The Shadow State

The Politics of Co-option

The longevity of Hashemite rule and Jordan's present governance problems are linked. Both are rooted in the distinctive organisation of power to which state formation and Hashemite rule gave rise, and in its restructuring over time (Yorke 1988, 1990). In Jordan, as in other Middle East states formed on the back of colonial legacy and weak institutions, personalised leadership based on patron-client relations, underpinned by patronage and lubricated by outside rents, remains key.[1] Although the Kingdom has a constitution and formal executive, legislative and judicial structures over which the king enjoys broad powers, Hashemite rule has been underpinned by parallel informal neo-patrimonial structures, which bind military and civilian elites into a web of support, and by a costly “social contract” between Throne and people. Patronage underpins the system: privileges, benefits and cheap services – today, including access to water – are exchanged for allegiance. Over time, however, the political influence and sense of entitlement accompanying privileges and benefits transferred has eroded the monarchy's autonomy.

In the face of changing circumstances – the challenges of state formation, panArabism, nationalism, war, migration and development, and the economy's downturn in the 1980s – the Hashemites pursued imaginative co-option policies to consolidate power and maintain stability. In the process, the organisation of power and its location would alter, with consequences for decision-making, and the strength of the king's role in it. What amounted to an evolving political bargain between Throne and people permitted influential traditional elites and businessmen, enjoying a variety of privileges, to become embedded in a web of power – or shadow state (Tripp 2007, pp. 4–5), whose influence today penetrates the core elite, military and intelligence, bureaucracy and parliament. Understanding the power dynamics of these “shadow” networks whose growing influence afforded special interest groups opportunity to resist change and influence policies to protect their interests at the expense of those of the state (Muasher 2011), sheds light on the water governance deficits of the last two decades.

Transjordan's creation in March 1921 under Amir Abdullah was the result of an historic opportunity seized by the British to contain French expansion in the region. Transjordan was not a separate political entity and its people's heterogeneity – Transjordanians of East Bank origin but also from Arabia and from Palestine before 1948 – complicated the forging of a national identity. Palestinians would come to comprise more than half the population. The presence of non-Arab Circassians, Arab Christians and substantial Iraqi, and today Syrian, communities, as well as rivalries between tribes complicate the picture. Faced with inevitable disintegrative pulls, King Abdullah I and his successor, King Hussein, sought to build a common identity of interest between the Hashemites and their subjects.

The pursuit of a complex process of co-option to keep in with supporters and win the acquiescence of potential opposition would be key to consolidating Hashemite rule, which became embedded in patron-client relations, laying the basis of the “shadow state”. Lacking central power, Abdullah courted the tribes with arms, funds and employment in the military and extended patronage to merchants in order to extend state authority – policies facilitated by British subsidies. In the turbulent 1950s and 1960s, the political bargain took on new forms: with flows of unconditional US financial assistance replacing British funds (Peters and Moore 2009),[2] Hussein responded to the growing demands of East Bank tribes by expanding the army and distributing members of tribes and minorities, his key supporters, through the administration and political structures, while drawing others into state. He rewarded merchants with public-sector jobs and contracts, protected the interests of and provided jobs for Transjordanian and Palestinian critics, and met the needs of Palestinian refugees through US-funded building of infrastructure. Arab aid flows during the 1970s' oil boom contributed to funding growing state largesse. Thus the king was able to subordinate Transjordanian traditional elites – and potential challengers amongst them – to the influence of the state and give the Palestinians a stake in the

country. Stability of Hashemite rule was enhanced through crafting a social balance where social groups offset each other's influence. Cohesion appeared to prevail.

  • [1] A. Peters and P.W. Moore provide a valuable account of rentierism (Peters and Moore 2009, pp. 256–285).
  • [2] Military spending increased by 74 % in 1955–1960 and tripled in 1961–1975.
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