Jordanian Reform Faces Opposition

King Abdullah of Jordan
King Abdullah of Jordan

Despite the efforts of King Abdullah of Jordan to move his country to a more democratic system of government, opposition groups, especially Islamists who are the largest and best organized of the opposition, would like to see a faster time-table for change.

King Appoints Panel to Discuss Reforms

King Abdullah appointed a panel last week to discuss changes to the Elections Law and Political Parties Law, but the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it would not join this panel, called the National Dialogue Committee. It is probable that other opposition groups will join the Muslim Brotherhood and stay away from the King’s panel.

“So far we have received no replies from the government satisfying our minimal demands,” Hamza Mansour, secretary-general of the Islamic Action Front, explained.  Mansour believes that because the committee was officially commissioned by the Prime Minister of Jordan, Marouf Al-Bakhit and not by the King himself, it is unlikely that the panel will have any power to implement any of its decisions.

“In this country, governments have no real say in decision-making,” Mansour said.

Gradual Change or Instant Democracy?

Jordan has been faced with similar issues as the other Middle Eastern countries which are on the cusp of implementing political reforms into their systems of government. The questions of how fast to change, what reforms to implement, what the future role of the monarch should be and how or whether he should be implementing the reforms himself are questions now occupying the forces of change in the Middle East. In Egypt the voters did not heed the calls of the opposition to implement change gradually so that the people could organize political parties and other civil institutions. Instead the Egyptian people voted overwhelmingly for constitutional amendments that would bring the country quickly to free elections.

The Jordanian King Abdullah has been faced with the pressure of massive street protests demanding the implementation of democratic changes. Up to now the demonstrators have not demanded the abdication of the King or for him to give up his power. Abdullah was, however, forced to fire his Prime Minister Samir Rifai at the beginning of February.

Demands for Constitutional Reform

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is the most important of all the opposition groups there. They are represented in the parliament by the Islamic Action Front, and included in their demands are the implementation of reforms to the Constitution which will bequeath onto the parliament more power and guarantee the accountability of politicians in the courts.

Three Islamists were appointed to the panel, which has been meeting since last Saturday, but they have refused to join until amending the constitution becomes a topic which is allowed to be discussed. Such discussions would go far beyond what the current panel’s mandate allows, but the government has refused to address these concerns.

The secretary-general of the Jordanian Democratic Popular Union Party, Sa’id Diab, is also the spokesman for the opposition parties in Jordan. Diab has stated that the other opposition parties may follow the example of the Islamists and quit the committee this week unless constitutional reform becomes part of the committee’s agenda.

“If the constitution is discussed, the problem will be solved,” Diab said. “The issue will be clarified today.”