Jordan: A Democratic Audit
Democracy Beyond the State
Dr. Adli Hawwari
This is the fourth and final major category in the democratic audit. It examines the external influences on democracy in Jordan as well as Jordan’s influence abroad in support of democracy in other countries.
4.1 External Influences on Jordan
The overarching question (Q14S, Q85L) asks: ‘Is the impact of external influences broadly supportive of the country’s democracy?’ Twenty-three respondents answered the question. The lowest mark is 0 and the highest is 10. The mean is 4.8.
Jordan has been allied with Western powers since its inception; first with the UK, then with the US and the West generally. Ostensibly, the external influence of the UK, EU, and US is supportive of democracy in Jordan. For instance, under the heading of ‘Democracy and Governance’ USAID outlined in 2005 its achievements in Jordan in the following terms:
USAID’s programs focus on increasing judicial independence and accountability, expanding civic participation, improving governance, and enhancing local-level decision-making authority. As a result, 100 percent of Jordan’s civil courts have been automated. Programs also fuel demand for democratic reform by promoting independent media, representative political parties, free and fair elections, an engaged civil society, and support for gender equality and human rights. For example, USAID supported the development of a new community radio station in Karak and provides training and organizational support to all community stations in the country.
In the same year (2005), USAID identified five priorities: ‘legislative strengthening’, which aimed to provide MPs with training; ‘rule of law’, which aimed to provide judges with training; media liberalization; improving the status of women; and increasing civic participation.
Various NGOs in Jordan have close cooperation with other foreign foundations, such as the German Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, and Sisterhood is Global Institute (SIGI). Research centres in Jordan, such as al-Urdun al-Jadid and al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, work with these and similar organizations. The local societies and centres which establish good contacts with foreign organizations do well in terms of having financial resources to organize conferences and publish reports and books. Nonetheless, foreign funding is not entirely welcome in Jordan. Critics of individuals or local NGOs mention the issue of foreign funding.
In the long questionnaire, all six assessors answered the question. The marks are 2, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 7. The mean is 4.7. The assessment of the six respondents is similar to that by the respondents to the short questionnaire.
There are benefits in programmes that seek to help women, manage scarce water resources better, and other initiatives. However, the overall impact on the nature of the political system is limited. Government, whether in Jordan or elsewhere, will not be receptive to initiatives that can be seen to have overt political goals.
Although the above-mentioned influences are supportive of democracy, there are other external counter-influences, namely in relation to the war on terror and the peace process in the Middle East. In 2006, Amnesty International described Jordan as a ‘key hub’ in a secret American programme known as ‘rendition’. This entails holding individuals without a legal arrest procedure; the transfer of such individuals from one country to another; and the use of torture to extract confessions.
4.2 Jordan’s Impact Abroad
The overarching question (Q15S, Q90L) asks: ‘Do the country’s international policies contribute to strengthening global democracy?’ Twenty-two respondents answered the question. The highest mark is 10; the lowest is zero. The mean is 4.9.
The notion of ‘global democracy’ implied in the question is explained by Held (2000, p. 28) who has argued that ‘the nature and prospects of the democratic polity need re-examination’. His justification is based on the premise that ‘we live in a complex interconnected world’. Therefore, he argues, ‘a democratic order can no longer be simply defended as an idea suitable to a particular closed political community or nation-state’. Moreover, the question becomes ironic when it is related to a country which is not democratic itself. However, the intention here is not to dispute the premise of the question, but to present the data and discuss it.
Jordan’s foreign policy has been a contentious domestic issue throughout Jordan’s history. For instance, in the 1950s, the Baghdad Pact was one issue which led to disturbances in the country. The views of the people do not usually shape the foreign policy decisions. Adab al-Suūd, a former MP (women quota, 2003) explains that ‘the foreign policy is the prerogative of the king’.1 One issue of contention is peace with Israel, and the peace treaty of Wadi Araba (1994). The calls for the abrogation of this treaty have not ceased.
The foreign policy of Jordan towards some issues, such as the ones mentioned above, do not necessarily reflect popular sentiments. However, they were synchronous for a while on one occasion: the foreign policy towards Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in 1989. King Hussein attempted to reach an Arab solution for the crisis.
