Jordan: A Democratic Audit
Detailed Assessment: 1989-2010
Dr. Adli Hawwari
This chapter widens the scope of the assessment by examining more of the data collected in the long questionnaire, which has ninety questions. I propose to cover two questions from each subcategory: the questions with the highest and lowest means. If there is a tie, I include the questions which tie. Consequently, more than thirty questions will be covered. Discussions of the questions will not go into the same depth of detail as before both for reasons of space and due to some overlap.
1: Citizenship, Law, and Rights
This part consists of four subcategories: nationhood and citizenship (1.1); rule of law and access to justice (1.2); civil and political rights (1.3); and economic and social rights (1.4).
1.1: Nationhood and Citizenship
There are seven questions in this subcategory. The highest mean, 7.7, belongs to question 1.1.2: ‘How far cultural differences are acknowledged, and how well are minorities and vulnerable social groups protected?’ All six assessors answered the questions. The marks given are 5, 5, 7, 9, 10, and 10.
The cultural differences that can be identified in Jordan are between Muslim and Christian; Palestinian-Jordanian; urban, fellah, and bedouin; and Arab-nonArab.
The cultures of Muslims and Christians in Jordan are largely similar. The religious practices differ, but the common factors such as language and sharing the same geographical roots compensate for these differences. Moreover, cultural differences between Palestinians and Jordanians are hard to discern as both are members of one culture: the Arab/Muslim. The cultural difference between urban, fellah, and bedouin are in minor areas, such as costumes and pronunciation of the same Arabic words. With education and urbanization, these differences have been disappearing.
There are Circassian and Chechen communities in Jordan. Though they strive to retain a distinctive identity, they share the religion of the majority in the country. Both communities settled in Amman and Zarqa long before the State of Jordan was established. A Circassian leader, Said al-Mufti, received Amir Abdullah in Amman in 1921. The palace guards in Amman don Circassian costumes.
It is fair to say the Circassian and Chechen communities do not suffer from discrimination. Some of them managed to hold high posts in the government. Ministers of Circassian origin serve in government posts often. The Circassian and Chechen communities have a quota in the HoD: two seats for the residents of Amman and one seat for Zarqa. When the borders of constituencies in Amman were redrawn in 2010, there were calls for increasing their representation.
Three other minorities exist in Jordan: the Armenians, Kurds, and Druze. According to al-Khatib and al-Ali (2005, pp. 12-13), there are about 30,000 Kurds in Jordan. Moreover, they are ‘nearly completely integrated’ into society. They have no quota in the HoD.
The number of Armenians in Jordan is estimated at 3,000-5,000. They are Christians. A neighbourhood in Amman is named after them. They also have no quota in the HoD. The Druze are estimated at 18,000 and their biggest concentration is in al-Azraq area. They are considered Muslims in official statistics. These numbers are based on estimates that vary from one source to another.
There are also some Bahai’s and Turkmen in Jordan. Another minority is that of Roma, referred to in Jordan as ‘nawar’, which is also a term of abuse when a person refers to another as such. Gharaybeh (2010) has called for their integration in the Jordanian society. In an article discussing their rights and duties, he points out that they live in poorly made tents on the edges of the cities. They resort to begging. Gharaybeh says some of the Roma have integrated themselves into society, and some of their young people observe Muslim practices. However, they face discrimination especially when it comes to marriage, and they are treated with contempt.
Gharaybeh calls for the creation of an authority to look after the Roma, and follow the example of countries that made efforts to settle them. Gharaybeh correctly observes that it is not right that after ninety years of creating Jordan, the Roma continue to live in squalid conditions at the margins of society. A leader in the Roma community, Fathi ibn Abdo, was a candidate in the elections of 2010. However, he did not win.
There are three other groups in Jordan that deserve a mention although they do not have citizenship: the Iraqis, Egyptians, and migrant domestic workers (MDW). The number of Iraqis swelled in Jordan especially after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Jordanian Department of Statistics estimated their number to be 481,000 in 2007. The number of Iraqis has been fluid because Jordan is a stop on their way to another destination, or a temporary home until conditions improve in Iraq. They either return to Iraq when circumstances change, or they move on to other countries.
