’s resistance could prevent the Islamists from imposing their ideology or building a new dictatorship.

Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the American University in Cairo, said that so far the Brotherhood takeover sometimes appears to be working in reverse.

“You feel that the institutions are taking over Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood,” tells The Times, “not the other way around.”

The country’s political dynamics are unlikely to foster a majority consensus conducive to a liberal democratic transition.

“Egypt’s current state of polarized politics encourages the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to move to the right in order to pick up Salafi support,” analyst Zack Gold writes in The National Interest. “It also discourages Salafi parties from compromising on issues of importance to their constituents.”

Growing political polarization is placing Egypt “on a collision course,” according to Georgetown University’s Cynthia Schneider.

An ever growing, if periodically discouraged, portion of the population opposes the government and Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, and supports the revolution’s goals of social and economic justice, accountable government, and basic freedoms, including freedom of expression and protection of minorities,” she argues. “Yet the government is moving in exactly the opposite direction, with its authoritarian control over political, social, and religious life.”

The Brotherhood decided against mobilizing its supporters to celebrate the anniversary and focused instead on its recently-launched Together We Build Egypt campaign, the latest of its characteristic grassroots organizing efforts that have helped it emerge as Egypt’s most powerful political force

“The Brotherhood is very concerned about escalation, that’s why they have tried to dial down their role on January 25,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.

“It’s definitely tense on the ground, but so far there hasn’t been anything out of the ordinary or anything that really threatens to fundamentally alter the political situation,” he told Reuters.

In Tahrir Square, protesters echoed the chants of 2011′s historic 18-day uprising. “The people want to bring down the regime,” they chanted. “Leave! Leave! Leave!” chanted others as they marched towards the square.

“We are not here to celebrate but to force those in power to submit to the will of the people. Egypt now must never be like Egypt during Mubarak’s rule,” said Mohamed Fahmy, an activist.

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Will Beijing veto Korean unification?

The rising probability of a democratic transition in China may in turn facilitate change in North Korea and reunification of the Korean peninsula, says a prominent analyst.

Drawing on the recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee research report on Chinese-North Korean economic integration – China’s Impact on Korean Peninsula Unification and Questions for the SenateMinxin Pei outlines three potential scenarios in which Beijing will be unable to exercise a veto over Korean reunification:

The first one is the repeat of a “Burma Scenario” North Korea-style. It is well known that North Koreans are fiercely nationalist and resent becoming a “tributary province” of China. Just as China’s controversial commercial behavior in Burma alienated Burmese elites and the public alike, and was an important trigger of Burma’s political opening, the ongoing economic integration of China and North Korea, as described in the Senate minority report, could also drive Pyongyang away from Beijing. The Kim dynasty could easily sell out its Chinese patron and turn to the West in the same way the Burmese military regime has done. Of course, given the blood on its hands, the North Korean regime will have a harder time getting the West to embrace it. But North Korea also has more attractive bargaining chips, its nuclear arsenal and missiles, with which it can extract favorable terms in negotiations.

The second scenario is a democratic transition in China itself. This may not be a realistic possibility in the short-term (the next five years), but the probability of a democratic transition in China is non-trivial and is on the rise. The country has reached a level of socioeconomic development (about $U.S. 8,500 per capita in purchasing power parity) at which few non-oil producing autocracies can survive. Signs of political awakening, such as the recent anti-censorship protest, calls for democracy, and civic activism, have emerged in China. Endemic corruption inside the regime, loss of public credibility, and extreme income inequality have greatly undermined the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party. The question of regime transition in China is a matter of when and how, not whether or not. Should such a political revolution occur, a new democratic regime in Beijing will most likely jettison Pyongyang and embrace a reunified democratic Korea.

Even in the event of a rapid collapse of the North Korean regime, triggered most likely by a military coup or a popular uprising (or a combination of both) against the Kim dynasty, China’s capacity to intervene militarily in order to prevent reunification is questionable. North Korea has nuclear weapons, a factor that is likely to deter China from sending the People’s Liberation Army across the Yalu River should the Kim dynasty be overthrown by an internal uprising.

“Beijing needs to review – and completely change – its Korea policy, which is based on erroneous and obsolete strategic assumptions that are driving away South Korea as a potential regional partner,” says Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a non-resident senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and a contributor to the Journal of Democracy.

RTWT in The Diplomat.  

