Where Does Jordan Go from Here?

Jordan is in bad shape, and things are only likely to get worse in the future with economic difficulties and political uncertainty. The economy is in bad shape and has structural problems that need to be overcome, and politically the crisis seems only likely to get worse as the regime appears determined to continue stalling and taking symbolic measures.

This Friday, November 30th, the National Front for Reform will hold a demonstration in Amman backed by many of the major opposition groups in Jordan, under the title of a “Popular Uprising for Reform.” The National Front for Reform is headed by former Prime Minister Ahmed Obeidat, and its website (in Arabic) can be found here. The NFR does not call for regime change but rather for regime reform, as do other opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jordan is facing real fundamental economic problems, including a fiscal deficit expected to reach JD2.5 billion (about $3.5 billion), and a trade deficit that reached JD6.772 billion ($9.569 billion) in the first nine months of this year, up 19.5 percent from last year. Simply put, Jordan exports less than half what it imports. Over the long term neither this nor the fiscal deficit are sustainable. There are also well-documented problems with corruption and unemployment, particularly among the younger generation. Aid is only a short-term answer, although the $487 million pledged by Saudi Arabia and the $250 million that Kuwait has deposited in the Central Bank will help ease the immediate crisis though even in this case Kuwait is only allowing the government access to half of the money immediately. The problem is that the government doesn’t appear to have any sort of long-term plan for reducing its aid dependence.

The regime’s immediate answer to these problems appears to be more repression. The regime has targeted the Muslim Brotherhood following the fuel protests, arresting 45 of its members and charging two of them with attempting to undermine the regime. Among those detained in the last week, both from the Muslim Brotherhood and other political movements, many of them have been denied access to either legal representation or medical care, according to @Freedom_Jordan, who also reported that two more activists were arrested on Wednesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood makes a convenient scapegoat for the government’s problems both domestically and internationally, even though they and all other opposition groups have demanded that the government listen to the demands of its people. President Morsi of Egypt with his recent decree may have played into the Jordanian regime’s hands even though he quickly qualified it. It enables the regime to suggest – falsely – that the choice is between a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship and the largely powerless elected institutions that currently exist.

It’s unclear where Jordan is going to go from here. What’s clear is that something has changed, and that the economic and political situations are unsustainable, this is evidenced by the fact that the protesters have criticized King Abdullah by name for the first time, and some of them have called for his ouster. The people have begun to recognize that they must take matters into their own hands or the regime will continue to make promises, stall, and ultimately deliver little to nothing. In order for things to change for the better there must be a government that is elected by the people with a clear mandate for change.

Otherwise, an unaccountable government is asking its people to make sacrifices while the corruption and repression continue and there is no plan to overcome the obstacles that the country faces. Just another election next month under an unfair and cosmetically-reformed electoral law that the opposition is planning to boycott. Jordan’s people deserve better.

Two Court Rulings in Kuwait

The Administrative Court ruled on Monday that the Emir’s decree reducing the number of votes from four to one is a “sovereign act” and is thus not subject to review by the Administrative Court. The Constitutional Court, which has the authority to rule on such issues is expected to hear an appeal from the opposition after the election.

Another Administrative Court bench ruled that many of the disqualified candidates could participate in the elections, but this is not the blessing for democracy that it seems. Many of these candidates are reported to have accepted bribes from the regime. The former MPs who are allowed to run include Saleh Ashour, Youssef Al-Zalzalah, Khalaf Dumaitheer, Saadoun Hammad, Askar Al-Enezi and Khaled Al-Adwah. They had previously been disqualified on the grounds that they did not enjoy a “good reputation.”

It is interesting that they were excluded on these grounds. The most significant allegation against many of them was that they accepted bribes from the regime (which was the cause of the scandal which led to the storming of parliament and the resignation of then-PM Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.

This court ruling was perhaps the last opportunity to avert an escalation of Kuwait’s political crisis. The Constitutional Court will likely review the decision after the election, but even if they rule in favor of the opposition is would extend the crisis into new territory. If they annul the decree they would likely annul the election also, meaning that Kuwaiti citizens would be going to vote yet again.

Former MP Ali Al-Omair says courts may delay election

Former MP Ali Al-Omair, who is running for the National Assembly in the Third Constituency, said that it is possible that the court might delay the elections in its ruling tomorrow, according to Kuwait Times. If the court does delay the election then it would mean that the parliament elected in 2009 would be reinstated for a second time, after being reinstated in July by the Constitutional Court. The same court would then rule on whether or not the Emir’s decree is constitutional.

