Governing Jordan: Modeling policy-making processes in an authoritarian monarchy

Karmel, Ezra
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University of Guelph

Growing attention is being paid to policies in authoritarian regimes, but studies of the policy-making processes themselves remain heavily focused on democratic countries, particularly those in the Global North. In the absence of a concerted focus on authoritarian policy making, our understanding of these processes has primarily been informed by comparative politics scholars studying transitions from authoritarianism to democracy. As a result, policy making has frequently been assumed away, reduced to the relatively straightforward product of the interests of dictators and their elites. This research study builds upon burgeoning efforts in the authoritarian legislatures and public policy literature to confront these assumptions. Drawing on the case of Jordan, the thesis asks how the sensitivity of a policy issue affects the policy-making process in an authoritarian monarchy. The study finds, firstly, that reductionist assumptions about authoritarian policy making only hold true when certain issues are being addressed; in the case of Jordan, the King and his institutions closely control policy making when an issue is sensitive, but the process is much more pluralistic when less sensitive issues are being addressed. The study finds, secondly, that, regardless of the issue, the process is highly complex, involving the dynamic interactions of a range of executive and legislative actors across a series of decision-making arenas. The study contributes to the emerging research on policy making in non-democratic contexts in two ways. Firstly, it uses the case of Jordan to draw in the neglected category of authoritarian monarchies, providing a broader empirical basis for theory building around authoritarian policy making. Secondly, it extends the close-range approach that has thus far been used to understand authoritarian legislatures to examine the entire policy-making process, focusing, in particular, on opening up the black box of authoritarian executives. This research also contributes specifically to the Middle East studies literature, showing how the investigation of a range of phenomena in the region – such as decentralization processes – would benefit from serious engagement with policy-making processes. The findings are most directly applicable to Jordan and other authoritarian monarchies, but they will also provide insights for the wider universe of authoritarian regimes.

Jordan, Middle East, Public Policy, Policy Making, Authoritarianism, Authoritarian Monarchy