Democracy in Jordan: An Authentic Aspiration or Imperialist Imposition?

by M.K. Healy, 20C Arabic and International Studies
2019-2020 Fox Center Humanities Honors Fellow

Healy Headshot

Being a Fox Center Undergraduate Fellow has been an immense honor, and has provided me with vital support for my thesis and placed me in a community of inspiring students working towards the same goal. It has given me the physical space to work on my project and the environment necessary to think through difficult issues surrounding my thesis. In many ways, this fellowship has provided me with crucial support, both academically and personally, to produce a thesis of which I am proud.

My thesis examines democratization efforts by the United States in Jordan, critically comparing these efforts to those of Jordanian civil society organizations, grassroots movements, and governmental bodies. Jordan receives the fourth highest amount of monetary aid from the United States of any country, much of which is dedicated to democratization efforts. This is part of a larger theme of U.S. initiatives in the Middle East that stem from the Cold War era, which viewed the spread of democracy throughout critical areas such as the Middle East to be vital to U.S. interests and regional stability. This support for democracy has continued to be a central aspect of the United States’ foreign policy to the Middle East following the September 11, 2001 attacks. My project focuses on these democratization efforts, as they use large sums of taxpayer dollars to support a change in the governmental system of Jordan, when in fact the country’s monarchy and general stability work within U.S. interests in the region. This project asks the questions of how the United States government and U.S.-based organizations are working to build democracy in Jordan, how the Jordanian government and monarchy acts in relation to these efforts, and what Jordanian civil society organizations and activists are doing to promote democracy themselves. Ultimately, it argues that an emphasis on civil society and grassroots movements is critical to understanding foreign policy, and that this kind of analysis in the case of democratization in Jordan reveals a counter-intuitive and grim reality about U.S. foreign policy.

As a Fox Center Fellow, I have been given the kinds of support necessary to do this project justice. As a non-Jordanian researcher, I knew that I needed to approach this project with care and with an intense analysis of history, theory, and international politics. For the whole first semester of this year, this was a daunting task. I was lost in the many layers of research and analysis that this project required and constantly felt as though I could not find the mental space to grapple with these layers of scholarship. The Fox Center’s support for me and my project gave me valuable confidence in my thesis and its value in both the field of humanities and international politics. The Center gave me the monetary support and the physical space that allowed me to focus on my thesis and give it the time and mental focus that it deserved. It put me in a small community of other researchers who have the same dedication to Humanities research whose passion for their projects gave me some much needed inspiration at a time in the semester when it seemed as though the project would never be complete. I am immensely grateful for the Fox Center and this fellowship.

MK Healy is a senior double majoring in Arabic and International Studies with concentrations in the Middle East and State and Society. Her research focuses on the responses of civil society actors in Jordan to U.S.-democracy promotion efforts during the reign of King Abdullah II. She is studying this topic by examining the different levels of U.S. democracy promotion in the region, the motivations behind them, and how they compare to the democracy work being done by Jordanian civil society actors and grassroots organizers. The goal of her research is to add a grassroots emphasis to the current paradigms in International Political Theory.

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