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As opposition bickers, France says no sign Syria’s Assad will be overthrown soon

France said on Thursday there were no signs that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is about to be overthrown, something Paris has been saying for months was just over the horizon, Reuters reports:

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told RFI radio in December “the end is nearing” for Assad. But on Thursday, he said international mediation and discussions about the crisis that began in March 2011 were not getting anywhere. “There are no recent positive signs,” he said.

He said Syrian opposition leaders and representatives of some 50 nations and organizations would meet in Paris on January 28 to discuss how to fulfill previous commitments.

“Things are not moving. The solution that we had hoped for, and by that I mean the fall of Bashar and the arrival of the (opposition) coalition to power, has not happened,” said Fabius.

The news coincides with renewed divisions within the fractious opposition and fresh speculation that the Obama administration may be able to take a more forceful approach to aiding Syria’s democratic and moderate opposition, albeit short of direct military intervention.

President Obama must “find the happy medium between not committing us to a decades-long ground war and choosing not to do anything,” former State Department official, Anne-Marie Slaughter told the New York Times. A board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, she has been an eloquent advocate of US intervention in Syria.

The head of Syria‘s opposition coalition has flown to Qatar to secure promises of financial aid for a transitional government in rebel-held areas, according to sources at negotiations in Istanbul:

The talks had been hit by disagreement over whether a transitional government could survive when the Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib (above) left in the middle of deliberations, the sources said.

“There is agreement on the need to establish a transitional government but the majority opinion favours not to form it now without secure areas to operate in and enough international support and guarantees for direct recognition,” Coalition member Ahmad Ramadan said. “Otherwise the government will be born paralyzed.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, the only organised force in the Syrian opposition, has made it clear it does not favor a government at present. But opposition sources said the Brotherhood could change its mind if regional powers, especially Turkey and Gulf states, throw their support behind the project.

“Between the military effort and humanitarian and administration needs a transitional government needs up to $40 million a day to operate. There is no point creating a government that cannot meet the aspirations of the revolt,” another source said.

The failure to agree on a transitional authority “is a big blow for the revolution against Bashar al-Assad,” said one representative.

The US and other democracies can still make a difference to the struggle’s outcome by providing assistance to Syria’s democratic forces, says a leading activist.

“[F]unding the moderate Islamists and secularists of the Syrian National Coalition, which will then feed the hungry and fund the fighters, empowering them to buy the weapons they need,” would provide a boost to those democratic forces currently being outflanked by radical Islamist groups, Robin Yassin-Katib (left) writes for Foreign Policy.

“That step will provide those Syrian communities scared of the revolutionary future, as well as the West, with a real Syrian interlocutor — a body that represents a real path to a better future, rather than a collection of militias,” says Yassin-Kassab, the author of The Road from Damascus, who blogs at

But any assistance must be coordinated and rationalized, George Washington University’s Marc Lynch replies on Foreign Policy.

“The uncoordinated, often competitive, financing of favored proxies by outside players has actively contributed to emergent warlordism, intra-rebellion clashes, and absence of a coherent political strategy,” he argues, while lamenting the fact that “recent American efforts to help organize a mechanism for directing aid through a centralized opposition political-military framework….have withered on the vine, and might not work.”

“There is still little reason to believe that limited measures would suffice to tip the balance of the vicious struggle on the ground,” Lynch contends, but three key developments have changed the terms of the debate:

First, the virtually unbelievable scope of human suffering gives profound urgency to the crisis, while the hopes for a political solution have largely ended. There was a logic behind the diplomatic efforts, of seeking to avoid militarization, isolate Assad at home and abroad for his war crimes and inhumanity, reach out to the Syrian majority in support of a political transition, and prevent a collapse into anarchy. ….

Second, the regime’s growing use of airpower against not only rebels but civilians does change the calculations over some kind of de facto no-fly zone or incapacitation of the regimes air capabilities.  …

Third, with the political track essentially dead and the transition to an insurgency and civil war complete, the objections to arming the rebels have largely faded. RTWT

Despite the conflict’s descent into civil war, a political solution remains possible, says Carnegie analyst Sami Moubayed.

“In order to achieve a political solution to the crisis, the Alawite community must be engaged so that its fears are pacified,” he argues. “Balancing Alawite and Sunni demands will be challenging, and giving Alawites disproportionate representation may infuriate Sunnis. But the Alawites must be reassured, and any government that marginalizes their community risks more unrest or perhaps even a long and vicious civil war.”

The US still has an opportunity to “stave off disaster and play a leadership role in shaping Syria’s future,” according to Brookings analysts Salman al-Shaikh and Michael Doran.

