Rentierism and Reform in Jordan
The recent wave of unrest across the Middle East has raised crucial questions about the stability of the remaining regimes in the region. Monarchies have appeared to have weathered the Arab Spring well and have emerged relatively intact while republics such as Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria have experienced revolutions that have completely overturned existing political and economic systems. Jordan has consistently been praised as a beacon of gradual liberalization in a region where so many dictators have ruthlessly clung to power. Upon closer inspection, however, the Jordanian system is not as well adjusted to democracy and economic capitalism as it may seem. The rentier system, most commonly found in resource rich countries, allows authoritarian regimes to co-opt their populations by using economic rent to supply goods and services usually provided by representative governments. Jordan fulfills a unique role as a rentier state because it does not possess natural resources but is instead able to co-opt its citizens as a result of the influx of external rent that the government receives through foreign aid and remittances. Drawing analysis primarily from scholarly articles and making use of media analysis and first person interviews, I examine the current problems facing the Jordanian system and the changes that have taken place as a result of the popular uprisings during the Arab Spring. The larger implications of this research present a roadmap for other entrenched regimes to follow in order to avoid falling into the self reinforcing and destructive system of favors and economic rent. While it may be too late for Jordan to reform its political system without a revolutionary overhaul, other regimes have the potential to work their way out of the rentier system before the network of rentseeking groups in itself becomes a force that not even the regime can stop.