Jordan: A Democratic Audit
Dr. Adli Hawwari
Updated Appraisal: 2011-2019
In the following pages, I shall re-ask the fifteen overarching questions, and restate the marks given by the twenty four assessors and six experts. I shall then give my assessment of the extent of change during 2011-2019.
1. Citizenship, Law and Rights
1.1. Nationhood and Citizenship
Q1S: Is there public agreement on a common citizenship without discrimination?
Marks: 1; 2; 2; 2; 3; 3; 3; 3; 4; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 6; 8; 8; 9; 10; 10; (Mean: 5).
Q7L: 2; 2; 5; 6; 7; /; (Mean: 4.4).
Because of the conflict in Syria, the frequent arguments regarding the Jordanian of Palestinian descent receded. Jordan received hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Therefore, it cannot be ruled out that some of them will not return to Syria when conditions in Syria permit. Those who choose to remain in Jordan may do so legally and illegally. Consequently, they may become part of the frequent debates about identity and citizenship I discussed in a previous chapter.
The numbers published by UNHCR (2018) indicate that there are ‘more than 655,000 Syrian men, women, and children […] 80% of them live in urban areas. More than 139,000 live in al-Zaatari and al-Azraq camps”. According to UNHCR, “the Jordanian Ministry of Labour issued 30,000 work permits for Syrian refugees”. The permit enables the refugee to leave the camp for one month. He/she then has to return to renew the permit.
Although, theoretically, the presence of a large number of Syrians in Jordan could in the future worsen the debates about citizenship and identity, it may as well contribute to the acceptance of the concept of citizenship that is not based on race, ethnicity or national origin.
1.2. Rule of Law and Access to Justice
Q2S: Are state and society consistently subject to the law?
Marks: 1; 2; 2; 2; 3; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 6; 7; 7; 7; 7; 8; 8; 9; 9; 10; 10; (Mean: 5.8).
Q14L: 3; 6; 6; 6; 6; /; (Mean: 5.4);
A constitutional court was established. This was one of the measures recommended by a committee formed in 2011 to review the articles of the constitution. The court consists of nine judges for a term of six years.
In 2016, a constitutional amendment was adopted. It gave the king more powers that made him the only decision-maker concerning several important issues. Before the amendment, article 40 stated: “The King shall exercise the powers vested in Him by Royal Decrees. Any such Decree shall be signed by the Prime Minister and the Minister or Ministers concerned. The King expresses his concurrence by placing his signature above the signatures of the other ministers.”
After the amendment, article 40 reads: (2) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of this Article, the King exercises his powers alone in the following: (a) Crown Prince (b) Viceroy (c) Chairman and members of the Senate (d) Chairman and members of the Constitutional Court (e) President of the Judicial Council. (f) Army Commander, Intelligence Chief and Director of the Gendarmerie
Another amendment allows the appointment of those who have dual citizenship in high-ranking positions. Ubaydat (2016) believes that: “the amendments of 2016 indicate that the king intends to continue to monopolize power and his retreat from the democratic discourse that followed the amendments” implemented in 2011.
The former Justice Minister Muhammad al-Hammouri, criticized this amendment and considered to be in total contradiction with the rules of the constitution”. The justification for this amendment was to “benefit from the expertise of such Jordanians,” Al-Hammouri rejects this and says it is unacceptable, because there are so many single nationality Jordanians with expertise, about whom nobody cares”.
1.3. Civil and Political Rights
Q3S: Are civil and political rights equally guaranteed for all?
Marks: 1; 1; 2; 2; 2; 3; 4; 4; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 7; 7; 7; 8; 8; 8; 10; (Mean: 5).
Q19L: 3; 5; 5; 7; /; /; (Mean: 5).
In 2014, the Jordanian government responded partly to the demands of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians to give their sons and daughter Jordanian citizenship. It adopted certain measures that enable the sons and daughters to get identity cards and driving licences. Until 2018, these ‘facilities’ were conditional upon the mother having lived in Jordan for five consecutive years. In 2018, this condition was removed. HRW (2018) indicated that obstacles remained despite some improvement.
In March 2016, the government published “The Comprehensive National Plan for Human Rights, 2016-2025”. Its first goal is the “to develop the laws to make that more in line with the constitution and international conventions on human rights which were ratified by Jordan”.
In 2017, an article was removed from the criminal law which refrained from punishing a rapist if he agrees to marry his victim.
