POMED Notes: Arab Spring Developments in the Arab World and Jordan
On Tuesday, the Jordanian National Movement and the Jordan National Council hosted a press conference outlining the most recent issues and concerns regarding the “Arab Spring” developments in the Arab world and Jordan. The press conference dealt with King Abdullah II regime’s corruption, human rights records, and the systematic harassment of opposition leaders, journalist and activist in Jordan. The panel featured Stephen McInerney, executive director of Project on Middle East Democracy, Dr. Abdul Salam Al-Mualla, secretary of foreign affairs of the Jordan National Movement (JNM), Nayef Torah, independent journalist and former editor-in-chief of the Weekly Al-Bilad Newspaper in Jordan and Adnan Atyat, representative of the Jordan National Council (JNC).
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Dr. Abdul Salam Al-Mualla discussed the constitutional amendments decreed by King Abdullah II in September 2011 after large scale protests erupted across the kingdom. The amendments provided the trial of ministers by civilian courts, the setting up of a constitutional court, and the supervision of general elections by an independent body. However Al-Mualla stated that the JNM, wished for more concrete reforms, specifically in the aim of developing a Jordanian parliamentary monarchy. He lobbied for the amendment of the Constitutional articles 34, 35 and 36. Article 34 gives the right for the King to dissolve the parliament. Article 35 gives the right for the King to appoint members of the government including the Prime Minister. The article 36 guarantees the right for the King to appoint the Senate. Al-Mualla criticized the “one person, one vote” system decreed by the King that replaced a system whereby voters were entitled to as many votes as there were parliamentary seats allocated for their district. Al-Mualla believed that the “one person, one vote” system favors the rural and tribal area than the urban area. Al-Mualla reminded the audience that the two last parliament elections in 2007 and 2010, Jordanian ministers, NGO leaders etc had agree that “exponential fraud had occurred. “In 2010, 100 judges protested against reform increasing the power of the Ministry of Justice, and diminishing the independence of the judiciary. Al-Mualla said that the Muslim Brotherhood based in Jordan have demanded sweeping reforms that would lead to a parliamentary system of government in which the premier would be elected, rather than named, by the king.
Al-Mualla stated that the monarchy’s abuse of power harmed economic growth and reduced the chance for the country to enjoy the global economy opportunities. As a result, the King’s popularity is in decline. He called the U.S., Japan and the E.U., Jordan’s major sources of aid, to review their aid making it contingent on the implementation policies addressing kingdom issues such as corruption and human rights abuses. Al-Mualla ended his concluded saying that members of the government and of the royal family should be held accountable, adding that “no one should be above the law.” With the wave of revolution occurring through the region, “the countdown for regime change has already begun in Amman.”
Adnan Atyat, addressed the issue of corruption in Jordan, comparing it to “a disease destroying a vital organism.” He referred to the Jordanian regime as a ‘kleptocracy’. He alleged that $7.4 billion in foreign aid had gone “missing in the last 10 years” from government coffers. Corruption takes different form in the kingdom, public resources ‘disappearing,’ nepotism, bribery etc. He concluded a “corrupt dictatorship is what we have in Jordan.”
The Q&A began with a question about the proportion of the budget apportioned to military expenditure. The speakers could not give a definite answer, but claimed the regime was supported the army as it is the “backbone of the King.” Al-Mualla asserted that Jordan was proportionally one of the most militarized states in the world. The following question concerned the issue of press freedom. Nayef Torah, expressed concern about significant restrictions in place curtailing the free operation of the media. For instance, any criticism or defamation of the king or royal family is prohibited. Journalists “do not make much” so the government has started to propose to “popular journalists to work on behalf of it.” The audience asked about the goals of the opposition. Al-Mualla responded “We’re for constitutional monarchy but not a genuine one. We want the King to stay in his palace and leave the business of running the government,” and asserted that the opposition does not want to unseat the King. The last question concerned U.S. policy toward Jordan. The U.S. is putting pressure on the Abdulla II to accelerate the reforms, but not publicly. The time delay which the King has said he needs has frustrated the State Department.