Jordan’s tentative steps toward political reforms inadequate

Developing Just Leadership

Tahir Mustafa

Rajab 29, 1432 2011-07-01

Main Stories

by Tahir Mustafa (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 5, Rajab, 1432)

King Abdullah’s June 12 speech did not impress most Jordanians seeking serious political and social reforms in the country and curbs on the king’s vast arbitrary powers. In his first televised address since uprisings began in the Muslim East six months ago, the putative monarch, while promising electoral reforms, did not specify any date for their implementation.

King Abdullah’s June 12 speech did not impress most Jordanians seeking serious political and social reforms in the country and curbs on the king’s vast arbitrary powers. In his first televised address since uprisings began in the Muslim East six months ago, the putative monarch, while promising electoral reforms, did not specify any date for their implementation. He said that the next prime minister, hitherto appointed by him, would be elected based on the result of parliamentary elections. But he warned that reforms would be slow in coming.

Abdullah spoke after the 47-member National Dialogue Committee, formed in the wake of ongoing street protests, submitted its recommendations on June 4. The proposed reforms include increasing parliamentary seats from 120 to 130, allowing multiple political parties to function, but to secure official recognition they must increase their membership from 250 to 500. They must also meet the 10% women membership quota. This last point was clearly meant as a sop to Western audiences.

Like his late father King Husain (died 1999) Abdullah is totally subservient to the US and Israel. Created by the British who carved it out of Palestine in 1922, the Hashemite kingdom is economically dependent on US largesse. In his televised speech, the king indirectly hinted at this when he said street protests were damaging the climate for “foreign investment”. He also asserted that nobody had “monopoly on reforms,” in an attempt to stem the tide of demands for quick and wide-ranging reforms including end to endemic corruption.

He clearly wants to dampen demands for reforms because significant curtailment of his powers would reduce him to a figurehead, a thought he clearly does not cherish. More importantly, he would not be able to serve his foreign masters according to their wishes if a truly representative government were to emerge in the country. In order to assuage deep public anger at the lack of political participation and representation, Abdullah said new political legislation should “guarantee the fairness and transparency of the electoral process through a mechanism that will lead to a parliament with active political party representation.” He added that the legislation should allow “the formation of governments based on parliamentary majority and political party manifestos in the future.” It was an admission that past political processes were neither fair nor transparent.

Without specifying how distant that “future” might be, the king failed to impress protesters in the street who have called for only moderate changes unlike other countries: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria or Yemen, where protesters have demanded the ouster of long-entrenched dictators. Jordan is no less a dictatorship, one moreover, with a British-installed monarchy, like the Saudis, to serve colonial interests. Abdullah announced that the next parliamentary elections would be conducted based on proposed changes to the election law. He did not, however, say how the law was to be reworked to satisfy complaints that it was designed to prevent opposition from gaining power.

Tahir Masri, the king’s courtier and appointee to the senate, said time was needed to “implement reforms.” Why that should be so was not explained but it was clearly aimed at buying time for a regime that has found itself under pressure from persistent street protests. More importantly, the winds of change sweeping the Muslim East have also buffeted Jordan, which is more vulnerable than most other countries because of lack of natural resources like oil. Jordan’s main source of revenue, apart from American handouts, is tourism. And street protests are not conducive to promoting this industry, as Egypt has found to its economic cost. Commenting on the king’s speech Labib Kamhawi, a political analyst, said it was “good on some points and weak on others.” He emphasized that the king had committed himself only to elected governments eventually. That, of course, is not good enough for the people who need changes immediately.

The regime’s concerns spring from the fact that Islamic parties, like the Islamic Action Front, or the Professionals Syndicates dominated by Islamically-committed people — doctors and engineers — would sweep the polls if free elections were held. The king’s manouvres are aimed at circumventing this possibility because then his long-standing policy of surrender to the Zionist State of Israel would become untenable. The vast majority of people in Jordan, as elsewhere in the Muslim world, are deeply unhappy about the plight of the Palestinians brutalized by Israel and its Western sponsors. The inability or refusal of regimes surrounding Israel to alleviate Palestinian suffering has created deep fissures in these societies that see their rulers as serving foreign, not domestic interests. These regimes are also dismissive of people’s concerns branding them as “the dictates of the street,” in the words of King Abdullah. This is reflective of the mindset such rulers that consider public sentiment as unworthy of respect. It is such statements that raise serious doubts among protesters about the monarch’s seriousness to address their legitimate grievances.

The Jordanians, like people elsewhere in the Muslim East, have also spoken out strongly against officially sanctioned corruption in society. While the king said he would tackle it, his policies have done nothing to create confidence. The case of a Jordanian tycoon charged with massive corruption who was allowed to leave the country, ostensibly for medical treatment in the US, has merely heightened skepticism. The supposedly sick tycoon was later seen in a London café, in robust health and enjoying life. It is these episodes that create distrust in people about the regime’s seriousness in implementing reforms or addressing issues of concern to people. Most see the king’s attempts as merely buying time. This is nothing new in Jordan, or indeed elsewhere in the Muslim East.

The people of Jordan must realize that there can be no meaningful change in society unless the colonial imposed system, including the monarchy, is abolished and a genuinely representative system of government is put in place. Until then, they must continue the struggle for change.

Correction

In our May 2011 issue, we reported that Ayat el-Qermezi had died after torture and rape at the hands of the Bahraini security forces. We have now learned that she is alive, al-hamdulillah. She was sentenced to a year in jail for reciting poetry. The Bahraini authorities continue to perpetrate horrible crimes against innocent civilians.

– Editor

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