1.4. Economic and Social Rights
Q4S: Are economic and social rights equally guaranteed for all?
Marks: 1; 1; 3; 3; 3; 3; 4; 4; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 7; 7; 7; 8; 8; 8; 8; 9; 9; (Mean: 5.3).
Q26L: 4; 5; 6; 7; 8; /; (Mean: 6).
The national plan for human rights mentions the economic, social and cultural rights. It sets five goals in this regard: to reinforce and protect the right to work; health; educations; cultural rights of segments of society such as minorities; clean environment and development.
The state of the economy in Jordan at present is the main source of concern for the vast majority of people. Mass protests against the attempt of al-Mulqi’s government led to his removal. The optimism that prevailed after appointing al-Razzaz expired quickly.
2. Representative and Accountable Government
2.1. Free and Fair Elections
Q5S: Do elections give the people control over governments and their policies?
Marks: 0; 0; 0; 1; 1; 1; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2; 3; 3; 3; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 7; 7; (Mean: 3.1).
Q33L: 1; 2; 2; 2; 2; 3; (Mean: 2).
No change in this regard. Prime ministers are still appointed as before. During 2011-2019, cabinets were formed by Awn al-Khasawneh, Fayez al-Tarawneh, Abdullah al-Nsour, Hani al-Mulqi, and Omar al-Razzaz.
Al-Khasawneh’s government did not last long. He wanted to be a PM with full authority, namely that the Royal Court and the GID should not interfere with his work. There were press reports that he also entered into dialogue with the MB/IAF. This was not in line with the attitude of other departments of the government. After six months, he sent his resignation while visiting Turkey.
Al-Nsour’s government increased the prices of petroleum products and cooking gas canisters. Before he was appointed as PM, al-Nsour criticized previous governments and the King’s suggestion that there should be 3-4 big, strong parties. (See section 2.2 on the role of political parties). However, during his premiership, there was no improvement in the situation of political parties, and he did not change the election law. He increased prices and defended the decision. It was also during his premiership that a constitutional amendment was adopted to give the king the sole authority to appoint and dismiss members of the HoN, judges, and the chiefs of the army, intelligence and Darak.
Al-Mulqi’s government imposed more economic measures that worsened the ability of limited income citizens to afford necessities and basics. His measures included imposing taxes on medicines and books. The tax on these, in particular, was vehemently opposed and caused widespread disaffection to the extent that it led the king to intervene to cancel it. Al-Mulqi’s government later attempted to adopt a tax law. It was vehemently opposed by protests and sit-ins that led to the dismissal of his government.
Before al-Mulqi was dismissed, there were rumours that Omar al-Razzaz would be the new PM. When the news was confirmed, there was some optimism that his approach would be different from his predecessors. This was unfounded optimism. Al-Razzaz was a minister in al-Mulqi’s cabinet and had a senior post in the World Bank. The optimism dissipated quickly because the individuals change but the policies remain. Al-Razzaz sent delegations to various governorates in the country to explain the tax law he wanted to adopt. Members of his delegations saw for themselves the extent of public anger. The audience in some governorates did not allow the delegations to speak.
2.2. The Democratic Role of Political Parties
Q6S: Does the party system assist the working of democracy?
Marks: 1; 2; 2; 2; 2; 3; 3; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 6; 6; 7; 7; 9; 9; 10; (Mean: 5).
Q39L: 0; 2; /; /; /; /; (Mean: 1).
The requirements to establish a political party were made easier in 2015. One of the old requirements was to have 500 founding members from five different governorates. The number was reduced to 150 and could be from one governorate. The minimum age of a founding member was also reduced from 21 to 18.
The election law was changed to satisfy the parties that objected for many years to the principle of a single vote in a multi-seat constituency. The new law adopted the principle of an open, proportionate list (slate). This means that in a multi-seat constituency, like-minded candidates form a slate. Voters can vote for a whole slate or individual candidates from competing slates.
The Islamic trend, represented by the MB/IAF was inflicted with internal disputes that led to the departure of some of its prominent members, such as Rohile Gharaybeh, former vice president of IAF. The group launched the “national initiative for construction”. It is often referred to as the Zamzam initiative, named after the hotel where the meeting was held (but also after the water spring in the holy mosque in Mecca).
In October 2013, the initiative was publicized in a conference held at the Royal Cultural Centre in Amman. According to information published by the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs, a party was registered under the name of the National Conference Party (Zamzam) on 11 August 2016. The secretary-general of the party is Rohile Gharaybeh. As of early November 2019, there were forty-eight parties registered in Jordan.
