By Dina Bousselham*
By Dina Bousselham*
Morocco World News
Madrid, August 16, 2011
In the wake of the events that shook the social and political landscape in the Arab World, Jordan has launched reforms in order to channel the demands of its “Arab Spring”.
As happened a couple of month ago with the historic speech delivered by King Mohamed VI of Morocco on 9t March, King Abdullah II of Jordan announced Sunday that a committee appointed by him has adopted “historical amendments” to the country’s constitution aimed at institutionalizing political reforms. In his speech, after receiving the recommendations of the committee, he said that the amendments provide, among other things, for the creation of a constitutional court, the supervision of general elections by an independent commission, as well as the prosecution of ministers in civilian courts. He added that reforms also aim to bring about a “better balance” between the legislative and executive branches, and that it strictly defines the laws that the government can approve by decree.
“Jordan is on the threshold of an era that will make history and will enable the country to go forward with a vision of political and social reform based on greater popular participation and the separation of powers”, said the monarch.
King Abdullah gave the Jordanian Parliament a month to complete the legislative framework for the reforms, specifically an electoral law and a political parties law, both of which should be ready before the end of the year.
The Jordanian monarch established a constitutional reform committee four months ago, at a time when demonstrations across the Arab world, inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, were picking up steam. “These amendments should make the slogans of the popular mobilization reality, where parties, trade unions and youth movements partake in a political process that aims to ensure parliamentary government through elections”, said the monarch.
In recent days, opposition groups have voiced their disgruntlement after extracts of the amendments were leaked to the media. Some pro-democracy sectors have called for a reduction in the powers granted to the king, especially the appointment of Prime Minister and the adoption of genuine reforms that pave the way for a constitutional monarchy.
As regards fundamental freedoms, the reforms set out that the government must submit to the Parliament for its approval the rules for declaring a decree that would affect the rights of citizens and that crimes of opinion and press are to be prosecuted in civilian courts, not in the military courts. The “security courts” will have their functions limit to cases of terrorism or espionage.
In addition, members of the government can, for the first time, be tried in civilian courts. “Amendments to the constitution will lead to fundamental changes in the separation of powers, and will create institutions that will ensure that the constitution is implemented as stipulated”, said Faisal Al-Fayez, Spokesman of Parliament.
Some political analysts have denounced the electoral system that discriminates against citizens of Palestinian origin, whom make up the majority of the population. “Reforms cannot be completed unless they ensure the participation of all Jordanians on equal footing and treat them as individuals and not based on their belonging to political or tribal groups” said Jordanian analyst Labib Kamhawi. Over the past few weeks, Jordanians have taken to the streets at the behest of leftist and Islamist groups to demand that the king step up the fight against corruption and expand political freedoms.
Difficulties in the democratic process
Analysts familiar with the Jordanian political landscape say that there are 4 important issues that are likely to hinder the dynamics of reforms:
– The first and longest standing is the vertical division in Jordanian society between Transjordan and Jordanians of Palestinian descent. The latter, naturalized in 1948 (following the Nakba) are often victims of political discrimination. They represent about half of the population (they make up the majority of inhabitants of the capital Amman), but their demographic power is barely reflected in political institutions. The Hashemite throne is uneasy about a project of the Israel rightwing government to build in Jordan an “alternative nation” for the Palestinians and would like to see that a part of the latter return to Palestine.
– The second is the resistance to any reform on the part of those close to the king and certain influential circles within the intelligence services. The opposition regards the inner circle of the King as a powerful actor able to block the political process by means of playing the security card if their interests are threatened.
– The third, is the opposition of Islamic Action Front (the major islamist force in the Jordanian kingdom, allied to the Muslim Brotherhood) to any draft reforms proposed by the government and its decision to boycott the national dialogue committee. The Front justifies its opposition by citing a lack of seriousness in the project’s content.
– The fourth and most important factor is the worsening economic crisis, given the decline in trade with Syria and the rising prices of certain goods.
The credibility of reforms and the measures envisaged by the king and the new government will very shortly be tested. The reaction of the social movements and their ability to mobilize will become apparent as well.
In an unexpected political move last May, regarded by many analysts as an attempt by the Saudis to create a club of Arab monarchies, the Gulf Cooperation Council invited Jordan and Morocco to join this military, political and economic alliance. Jordan is set to start negotiations with the view to joining the GCC next September.
*Dina Bousselham is a political science and public administration student from the Complutense University of Madrid and Sorbonne Nouvelle University of Paris. She is Member of the Real Instituto Elcano and UNISCI. She has worked as a contributor with the Spanish-Moroccan magazine “Marruecos Siglo XXI”, and is currently the spokeswoman of another cultural and journalistic project “Al-Qáfila Magazine”. She has participated in several international forums and she has given several conferences in Spain and Morocco. She is currently Morocco World News’ correspondent in Madrid.
Editing by Benjamin Villanti and Ahmad Azizi
Picture credit: articles.cnn.com