POMED Notes – Jordan in the Crosshairs
On Tuesday, The Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University held a panel titled, “Jordan in the Crosshairs,” as part of the Middle East Policy Forum. The panel included Marwan al-Muashar, Vice-President of Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former deputy prime minister of Jordan, and Curtis Ryan, associate professor of political science at Appalachian State University. Edward Skip Gnehm, Director of the Middle East Policy Forum, moderated the event.
For full event notes continue reading, or click here for a PDF.
Edward Skip Gnehm opened the discussion with a general overview of Jordan’s precarious position in the region. He said the objective of Jordan’s foreign policy is always to protect the kingdom from waves of refugees from neighboring countries, resulting from regional crises. Gnehm stated that the king has always played a unifying force and continued by warning the audience to “be careful when we hear about reform because those who use it often have different definitions of what it means.”
Marwan al-Muashar began by claiming that Jordan is a model for “Arab Awakening countries” and that it could become a successful example of reform if the political will exists to push for real changes. However, in al-Muashar’s opinion, the political and economic elites headed by the security apparatus have so far been hesitant to embrace real democratization. Al-Muashar claimed that the electoral system for the last twenty years has produced a weak parliament, but praised reforms to the election process since the Arab Spring. The key reforms most lauded by al-Muashar included amendment of the constitution, establishment of a constitutional court, and independent election commission. New national ballots for 18 percent of seats, instead of narrow districts, may allow for party development and a stronger parliament, but al-Muashar remains concerned that the changes are not enough. He ended by saying the Jordanian regime has perfected reform rhetoric, but Jordan’s situation today will also require an economic plan and political will to move away from a rentier system to a merit based system.
Curtis Ryan opened by noting king Abdullah’s speech on Tuesday which called for participation in the upcoming elections on January 23, 2013. Ryan emphasized that the level of participation, or lack thereof, will affect the degree of change seen in Jordan. Ryan went on to opine on the latest series of reforms: establishment of a 9 member constitutional court and a new independent electoral commission meant to clean up elections by removing the interior ministry from the process. Twenty-seven parliamentary seats will be up for competition on the national level instead of narrow districts, so as to encourage party development. Candidates however, can only campaign one month prior to elections, which may negatively affect results. Ryan wonders whether electoral districts will need to be completely redrawn, parliament’s role changed, and whether more checks and balances are required between the king and parliament. The pivotal issue will be whether opposition groups boycott the elections or decide to participate. Ryan ended by arguing that participation would mean change, while boycott would mean more of the same. During the Q&A, Ryan argued that after 20 years of cosmetic reforms and mistrust, true reforms and open elections will actually make the regime stronger rather than weaker.