POLITICAL AND CIVIL RIGHTS IN JORDAN
R E P O R T
TO KENNETH ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
23 June, 2018
JACQUELYN F. HOOPER
EXPERT ON JORDAN
EMPLOYEE OF HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Political Rights in Jordan
Pictured above is life on the ground for the Jordanian government (or more specifically the royal family, pictured at the top) juxtaposed to life on the ground for many Jordanian citizens (bottom). The people of Jordan (and in particular, the middle class) are simply fed up with the country’s economic and political corruption. In Jordan, “a system has long been established to benefit the few at the expense of everyone else. Everyone who doesn’t come from a well-connected family, with well-established business and/or political ties…”, is considered to be expendable (Tarawnah, 2018). Despite the recent massive tax hikes, the money is not going to “a world-class public education system or universal health care system, or free college, or comprehensive national and local public transportation systems, or even consistently efficient public sector services”, but it’s going primarily to the elite class, which is getting richer and richer (Tarawnah, 2018). The civil and political liberties in Jordan are dramatically deteriorating. This can be seen in the case of former parliamentarian Toujan Faisal, who was arrested for simply writing an open letter accusing Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb of “‘benefitting personally’ from a government decision to double car insurance premiums” (Schwelder, 2002). Jordan has legalized “political parties and holding elections, but manipulat[es] the electoral system to prevent opposition voices from gaining any real power” (Schwelder, 2002). The Jordanian regime has tried fervently to rid itself of all political dissent, such as expressions of opposition through newspapers, political parties, organizations, rallies, or legal civil society organizations (Scwelder, 2002). Overall, the political and civil rights in Jordan are not in nearly as good of a condition as many Westerners seem to think.
Comparative Political Rights
According to Freedom House Scores, Jordan is considered to be a “partly free country”, with a score of 5/7 (7 being the lowest) for its political rights, 5/7 (7 being the lowest) for its civil liberties, and 5/7 for overall freedom (7 being the lowest) (2018). It has also given Jordan an aggregate score of 37/100 (100 being the most free) (Freedom House Scores, 2018). While Jordan is much more free than other places in the region such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, it is still not as free as Israel (Freedom House Scores, 2018). As discussed in other sections of this report, the situation in Jordan on the ground is not entirely a bright one. There have been massive tax hikes which have gone almost entirely to increasing the wealth of the elite class. The elite get richer and richer, while the middle and lower classes experience no economic improvement at all (Tarawnah, 2018). In addition, the government and ever-present Mukhabarat are restricting the political and civil liberties of the Jordanian people more and more every day, shutting down all talk against the king’s regime by restricting access to the internet, prohibiting groups of people (6 or more) from gathering in public spaces, etc. (Scwelder, 2002). While this is not quite as bad as the Mukhabarat in Iraq, it is most certainly not all roses.
Increasing Political and Civil Liberties While Avoiding Civil War
First and foremost, Jordan must not become another Syria or another Libya. It must not fall to violent civil war. This being said, there are a few strategies by which Jordan may be able to increase its political and civil liberties (but they may be a bit of a long shot). Essentially, Human Rights Watch recommends that the state “tak[e] serious stock of how it does business, what kind of business it condones, and whether any of it is accountable to the people it is supposed to be serving… hire competent, accountable people to bring [Jordan] back from the economic brink, and dismantle an entire system of beneficiaries within its folds” (Tarawnah, 2018). While this all sounds relatively unlikely given Jordan’s current situation, Schwelder suggests that Washington may be a powerful tool in promoting democracy in Jordan (should they decide to do so), as “the administration already has significant influence” in regard to the Jordanian government (2002). However, even if the Jordanian government does make these changes, they will “mean little unless they are accompanied by a clear political will from the state to carry out a comprehensive review of the current approach to governing the country” (Muasher, 2018). Every citizen would need to be given a real decision-making voice. Elections would have to become much more free, fair and competitive. Human Rights Watch recommends that Jordan create a new elite class, void of corruption and capable of proper, democratic governing. We recommend that instead of continuing to raise taxes, Jordan create a feasible plan to stimulate its economy and to attack its institutional economic and political corruption (Muasher, 2018).