Despite the presence of many parties, the political milieu in which they operate is restricted. This large number of weak/strong parties would mean governments would have to be formed by coalitions in the event of a democratic milieu.
2.3. Effective and Responsive Government
Q7S: Is government effective in serving the public and responsive to its concerns?
Marks: 1; 2; 2; 3; 4; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 6; 6; 6; 7; 7; 7; 7; 7; 8; 9; (Mean: 5.3).
Q46L: 1; 3; 3; 5; /; /; (Mean: 3).
It is fair to say that the government is less effective and less responsive to the concerns of the citizens. Protests at governments’ decisions are back. The protests led to the dismissal of al-Mulqi’s government. The strike of the teachers shook the government of al-Razzaz, as the strike developed into the longest ever in Jordan. The government agreed to the demands of the teachers, after initially deploying force, and trying various ways to pressurize the teachers to abandon the strike, including complaints from parents that they are concerned that the children are losing out due to the strike.
The state of the economy is at present the main source of tension between the people and the government, which says it is trying to deal with the external debts, while the people believe corruption is the source of deterioration in economic conditions.
In one of the events organized by the government to explain the proposed tax law, getting a job was the most important demand. Indirect taxes, such as those imposed on topping up a mobile phone, are paid by everyone, including the poor. Official statistics (2018) show that the unemployment rate in the second quarter was 18.7%. A report by the General Statistic Departments indicates that women’s unemployment rate is 26.8%. That of men increased by 3.2% compared with the second quarter in 2017.
2.4. The Democratic Effectiveness of Parliament
Q8S: Does the parliament or legislature contribute effectively to the democratic process?
Marks: 0; 1; 2; 2; 2; 3; 3; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 6; 6; 7; 7; 9; 9; (Mean: 4.7).
Q55L: 1; 2; 2; 3; 5; 8; (Mean: 3.5).
Parliament is still the weakest branch of government. The judgement is supported by the quick approval in 2016 of the constitutional amendments that gave the king the sole power to appoint and dismiss members of the HoN, the heads of the constitutional court, the army, intelligence, and darak.
Individual MPs, however, try to hold the government to account, by submitting written questions or raising issues, such as that of the tobacco scandal, which eventually led to uncovering a huge case of corruption.
During 2011-2019, there were two parliamentary elections; one took place in 2013, and the second in 2016. In 2013, the number of registered voters was 2,272,182. Those who voted were 1, 288, 043, which is equivalent to 57%.
The elections of 2016 took place under a new law that differed from the previous ones which gave the voter a single vote in a multi-seat constituency. This formula led the MB/IAF to boycott the parliamentary elections more than once. The new law introduced the system of “open, proportionate slate”, which was explained in a previous section. This formula enabled the MB/IAF to participate in a coalition that called itself al-Islah (reform) which managed to win fifteen seats of 130 seats (including fifteen reserved for the women quota).
Voter registration was no longer required. Any citizen who reaches the age of eighteen years ninety days before the elections becomes eligible to vote. The new law also removed a controversial provision, which is related to the participation of members of the army and security-related bodies. The new law suspends their right to vote while in active service.
Because voter registration is no longer a requirement, as in previous rounds, calculating the percentage of the turnout is no longer a good indicator of how weak or strong the turnout. This is because the automatic registration of those eligible to vote is a lot higher than when registration was required. Under the new system, the number of registered voters was 4,130, 145. Those who voted were 1,492, 400. The report of the IEC on the 2016 elections includes detailed statics, such as the age groups of the voters.
2.5. Civilian Control of the Military and Police
Q9S: Are the military and police forces under civilian control?
Marks: 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 0; 1; 1; 1; 2; 3; 3; 6; 6; 6; 8; 9; 10; /; /; (Mean: 2.5). [DATA UNRELIABLE]
Q60L: 0; 0; 2; 5; 9; /; (Mean: 3.2). [DATA UNRELIABLE]
There is no change in this regard. The king is the supreme commander of all armed forces. See a previous section on constitutional amendments adopted in 2016.
2.6. Integrity in Public Life
Q10S: Is the integrity of conduct in public life assured?
Marks: 1; 1; 2; 2; 2; 2; 2; 3; 3; 3; 3; 3; 4; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 8; 8; /; (Mean: 3.8).
Q66L: 1; 1; 3; 5; 5; 8; (Mean: 3.8).
