By Shehab Al Makahleh
Amid the instability and violence that have plagued the Arab and Muslim world in recent years, the international community is searching for a sustainable model of state-building in the region. Among restive populations and civil strife, two pillars of peace and progress have emerged: the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Their successful model — social and political stability through good governance combined with economic development and innovation to keep extremism in check and the violence that engulfs their neighbors at bay — offers hope for the rest of the region in fighting extremism and the hopelessness it feeds on.
According to a recent Global Attitudes survey by the Pew Research Center, there is both widespread worldwide pessimism toward the Arab world along with growing concern about religious extremism within Muslim countries. This is understandable as the promise of democratization following the so-called “Arab Spring” devolved into chaos and the rise of violent extremism.
The UAE and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan are very different countries geographically and politically, yet both managed to stay ahead of the curve by developing workable, accountable, legitimate institutions, as well as by promoting political and religious moderation, and by espousing forward-looking visions for the Arab world.
King Abdullah II of Jordan came to power following the death of his father King Hussein and guided his country to a safe harbor amidst turmoil spreading in various parts of the Middle East. Situated in an unenviable neighborhood with conflict on almost all sides, he has been adept at foreseeing risks and potential threats from regional instability, liberalizing the domestic political arena while extending humanitarian assistance to accommodate millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, who now comprise 30 percent of the kingdom’s population.
Back in 2002, King Abdullah introduced a ‘Jordan First’ national policy to promote the concept of a modern democratic state. The policy aimed to spread a culture of respect and tolerance, and it strengthens the concepts of parliamentary democracy, rule of law, public freedom, accountability, transparency, justice, and equal rights.
By 2005, he launched an ambitious effort to create a master plan for the reform, future growth, and development of Jordan. It was a comprehensive strategy for social, political, and economic transformation, which would put Jordan on a trajectory toward rapid, sustainable economic growth and greater social inclusion.
King Abdullah subjected the entire national constitution to public review, eventually adopting measures that limited his own authority. He also formed an independent elections committee and expanded the franchise, culminating with parliamentary elections in 2013 with a voter turnout of 56.7 percent turnout.
More than 1,500 miles away in the Arabian Gulf, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has laid out a relentlessly modern, advanced vision for the United Arab Emirates’ domestic and foreign policies. Many of these proposals follow the principles set forth by the country’s first President, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Under Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed’s leadership, the UAE has embarked on a modernization process that has already overhauled and improved the country’s education, healthcare, and labor policies. Masdar City, a 4-million-square-meter self-sustaining neighborhood being constructed in the suburbs of Abu Dhabi, is a state of the art weapon in a world struggle against diminishing resources and global warming. Diverse religious and ethnic viewpoints are respected in the UAE, too, promoted visually by a nine-piece, bronze sculpture downtown, spelling “t-o-l-e-r-a-n-c-e,” in a place in which one can find a mosque beside a church next to a Hindu temple. Two-thirds of government sector jobs are now held by women, and four cabinet ministers are women. Women also account for 70 percent of all university graduates in the UAE and 43 percent of investors on the Abu Dhabi security exchange.
UAE’s foreign policy has been refreshingly free of the kinetic realpolitik of some of its neighbors. The country’s diplomats speak less of historical grievances than international justice and promote noninterference in the internal affairs of other states.
Jordan and UAE are much more than bright spots on the Arab world’s darkened horizon. Indeed, the future Arab reality has only two alternative scenarios. The descent into chaos and extremism can continue and eventually subsume the region entirely, or leaders can adopt policies and institutions that provide legitimacy and progress to their people and show the way forward to a new Arab reality.
Shehab Al Makahleh is a journalist and co-founder of Geo-strategic and Political Studies of the Middle East Media.
[Photo courtesy of Chatham House]