Full Spectrum Jordan: The Coming Youthquake

Visualize a scene with people from around the world waving Palestinian flags, rendered in a highly detailed, hyper-realistic style. The image portrays
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A change is coming, a social shift, for a young generation with a cynical perception of institutions fed daily by social media and largely left out of the global conversation, politically and economically. This moment with the International Court of Justice is likely another tipping point moving this generation's world view away from the current, post WWII, world order.  

As the war on Gaza approaches 100 days, the death toll is now reported to be over 22,000 - it drove international attention to the historical ICJ proceedings. For Jordan, this week and the consequences it holds could usher in a new era of domestic, regional and international relations - not urgently but over the next few years and lasting for a generation. The majority of Jordanian voters are youth, and the war in Gaza and the international reaction could be their politically formative moment, just as the Arab Spring and its aftermath was the formative event for the generation prior. 

Three Things You Should Know: 

  • Two Different Conversations: Since the onset of Israel’s bloody campaign against Gaza, there has been a war to frame the narrative around Israel’s assault. Clearly Israel has its own defensive and aggressive messaging. The Biden White House has attempted its own, dancing around the divide of stating ‘too many have died’ while avoiding mention of a ceasefire. (More bellicose frames come from media sources such as Breitbart, painting South Africa as an apologist of terrorism).  Needless to say, these narratives are not framed the same way much of the Middle East, Africa, and Eurasia see the events. 
اضافة اعلان

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, an avalanche of articles questioned why the Global South wasn’t driven to Ukraine’s defense. Polling at the time showed 75% of Jordanians are neutral to the conflict and will not choose a position. However, how many people in Ukraine are following the events in Congo and have taken a position? And what is the position of the people of Congo regarding the Rohingya of Myanmar? This is not a lack of solidarity on their part but a focus on more local issues. These states are often not part of the global conversation, let alone the decision-making, for global conflict management. Yet they are expected to agree when there is a consensus on intervention (such as Yemen now, but not a year ago).

Biden’s recent op-ed comparing Hamas with Russia was a messaging disaster - not only because of its preaching, pedantic tone but because of its assumption that the Global South views events the same way Washington does. For DC, Ukraine and Israel are united as pillars of foreign policy goals (Kosovo and Taiwan are similarly linked in this group). But for much of the world, nearby conflict and threats take the spotlight and don’t have the same web of global order. An exception-  from Istanbul to Lahore to Johannesburg - is Palestine ,

There is a long, repeated note in history of rich vs poor, colonizer vs colonized, and majority vs minority. Two populations having different conversations is a well-worn idea, but these months produced two unusual points: 1. The international criminal court trial where the ‘Start-Up Nation’ of Israel is accused by South Africa, a prominent voice of the Global South, of genocide. 2. The role of Iran and its proxies. Where Iran has expanded its reach, chaos has ensued - Syria and Lebanon as prime examples. The people of the Middle East are well aware of this, yet the perception of Iranian hegemony has softened as I pointed out before. This has resulted in the fusing of Iranian militancy with Arab resistance. This trend should not be taken lightly and the consequences can be a dangerous pathway to the hearts and minds of the ‘Arab street’. 

  • The ICJ and its outcomes:
    The dramatic aspects of the case are the echoes of history - South Africa with its legacy of apartheid, a judge who survived the Holocaust, and the support of Namibia, itself a victim of an often-forgotten genocide at the hands of pre-war Germany facing its colonial killer on the other side of the Court. Germany, having carried out two genocides in the 20th century, now throws itself into the conversation in what the Global South views as the ‘wrong side of history’. Germany is clearly on the side of Israel at the Court. The states of MENA already called Israel’s actions genocide a month ago. These positions will not be swayed by the legal arguments or the decision. Rather, the action of the international community will determine whether populations lean into global activism or dissolve into localism. 

The importance of the ICJ case - this symbol of a global system - is as a ‘make-or-break moment’ for trust by the Global South in objective, inclusive international institutions. This becomes a moment of prime importance for small states like Jordan that rely on international institutions. The threats are the following;   at the end of the trial, Jordanians could  1) Believe that international institutions like the ICJ do not function 2) Believe that these institutions work but they are too feeble or 3) Believe that these institutions only work for the West and not the rest. 

