Mar 01 2011

20 FAQs about demonstrations in Jordan

Published by at 6:05 pm under Articles,Jordan

By Daoud Kuttab

1.     Does the Jordanian regime risk falling as has been the case in Tunisia and Egypt?

No demonstrator has  publicly called for the end of the monarachy on the contrary many insist on it. Jordanians are generally supportive of the present monarchy and the King, however demonstrators are requiring reform and more political power to the people.

2.     Who is behind the demonstrations?

The demonstrations are mostly organized by non ideological young people although various political groups have joined them as well.

3.     Aren’t the Muslim Brotherhood behind the demonstrations

NO. The first demonstration by the youth also witnessed another by political parties (including the Muslim Brotherhood) at a different location. That demonstration failed to bring out a large number of people. The Muslim brotherhood and other party activists joined the youth demonstrations later. They are not the leading movement.

4.     What are the demands of the demonstrators?

In general demonstrators are demanding economic and political reform. Their demands have escalated from economic (better wages and lower fuel prices) to the political. At first they were calling for dissolving the parliament, then they demanded the end of the Rifai government, then the newly appointed Bakhit administration then the return to the 1952 constitution without the amendments, later the demands increased to include a call for a constitutional monarchy.

5.     What are the key differences between the 1952 constitution and the present constitution?

There are many additions to the power of the King in the present constiution compared to the 1952 one. One of the major differences are in the powers of the King. In the 1952 constitution, the King can dissolve the parliament but has to organise elections within 60 days. and can’t appoint the prime minister. At present the country can go on without a parliament for a long time without any legal remedy as happened a few times in the past 10 years. Hundreds of temporary laws have been issued during these period. However, Prime Minister designate Bakhit has promised in his address to the parliament on Sunday Feb 27th that no temporary laws will be issued when parliament is out of session.

6.     Are the majority of Jordanians behind demands for reform?

It is not clear yet. There are no credible way of knowing what Jordanians want. There are many groups spouting up and creating groups on facebook and issuing decrees and statements. Demonstrations have increased in numbers, the latest of which was estimated by some to have reached about 10,000 but many analysts say that this is not an accurate reflection on the size of the population behind their demands. A group of intellectuals issued a statement supporting these demands, but since there are no strong and representative parties in Jordan it is difficult to know where the majority of the population stands.

7.     What are some of the reasons why people want the present status quo to continue?

The country is divided on different levels at times based on age, political or educational background, conservative and liberal as well as traditional versus modern. Some believe that the differences are based on national origin. Even among reformers there are major differences. For example some Jordanians feel that until there is a progressive modern election law the powers to dissolve the parliament should not be taken away from the king otherwise the country will be forced to live with a bad parliament as happened in the 15th parliament which there was wide spread unhappiness with and the King finally dissolved that parliament.

8.     What does the King himself think of these changes?

It is not clear. In the past he has said in public that he wants to see the country move in this direction. In fact in a 2005 interview with ABC TV he made it clear that he is fine with a constitutional monarch similar to England.
9.     Are there other groups or parties who are opposed to reform?

No organised or public declared party has come out against calls for reform. However some analysts think that there is a general resistance to political changes from groups that will loose power in Jordan. All those opposed to reform insist publicly that they would accept it if the King approves it.

10.   What can the government do now?

The fast pace and escalation in demands of the popular movement requires the government to speed ahead with reform otherwise the public will keep raising the bar.

One practical idea that has been suggested calls for the removal of the dust from the National Agenda. This is a document produced by a representative group of Jordanians appointed by the King in 2005 and led by former deputy prime minister Marwan Muasher. Although the agenda lists various areas in which the country should reform, in some are worried that even adopting the agenda will not be enough.

11.   What are some of the reform issues listed in the National Agenda?

For example the National Agenda called for an end to the one person one vote election system. They suggested a mixed format in which citizens elect a representative from a local area as well as voting for a party list. The idea is that this would strengthen the party system which is impotent in Jordan.

12.   What else does the Agenda call for?

It calls for a total review of economic policies and priorities. For example, the agenda calls for a total revamping of agricultural policies.  In light of the sharp shortage of water the national agenda recommends that the government stop subsidizing farming products that require a lot of water.

14.   Is the Bakhit government taking on the National Agenda?

Yes. Sources inside the new administration has told reporters that they are working hard on reviving it although with some changes. Ironically, the first time Dr. Maroof Bakhit was prime minister he ditched the Agenda and said publicly that Jordanians were not ready for many of its recommendations including the political reform ones.
15.   Will this satisfy the demonstrators request the change of government?

The problem is no longer the person of prime minister but the system. Demonstrators have been saying neither Rifai nor Bakhit. It is not a secret that many political activists were unhappy with the choice of Dr. Bakhit because of the Casino scandal and the fact that the worst case of electoral forgery took place during his first reign. Dr. Bakhit and some of his supporters have insisted that the security agency headed by then strong man Mohamad Dahabi was responsible for the electoral fraud and that the prime minister was not responsible for the casino scandal. To prove his point the prime minister has turned over all the documents of the case to the anti corruption commission. He also surprised people by also turning over the commission the housing project for the poor which many say was very corrupt. For the present activists are taking a wait and see approach to try and figure out whether Dr. Bakhit made a lot of detailed promises in his 70 minute speech to the parliament on Sunday. Politically he promised to ensure the involvement of political parties in government decision making in order to reach a situation in which government are created based on political parties programs. Specifically he promised to give priority to reviewing the election laws and the party laws.

16.  What is the first political test for Dr. Bakhit?

The vote of confidence in the government and the approval of the budget will be the first test. Next test will be the elections law and the budget. The current budget which Dr. Bakhit inherited from the Rifai government was just withdrawn but the revised budget approved by the cabinet doesn’t seem to be crucially different.

17.   What about the teacher’s union?

This was a problematic case for the Rifai’a government which claimed that it was unconstitutional to giver public servants a chance to set up a union. The Bakhit government has promised to find legal solutions in order to create a teachers union.

18.   What about the tribal lands “Wajhat al Ashairia”

This might be one of the areas that the tribal leaders feel that they want to bring attention to. When the Jordanian Bedouin communities started to settle down they were allowed to make use of lands infront of their residencies for farming and grasing. While these lands are state land it was assumed that each tribe had a “right’ of sorts to these ‘wajhat’ or areas infront of their compounds. The problem is that in most cases there are no written documents proving this and furthermore the tribes themselves have grown bigger and are quite divided between them and therefore there is  no one person that can make such claims. One way to deal with this issue has been to make these ‘wajhat’ used for public purposes such as schools and hospitals. This was accepted but tribal leaders claim that the government is distributing some of these lands or even selling them and they insist that they have rights to them. The government has created a commission and has made a deadline of one month during which anyone that has a claim can make it, otherwise the case will be closed.

19.   Where does the King stand in all of this?

It is clear that His Majesty is concerned about the anger of the youth and the demands of reform and in his letter of appointment as well as in a speech he gave to all three branches of the government has made it clear that he will not accept any more excuses for any more delays in the reform process.

20. How long will the demonstrations continue?

It is hard to answer this question except by saying that the young people as well as political activists need to be truly satisfied that the government is sincere in reform and when they see tangible evidence that an irreversible mechanism is in the process.

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