Jordan: A Democratic Audit
Civil Society & Popular Participation
Dr. Adli Hawwari
This part of the long questionnaire consists of three subcategories: the media in a democratic society (3.1); political participation (3.2); decentralization (3.3).
3.1: Media in a Democratic Society
This subcategory has six questions. The highest mean, 4.5, belongs to question 3.1.5: ‘How free are private citizens from intrusion and harassment by the media?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, and 7.
This is one assessment which I am unable to agree with. The editorial standards of some of the weekly magazines and the new media are not high. If the government disapproves of views expressed by individuals, its supporters write against the views and those who expressed them. I am not aware of a case of a media pack following a celebrity, or camping at the doorsteps of someone’s house. That Jordan has not known these phenomena does not imply it will not someday in the future. It is more than likely that these phenomena will come to Jordan, especially that the obsession with celebrity is widespread worldwide.
The lowest mean, 2.7, in this subcategory belongs to question 3.1.4: ‘How free are journalists from restrictive laws, harassment and intimidation?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, and 4.
The Jordanian Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) published a report on the state of press freedoms in 2007. The report documented complaints reported to the CDFJ. The most frequent complaint (47 in 2007) concerned the prevention of journalists from covering newsworthy events. The journalists also complained about detention, beatings, and threats (pp. 115-139).
The reporter of al-Jazeera, Yasir Abu Hilaleh, was beaten on two occasions. The first in January 2009, when he was covering a demonstration in support of the people of Gaza who were under attack by Israeli forces for three weeks. While being hospitalized, Abu Hilaleh received a call from King Abdullah II to enquire about his well-being. The second occasion was in July 2011 while he was covering a demonstration demanding reform in Jordan. He lost composure and threatened to bring his tribe from Maan to burn half of Amman. This was used against him in the press and websites.
Moreover, in June 2011, the offices of the French News Agency (AFP) were attacked after the agency reported that the procession of King Abdullah II was pelted with stones in Tafila. Randa Habib, the agency’s bureau chief, was threatened. The royal court made a complaint to AFP against Habib, but the agency restated its confidence in her reporting.
When a rally was organized in the Palms Square in Amman in June 2011, the police advised journalists to wear reflective jackets. To their horror, they realized that this made them an easier target. In December 2011, the offices of the daily newspaper, al-Ghad, were attacked after the paper published a report about a ship carrying maze not fit for human consumption. The vessel was detained at the Port of Aqaba to investigate the matter. However, it was allowed to leave before the investigation was completed.
3.2: Political Participation
This subcategory has four questions. The highest mean, 5, belongs to question 3.2.4: ‘How equal is access for all social groups to public office, and how fairly are they represented?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 2, 5, 5, 5, 6, and 7.
Public office is open through patronage and loyalty, not through competition. Different social groups benefit through this route. However, there is now a class which supplies the government with high-ranking officials, from families such as the Touqan, to tribes such as al-Majali. When a government is formed, attempts are made to satisfy different regions and tribes.
The lowest mean, 3, in this subcategory belongs to question 3.2.1: ‘How extensive is the range of voluntary associations, citizen groups, social movements etc. and how independent are they from government?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 0, 2, 2, 3, 5, and 6.
The diversity of voluntary organizations improved dramatically during the twenty years under assessment. However, the most prosperous are the ones supportive of the government’s line. Members of the royal household participate in voluntary organizations, often as honorary presidents. This brings benefits to the organizations, such as funding and media interest, but limits their independence.
This subcategory has four questions. The highest mean, 3.7, belongs to question 3.3.3: ‘How extensive is the cooperation of government at the most local level with relevant partners, associations and communities in the formation and implementation of policy, and in service provision?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 7.
In a study of participation of civil society in the programme to reform the public sector, Musa Shtaiwi (2006?) suggested that participation and consultation of citizens occurred through several mechanisms. For instance, the government might seek the views of a professional association, or assign seats to CSOs on certain bodies, such as the one in charge of social security, whose council has four seats reserved for workers and four for employers. Another way to consult is by creating special bodies, such as the National Committee for Women Affairs, which recommended a quota for women in the HoD. Shtaiwi also points out that CSOs make their views known through media campaigns, protests, workshops, and conferences.
The mechanisms and patterns of consultation identified by Shtaiwi amount to limited consultations, and appeared to be elitist in most cases. If one recalled the plan to divide Jordan into regions, and the hostility with which it was met, one would have a typical example of the government’s approach. It first devised a plan, and then it tried to sell it to the public. Sometimes a plan was abandoned, such as the case of regionalization; at other times, a plan was imposed despite opposition, such as the case of merging municipalities in 2001.
I have searched for cases in which the government, or one of its departments, issued a consultation paper on a certain issue and specified a period of time to receive views on it from all interested groups, especially those who work at grassroots level. I was unable to locate a paper of this type. I suggest that the absence of consultation in this manner is a reason why the assessors gave low marks in response to this question.
The lowest mean, 2.3, in this subcategory belongs to question 3.3.2: ‘How far are these levels of government [sub-central tiers of government] subject to free and fair electoral authorization, and to the criteria of openness, accountability and responsiveness in their operation?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 0, 1, 2, 2, 2, and 7.
The governors of Jordan’s governorates are appointed. The mayor of Amman is unelected. Municipal councils were elected at times, and appointed at others. The government resorted to appointing members of municipal councils instead of electing them. Consequently, that accountability will only be to the higher authorities, not to the public. The responsiveness will vary from one place to another, as this will depend on the management and conscientiousness of the individuals in charge.
Adli Hawwari (2020). Reluctant Liberalisation: A Democratic Audit of Jordan, 1989-2019. London: Ud Al -Nad Ltd.
- Jordan: A Democratic Audit