Notable Compromise: The Legislative Council of Transjordan and elite rights during the British Mandate

By Harrison Guthorn
Submitted to Session P4505 (A Reassessment of Albert Hourani's 'Politics of Notables' After 50 Years, 2016 Annual Meeting
Jordan; Mashreq; Ottoman Empire; The Levant;
19th-21st Centuries; Identity/Representation; Modernization; Political Economy; Urban Studies;
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War left the region that eventually became Jordan in shambles. The late nineteenth century centralization efforts of the Ottoman state over the region disintegrated with the Empire. Thereafter, the region quickly reverted to diffuse tribally organized confederations. The British Transjordan Mandate, and the establishment of the Hashemite Emirate, was meant to create a new centralized state emanating from Amman where one had not existed for millennia. This artificially manufactured Emirate survived because it both incorporated local elites into the government to bolster its authority while simultaneously trumpeting the importance of its Sherifian Amir, Abdullah Ibn Hussein.

This new state centered in Amman needed to legitimize its authority and develop an institutional infrastructure. The Transjordanian state experienced a number of growing pains before the central authority of the state solidified and before its character had been determined. These internal contestations were fought in the first true political arena of the state, the Legislative Council, the first elected body in Transjordan. In the earliest sessions of the first Legislative Council, founded in 1929, battles were waged for control over language, authority, prominence, and prestige. Most of all, the Council proceedings demonstrated the earliest attempts by the representatives to combat the gravitational pull of the nascent Hashemite state.

This paper will demonstrate how the state incorporated formerly autonomous regional elites into the official machinery of Amman and transformed them into Transjordanian elites. The history of the Legislative Council is the story of negotiation between the central government and the elites of Transjordan. The Legislative Council gathered leading elites from throughout Transjordan and made them directly interact with the Anglo-Hashemite state (as represented by the Executive Council and the British Resident). Sectarian differences did not define these men. The levels of power and political intrigue in the Council transcended any one group or region. Although the efforts of the council representatives to safeguard their autonomy and institutional control were eventually defeated, these proceedings marked a clear battle over power and control in the new Hashemite state.