The second group is the Egyptian workers, who in 2009, were about 300,000 working in construction, agriculture, and services (such as in restaurants). Their numbers are reduced every year because of stricter requirements concerning work permits. Moreover, for a worker to bring his family, a bond of JD500 must be posted, and the children must be registered at schools.
The third category is the MDWs. In November 2008, Amnesty International published a report which highlighted their isolation, abuse, and denial of rights. In September 2011, HRW released a report which indicated that there were more than 100,000 domestic workers: 40,000 from Indonesia, 30,000 from Sri Lanka, and 28,000 form Philippines. The report said: ‘A combination of deceit, debt, isolation, and lack of support disempowered MDWs and prevented them from seeking their rights’ (p. 6).
The lowest mean, 3.8, in subcategory 1.1 belongs to question 1.1.5: ‘How impartial and inclusive are the procedures for amending the constitution?’ All six assessors answered the questions. The marks are 2, 3, 3, 5, 5, and 5.
The amendment of the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in the HoD plus the approval of the king. Jordan’s constitution was amended in 1952 to give more power to the government and to take into account the merger with the West Bank. As Bani Salameh explained (2011), ‘the constitution of 1952 was amended twenty-nine times’, all at the request of the executive branch of government.1
In 1958, it was amended to change the person who would preside over the supreme council, a body which has the right to look at the constitutionality of some issues and to try ministers. The chair of the council was changed from the most senior judge in the country to the speaker of the HoN. As Bani Salameh explained, this amendment ‘changed the nature of the council from judicial to political, and damaged the judicial branch of government’. Another amendment approved in 1960 gave the king the right to extend the term of the parliament by two years.
The constitution was a major issue during the protests of 2010-2011 to demand reform. Some people demanded a return to the 1952 version. Others demanded amendments to the current version. The government relented in April 2011. A royal commission was formed to recommend amendments.
In August 2011, forty-two recommendations were made, and subsequently approved rather quickly. They included the establishment of a constitutional court; the creation of an independent body to supervise the elections; and the reduction of government’s powers to make provisional laws. Another amendment prevents Jordanian with dual nationalities from holding high office, such as membership in parliament or ministerial posts. Some members of the HoN stepped down as a result. The opposition groups, such as the MB/IAF, considered the changes to be unsubstantive.
1.2: Rule of Law and Access to Justice
There are seven questions in this subcategory. The highest mean, 6.2, belongs to question 1.2.5: ‘How far do the criminal justice and penal systems observe due rules of impartial and equitable treatment in their operations?’ All six assessors answered the question. The marks given are 3, 4, 7, 7, 8, and 8.
Defendants in Jordan are allowed to be represented by lawyers. A court will appoint a defence lawyer if a defendant does not have one. The major areas of deficiency in this regard are the use of state security courts and cases related to the exercise of freedoms—especially when the views expressed are critical of the government.
Moreover, the tribal traditions have distorted the implementation of the law. Tribal pressures can force the government to take appeasing measures such as relocating relatives of an accused of murder. Another area of deficiency is the room for leniency allowed in the law in cases of honour killings. Although the leniency is restricted in the law to cases of being caught in the act, the application is broadened and applies in cases of murder committed on mere, unfounded suspicion, or the protection of honour is used as a pretext.
The lowest mean, 5.2, in subcategory, 1.2, belongs to question 1.2.3: ‘How independent are the courts and the judiciary from the executive, and how free are they from all kinds of interference?’ The marks given in this regard are 3, 3, 5, 6, 6, and 8.
In theory, the judiciary is independent. The reality, however, is different. Judges started to express misgivings about their independence. In February 2011, about sixty judges in Jordan signed a letter to King Abdullah II and requested improvements in their living conditions and benefits. The signatories called for the administrative and financial independence of the judiciary. They also wanted the Ministry of Justice to have no role in recommending the appointment of judges. In a committee hearing in the HoD, in March 2011, the Vice-Chairman of the Court of Appeal, Mahmoud al-Rashdan, justified subjecting judges to a test after ten years of service by saying it was a way to exclude some of the ‘retarded judges’. He later issued an apology.
1.3: Civil and Political Rights
There are five questions in this subcategory. The highest mean, 7.8, belongs to question 1.3.3: ‘How secure is the freedom for all to practise their own religion, language or culture?’ The marks given in this regard are 3, 8, 8, 9, 9, and 10.
