Hashemite rule was among the most enduring political structures in the Levant in the century since the fall of the Ottomans.

As highlighted in the first article of this series, the army of Sultan (then King) Abdel Aziz al-Saud advanced from Najd at the centre of the Arabian Peninsula towards the Hashemites’ centuries-old homeland, al-Hijaz, and drove them utterly out of the Peninsula.

On his way towards his exile, Sharif Hussein, the leader of the Hashemites who had cooperated with the British against the Ottomans with the hope of establishing a pan-Arab kingdom, stopped in Ismailia in Egypt where grandees of the Egyptian monarchy held a banquet in his honour. As some of the Egyptians who had attended the dinner later commented, the Sharif (a title designating his descent from the Prophet Mohammed) was in a melancholic mood, reflecting on the kingdom that never came to pass.

History vindicated the Sharif, however. Two of his sons came to rule kingdoms in the Levant. Faisal was declared King of Syria, until the French army quashed the nascent monarchy in its infancy. But Faisal, whom several British military intelligence officers had held in high regard, established a Hashemite kingdom in Iraq. His older brother, Abdullah, became king of Jordan, a country that was created in the period immediately after the end of the First World War.

Although Faisal’s grandson, Faisal the Second, was brutally murdered in the coup that had ended the Hashemites’ kingdom in Iraq, the Jordanian kingdom endured and managed, in the past century, to entrench itself in the Levant.

Hashemite rule in the Levant was a unique political project, with three distinct features.

First, the Hashemites have anchored their rule on an Islamic legitimacy, given their descent from the Prophet Mohammed. The vestiges of Hashemite power have always taken religious hues. Islamic jurisprudence has always been at the centre of legislation, and the kingdom is at heart as well as in its official name, a Hashemite kingdom, tracing its origin to the clan of which the Prophet Mohammed was a scion.

Yet, Hashemite rule was by design inclusive. The Hashemites understood that the Levant is vastly different from the Arabian Peninsula, even from al-Hijaz, traditionally the most culturally open region in Arabia. Throughout its history, the Levant was a crucible of cultures, traditions, and religions. A successful Levantine society must be culturally inclusive and socially open to different peoples, ideas, and ways of life.

Indeed, Hashemite Iraq and Jordan have been Arab in orientation, but highly inclusive of Armenians, Caucasians, and non-Arab Levantines. And along with the religious legitimacy and milieu, the Hashemite kingdoms have always welcomed non-Muslims who have not only prospered but became truly integrated in the upper echelons of Hashemite rule.

This inclusivity reflected the Hashemite kings’ internalisation of the soul of the Levant, to which they came as political entrepreneurs and over time became part and parcel of its post-Ottoman composition.

Hashemite rule was also anchored on a moderate, open form of Islamism, which is the second key feature of their political project. As I have argued in my book “Islamism”, the term encompasses much more than political Islamist groups or militant Islamist militias. At heart, Islamism is anchoring political legitimacy, legislation, and social frame of reference on understandings and interpretations of Islam. At its core, Islamism is the application of understandings of the religion in the state’s relationship with society. Hashemite legitimacy is Islamic by definition, and as mentioned above, the Hashemite vestiges of power are steeped in the Arabic facet of the Islamic civilisation.

But the Hashemites have managed in the century since the fall of the Ottomans to sustain their form of Islamism as open and accepting, not only of non-Muslims in their kingdoms, but also of non-Islamic worldviews. The Hashemites’ success at internalising the soul of the Levant in their governing system helped with that. This success has positioned the Hashemites globally as one of the brightest faces of the Islamic civilisation after the Ottoman caliphate vanished.

This success gave rise to the third feature of Hashemite rule in the Levant: a unique place in the region’s geopolitics. The Hashemites have always, in the past century, tried to position themselves as bridges between the Western world and the regional powers. Britain was the global power that enabled the creation of the Hashemite kingdoms in the Levant, and after the sun had set on the British Empire, the United States became a strategic supporter of the Hashemite kingdom in Jordan. Despite that, Hashemite Jordan managed to sustain functional working relationships with most Arab regimes, including the ardent Arab nationalists who opposed Western influence on Middle Eastern geopolitics. In effect, the Hashemites have excelled in a sort of cultural mediation based on the success of their internal governing model and their external Islamic civilisational facet.

But these features of the Hashemite project have recently been facing serious challenges. First, the Levant, the geographic and cultural milieu in which the Hashemites have entrenched their project, is increasingly mired in acute geopolitical problems that keep the entire region on the brink of serious flare-ups. Amidst such an environment, the Hashemites’ socio-political project – that is anchored on openness and stability - faces frequent problems.

Regional problems create demographic concerns. Hashemite Jordan has tried for decades to attract some of the brightest minds in the region in various fields – from medicine to engineering to economics – to establish their businesses in the country and use it as a regional hub. But as the Levant continues to be mired in geopolitical confrontations, many of the best and brightest opt to leave the region altogether, either to classic destinations of Arab migration in the West such as London and Paris, or increasingly to the glamorous cities of the Gulf, such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. And now as Saudi Arabia is undergoing one of the fastest transformations the Arab world has witnessed in the past century, many would be attracted to the vast opportunities that this transformation is giving rise to.

The Gulf’s success also poses a subtle complexity to Jordan’s positioning in the world as one of the most visible facets of Islam in modern society. The states of the Arabian Peninsula, and especially Saudi Arabia, have always placed interpretations of Islam at the core of their social and cultural landscapes. As these states become the most prominent socioeconomic models in the wider Middle East, the way Islam is present in their societies might become the one getting the most global attention. With time, Islam in the Arabian Peninsula might emerge as the facet of the religion that many in the world invoke.

The next article in this series will look at the project behind the Lebanese state that was created at the end of the First World War, arguably the most fraught sociopolitical project to have emerged in the Levant after the fall of the Ottomans.