THE BLOG
15/08/2011 19:23 BST | Updated 15/10/2011 06:12 BST

Jordan's Reforms: Dynasties v Demagogues

It's unlikely the constitutional reforms announced in both Jordan and Morocco will be sufficient in the medium to long term but it is a significant step as the region's monarchs begin to grapple with challenge to their authority.

Another week and another development in the unfolding drama in the Middle East. King Abdullah of Jordan has followed the lead of King Hassan of Morocco in announcing a range of constitutional reforms which, ultimately, will reduce the King's political powers - but by no means curtail them.

The genesis of these reforms, of course, is the Arab Spring. Like Morocco, Jordan hasn't experienced the levels of protest or disturbances that have shaken other Arab nations, but on 14 January Jordanians took to the streets and they have been returning ever since, despite measures such as the King's decision to dismiss an unpopular government in February.

There is, however, something striking about the Jordanian Spring. While protestors have been on the streets, it has rarely been accompanied by significant violence; second, unlike leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and, most recently Syria, King Abdullah is a broadly popular figure, seen as a progressive. However, reforms to date have not gone far enough to assuage the demands of Jordan's youth.

So the lesson is, in recent times Jordan has pursued a more progressive course than most of its Arab neighbours - but it's still not enough. Hence the King's package of reforms which has been designed to head off protestors and meet those demands.

Two distinct courses in the Arab Spring are becoming apparent now. The first is exemplified by Tunisia. Violent uprisings have led to the toppling of regimes (in the case of Libya and Syria the uprisings are still underway). What's now happening in Tunisia and Egypt is a process of establishing the foundations for a pluralist society to emerge; it may not be exactly of the hue that western democracies would but received wisdom tells us its best we leave them to work out their destiny for themselves.

The second course is exemplified by Jordan and Morocco; nations headed by an absolute monarch who recognises the tide of change and, therefore, initiate reforms to satiate the public's appetite for greater political participation and rights. It could serve as a pattern that may (or may not) work in other countries in the region - notably monarchies. And that's the point.

Arab society tends to be proud of its long and culturally rich heritage. Entwined in that heritage is monarchy. Among Arabs, it appears there is broad acceptance and support of monarchs even if there is less support for their politics. As a result Arabs in Morocco, Jordan and the Gulf states of Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the UAE have more forbearance than their counterparts in nations like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Yemen which have endured deeply unpopular demagogic regimes with a distasteful appetite for entitlement.

So while Tunisia is blazing the trial for the region's republics, in the case of the region's more enlightened monarchies, Jordan and Morocco may set an example of meeting the calls for reform while allowing the King to retain a central role in government. Bahrain might yet achieve that, but the signs are ominous and let's not hold our breathe for any meaningful reform in Saudi Arabia without a bloody fight.

It's unlikely the constitutional reforms announced in both Jordan and Morocco will be sufficient in the medium to long term but it is a significant step as the region's monarchs begin to grapple with challenge to their authority.