democratic openings”, By Rana, Sabbagh-Gargour former Chief Editor of The
For the sixth time this year, Human Rights Watch is questioning Jordan’s
commitment to abolishing provisions in its penal code used solely to silence
opposition figures. In November, Adnan Abu Odeh, a former head of the Royal
Court, was investigated for allegedly insulting the king and inciting
sectarian strife during televised remarks. By voicing the widely held
sentiment among Jordanians of Palestinian origin – half the country’s
population of 5.6 million – that they are excluded from full political life,
the 73-year-old politician born in the West Bank city of Nablus touched a
nerve. Charges against him were dropped quickly to minimize domestic
polarization and preempt growing Western criticism over Jordan’s teetering
experiment with the rule of law.
…Since taking over in 1999, King Abdullah II has shown more consistency on
economic than political change, handpicking liberals and technocrats to
implement market-oriented reforms while sticking to mostly center-right
prime ministers to ensure that political opening is on a slower track.
As with most Arab states, Jordan replicates the pattern of episodically
opening up and closing down political reform…A “security package” of laws
was passed by Parliament this summer at the prodding of the palace and the
powerful intelligence apparatus, including anti-terror legislation that
raised concerns about violations of free speech and civil liberties. Other
laws nationalized the issuance of fatwas and banned preachers from
delivering sermons without prior approval. Such laws are seen as essential
to curb religious fanaticism – fed by endemic corruption, poverty,
unemployment, and discontent over the government’s pro-US policies – among
Jordan’s young and disillusioned population, but they also could backfire.
…. Over 700 hand-picked Jordanians representing all walks of life were
invited by the palace to a closed-door meeting to forge a consensus on
priorities for the next two years, including local and regional challenges.
The carefully worded “All for Jordan” document that emerged was laced with
constructive ambiguity to appease the diverse needs of an entrenched
bureaucracy, a conservative tribal Parliament, powerful current and former
officials struggling to maintain influence, a Westernized elite unhappy over
the slow pace of reform, an influential Islamist-led opposition and
Palestinian refugees still smarting over the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
And so for now Jordan will keep the current one-person, one-vote electoral
law, which favors the majority East Bank rural areas over densely populated
cities with a majority Palestinian Jordanian population. …
There is also increasing official talk in favor of postponing general
parliamentary elections set for summer 2007, for up to two years, due to
regional turbulence. Such a move would be motivated by fear that the
influential Islamic Action Front might win a majority in Parliament.
Jordan’s Islamists have long opposed the decision to sever links with the
West Bank on the grounds that the territory is part of an Islamic waqf, or
endowment, and no one has the right to give it up. They might use an
election victory to forge closer links with Hamas and to push for setting up
an Islamic state combining Jordan and whatever is left of the Palestinian
Jordan and other Arab regimes are toeing an increasingly difficult line,
apprehensive about their own restive publics, occasional Western pressure
for reform, and most of all the prospect of losing power. … Jordan cannot
postpone forever the issue of the political rights of second- and
third-generation citizens of Palestinian origin. But for the present,
political survival is the name of the game, especially when Jordanian
leaders see election results in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon as having
produced more turmoil than consensus.