While the study of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has lagged behind historical and political research on other Arab countries in the region, this Essential Reading list highlights earlier trajectories of scholarship as well as new advances. First, this work has succeeded in dispensing with conceptions of Jordan as an exceptional case of regime survival. Comparative and historically informed research has instead understood Jordanian society and politics within broader political economy dynamics, transnational pressures and opportunities, and shifting struggles over domestic politics and identity. These contributions revise understandings of a small but critical monarchy and its contentious communities. Second, because Jordan’s geostrategic position within Israeli and US interests has changed little in the last several decades, popular portraits of a successfully reforming monarchy have proliferated. This list’s critical research challenges those framings in enduring ways. More work is required, but the study of Jordan is no longer peripheral in the field.

This essential readings lists build upon Ziad Abu-Rish’s earlier list on Jordanian state formation and regime security. The purpose of this grouping is to highlight interdisciplinary scholarship that has brought Jordan into broader debates in the field. The themes and methods encompass explorations of political economy, attention to transnational dynamics, and an appreciation of social agency and resistance.

Ziad Abu-Rish, “Protests, Regime Stability, and State Formation in Jordan,” in Beyond the Arab Spring: The Evolving Ruling Bargain in the Middle East, ed. Mehran Kamrava (London: Oxford University Press, 2014)

In this analysis, Abu-Rish unpacks Jordan’s comparatively muted participation in the 2011 uprisings and the persistent question about regime stability within a broader investigation into the history of authoritarian state formation in Jordan. The analysis is comprehensive and historically informed giving important context to what transpired in 2011. In particular, Abu Rish highlights the role of violence and coercion in maintaining regime support and shaping patterns of political opposition.

Betty S. Anderson, Nationalist Voices in Jordan: The Street and the State (University of Texas Press, 2005)

Anderson traces the trajectory of regime-opposition dynamics between the 1920s and 1950s through a historical focus on the Jordanian Nationalist Movement, a collection of leftist political parties. Rather than viewing Jordanian institution building and nationalist rhetoric as a function of top-down measures, this book demonstrates the ways in which regime-opposition conflict was central to defining the contours of Jordan`s political, military, economic, and educational institutions.

Anne Marie Baylouny, “Militarizing Welfare: Neo-Liberalism and Jordanian Policy,” Middle East Journal 62, no. 2 (2008)

This is one of the few works investigating Jordan’s massive military apparatus in political economy terms. Baylouny shows how dislocations from Jordan’s steady economic decline and neo-liberal welfare reducing policies since the 1980s have necessitated a change in regime policies. “Militarized liberalization” has entailed a growing and diversifying security sector making this the regime’s most important social supporter.

Laurie A. Brand, Jordan’s Inter-Arab Relations: The Political Economy of Alliance Making (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994)

Brand’s study of Jordanian foreign policy from the 1970s through the early 1990s explains the monarchy’s regional alignments by privileging domestic political economy interests. In particular, Brand demonstrates the regime’s concern for its own “budgetary security” and reliance on external flows of aid to manage it. Those interests shaped patterns of relations with regional Arab powers and the Gulf oil exporters.

Rex Brynen, “Economic Crisis and Post-Rentier Democratization in the Arab World: The Case of Jordan,” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue canadienne de science politique 25, no. 1 (1992)

This article is the first systematic treatment of Jordan as a type of “semi-rentier” state and central to debates about it. Rentier state theory, normally associated with the Gulf oil exporters, proved a powerful counter to socio-cultural explanations for regime types in the Arab world. While the Hashemite monarchy has not enjoyed the same external largess as the oil exporters, foreign aid and the prospects of its decline are argued to have important domestic institutional and political ramifications.

Hisham Bustani, “Faisaly and Wehdat” and “A Bouquet of Subversive Ideas, Dedicated to Censorship,” Barricade: A Journal of Antifascism & Translation 1;1 (Spring 2018)

The latitude for political opposition in Jordan has steadily closed in the last decade. One arena of persistence resistance has been populated by poets and artists. In this short story followed by an explanation, Jordanian poet, Hisham Bustani, explores how sports are used in Jordan to divide and rule based on national origins. His explanation of the piece demonstrates how regime leaders try to control artistic expression when it touches perceived political sensitivities.

