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Negotiating Citizenship in Contemporary Jordan: A Simulation

Curricular materials created for the 2015 SAIL seminar:

Sustainability on the Margins: Investigating Adaptation and Change in Jordan

Students work as teams to research and represent the interests of particular populations affected by Jordanian citizenship laws by making a policy recommendation and trying to negotiate with other identity groups. Teams are assigned the roles of: the Royal Hashemite government, seven identity groups within Jordan, as well as the United Nations and Arab League, international organizations that support refugee populations in Jordan.

To prepare for a negotiation session of whether/how that state’s citizenship policy should be revised, the teams research and write policy papers, present their findings, and post their research for other members of the class to study before the simulation. On the day of the simulation exercise, students try to reach a consensus among the groups that will satisfy the Monarchy’s view of Jordanians’ collective best interests.

*Note: Content adapted from submitted curricular project.

This module is designed for use in a course on Politics in the Middle East and is conducted fairly late in the course, when the key concepts and background on the Jordanian system and several other neighboring political systems (Israel and PLA) have already been considered.

As a state with one of the largest populations of refugees/”guests” (including historical waves of immigration from Russia, Palestine, Iraq and Syria) and some of the most limited resources, particularly water, the Royal Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan faces challenges in continuing to meet the needs of its permanent population and the waves of displaced people who have come to live within its borders. The Jordanian example helps to illuminate the complexity of resolving conflicting interests and rights claims, because there are differences even among those with citizenship (e.g. Jordanian women, some Palestinians of the West Bank), but especially those without Jordanian citizenship in terms of their ability to travel, receive educational, health and social benefits and access to work.

The issue of who is a full member of Jordanian society serves as an excellent vehicle to illustrate the complexity of heterogeneous societal membership, the importance of understanding cleavages in a particular society, and the stresses associated with accommodating demands placed on a state that is grappling with contesting interests, a complex regional context, global climate change and very limited resources. In this course, many of the issues of differential treatment and access to benefits and rights in other Middle Eastern States had been previously examined.


  1. To deepen understanding of how theoretical concepts (e.g. identity, citizenship, national narrative, reinforcing and cross-cutting cleavages or identities, interests, allocation of resources, sources of state legitimacy) are put into practice in a particular context while creating political policies and during political negotiations.
  2. To gain familiarity with the complexity of balancing competing interests within a society that is not a pluralistic, democratic system and where there is not a single set of values or priorities that fits all members of the society.
  3. To allow students to develop skills in: critical thinking, research, analysis, and synthesis, cost-benefit analysis and impacts/unintended consequences of different policy options. Students craft and present both oral and written arguments based on public policy considerations and practice debate/argument/negotiation. Students role play special interest perspectives in discussion of complex problems.


Students prepare for the simulation by researching the background and priorities of one identity group within contemporary Jordan and writing a policy paper from the perspective of that group. Students present their preferred policy recommendation and rationale with the class and share their policy papers online.

We then spend a class period with students playing the roles of the various groups, trying to reach a consensus about whether Jordanian citizenship policies should be revised and what collective recommendations to make to those representing the Royal family of Jordan.  Following the presentation, we will discuss both substantive issues involved in the simulation and the practice of the simulation itself. 

The groups are:

  • East Bankers (original inhabitants of Transjordan and their descendants)
  • West Bank/Palestinian refugees and their descendants
  • Syrian and Iraqi Refugees
  • Circassians
  • Women
  • Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan
  • Christians
  • Arab League
  • Royal Hashemite government

Student Directions for Policy Paper Assignment

Your team has been asked by King Abdullah II to represent the interests of a particular segment of society affected by current citizenship policy. The Royal Family, acting on behalf of all the current residents of Jordan, understands that there are tensions within Jordan. He understands that the differential citizenship status of identity groups and the lack of citizenship among some groups, affects work and education options, access to benefits and freedoms, standards of living, and senses of dignity, belonging, and inclusion. The Royal Family has supported sheltering multiple waves of refugees who are not Trans Jordanian, citing, among other sources of justification, its Bedouin traditions of hospitality.

At the same time, the King realizes that the economic and political impacts of newcomers are significant. He is also acutely aware of past catastrophic civil wars and the on-going Arab upheavals that started in 2010 and continue to create instability in the region, sometimes deposing leaders. The King is convening a conference to peacefully address tensions caused by the current citizenship policy. You and others with expertise on aspects of this question will present your positions to one another and attempt to reach a consensus on whether or how Jordanian citizenship should be redefined.

Your identity group will do research to prepare an assessment of possible changes to the Jordanian state’s policy on citizenship and the impact that such policy options would have on the interests of your identity group. This will require that you learn as much as possible about the interests of those you represent and how their interests intersect with the existing policy.

You will: 

  • create a policy paper that makes clear whom you represent, what their interests are, what impact current policy and at least two other policy options would have for your group,
  • recommend which option you recommend be implemented and make the case for that option being incorporated into the conference policy.

Your policy paper will be posted on Moodle before the simulation and your group will do an oral presentation (5 minutes) and distribute a one-page executive summary of your findings as part of the simulation exercise.

Dissemination Strategies

Teaching Notes

This simulation was part of a course on politics and identity in the region, which met for a three-hour block on Monday evenings. We spent time over several weeks setting a foundation for this module and introducing and discussing concepts of identity cleavages, conflicting constructions of national identity, varied legitimacy sources, and the concept of wicked problems. Students did team policy papers (including cited sources) to prepare and the week before the simulation presented their preferred policy options and posted their executive summaries on a Google document.

Students also shared their longer policy papers via Moodle; these included greater detail about the costs and benefits of varied alternatives and a bibliography of sources consulted to support the policy recommendations they proffered. Prior to the presentations, we had read about and discussed articles on citizenship and rights, the factors contributing to refugee flows into Jordan, and the basic structure of Jordanian government and the Hashemite royal family’s role in decision-making. We also read background articles on immigration, water shortages and regional instability related to Jordan that set the tone for the simulation. All students were given links to a site featuring the current Jordanian citizenship law.

Two students were assigned to play the role of Jordanian Royals and were asked to reflect on the arguments and their own interests and decide whether to accept some, all or none of the suggested reforms. Students then discussed the outcome.

If I were to repeat this simulation, I would definitely narrow the possibilities of how the citizenship policy might be rewritten (e.g. to look solely at the ability of Jordanian women to pass citizenship to their children) or expand the amount of time students had to discuss options, encouraging them to meet and negotiate outside of class, etc.

Resources & Materials

Assigned to all simulation participants:
  • UNHCR, Refworld, Jordan’s Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality (last amended 1987) http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b4ea13.html
  • Scott Greenwood, Water Insecurity, Climate Change and Governance in the Arab World, Middle East Policy, Vol. XXI, No. 2, Summer 2014
  • Selections from Brian John Hoskins, Editor. Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought
  • Geraldine Chatelard, (2010) Jordan: A Refugee Haven. Mise `a jour d’un article de 2005
  • Patricia Ward, 2014, Refugee Cities and the impact of UNHCR Refugee Policy in the Middle East, Refugee Survey Quarterly, vol. 33, No. 1. 77-93.
Of possible interest to specific groups might be the following:
  • Dallal Stevens, 2013, Legal Status, Labelling, and Protection: The Case of Iraqi Refugees in Jordan.  International Journal of Refugee Law, March 14
  • Luigi Achilli, 2015, Syrian Refugees in Jordan: a Reality Check, Migration Policy Centre
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