“The United States should provide lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, forge a genuine national dialogue that includes Alawis and Christians, and create an International Steering Group (ISG) to oversee and lend support to the transitional process,” they argue in a recent policy memo to President Obama:

The ISG should include Russia, China, Turkey, and key Arab and European states. It should agree on a number of basic goals for the transition and set benchmarks for their effective implementation.

The immediate focus: protecting civilians, minorities and vulnerable groups through the creation of an international stabilization force; addressing humanitarian issues; safeguarding chemical and other unauthorized weapons; and supporting transitional governance and transitional justice efforts. This work should be followed by a longer-term commitment to assisting Syrians on security sector reform, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of combatants and supporting a transitional governance roadmap, including preparations for multi-party elections and a constitution-drafting exercise; economic recovery, including planning and coordination on infrastructure and reconstruction; and assisting national reconciliation efforts.

“With U.S. elections now settled, the Obama administration is less constrained by domestic U.S. politics and should now take bold steps to hasten the end of Assad’s regime [and]… create incentives for armed and civilian groups in Syria to cooperate and assume the responsibility that goes along with governing a post-Assad Syria,” analyst Andrew Tabler argued in The Atlantic:

First, Washington should use patriot missile batteries in an offensive capacity against regime aircraft – and deploy them defensively against SCUD and Fatah 110 missiles targeting opposition-dominated areas along Syria’s borders with Turkey and Jordan. … This would help the opposition create vital “safe areas” where civilians could be secure in an organized fashion free from regime airstrikes ..

As an important ancillary benefit, such safe areas would provide a vital place for the exile-dominated National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SOC) to politically organize and provide assistance directly to Syrian civilians. If properly defended, diplomats, officials, and aid representatives from the international community could work side by side with Syrians to help alleviate suffering and build a viable government for post-Assad Syria.

Second, Washington should provide a package of intelligence-sharing, military training, and other security assistance to mainstream nationalist, non-extremist groups that have been vetted by Western countries, both to increase their military capabilities and in exchange for any chemical weapons captured from the regime’s stockpiles. ………..

Third, Washington and its allies should provide local communities supporting mainstream groups that cooperate with Washington’s program to secure chemical weapons with a larger civil assistance program. …[which], if part of an overall strategy, would create a positive incentive for civilian communities to pressure armed groups operating in their areas to comply with the program in the short and medium term. This same system of incentives could also be leveraged to disincentivize ethnic cleansing.

“Such an integrated plan would help alleviate the suffering of Syrians, reverse Washington’s rapidly declining support among the opposition, and provide real inducements to armed groups that will soon take over large swaths — if not the entirety — of Syrian territory to hand over any captured chemical weapons to the United States and its allies,” says Tabler, a Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of the recent book In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.

“It is understandable that even now, as the last vestige of peaceful protest has long since been killed by regime terror mandating armed resistance, the administration resists the notion that it should somehow enter the arena where the struggle for Syria is actually being fought,” writes Frederic C. Hof, a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East:

For an administration that prides itself in having brought to an end US military involvement in Iraq, Syria perhaps looks like a trap. …And yet, what if the arm’s length approach to the armed Syrian opposition is precisely the wrong medicine for a patient at or near death’s door? What if an approach seen by its advocates as the very epitome of prudence is in fact the opposite? What if the United States can help shape a decent, civilized outcome in Syria by providing security assistance to select opposition elements, and do so with no US boots on the ground? What if it can help in the context of lethality but consciously elects not to?

“In a recent article, I urged the Syrian Opposition Council and Supreme Military Council to cooperate in forming a provisional government, one offering an alternative to the regime by standing up for Syria’s minorities and for democratic, civil society based on the supremacy of citizenship,” Hof observes. “A person prominent in Syrian opposition affairs wrote soon thereafter to say that the appetite for a provisional government was being dampened by the fear of insufficient material support from the West, a deficit that would cause its rapid failure and permanent loss of credibility, all for the benefit of Assad.”

But it may be too late to avert Syria deteriorating to a failed state, says Hof, a former Special Advisor for Transition in Syria at the US Department of State:

In truth the American taxpayer has hardly been AWOL from Syria’s struggle, as the United States leads the world in providing humanitarian assistance to desperately needy Syrians. And Assad would not be hiding money abroad were American efforts to cut the regime’s cash flow so meaningless or ineffective. Moreover, there is no shortage of people in Syria’s local revolutionary committees who will testify to the efficacy of American technical and non-lethal material assistance. It is all true, it is totally honorable and it reflects real decency. Yet Syria’s fate will likely be decided by men with guns. If a firm, irrevocable decision is in place that the United States will not play in this arena, then it may indeed be too late for Syria as the Assad/al-Qaeda tag team crowds out all other opponents from the ring, making Syria ungovernable, 22.5 million Syrians vulnerable, and neighboring states fully exposed to a catastrophe that could persist for decades.