The Future of Jordan
Unfortunately, the future of Jordan in terms of civil and political rights does not look exceedingly bright. According to one source, “the State, practically speaking, is broke”, so prices will inevitably rise, and skilled Jordanians will leave the country in search of better pay (Tarawnah, 2018). This will only increase the unrest of the lower and middle classes. In addition, Jordan’s economic struggles are not improving, as “yes, there’s the bare minimal spending required to keep services in a functioning condition, but nothing that has dramatically improved the standard of living” (Tarawnah, 2018). Jordan’s problems go far beyond economic strife. In this situation, the “people are more adept at fighting against something (e.g. tax hikes) than for something (e.g. political change), but if left long enough to simmer, the former can quickly evolve into the latter” (Tarawnah, 2018). In the words of Muasher, “the street today will not back down as easily as it did in 2011” (2018). The elite class is currently “facing unprecedented criticism and has lost the trust of those in the street” (Muasher, 2018). All of these factors will likely lead to the government even further restricting the civil and political liberties of its people, in an attempt to hold onto its power.
I came this scenario entirely by reading the articles (and watching the lecture video) assigned to this unit/ subtopic. I initially had little to no knowledge of Jordanian political and civil liberties at all. Writing this subtopic in the style of an NGO brought to light Jordan’s very disturbing, underlying political and economic tensions (which I previously had no idea existed at all). I have detailed the specifics of these tensions in the NGO report above. I now know that the general Western view of Jordan’s current situation is off-base, to say the least. The United States largely views Jordan favorably, as it has “enough” democracy and a “friendly” leader (Tarawnah, 2018). It is absolutely true that compared to Syria, Iran, Iraq, etc., Jordan is a pretty good place to be. However, after learning so much about the dire state of Jordan in regard to its people’s political and civil freedoms, I fear that things may take a turn for the worse if nothing is done to reform the corrupt politics and economics of this state.
A journalist might present this information a bit differently, as they rely on dramatic, attention-grabbing stories that can sell. They might focus on more specific events, such as the arrest and later pardoning of Toujan Faisal, rather than a complete story of the situation in Jordan. Their job is to sell stories, and they can’t sell them if they are not compelling. A State Department employee might present this information a bit differently than either an NGO worker or a journalist. A State Department employee may try to gain an objective view of the situation in Jordan in order to determine whether or not it is relevant to the United States. As an NGO worker, however, “my” job was to attempt to objectively assess the situation in Jordan, determine its problems and their roots, and try to come up with solutions.
“File: Hrw Logo.svg.” File: Cholesterol (Chemical Structure).Svg – Wikimedia Commons, 2018, commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hrw_logo.svg.
“Freedom World 2018 Table of Country Scores.” Freedom House, 16 Jan. 2018, freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world-2018-table-country-scores.
Muasher, Marwan. “End of the Rope.” Carnegie Middle East Center, 7 June 2018, carnegie-mec.org/diwan/76551?lang=en&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWVRjME1HVTFZVEF4WldJNSIsInQiOiI2WVVvbTE2bm10VW5aV25XREJMc0g1STk2RDRYR3FyNWMyWnlEYUV4S2hkc1A1TngydTVuTkJZNUFCR2ZhRkI3XC9RVzhtc0JqdWhVZ0Z2VnJucjM3K3NYdGliU0tKNDBjbzZhZTF1dXlrZVlHbTNRcThpWkd5anI5WUJuTEhvcnoifQ==.
Sawalha, Jawanna. “Meet Jordan’s Royal Family: King Abdullah II, His Siblings, Queen Rania and Their Children.” StepFeed, 21 Feb. 2017, stepfeed.com/meet-jordan-s-royal-family-king-abdullah-ii-his-siblings-queen-rania-and-their-children-4339.
Schwelder, Jillian. Don’t Blink: Jordan’s Democratic Opening and Closing. 2002, Don’t Blink: Jordan’s Democratic Opening and Closing.
Tarawnah, Naseem. “JORDAN’S GABBA3AT MOMENT.” The Black Iris, 4 June 2018, black-iris.com/2018/06/04/jordans-gabba3at-moment/.