The uncovering of a major corruption case related to tobacco and making cigarettes without a license reinforced the belief the corruption is widespread in Jordan. This particular case shows that it cannot happen and last for years without some embedded corruption carried out by people who are not in the limelight as is the case with ministers. The columnist in Al-Ghad daily, Fahd al-Khitan, warned against a repetition of the case:
The case has many dark sides, links, and back channels that fed the river of Awni Mutee, the man who continued to work for years under the limelight, without arousing any suspicion. This shows big gaps in the work of government departments, such as the customs, anti-smuggling, ports, and development areas. These gaps require a review of the laws pertaining to how these departments operate and subject their officials to auditing. What is being said by officials is that it is still possible for a hundred Awni Mutee to appear if the government does not deal with the root cause in our administrative departments.
In 2014, a Jordanian court convicted in absentia, Walid al-Kurdi, the chairman of the board of the Phosphate company. Al-Kurdi is the husband of Princess Basma. He left Jordan and now lives in Britain. The Jordanian government could not have him extradited by the time this book went to press. In 2012, a court sentenced Muhammad al-Dhahabi, former head of GID (2005-2008) to thirteen years in jail. The charges against him were exploiting his position, embezzlement, and money laundering. Al-Dhahabi was the second director of GID convicted of corruption. The first was Samih al-Battikhi (See a previous section of the book).
In October 2018, Dr Mahmud Zraiqat, the director of al-Bashir Hospital, the largest public hospital, said that there were 800 people getting salaries from the hospital without coming to work. He said these bogus jobs related to services that a company provides to the hospital, which include cleaning and laundry. Dr Zraiqat asked for protection from the government after revealing the information. The PM, Omar al-Razzaz, promptly visited the hospital as a gesture of support, and an indication that the government is serious about fighting corruption.
3. Civil Society and Popular Participation
3.1. The Media in a Democratic Society
Q11S: Do the media operate in a way that sustains democratic values?
Marks: 0; 1; 1; 2; 3; 3; 3; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 7; 7; 7; 8; 8; 9; 9; 10; (Mean: 5.1).
Q72L: 2; 3; 6; /; /; /; (Mean: 3.7).
Print dailies faced financial difficulties that forced al-Arab al-Yawm to cease to print. The fortnightly al-Majd also ceased to print, but kept its website and continues to update it. This phenomenon affects newspaper elsewhere. In Lebanon, the daily As-Safir ceased to print. An-Nahar continues to face financial difficulties. Other countries, including the USA and UK, have seen the same situation.
There are more TV channels. The most recent is al-Mamlaka (The Kingdom). The number of channels at present is thirty-eight, according to the Media Commission. Irrespective of the number of channels, newspapers and magazines, this does not lead to a plurality of views because they all operate in restricted legal and political environments. New social media enable citizens to express their view directly. They constitute an alternative source of information.
Although social media can be an effective alternative, it can lead to less participation in collective action on the ground. It is also easy to monitor by the government, which punishes those who publish material the government dislikes. The media, old and new, cannot help democracy in the prevailing conditions, which lack the basic freedoms.
3.2. Political Participation
Q12S: Is there full citizen participation in public life?
Marks: 2; 2; 2; 2; 3; 3; 3; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 6; 7; 7; 7; 9; 10; 10; (Mean: 5.1).
Q77L: 0; 2; 3; 3; 5; 7; (Mean: 3.3).
Women are appointed in ministerial positions. The government of al-Razzaz, the last to be formed before the book went to press, had seven female ministers. Their presence in the cabinet does not mean there is an improvement in women’s participation in public life. They are appointed as their male colleagues and the PM. In the HoD, the quota for women was increased to fifteen seats out of 130.
Not all obstacles faced by women in public life are due to legal barriers that, if removed, can automatically lead to bigger participation. A big segment of the society adheres to traditions that encourage women to stay at home, or to choose jobs that enable women to continue to look after the family.
Q13S: Are decisions taken at the level of government that is most appropriate for the people affected?
Marks: 0; 1; 2; 2; 3; 3; 4; 4; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 5; 6; 7; 8; 8; 8; 8; 10; (Mean: 5).
Q81L: 1; 2; 2; 4; 5; 6; (Mean: 3.3).