The freedom to practise religion is enjoyed by Muslims. Christians also practise their religion freely. However, building churches in Jordan requires permission. Also, missionaries are not allowed to operate in the country. Although Christians are free to practise their religion, no Christian has been selected to become prime minister or chief of the army. Muslims and Christians share the Arabic language. The Circassian and Chechen communities have their own languages, but Arabic is now the first language for them, having lived in the region for decades. Although people who renounce Islam are punishable by death if they do not re-embrace Islam, apostasy cases are not known in Jordan. In contrast, apostasy law was put into use in Egypt, most famously in the case of Nasr Hamed Abu Zaid. Although the mark of 10 above is too generous, the mark of three is too low. The mean is closer to reality.
The lowest mean, 4.3, in this subcategory belongs to question 1.3.2: ‘How effective and equal is the protection of the freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 2, 3, 3, 6, 6, and 6.
Freedom of movement internally is not restricted unless it is sanctioned by a court order which may require a person to report to a police station daily or at certain periods of time. Travel abroad can be restricted by confiscating passports. This was a widely used practice.
The freedom of expression is restricted as has been outlined in the macro-analysis. It can be restricted for political and religious reasons. Whether in the form of poetry, memoirs, or other types, books can be banned and their authors tried. In some cases, courts do not agree with the ban, such as the case of a book by Khalil al-Biss, whose memoirs were banned in September 2008.
Jordan has professional associations for doctors, engineers, lawyers, and others. They share a headquarters in Amman. Membership is mandatory in order to practise in these and other professional fields. The government made attempts to audit their accounts, and to make membership voluntary. However, these associations repeatedly asserted their independence. Before political parties became legal in the country, they provided the platform for political opposition in Jordan. Trade unions also exist in Jordan. However, they did not have the same high profiles of the professional associations.
For many years, the government opposed the creation of a union for teachers. However, the teachers actively campaigned for a union, especially since 2009. They organized marches and went on unofficial strikes on occasions. In 2010, they managed to force the Minister of Education, Ibrahim Badran, to resign after making disparaging remarks about the teachers’ appearance and their attire. This happened when the government officials were still resisting the call to form a union.
The teachers won the right to form a union, and a law to that effect was promulgated in September 2011. The success of teachers in forming a union prompted some university teachers to meet to form an association. In June 2011, a committee submitted an application to the Minister of Higher Education, Wajīh Eways, who forwarded it to the office of the prime minister for consideration.
Freedom of assembly is still restricted. Rallies must have permissions from the governors who can decline without giving reasons. Weekly demonstrations on Fridays became common in different parts of the country. In March 2011, a sit-in by youth in the square known as the Ministry of Interior Roundabout was broken up after three days. This was done by thugs, but in the presence of police.2 One man died. The government insisted he was not killed, but had a heart attack. In July 2011, a symbolic march towards Palestine was also broken up with force near the town of South Shuna. More than twenty of the participants were wounded.
1.4: Economic and Social Rights
This subcategory has seven questions. The highest mean, 7, belongs to question 1.4.4: ‘How extensive and inclusive is the right to education, including education in the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 4, 5, 7, 8, 8, and 10.
The right to education is extensive. The government offers twelve years of free education. The curriculum in the final year of secondary education includes a course which focuses on general knowledge. It covers history and old and modern issues. If one takes into account the fights that erupt at universities and between tribes, it is fair to say that the culture of rights and responsibilities of citizenship is weak.
The lowest mean, 5, in this subcategory belongs to question 1.4.5: ‘How free are trade unions and other work-related associations to organize and represent their members’ interests?’ The marks given by the six assessors are 2, 4, 5, 6, 6, and 7.
The government opposed the creation of a union for teachers. A union for university lecturers is still in the application stage. In the last several years, however, employees have been asserting their rights. Going on strike as a form of industrial action was rare. Now strikes are a common occurrence in the private and public sectors.
Adli Hawwari (2020). Reluctant Liberalisation: A Democratic Audit of Jordan, 1989-2019. London: Ud Al -Nad Ltd.
- Jordan: A Democratic Audit