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Islamists ‘the biggest losers’ in Jordan poll

Preliminary results in Jordan‘s parliamentary elections indicate a sweeping victory for the ruling monarchy in a poll shunned by the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing.

“Jordan succeeded in passing the test of an electoral process that many doubted it could pass,” said analyst Daoud Kuttab.

“The biggest winner in the Jordanian legislative elections was the state. It bargained on the public and the international community ignoring the absence of the Islamists in the elections,” he said.

“Conversely, the Islamic Action Front and some of the small secular parties that joined the boycotters are the biggest losers.”

According to Al-Jazeera, King Abdullah II, whose throne is not seriously thought to be under threat, had touted Wednesday’s election as a focal point for his reforms, which he said should pave the way for parliamentary government.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) put the final turnout at 56.6 percent of the registered electorate of 2.3mn, but the Brotherhood disputed this figure, saying there had been widespread fraud and vote-buying.

“Analysts had expected a strong showing by traditional fixtures of a political system that is dominated by the king and the royal court,” Suuha Philip Ma’ayeh reports for the Wall Street Journal:

Those representatives tend to gather support from family or corporate loyalty, rather than political positions. “The elections did not bring about politicians. We have a parliament without any platforms,” said Oraib Rintawi, director of Al Quds Centre.

The regime could face a challenge to ensure the legitimacy of a parliament against the lack of consensus on the election law, some analysts said.

Two democracy assistance groups that observed the poll said that local affinities were hindering prospects for developing truly national politicians, challenging King Abdullah II’s plans for parliamentary government, AFP reports:

“The unequal size of districts and an electoral system that amplifies family, tribal and national cleavages limit the development of a truly national legislative body and challenge the king’s stated aim of encouraging ‘full parliamentary government’,” said the National Democratic Institute:

In particular, the “elections are a series of profoundly local contests where candidates are elected as service providers and representatives of parochial interests, rather than national legislators able to hold the executive branch to account or propose laws,” NDI said.

The king will need to work to “unite individuals and groups in pursuit of national policies and agendas and encourage the formation of like-minded coalitions,” if he is to involve parliament in naming a prime minister.

The International Republican Institute called Wednesday’s election “an important step toward building voters’ trust in election administration.”

But it noted that “the electoral framework continues to fall short,” saying “tribal allegiances continue to be the major factor in candidate selection and campaigning, with personality trumping platforms.”

The poll was a “dividing line,” said Jordan expert Sean Yom, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“If various opposition forces do not see the elections as credible, and the monarchy still insists on forming a parliament and a government after the elections, that’s when I think you will see a real sign of instability and a movement towards political disorder in Jordan,” he told the BBC.

Nabil al-Sharif, a political columnist for the Jordan Times and a former minister of media affairs, saw the elections as “a big step forward”.

“It doesn’t mean that we have reached the epitome of what we want, but we are headed in the right direction and we are achieving results,” Sharif told Al Jazeera. “Even the king said recently that the monarchy that his son will inherit will not be the same monarchy that the king has now.”

“The fact that the results of the Arab Spring did not bring out rosy results in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt, has helped people in Jordan to say that maybe it’s better to maintain what we have and not rock the boat too much, because the alternative is not very exciting,” Sharif said. “Even the major political parties in Jordan, all of them have been calling for reform inside the regime – even the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The possibility of radical or violent change acted as a moderating force, say observers.

“We are worried. We can help Jordan not go the same way as Syria and Egypt,” lawyer Khalid Hammad told The New York Times:

In all, 1,425 candidates were running for 150 seats, up from 120, in the lower house — an election law modification that was intended to quiet complaints about a system that rewarded local power brokers. They were often members of powerful tribes rather than national parties. But the Brotherhood and other opposition groups complained that the new law did not go far enough.

“The government passed the test of voter turnout and managed to convince people the elections were free and fair. But it will face a difficult task in trying to persuade people that the next parliament is legitimate,” contended Basil Akour, owner and editor in chief of Jo24, a Jordanian website. “Parliament has the same faces, most of whom are loyal to the regime.”

The voting process deteriorated towards the close of polling, which may have affected the final results in some districts, said the Integrity Coalition for Election Observation, a consortium of 50 nongovernmental groups.

