In Jordan, Problems and Politics Are Local

Letter from Rusayfeh

Jordanian students in traditional costume take part in activities as part of the "King Abdullah II Award for Physical Fitness" project at Tlaa' Al-Ali High School sports complex in Amman, October 22, 2008. Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

In Jordan, times are tough. First, the Kingdom has had to contend with absorbing nearly a million Syrian refugees over the past four years, which has placed a huge burden on its infrastructure and public resources. In addition, it must deal with people traveling in the opposite direction: Since 2011, an estimated 2,500 Jordanians have made their way across the northern border to join Jebhat al Nusra and the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. In turn, Jordan has become a major target of these terrorist groups. In early March, citing a heightened security threat from terrorism, the Peace Corps evacuated its volunteers from the country. Despite all this, however, the average Jordanian does not consider security to be the country’s principal challenge.

According to a recent poll conducted by the non-profit International Republican Institute, Jordanians are more concerned about the stumbling economy, high prices, and endemic corruption. And they feel that they have very limited means to redress these issues. According to the poll, 71 percent of Jordanians said that their elected parliament failed to accomplish anything particularly commendable in 2014. Not only is the legislature perennially stymied by a dominant Palace, legislators are seen as preoccupied with tertiary matter, such as its relations with Israel and an unnecessary bill to protect the Arabic language.

Although Jordanians are not yet taking to the streets to protest, local concerns remain a persistent and widespread source of frustration. During a trip to Jordan in March 2015, I witnessed how one Jordanian deals with these issues in her home district. The experience shed light on the way Jordanian politicians view governance and why local politics can be so greatly divorced from the larger foreign policy and security problems that plague the country. 

The town of Rusayfeh, Jordan. David Schenker

Rudaynah al Otti, 42, is a second-term parliamentarian from Rusayfeh, a poor, conservative, primarily Palestinian town in the Zarqa Governorate, just a short drive north of Amman. She hails from a prominent Palestinian family: Before stepping down this year,

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