In 2015, a law pertaining to decentralization was adopted. Its sixth article states every governorate will have a council that will have financial and administrative autonomy. A quota is allocated for women in these councils (10%). The government has the right to appoint 15% of the members of the council,
In 2017, the first elections for the decentralized councils took place in 2017. The report of IEC on these elections indicates that the number of registered voters was 4,109,423. Those who voted were 1,302,929. This is equivalent to 32%. The percentage of women who voted in Amman Governorate was 18% (p. 127).
Because the Law of Decentralization is relatively new, and the elections took place in 2017, it is premature now to assess the extent of success of this experiment.
4. Democracy Beyond the State
4.1. External Influences on the Country’s Democracy
Q14S: Is the impact of external influences broadly supportive of the country’s democracy?
Marks: 0; 0; 1; 1; 2; 2; 2; 3; 4; 5; 5; 5; 6; 6; 6; 6; 6; 7; 7; 8; 9; 10; 10; /; (Mean: 4.8).
Q85L: 2; 2; 4; 6; 7; 7; (Mean: 4.7).
The conflict in Syria had a tangible impact on Jordan during 2011-2019. Jordan coordinates with other countries regarding the situation in Syria. There are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan. The government was concerned that armed groups would come to Jordan. Some people who belonged to such groups, or shared their beliefs, committed acts of violence in Jordan.
In August 2018, a building in the city of Sult was raided to arrest individuals who attacked a bus carrying members of the Darak. In 2016, gunmen attacked the tourists in Karak Castle. Earlier in 2016, a gunman attacked the office of GID in al-Baqaa near Amman. He managed to kill five people. These attacks make the government focus more on security measures.
4.2. The Country’s Democratic Impact Abroad
Q15S: Do the country’s international policies contribute to strengthening global democracy?
Marks: 0; 1; 1; 1; 2; 2; 3; 4; 4; 4; 4; 5; 6; 6; 6; 7; 7; 7; 9; 9; 10; 10; /; /; (Mean: 4.9).
Q90L: 0; 1; 2; 2; 5; 6; (Mean: 2.7).
The notion that there is ‘global democracy’ is problematic. The systems of governments in the world were always a spectrum of democratic and dictatorial. At the end of 2010, some of the Arab states saw mass protests demanding change. At the time, there was a great deal of optimism that the states of the Arab world will undergo a transformation and become democratic. However, the demands for change turned into armed conflicts in Libya and Syria. The optimism vanished. A new point of view emerged and considered these protests to have been sponsored by external powers, and the aim was to destroy the states and break them up.
Even in the Arab states where demands initially succeeded and led to the removal of the head of states, the new era of more freedom did not last long. A counter-revolution took place and reversed the changes to a situation worse than the one prevailing before 2011.
An Update of the Detailed Assessment
The detailed assessment contained a question for which the experts gave the highest marks. It was Q2.5.4: ‘How free is the country from the operation of paramilitary units, private armies, warlords and criminal mafias?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 8, 8, 8, 9, 9, and 10. (Mean: 8.67).
The question deserves a revisit. Jordan is still free from these phenomena. However, this cannot be said with the same degree of confidence that was possible during 1990-2010. The raid on the building in Sult, the attack on the Karak Castle, and other incidents show that it cannot be ruled out that armed groups may choose to target Jordan. Moreover, when the situation in a country deteriorates, as happened in Libya and Syria, such paramilitary groups appear quickly.
Dealing with the situation in Jordan with an iron first is a tried method that succeeds partly at best. It was tried and failed in Libya and Syria, Therefore, an environment in which the citizens enjoy basic freedoms is a safety valve for the stability of society.
The news in Jordan often reports confiscation of drugs and the arrests of dealers. Twenty years ago, it used to be said that Jordan was a transit route for drugs. However, this is no longer true. Smuggling large quantities of drugs is the work of organized criminals. The news also reports frequently cases of extortion. Thugs demand money from shop owners. There is not enough information to comment reliably on the extent of this phenomenon. However, its presence currently can be a precursor to its transformation into Mafia-style organized crime.
Such a possibility is realistic in view of the scandal related to tobacco. The success of such an endeavour suggests that there are fertile grounds for similar cases. If the tobacco scandal was not a Mafia-like endeavour, it can invite organized crime to plan something similar. As far as this question is concerned, it indicates that there are alarming signs that require attention so that Jordan does not lose an area that was highly rated in the democratic audit.
Adli Hawwari (2020). Reluctant Liberalisation: A Democratic Audit of Jordan, 1989-2019. London: Ud Al -Nad Ltd.
- Jordan: A Democratic Audit