Demonstrations of support for Iraq were allowed. However, the time given by the US to reach an Arab solution was very short, and a summit in Cairo undermined King Hussein’s endeavours. He was treated with hostility by the West. The episode demonstrates that it does not matter how friendly an Arab ruler has been with Western powers. If at any point a ruler’s position is not synchronous with theirs, the friendliness will turn into hostility, and no friend is indispensable.
If, as suggested earlier, Jordan pursues a foreign policy without it being a reflection of domestic sentiment, a pressing question will be why the foreign policy towards Iraq was in line with popular sentiments. Had King Hussein disregarded popular feelings, it would not have been the first time.
Moreover, it was often suggested that following the wish of the people led Jordan to enter the war of 1967 with Israel without being convinced it was the right move. Consequently, Jordan lost the West Bank. Analytically speaking, not following the popular sentiments in relation to Iraq would have been a reasonable position, because invading Kuwait could not be justified. The invasion was an unacceptable way to settle a dispute between two Arab countries. Moreover, the Arabs have argued against the Israeli occupation for many years on the basis that acquiring land by force contravenes international law.
King Hussein’s policy was often explained on the basis that Jordan had been receiving free oil from Iraq, and that Iraq relied heavily on Jordan for its imports and exports during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Another factor can better explain Jordan’s policy towards Iraq at the time.
As Taher al-Masri explains, King Hussein ‘developed a close relationship with Saddam Hussein, whom King Hussein visited many times, and praised him to Jordanian officers as being an Arab knight’.2 Jordan’s relationship with the US and other Western countries deteriorated. The Gulf states withheld financial assistance they used to give to Jordan.
King Hussein started the process of extricating himself from the situation, especially after a visit to Iraq during which Saddam Hussein spoke to the king about Allah being on Iraq’s side. King Hussein is reported to have said to his aides, ‘since matters are that bad, let us go home’.
King Hussein started to repair the damaged relations. With regard to Iraq, Jordan changed tact, and went as far as receiving the defecting relatives of Saddam Hussein—a step that was thought to lead to the collapse of the regime in Iraq. In relation to peace with Israel, the Oslo Agreement removed all obstacles from Jordan’s way to reach formal peace with Israel. Once the PLO was willing to strike a deal with Israel, Arab states found a reason to say that they could not be more Palestinian than the Palestinians themselves.
As the former Prime Minister, Taher al-Masri, explains, ‘King Hussein went to the other extreme, especially in relation to the peace treaty with Israel and the steps taken to normalize relations with it’. While his supporters were able to understand the need to reach a peace treaty, they did not feel it was necessary to engage in quick normalization, especially because the people of Jordan were not only opposed to normalization, but also to the peace treaty itself.3
In the long questionnaire, the six assessors answered the question. The marks given are 0, 1, 2, 2, 5, and 6. The mean is 2.7, which is substantially lower than the mean of marks in the short questionnaire.
If one were to treat Iraq as a case where democracy was in need of strengthening after the American invasion in 2003, it would be possible to suggest that Jordan did contribute to strengthening democracy, particularly in allowing Iraqi expatriates to vote in the elections which were held after the removal of Saddam Hussein.
In the case of Palestine, Jordan followed the line of Western powers by preferring to deal with Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority. As al-Maayta (2008, pp. 11-13) explains, ‘this is due to the fact that King Abdullah II does not have the personal contact his father had with the leaders of the MB. Moreover, the new king made it clear that Jordan has no ambitions in the West Bank and does not compete with the PLO for influence’.
This chapter concludes the macro-analysis of the state of democracy in Jordan. It is now fair to note that the macro-assessment suggests that Jordanians are dissatisfied. The assessment, however, has a more detailed part, which will be outlined and discussed in the next chapter.
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(1) Personal interview. Amman, 7 June 2009.
(2) Personal interview. Amman, 4 January 2009.
(3) Personal interview. Amman, 4 January 2009.
Adli Hawwari (2020). Reluctant Liberalisation: A Democratic Audit of Jordan, 1989-2019. London: Ud Al -Nad Ltd.