Special by Julie Webb from Jordan
HAVANA TIMES, March 16 — The last week in Jordan has been marked with anti-government protests in several locations.
From Tuesday’s protest outside Parliament calling for the dissolution of the Lower House, to Friday’s rally in Zarka, the weekly Al Husseini protest, and the “National Conference for Reform” festival held at the Professional Association in Amman, Jordanians are increasing their calls for economic and political reforms, especially electoral and constitutional reform. A bit of background is necessary.
Jordan’s Electoral Environment
Over 60% of Jordan’s population is of Palestinian origin, and the issue of Palestinians and electoral reform is a sensitive one, given that Jordan is the only country in the region to have given citizenship to a sizeable number of Palestinian refugees, most of who live in urban areas. Under the ‘Temporary’ Electoral Law passed in 2010 by former Prime Minister Rifai’s Cabinet (which is little different from the ‘temporary’ Electoral Law of 2001), an urban constituency gets one seat in parliament, as does a constituency in the countryside with far less voters, leaving urban voters (ie those of Palestinian origin) greatly under-represented.
The ‘temporary’ law’s failure to include reforms recommended by the National Agenda Committee of 2005 is thus considered by many to be a deliberate limiting of the political influence of urban Jordanians with Palestinian roots, by favouring voters in the countryside, from whence the King’s main support is derived. In addition to inequality of representation, criticisms include the lack of transparency, lack of secrecy, and lack of effective remedies for disgruntled voters.
Powers of the King
In Jordan, legislation must be passed by both houses of parliament. There are two houses, the Chamber of Deputies (the Lower House), and the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies is elected as per above, but the King may dissolve it. The King appoints the Senate, as well as the Ministers, and can also dissolve the Senate and dismiss the Ministers. The King appoints the Prime Minister, and can also dismiss him. He is also the Supreme Commander of the Land, Naval, and Air forces, and ratifier of treaties and agreements with other countries. (1)
Common to all protests since January is the demand for electoral reform, unsurprising given the problems with the ‘temporary’ Electoral Law, which many national and international NGOs have pointed out does not meet Jordan’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
For example, Tuesday’s protest at Parliament, organised by Boycotters for Change, a group formed before Jordan’s parliamentary elections last November, complained that the temporary Elections Law undermines the principles of civil society and favours tribalism at the expense of political candidates.
They also expressed outrage at recent comments of Member of Parliament Mohammad Kouz, who called people participating in the weekly protests “outlaws” and suggested they “go to the King Hussein Bridge.” The King Hussein Bridge links Jordan with Palestine, and his comments were widely interpreted as a reference to Jordanians of Palestinian origin.
On Friday and Saturday, other protesters called for dissolving Parliament, establishing a constitutional court, fighting corruption and amending the Constitution and other pieces of legislation.
I went to the protest outside Al Husseini Mosque on Friday, and interviewed a member of umbrella organisation Jaien, a youth movement whose name in English means “Here we come”.
Interview with Adham Gharaibeh of Jaien
“Jaien is an umbrella for hundreds of young people calling for constitutional reform and special courts for corruption, the major two things we are concerned about in Jordan. We feel that some people in power are acting like thieves, they are stealing our companies, our national resources, everything, and we never know where the money, how they are using the money, for what – it is very very abusive, they are using the money for their special purposes. So we are organising weekly demonstrations calling for the Constitution of 1952, and a special court for corruption, these are the two major things,” Adham told me.
Is part of that to lessen the power of the King? I asked.
“I think it’s totally the power of the King, I don’t feel afraid to say that, we are not against the King himself, we are supporting him and we are asking him to take action against these people. We are wondering why there is no action against those people who are playing with the elections, or selling the national resources of the Jordanian people. So we hope the King will take action against those people.”
How much confidence do you have that he will act?
“No comment,” he laughs
Are women very involved in the movement for change here?
“You are speaking about the Queen Rania, I know that! In fact you have to say it secretly and I have to say it secretly, you know, but anyway, I think Queen Rania, she is only the wife of the King and in the Constitution she has nothing to play, to be honest with you. However, many people believe that she is interfering with the politics which is against the constitution and this makes big problems in the country. Personally I respect her, and I hope she will take care about this issue, she has to know that she is only the wife of the King.”
In fact I wasn’t speaking about Queen Rania, I just wanted to know about how the level of women’s involvement in the protest movement! I was surprised to hear his sentiments, reflecting as they did a petition recently presented to His Majesty King Abdullah urging him to end his wife’s role in politics. (2) But not to let an opportunity pass, I then asked whether the Palestinian issue is at the forefront of current dissatisfaction.
Adham replied, “Many Jordanian people do not believe in the peace [treaty] between Jordan and Israel because Israel itself is not respecting its signature, and they are killing Palestinian people in their own country, and they are very very enemy towards Arabs, and they are occupying their territories. We believe here in Jordan that the Wadi Araba agreement between the Jordanian government and Israel should not be anymore, because it was unfair to the Jordanian people, that’s why. However it’s not an issue of religions, I mean I don’t feel that they are my enemy as Jewish people, however from a political point of view yes, they are acting very badly.”
The Israeli Government has recently launched a petition to the Jordanian King demanding he declare Jordan a Palestinian State (3), which has aroused outrage amongst both Jordanians and Palestinians, but for different reasons. Jordanians consider it a gross assault on their sovereignty, while for Palestinians it represents an attack on their “Right of Return” entitlement under international law. This cynical move by Israel has the potential to create internal divisions within Jordanian society. I asked Adham, “Within Jordan itself, is there any friction between Palestinians and Jordanians?”
“I don’t think so, not really. In fact most of the people who are demonstrating right now are originally Jordanian, from East Jordan, and I hope that the Jordanian Palestinians will be more involved with the national issues. I encourage them to share this with us, we want to see them in all spaces, because most of the demonstrations are in the, let me use this term, the ‘pure Jordanian cities’. I encourage them to be more involved with the national issues,” he replied.
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(1) The Constitution of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/constitution_jo.html
(2) Jordan tribes criticize queen’s role in politics http://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2011/02/08/136846.html