The ICJ case is a pawn in a war of narratives. Each side is looking for confirmation bias. 

  • The Need for a New Western Outreach 
    Recently, U.S diplomat Henry Kissinger died at the age of 100  - a life which framed the current world order - from the US Great Depression, through World War II, the postwar construction of international institutions, and the rise of US global power, with even a book titled ‘World Order’. Kissinger was the architect of this system more than any other US Secretary of State and a mentor to generations of diplomats and thinkers. Even in his final years warning of an isolated Russia, a fight with China, and bemoaning immigration in Europe, Kissinger looked through the same lens of great power politics and Realpolitik while underestimating the power of individuals and technology.

This is a very different India, China, UK, Russia, or US than Kissinger knew. Millions of these citizens are on TikTok and Instagram with thousands of followers. Individual ‘influencers’ have more sway than think tanks and journalists. White House political briefings have fewer viewers than the average Mr. Beast video on YouTube. Essentially, citizenry is a much larger actor in international diplomacy than at any point in Kissinger’s life. Power politics is not just about world leaders of states and industries - Davos and the World Economic Forum - but also about Joe Rogan, Kim Kardashian, Jordan Peterson, trending hashtags, and viral videos. Can the ‘rule based order’ keep up? Imagine the 2003 invasion of Iraq if Iraqis had camera phones and TikTok. Would it have changed the conversation around the conflict? Ironically, governments such as in Canada and the US obsess over the optics of domestic social media, for example inviting influencers to PR events, while the popular trends in states like Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt don’t figure into their diplomacy.

My Take: How does all the above affect Jordan? Jordan is an obvious case study at the moment because of the impact of Gaza, Jordan’s political modernizations, and the abundance of polling data. Essentially, there is a generation of young people coming from inequality, unemployment, political cynicism, and getting their news from social media (no doubt along with that online mixture of envy, conspiracy, and schadenfreude that infects the world). They are skeptical of governance institutions and increasingly skeptical of global institutions. Rather than engage, the global community has not made successful outreach to them, but still expresses shock that they simply don’t fall in line. 

The world is focused on the International Criminal Court case because of the scale of violence against Gaza and the drama of the court fight. While many are anxiously awaiting the decision and what results for Gaza, the longer term consequence is what happens to that global audience. Will the ICJ become another institution the youth of the Global South see as impotent, controlled, or irrelevant? 

I would argue that no one is making the case for these institutions which means that in a decade when these youth are Members of Parliament, Ministers, writers, mayors, business leaders, and professors they will have a worldview that is more populist, isolationist, and nationalist than the postwar order has seen.

Small states, like Jordan, have worked tirelessly to find themselves a position and role in this global order - Jordan, since the days of the late King Hussein, has adjusted itself in the region and the wider global arena to the role of mediator, moderator and a voice for peace. We could say that constructive engagement in the global order is part of Jordan’s identity. This role can only be sustained within the frame of the current international order - an international order that is perhaps also on trial at the Hague. 

However the war on Gaza ends - one thing is clear: Jordan will have to face a new international stage, a more cynical generation towards the international community but more active domestically. A clear shift that I see - not only in Jordan but internationally - is the shift from global approaches to more local approaches. This is true not just in the Global South, but the MAGA movement, European populists, and the ‘left behind’ of globalization. Jordan has to re-invent itself and its role under this new trend as this next generation prepares for leadership in the future - and elections for new political parties and a new, inclusive Parliament. 

The pillars for Jordan’s positioning previously are the international ‘rules based order’ and Jordan’s partners and allies that contribute to Jordan’s development. It is difficult not to see these pillars as like a dam that is leaking. Like all states Jordan has a social contact with its citizens and these citizens passionately identify with what is happening in Gaza and Palestine over all. If the domestic youth identify with Palestine but feel the international order is resolutely not with them, how does Jordan move forward? 

A lot of blame gets put on youth and social media. But how are these global institutions, this so-called ‘rules-based order’ reaching out to this young generation? How is it making the case to globalization’s ‘left-behinds’? It is these institutions and their defenders that have failed to include these youth who, again, will be our future leaders. The battle of narratives here is a parallel trial of equal importance.

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Jordan News' point of view.

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