King Abdullah has chosen to speak about two of the most important “domestic challenges” faced by Jordan today: the future of the political reform process and democratic transformation, and the disorder and chaos experienced in some of the Kingdom’s regions and universities.
The king reminded us of positions he had mentioned before on several occasions. We are going into an experiment of “parliamentary governments” that produce “governments under parliamentary opposition”, where rival programmes and parties compete to gain the people’s trust and serve the country’s greater good. Leading up to this, legal reform of the political parties and election process is required to empower parliamentary government, enhance and expand participation, and guarantee greater equality in representation.
As for the monarchy, its role will develop through harmony and coordination with the development of the experience of parliamentary and partisan life. It will become “the guardian of democratic values”, “the patron of national unity”, and “the guarantor of national institutions”.
I believe that the vast majority of Jordanians support this programme, despite their deep doubts about the ability of state institutions, including the government, parliament and political parties, to implement it. There is a “hidden pole” in the series of governance and the relationship between its different levels and institutions, that must be revealed and dismantled in order to give this speech the required impetus for it to become a national work programme, rather than remain just an initiative, among many, that was hindered before the ink was even dry.
When we look around us, to the left and right, we see that “gradualism” and “consensus” are critical factors in deciding the path of political reform and democratic transformation, provided that the “finish line” is clearly defined and known to all Jordanians. Moreover, our schedules must be determined, not open to various possibilities and delays. The “gradualism” referred to is not the type that evokes the experience of Western Europe in the bitter and prolonged shift to democracy, and the “consensus” should not exclude anyone, except those who do not believe in democracy and regard every innovation as a sin which leads to hell.
The second matter that caught my attention in King Abdullah’s speech at Mutah University is violence in society. He addressed the issue outside the narrow framework of “security”, which is the usual perspective. Pointing out its “roots” through research and analysis, the king included the unjust distribution of resources; favouritism and discrimination by officers of the law; taking the law into one’s own hands; and claims to act with impunity by right, all of which encroach on the rights of others. He explained that no one is above the law, everyone is subject to the law, and that all citizens are as equal as the teeth of a comb.
During recent years, there has been a growing feeling in some of us that “they are the law” or are above it, or that they have their own set of laws. The state, in many cases, has accepted on occasion to act “contrary to its own laws”, and has established security and civil institutions to “facilitate” rulings with tribal biases. The result has been that the “rule of law” was shaken and chaos was spread in some districts which have turned into safe havens for fugitives from justice.
The paths of legitimate peaceful movements demanding reform have coincided with an unprecedented growth in infringements of civil and human rights by the state and its institutions. The sort of criminality that we are now witnessing does not befit the people of Jordan and their achievements over the past few years.
It is time for radical action to clean up the streets, taking the King’s discourse as a framework, in a neutral and entirely professional manner. His majesty’s speech should be adopted as the “road map” for Jordan. It will be a challenge to make certain institutions and authorities toe the line but it will be worth it. Time is short and regional events make change and reform a necessity before it is too late.
The author is the Director, AL Quds Center for Political Studies, Jordan. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which was published in Ad Dustour newspaper on 17 June 2103
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.