The Jordanian spring has begun

Jordanians call for constitutional reform during a demonstration in Amman earlier this month

The need for genuine reform is clear, and the opposition has chosen to remain on the streets until it is achieved

The call for reform started in Jordan well before the Arab spring. However, it has intensified since – not only because of the Arab revolutions, but also in response to widespread state corruption. Jordan’s reformers are demanding constitutional changes; in particular, changes to our election law so that a truly representative parliament is possible, together with an elected prime minister who is accountable to parliament.

The national demonstrations that took place earlier this month exposed the attitude of Jordanian officials toward reform. The demonstration was organised by the Muslim Brotherhood together with more than 70 independent initiatives. The announcement that the opposition was to hold a peaceful demonstration was met with a concerted campaign to disrupt it. The media even reported that radioactive pollution was present in the area of the demonstration. Various officials prepared a counter demonstration under the title «Loyalty to the King» in the same place, and at the same time.

However, the demonstration went ahead – the largest in the country’s history – putting Jordan on the path of true reform. What is most striking is that this large attendance was drawn from all parts of the country – cities, villages, Bedouin centres and refugee camps – and included many women. The official response had been designed to instil fear; it failed. Many in Jordan now speak of this demonstration as the beginning of the Jordanian spring.

Just days after the demonstration, the newly appointed prime minister, Abdullah Al-Nsour, declared there were to be no changes to the election law, a key reform demand. This did little to relieve the tension. Just as 2011 witnessed the formation of four different governments in Jordan, so this year will end with at least three governments, with the dissolution of two parliaments before the end of their terms – a clear indication of political instability. The regime has no clear exit plan from this crisis.

The need for reform is clear, but the regime does not want to accept it. This is obvious, not only in the way it dealt with the demonstration, but also in its dealings with its own representatives. The king had said he would be the guarantor of the findings of the Committee of National Dialogue which was formed and headed by Tahir al-Masri, the head of the appointed upper house of parliament. But instead the king insisted on the electoral law that was issued by the General Intelligence, not that which was issued by the committee. Those who participated in this committee were betrayed, as was the prime minster at the time, Awn Al-Khasawneh, who resigned refusing to allow the passage of laws formulated by the intelligence services.

The opposition is now faced with the choice of remaining in the street, or entering the elections. We have chosen to remain in the streets until genuine reform is achieved – the forthcoming elections have been manipulated even before they begin, and will be directed by a committee headed by Abdul Ilah al-Khateeb, a former minister in the government that forged the 2007 elections.

Our regime is good at talking about reform. As for reform itself, it still has a long way to go. The Arab spring was used to spread fear among the people. The regime continues to scare the west, too, pointing to the rise of the Islamists after the rise of the Arab spring.

The fact that Bashar al-Assad continues in office, despite his savagery, has also given a boost to Jordan’s repressive regime. And having seen that the world does not call to account Assad, we in the Jordanian opposition have deep doubts about the true intentions of the American and British troops who were reported to be on Jordanian soil. They claim they are providing «protection to Jordan from Syrian spillover», but we oppose any foreign troops on our land, and consider this a clear violation of Jordanian sovereignty.

In Jordan, the regime has not shed blood; it pursues a strategy of «clean repression». Regrettably, the victory of Hamas in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections was used as an excuse to forge the Jordanian elections in 2007. That was not a one-off: the Palestinian intifada was also used as an excuse to suspend parliamentary life for two years, during which time the government issued 200 temporary laws in the absence of a parliament. Today the Arab spring is used as an excuse to delay, rather than accelerate, reform.

Even so, in the absence of bloodshed there is still hope. In our monarchical system, reform is possible, and we have a history of reform that we can build upon. In the 1950s, a constitution was enacted and a parliamentary government was formed. In 1989, the Islamic Movement participated as a partner in the government and led a programme of democratic transformation.

The monarchical system is able to benefit from global experience – most notably, perhaps, that of King Juan Carlos and the transition to democracy in Spain. Ironically, the late King Hussein Bin Talal said in 1989 that he wanted to do as his friend, Juan Carlos, had done, but democratic transformation was aborted because of external factors, among them the Gulf war and the Wadi Araba Treaty with Israel. We hope that this time reform will be realised with transition to a genuine constitutional monarchy. The decision is still in the hands of the king, who today holds absolute power.


The Jordanian spring has begun | Zaki Bani Rashid | Comment is free |

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