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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 15, 1984, Page 10
Jordan: The Impact of Social Change On The Role of the Tribes
By Paul A. Jureidini and R. D. McLaurin. Washington: Praeger and The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1984. 98pp. $7.95 (paper).
Reviewed by John P. Richardson
This new addition to the "Washington Papers" series, published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is testimony to the truism that a slender volume often contains more substance than a fat one. Paul Jureidini and Ron McLaurin are both long-time students of Jordanian society and politics, and continuity of contact with Jordanian affairs shows through their important study of the complex relationships among Jordan's tribes, political leadership, and army.
Much current writing about Jordan focuses on the prospects for Jordan's involvement in peace negotiations. The standard version speculates about whether or not King Hussein and Yasir Arafat will find a modus vivendi that will permit Jordan to move into negotiations with Israel, and if they can't agree, what Hussein may do about it. While the Jureidini-McLaurin study starts and ends with Jordan's political context and the American interest in it, the substance of the book is about a central factor in Jordan's national life: The tribes on which it is based and the impact of change on them and, therefore, on the country as a whole.
Insights into Jordan's Stability
The authors state their premise at the outset: "The major tribes and tribal confederations formed the foundation on which the Jordanian government was built and the nucleus of the Jordanian Arab Army that first enforced support for that government, and later ensured its stability."
The book's focus on Jordan's tribal foundations becomes, therefore, much more than sociological analysis. It provides insights into the ability of the society to maintain its cohesion and stability into the future.
The authors trace the history of Jordan from before its emergence as a separate entity in the 1920s under Emir (later King) Abdullah, grandfather of King Hussein, pointing out that in the modern Middle East only Libya approaches Jordan in the extent to which its national state structure was built without an existing cultural-historical foundation. Jordan was created south of Syria, west of Iraq, north of Arabia, and east of traditional Palestine. Of all its original borders, only the Jordan River (between the two halves of the British mandate) was a "natural" boundary, geographically as well as culturally. The population that became Jordanian was made up overwhelmingly of tribal groups with varying degrees of "sedentarization," i.e., settlement.
King Abdullah and King Hussein after him have had strong and constant support from Jordan's tribes, reflected in general political as well as army loyalty. The authors attribute this to three aspects of Hashemite legitimacy: The "right" to rule, the "qualification" to rule, and the "return" on loyalty. Tracing of Hashemite roots back to the Prophet Muhammad means a lot in a deeply devout Muslim society, and both kings (King Talal, the son of Abdullah and father of Hussein, ruled only briefly) have demonstrated physical courage and longevity, and in turn have received international recognition. Both have also been attentive to the needs and wishes of Jordan's tribes and have further justified the confidence placed in the monarchy by the tribes.
In an important section, the book addresses the impact of modernization on tribal structures and, therefore, on Jordanian social and political stability. The authors conclude that a process of "detribalization" (defined as "the process by which the role of the tribe in an individual's sense of personal identification and living patterns declines") is well underway in Jordan, although traditional roles still influence and are assumed to influence decision-making. Major contributors to change are sedentarization, education, and communication—all of which weaken and attenuate the bonds that have traditionally bound individuals to the tribe, and vice versa.
An important question for Jordan's political future is the extent to which a sense of Jordanian nationalism can be substituted for the tribal loyalty patterns that have provided internal cohesion up to now. The authors maintain that insofar as nationalism often defines itself in terms of the differences between one country and all others, a kind of Jordanian nationalism is growing, although the distinctions in practice between it and tribal loyalty to the person of the king are not easy to isolate.
In light of the importance of the Jordanian army to Jordan's internal cohesion, it would have been useful if the authors had elaborated on Jordan's "national service law" of 1976, which introduced conscription into what had previously been an East Jordanian-dominated army structure. Similarly, it would be of value to know why the authors predict army stability "for at least the next five years" (e.g., rather than one or ten), as well as the sources of the "slowly increasing note of disquiet among the tribes in some areas." These matters, however, argue for further elaboration of the authors' research rather than basic criticism of the current, informative volume.
John P. Richardson is author of a book published this month by the Middle East Institute, The west Bank: A Portrait.