While the electoral process was generally “well managed from a procedural perspective,” the group said, “serious problems remain with the legal framework and aspects of its implementation.”

“Whilst observers were overall able to follow the polling process, the coalition regrets that the majority of polling official refused to give information on voter participation figures, raising further concerns,” it said in a statement.

The key issues in the election were fighting corruption and favoritism, said opposition lawyer Muhammed al-Bourini, but he opposed the Islamists’ election boycott and charged the IAF with hypocrisy:

“They are trying to prevent people from participating in the election,” he said, in order to weaken the legitimacy of the government. “They want to show to the whole world that the system [in Jordan] is illegitimate.”

“They pretend to reject the electoral law despite the fact that they contested elections [in 2007] … under a worse law than the one today”.

The establishment was also able to mobilize the traditionally pro-monarchy tribes in order to boost electoral turnout.

“If it had not been for tribal affiliations, no one would have come,” said Ahmad Salman. “The absence of the biggest and most effective party has cost the election a lot of legitimacy.”

The tribal establishment is keen to maintain its access to power and patronage, Reuters reports, drawing resentment from the urban poor and the middle classes of Palestinian origin, frozen out of the top army, security and government jobs.

It has stymied free market reforms designed to cut back welfare and a bureaucracy dominated by native Jordanians, who form the backbone of support for the monarch.

A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said Jordan’s “bloated civil service and military patronage system” soaked up 83 percent of Jordan’s 2010 budget.

“Although the changes in the election system were touted by the Jordanian government as major progress toward democratic reform, some factions within the country feel the new law is not a step forward,” said the Project for Middle East Democracy:

Critics argue that the small number of seats filled through the party list does not allow for organized parties to gain significant power and instead creates disincentives for party organization. In a pre-election assessment, the National Democratic Institute also expressed concern that the heavily gerrymandered districts gave disproportionately high weight to rural districts, placing urban and Palestinian-origin populations at a disadvantage. 

The Islamic Action Front said the vote justified its decision to boycott the poll.

“They are a sham, from the election law to voter turnout and results,” said Murad Adayleh, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”We will continue with our protests until our demands are heard.”

But some analysts believe the Brotherhood made a strategic miscalculation.

“By calling for a boycott without being able to make it the main story of the elections, the Islamists overreached and failed,” writes Kuttab (right), the director general of the Community Media Network NGO that runs the news web site, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Nevertheless, “having won the current round with the Islamists should not give the other political actors an exaggerated sense of power and strength,” he cautions:

The most important goal in the coming months or years will be to heal the divide that exists in the country, even if that may have been overlooked in the existing Elections Law…..Similarly, the Islamists must recognize that they have overreached with their demands and show willingness to reach compromises that will allow for the nation to heal the political wounds of the last two years. Those looking for signs of national unity will be looking at what the 17th Parliament in Jordan will do about the Elections Law and any constitutional changes that might be necessary to produce the desired results.

To some Jordanians, Abdullah’s reluctance to cede key powers poses the greatest obstacle to efforts to bring about the kind of democratic changes that have swept the region,” writes The Washington Post’s Taylor Luck:

“How can we ever change the status quo when we are constantly electing a parliament that has no power, no authority and no legitimacy?” said Ahmed Majali, a resident of the city of Karak who serves as a campaign adviser to his cousin.

The elections even drew criticism from Bedouins, a longtime pillar of the regime traditionally viewed as resistant to change, with many voicing disenchantment with a political system that encourages citizens to vote along regional rather than ideological lines.

“All Jordanians want real, experienced parliamentarians who can tackle corruption and stand up to executive authority and actually craft laws,” said Mamdouh al-Jazi, a candidate from the influential Hweitat Bedouin tribe. “But decision-makers are preventing us from moving forward.”

Some observers have suggested that Jordan’s could be the first monarchy to fall to the popular unrest of the Arab Spring.

But the region’s monarchies have fared better than their republican counterparts in withstanding democratic demands, says analyst Mokhtar Benabdallaoui. They have done so in large part through a blend of institutional flexibility and political dexterity that enables monarchs to enjoy power without responsibility while deflecting pressure onto intermediate institutions that have responsibility without power.

“Despite a promise of rapid reform in early 2011 and subsequent tinkering of the legislative system, the King [Abdullah] has nonetheless resisted meaningful change that would loosen his absolute hold on power,” according to a recent report from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

The Project for Middle East Democracy is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group. The National Democratic Institute is one of the NED’s core institutes.

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