Jordanian King’s Power Consolidated by Amendments amid Broad Crackdown

Photo Credit: Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty

Jordan’s parliament passed several bills proposed by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour that give King Abdullah II sole constitutional control in areas of security, foreign policy, and the judiciary. According to state-run news agency Petra, the amendments were passed with 123 votes, out of 142 MP votes. The amendments allow King Abdullah to designate his crown prince, deputy king, members of the constitutional court, and the head of the paramilitary police force. Prior to 2015, the King was only able to directly appoint the prime minister, but is now able to make key appointments “by royal decree” without any nomination process by the the Council of Ministers.

Journalist Fahd al-Khitan told Al-Jazeera, “King Abdullah’s long-term objective is to strengthen and insulate the monarchy by making it the guarantor of unity and stability of the country.” On the other hand, one of the MPs who voted against the amendments, Abdel Karim al Dughmi, said, “With these amendments now in place, Jordan is moving toward an absolute monarchy as opposed to a constitutional monarchy whereby the King would rule through a legally accountable executive branch.” “Under the new rules,” Dughmi remarked, “those who will be appointed by the King, who enjoys constitutional protection and legal immunity, would be by extension above the law.”

Jillian Schwedler argues that with these amendments, King Abdullah has “dropped the pretense of democratic reform,” a facade that Jordan has presented since it promised political reform in 2011. Schwedler says, “The constitutional changes effectively acknowledge that Jordan is an autocracy, not the developing constitutional monarchy that the king markets to Western audiences eager to find a likable, ‘moderate’ ally in the region.”

According to Schwedler, King Abdullah has become increasingly autocratic, a pattern she attributes to regional chaos that distracts the United States from seeing Jordan’s continued crackdown on freedoms. In recent months, Jordanian authorities have shut down the Muslim Brotherhood’s local headquarters in Amman and Jerash;  introduced a new NGO law that restricts the legal capacity and funding abilities of NGOs in Jordan; and cancelled a concert in Amman set to be performed by the popular and “politically progressive” band Mashrou’ Leila.

POMED’s recently published report on”The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2017″ indicates that while the United States continues to “view the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as an island of stability and a ‘soft’ authoritarian state surrounded by violent conflict on its borders,” there are in fact “many reasons for concern regarding human rights and political reform in Jordan, which could bring increased scrutiny of the country’s record.” In FY16, Jordan overtook Egypt as the largest Arab state recipient of U.S. foreign assistance.