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Negotiating Citizenship in Contemporary Jordan

A Simulation

As a state with one of the largest populations of refugees/”guests” and some of the most limited resources, particularly water, the Royal Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan struggles 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 society, and 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 our course, many of the issues of differential treatment and access to benefits and rights in other Middle Eastern States. had been examined previously.


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

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.


Updated Feb 24, 2017

  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 within particular contexts, during political negotiations and while creating political policies.
  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, 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 roleplay special interest perspectives in discussion of complex problems.


Updated Feb 24, 2017

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


Simulation Day Guidelines

15 minutes: Delegations meet in designated locations and review strategies for working with other groups to promote favored policy options or to try to block certain options from being broadly endorsed.

60 minutes: The negotiation table is opened and each group may send their official delegate to their designated spot (NOTE: only one delegate per group may sit at the negotiation table at any one time, delegates may tag in and out of the table depending on the negotiation topic). Remember to keep one delegate available for inquiries at your 'home location' in the room.[i]

10-minute break

10 minutes: Announcement of the consensus proposal.  The lead delegate from each group must sign the proposal and offer any reservations, declarations, or understandings about how it should be implemented.

20 minutes: Closing speeches 3 minutes/group (remember: delegates must decide the order of the closing speeches before the recommendation has been signed)

5-minute break

55 minutes: Debriefing after simulation


Dissemination Strategies

Description and Teaching Materials

This simulation required that students research and prepare a policy paper beforehand, including an executive summary, and that they present that information to the class. One three-hour class session was devoted to the actual simulation exercise and discussing the simulation’s substantive and practical lessons and problems.

Directions for the policy papers, their executive summaries, and directions for conducting the actual simulation activity can be found in Resources & Materials.


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 (shared below) 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 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 and Materials

Policy Paper & Simulation Directions (and Examples)

Assigned to all simulation participants:

UNHCR, Refworld, Jordan’s Law No. 6 of 1954 on Nationality (last amended 1987)

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

Outcomes and Significance

Assessing impact of this assignment on ILOs one and two

We used the post-simulation discussion and a brief, in-class writing exercise to see whether students felt a deeper 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) interact in a particular context while negotiating and creating political policies. 

They were asked to respond to difficulties in of balancing competing interests within a complex society, including complications associated with political negotiations in a state that is not a pluralistic, democratic system and where no single set of values or priorities that fits all members of the society. Students were also asked to report on the contributions of their own and others’ work within the teams via an evaluation sheet.

Collaborating partner(s)
Kristina Thalhammer
Professor, St. Olaf College
Political Science
Jamie Schillinger
Associate Professor, St. Olaf College
Religion, Middle Eastern Studies
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