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January 23 2022 7:33 PM ˚
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Of authoritarianism and democracy

Fares Braizat Mugshot
Dr. Fares Braizat, a former minister of youth, is currently the chairman of the Amman-based NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions and Cluster, where he directs public policy-related projects. He was appointed by His Majesty as a member of the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System where he served on the Election Law subcommittee.
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The raging “debate” in and about Jordan over the political reform process, in general, and the constitutional amendments, in particular, reflects a set of competing narratives that are rooted in deeply seated competing value systems among Jordanian masses and elites alike. These value systems are “survival values” and “self-expression values”. The former is characterized by emphasis on materialistic values, such as economic and physical security, resistance to change, traditional conservative viewpoints, more religious, less choice-based primitive associational life, and a sense of primordial pride. اضافة اعلان

The self-expression values are characterized by emphasis on participation in decision making in economic and political life, less religious, aspiring to change, protecting the environment, tolerance and acceptance of “others”, and gender equality.

Survival values are generally associated more with authoritarian predispositions, while self-expression values are associated with liberal democratic leanings.

Jordan’s cultural map produced based on the World Values Survey data set suggests that Jordan’s society is more like the societies with a survival-traditional value system than self-expression secular values. Jordan is in the league of Islamic and African societies — with various degrees of distance — along with Egypt, Libya, Yamen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Iran and Turkey.

The most advanced on these scales are Sweden and, to a lesser degree, the countries in its league: Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.     

Given these deeply rooted value systems, we have to travel a very long distance to a fully democratic and functional political system. The reforms proposed by the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System are only road signs on a road to be paved.

None of the societies in Jordan’s cultural league – named above – are fully democratic, and most are fully autocratic, totalitarian, while maintaining a semi-capitalist economy. Some of these countries have a competitive electoral process, such as Turkey and Iran, but not necessarily democratic.

Those in Sweden’s league are fully democratic.

These value systems constitute the social origins of political orders. Therefore, they are consequential and relevant to the questions that are being asked today in Jordan and the region, such as to which one of the competing governance models should Jordan belong, to the authoritarian or the democratic ones? Or should it belong to a subtype of these two? And should Jordan have a choice to choose or to belong to one or another? Or, should it carve a governance model of its own? And if so, can it construct a reformed model that works for Jordanians to solve their chronic economic problems and be consistent with observed international standards?

Jordan’s reform process lives with the “new cold war” between competing models of governance which is raging globally, and societies are looking for “governance models” to address their many protracted economic problems.

When Jordanians and other Arab societies look around, they see two types of models: authoritarian with a mixed bag of economic success and failure; and democratic with more economic success than failure. Unfortunately, none of the Arab societies belong to the category of democratic and economically successful societies.

All economically successful countries are established democracies, while authoritarian countries tend to be more failing than succeeding economically.

Arab countries with authoritarian political regimes are either failing or failed states, like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. These states are either already disintegrated or disintegrating along many fault lines that include sectarian, religious, ethnic, linguistic, geographic and socioeconomic stratification.

Another type of Arab state is the “assertive authoritarian”, which is represented by the United Arab Emirates-Dubai model, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. These are registering economic growth through top-down emphatic governance model, which is very attractive for “want-to-be-migrants” from other Arab countries, be they individuals or investors.

Assertive states are pushing economic modernization and, with it, various degrees of cultural modernity. The outcome of this model is yet to be seen. Is it going to look like democratic South Korea or like authoritarian China?

Although countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Kuwait run periodic, quite free and fair, competitive parliamentary elections, they produce parliaments with various degrees of political efficacy. Elections in Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia have not delivered a successful economic outcome as employment rates continue to climb and economic growth is meager. Therefore, it is essential for these countries to liberalize their economies fundamentally and end all monopolies to set free enterprise truly free.

Free markets tend to increase competitive economics, which in turn, increases socioeconomic mobility and individuals’ autonomy. These are among the many essential ingredients to drive a change in value systems from traditional to legal-rational and from survival to self-expression. These value systems are indispensable for the evolution of competitive political systems. A country’s commitment to democratic reforms can be read clearly in its ability to execute serious economic reforms that will propel all other reforms.

Given these realities, it is not surprising to see resistance to the Royal Committee’s proposals, for very different reasons. While the self-expression segment of society wants more structural reforms, the survival segment wants some measure of reform but without much change. The tactful ingenuity is to drive these reforms and their consequential outcomes while managing competing interests and value systems, maintaining stability, delivering services, and, above all, preserving the national interests in a very volatile environment marred by suspicion, distrust and perceived uncertainty.     

Dr. Fares Braizat, a former minister of youth, is currently the chairman of the Amman-based NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions and Cluster, where he directs public policy-related projects. He was appointed by His Majesty as a member of the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System where he served on the Election Law subcommittee.



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