Regional expert weighs in on Jordanian political climate

Curtis Ryan
An undated picture of Ryan Curtis, an American author and political science professor at the Appalachian State University in North Carolina. (Photo: Appalachian State University)
AMMAN — Curtis Ryan is an American author and political science professor at the Appalachian State University in North Carolina. He holds a special interest in Jordan’s political history and discussed in an interview with Jordan News, the Kingdom’s foreign affairs, relationships, and Jordan’s geopolitics during the COVID-19 pandemic. اضافة اعلان

Ryan is the author of “Jordan in Transition: From Hussein to Abdullah” (2002), “Inter-Arab Alliances: Regime Security and Jordanian Foreign Policy” (2009), and “Jordan and the Arab Uprisings: Regime Survival and Politics Beyond the State” (2018). 

Ryan is currently visiting Jordan to speak at the national conference on Jordan’s image in the world at the centennial conference conducted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, as well as at the Hashemite University conference. 

Jordanian domestic politics and the COVID-19 era

In his latest book, Ryan delved into the impact of the Arab Spring on Jordan. 
Currently, COVID-19 is considered one of the most significant international and regional influences on politics. According to Ryan, Jordan’s experience with COVID-19 is similar to that of other countries — it has suffered due to the pandemic.

However, he described the current social-political status as “disturbing to look at.” 
According to Ryan, COVID-19 has caused many issues in countries like Jordan, and he believes that now is the time these issues come back to the forefront.  

Jordan has not seen large-scale protests since summer 2018, and Ryan shared that nothing currently keeps people from participating in the public sphere. 

“We need to expect people to be more out in the public life. There isn’t a shortage of issues that Jordanians are concerned about. Some of these issues of freedom of speech and freedom of the press I expect to come closer to the forefront,” Ryan said. 

“On Jordanian social media, people are very concerned with freedom of speech issues, like now the prime minister is in a case with one individual citizen, and everyone is following that,” he added. 
As for the reform and modernization plans by the new prime minister, Bisher Al-Khasawneh, Ryan hopes that it is not only talk, like previous attempts of reform. 

“Parts about the whole modernization committee agenda — and even the results — sounded very familiar, a little too familiar; like a repeat. The most promising aspect to it, I would say, is that there are quite a few people on the committee who are very serious and were surprising picks,” he said. 
However, Ryan noted that recent recommendations for elections and parties are a limited and long-term reform plan, emphasizing that Jordanians are at a point where they cannot wait 10 years. 

“Most Jordanians are more concerned about unemployment, the outrageous cost of living, and the water crisis more than the parties and elections,” he said. 

Jordan-US relations 

Jordanian-US relations have been prominent over the decades. Yet, this strong relationship witnessed a “terrible rupture” during the past four years due to the Trump administration’s attempted marginalization of Jordan, according to Ryan. 

However, this rupture has been “reset, not to something new. But, it is snapping back to what it was,” Ryan said.  

Even though currently, the Biden administration has not backed down from some of Trump’s decisions that angered Jordanians, such as announcing occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

However, he noted that Jordanian-US relations are “moving forward” from the Jerusalem decision, adding that “it won’t impact US-Jordanian relations,” according to Ryan. 

Due to the US leaving Afghanistan, Ryan raised concern over Jordan becoming more of a military focal point.  

“US interest in Jordan in regards to the war on terror agenda is going to increase. The US military presence has already increased (in Jordan) by leaving Afghanistan. Moving troops from Qatar to Jordan is on the way,” Ryan said. 

The increased presence of US troops in Jordan could be “tricky” for Jordan, as Jordanians are not fans of their country giving more power to the US, according to Ryan 

Jordan’s new geopolitics 

Jordan has been attempting to “revive a set of relations with Iraq and Egypt” and reestablish its relations with Syria in an effort to reclaim its former place in regional politics. 

Jordan is at the forefront of the regional efforts to establish the “New Levant” project as an Arab alliance initiative. 

“Ideally, they’d like to bring in a stable Lebanon and post-war Syria and have all five of them in the same group as an Arab organization, not as a challenge to the Gulf, but to try to cut back on both Turkish and Iranian influence,” Ryan said. 

However, Jordan being in the lead and not acting as the primary initiator might have some unwanted reactions. 

“Jordan isn’t acting like a proxy; Jordan is acting like Jordan — where it has a significant interest in getting this done,” he said. However, one of Jordan’s strongest allies in the EU is still hostile to the Assad regime  
However, Ryan said that the EU understands the difficulty of Jordan’s positions due to its location. “I don’t think there’s a danger of rift with Jordan, I think they support Jordan, they might not support this particular mission,” Ryan concluded.

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