Paul A. Jureidini and R. D. McLaurin, Jordan: The Impact of Social Change on the Role of the Tribes The Washington Papers/108, Volume XII (New York: Praeger, 1984)

This monograph from an American think tank in the 1980s is one of the most cited pieces on Jordan. However, it should be read less as treatment of Jordanian politics and more as a statement of Washington’s interests in the Hashemite monarchy. The authors, long linked to the US intelligence community, deployed modernization theory to explore potential challenges to tribal networks’ support of the Hashemite monarchy. Their policy conclusions have undergirded American policy toward the Kingdom ever since; namely, funding the regime’s security institutions is necessary to protect a vital Arab ally that otherwise is vulnerable to threat.

Joseph A. Massad, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan (Columbia University Press, 2001)

Massad traces the role of legal discourses and practices in the construction of a Jordanian national subject. However, his argument also highlights the ways in which Jordanian law was repeatedly reformed — and thus its subject refashioned — in order to account for changes in the geographic scope and demographic composition of the Jordanian state as they related to developments in Palestine, focusing in particular upon the events of 1948, 1967, 1987, and 1993.

Anne Mariel Peters and Pete W. Moore, “Beyond Boom and Bust: External Rents, Durable Authoritarianism, and Institutional Adaptation in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan” (Studies in Comparative International Development, July 24, 2009)

Peters and Moore explore the relationship between the Hashemite regime and its socio-political base of support through an examination of side-payment distributional coalitions. They explore the creation and transformation of institutions designed to manage such distribution within the context of both shifting sources of external rents and changing demands of a coalition made up of varying economic policy preferences.
Curtis R. Ryan, Jordan in Transition: From Hussein to Abdullah (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002)

Ryan argues that the economic and political reforms initiated in Jordan, starting in the late 1980s, were a function of the regime`s crisis of capital accumulation, IMF- and World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment programs, and the regime’s response to wide-spread revolt in reaction to both the crisis and the adjustments intended to address it. His analysis highlights the ways in which economic and political reform were always premised on regime security and thus resulted in the development of new processes, institutions, and groups that strengthened rather than weakened the Hashemite authoritarian system of rule.
Jillian Schwedler, “Jordan`s Risky Business as Usual” (Middle East Report Online, June 30, 2010)

Schwedler takes the 2010 Election Law as an opportunity to discuss the ways in which the regime has managed electoral contestation in Jordan. The article highlights important differences between the 2010 Law and the previous election laws, while identifying the ways in which core practices of empowering regime supporters persist in the new election laws.

Tariq Tell. The Social and Economic Origins of Monarchy in Jordan (New York: Palgrave, 2013)

This study emerges from a cluster of revisionist histories on the origins of monarchy and state before and during the mandate period. Tell critiques the common emphasis on the skill of British officials or the charismatic leadership of Emir Abdallah in explaining the consolidation of TransJordanian political authority. Instead, Tell explores the pressures on TransJordanian society during World War One and their demands on British and Hasehmite authorities. The response of mandate authorities was to pursue a form of militarized Keynesianism based on maintenance of a large land force. For Tell, this explains formation of a nascent Hashemite state that survived despite the odds.

Quintan Wiktorowicz, “The Limits of Democracy in the Middle East: The Case of Jordan” (Middle East Journal, Autumn 1999)

This article examines the ways in which the legal architecture of authoritarian regimes are able to create limited yet controlled space for political activity within the context of political and economic reforms. Wiktorowicz specifically examines regime-society dynamics in Jordan with reference to voluntary organizations, demonstrations, the press, and formal political institutions.


In conclusion, it is important to note that there is a raft of popular portraits and authorized biographies of Jordan’s monarchs that has resulted in an outsized and largely romantic view of the “little Kingdom” in US imaginations. The readings above offer different scholarly approaches largely at odds with that consensus. And in the near future, we can expect some exciting new publications on Jordanian history and society.


[The Essential Readings series is curated by the Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) team at the Arab Studies Institute. MESPI invites scholars to contribute to our Essential Readings modules by submitting an “Essential Readings” list on a topic/theme pertinent to their research/specialization in Middle East studies. Authors are asked to keep the selection relatively short while providing as much representation/diversity as possible. This difficult task may ultimately leave out numerous works which merit inclusion from different vantage points. Each topic may eventually be addressed by more than one author.Articles such as this will appear permanently on www.MESPI.org and www.Jadaliyya.com. Email us at info@MESPI.org for any inquiries.]