Debating Representation and Democracy in Jordan in the 1950s: the Rise and Fall of the Jordanian National Movement
The first decade of King Hussein’s (1935-1999) long reign (1952-1999) has long been seen as a time of instability and upheaval, when the Hashemite regime tottered and even Jordan’s survival as an independent state was in the balance. Yet the era is also remembered by left leaning Jordanians as a time of democratic hope and radical possibility, when the foundations of a national developmental state were laid, and a motley coalition of Communists, Pan-Arabists and Free Officers coalesced into a mass based ‘Jordanian National Movement’ (JNM). Radicalized by the social dislocation that followed the Palestinian Nakba and the toll of Israel’s ‘Border Wars,’ the JNM gained control of a radical nationalist street that cajoled the youthful King into abandoning plans to join the Baghdad Pact. Inspired by Nasser’s example, the military wing of the movement then enforced the ‘nationalization’ of the Arab Legion and the expulsion of the British officers who were in operational control of the Jordan’s defense. By foisting freely contested elections on Hussein in 1956, the JNM and the mass movement it orchestrated brought to power the left leaning, if also short lived government of Sulayman al-Nabulsi (October 1956-April 1957). To date the only Jordanian cabinet imposed by parliament rather than the Palace, the Nabulsi government abrogated the Anglo-Jordanian Treaty and brought to an end a colonial relationship with Great Britain that stretched back to the foundation of modern Jordan in 1921.
This talk will re-examine the social origins of JNM, taking leave of accounts that trace its rise to the entry of embittered, activist Palestinians into Jordanian politics after the unification of Trans-Jordan with the ‘West Bank’ in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It goes on to propose a different ‘historicity’ of the JNM through engagement with the social history of Jordan as well as the writings of a Jordanian nationalist writer, the late Nahidh Hattar. On this view, the genealogy of the JNM stretches back to the five Jordanian National Congresses that defined Jordan’s national political field in the first decade of Mandatory rule. And despite well-known differences over Jordan’s entry into the Baghdad Pact, it is possible to chart important continuities between significant factions of the JNM and the reformist governments of Hazza‘ al-Majali and Wasfi al-Tall that brought to an end the bitter repression imposed by Hussein with US support after martial law was imposed and the JNM quashed in 1957-1958.
Tariq Tell is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the American University of Beirut, where his teaching focuses on Political Development and Social Change as well as on the Historical Political Economy of the Global South. He has degrees from St. Antony’s College (Oxford University), the Institute of Development Studies (University of Sussex) and the London School of Economics and Political Science. He has previously taught Development Studies at the American University in Cairo and the University of Manchester (UK). He has also held research posts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, and in Amman at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherche sur le Moyen Orient Contemporain (CERMOC) and the Royal Scientific Society.
Tell has co-edited (with E. Rogan) Village, Steppe and State: The Social Origins of Modern Jordan (I.B. Tauris, 1994) and edited The Resilience of Hashemite Rule: Politics and the State in Jordan before 1967 (Cahier du Cermoc, 2001). His book, The Social Origins of Middle Eastern Monarchy: The Moral Economy of Hashemite Rule in Jordan was published by Palgrave in 2013. He is currently working on a Historical Dictionary of Jordan. His research interests also include the political economy of Arab monarchies, the history and politics of the military in Jordan, the historical political ecology of the Bedouin in the Fertile Crescent and the historical relationship between food sovereignty, empire and moral economy in the modern Middle East.
Tell has been active on the Jordanian left since 1978. He was a member of the Jordanian Union of Democratic Youth (Ittihad al-Shabab al-Dimuqrati al-Urduni) and was elected to its governing council in 1991. He was a founding director of al-Mithaq Newspaper from 1996-1998 and served as the spokesman of the Progressive Jordanian Tendency (al-Tayar al-Taqaddumi al-Urduni) in the autumn and winter of 2011. He became a member of the central committee of the Communist Union (Ittihad al-Shuyu‘iyyun) in Amman in 2015.
Next session: March 11, 2021: Abdul-Hameed Al-Kayyali (Institut français du Proche-Orient, Amman) “The question of Power in Medieval Islam: Searching for the Roots of Deliberative processes”
Full 2020-2021 programme of the HISDEMAB seminar