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A nation must think before it acts.
A recent change of government and looming parliamentary elections brings Jordan, a vital U.S. ally, back into policy discussions. And, inevitably, pundits will ask a familiar question about this diminutive kingdom abutting some of the region’s most fragile states: Despite breaking its past pledges to democratize, will the autocratic regime of Jordan survive?
In the past, questions of Jordanian stability have merited polarizing responses. Some analysts warn that this oil-poor state stands on the brink of collapse, its struggling economy overrunwith refugees and its angry population embracing religious extremism. Others, though, praise the kingdom as an oasis of stability, noting that the Hashemite monarchy commands popular legitimacy and that its citizens don’t really want democracy because of fears of Syrian-style conflict and chaos.
Neither of these schizophrenic assessments tells us what Jordanians are actually doing on the ground. Two-thirds of the population is under 30 — and facing 30 percent joblessness. The media in Jordan often focuses on negative stories about young Jordanians — highlighting their complaints or emphasizing how Jordanian youths may be susceptible to Islamic State messaging. In reality, though, the single-largest generation in Jordanian history continues to mobilize and push for democracy. Although the youths are no longer leading street protests as they did from 2011 to 2012, neither are they idly content with the aging autocratic system. Their response has been to reorganize in innovative ways, fighting back to force the government’s hand on political reforms.