Although he is not boycotting the election, Al-Omair has caused problems for the government in the past. In February 2007 he supported a motion to question then-Health Minister Shaikh Ahmad Al-Abdullah Al-Sabah over problems with the health care system, including corruption, discrimination, and a decline in the quality of services. After the questioning the minister was facing a no-confidence vote after 10 members signed a motion which would have meant that a member of the Al-Sabah family was facing a no-confidence motion – despite no Minister ever having been removed by one before. To avoid the vote, the government resigned, and the new government appointed by the Emir did not include the former Health Minister in the new cabinet. Later that year, in October 2007, Al-Omair supported questioning the Minister of Islamic and Awqaf Affairs.

Al-Omair’s comments about the potential postponement of the election outline what would happen in the event that the courts intervene. The new parliament could also review the Emir’s decree if the court does not overturn it – unlikely since it will consist primarily of government supporters, but public pressure can cause people to change their opinions. Either way, Kuwait’s political crisis shows no sign of letting up.

Could Kuwait’s Courts Overrule the Election Decree?

On Monday, November 26th, Kuwait’s Administrative Court is expected to issue a ruling on a legal challenge to the decree by the Emir which reduced the number of votes that each citizen is allowed to cast from four to one. Riyadh Al-Sane, a Kuwaiti lawyer challenged the constitutionality of the decree and is also arguing that the election scheduled for December 1st (next Saturday) should be postponed until that challenge is ruled upon. The court has announced that it will issue its ruling on Monday.

According to an article from Al-Hayat that was republished and Translated by Al-Monitor, the court will be deciding whether or not the election should be postponed until the Constitutional Court can review the decree by the Emir. The Emir, it should be noted, has said that he would accept any ruling by the constitutional court on the issue.

In the event that the issue came before the constitutional court, it is not entirely certain how the court would react to it. Two recent rulings – one of them favorable to the government, the other unfavorable – illustrate that the court has acted contrary to the wishes of the executive branch before, making this another wildcard in Kuwait’s political crisis. In June, the Court dissolved the previous parliament (which was elected in February of this year) because it said that the Emir’s decree calling for the elections in February was not issued correctly.

However, in September they rejected the government’s appeal against the electoral law passed in 2006 which reduced the number of constituencies to five, with ten members elected from each one. On October 19th, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah issued a decree which kept the number of constituencies the same but reduced the number of votes that each citizen has from four to one, meaning that the election according to the opposition, is more susceptible to government manipulation. The protests (and the accompanying election boycott) which have erupted recently cite as a major demand the revocation of the Emir’s decree.

As the situation stands now the election – with virtually all opposition groups boycotting – is more of a referendum on the current political system than an election, as regardless of turnout it is guaranteed that the candidates elected will be favorable to the government. The government has launched a media campaign urging citizens to vote because it wants a higher turnout that would signify support for the current system. If the election goes forward as it is, it would mark a new phase in Kuwait’s current political crisis.

A ruling against the decree could – potentially – take the situation in a different direction. It would give a boost to demonstrations, and would likely set the stage for yet another election campaign with the central issues of the way Kuwait is governed still unresolved.

Protests Held in Amman, Irbid, and Elsewhere

Protests continued throughout Jordan on Friday, with some of the largest protests occurring in Irbid. Rallies were also held in Amman and throughout Jordan today despite the decision of the National Front for Reform to postpone its planned protest until next Friday, November 30th due to inclement weather. This shows that despite the smaller crowds protesting in recent days the government’s disregard for the will of the people cannot continue indefinitely.

The following sections will outline events occurring in different areas throughout Jordan.  If you witness any developments, do not hesitate to tweet to us at @ImpatientBedu or email us using our contact us form, and we will add it here. Let us know if you do not want to be mentioned by name.

Amman

Protests on Friday were held against the fuel price increase, with citizens calling for boycotting the upcoming parliamentary elections – in one incident, burning their voter IDs in protest. These protests were led primarily by leftist and independent groups, without a major role from Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Some protesters also called once again for the overthrow of the regime.

Irbid

According to the (albiet government-run) Jordan Times, the largest protests were held today in Irbid. There were several major protests in Irbid. Islamists organized a protest in front of Yarmouk  University demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and the government. In addition there were two other demonstrations organized by leftist groups called “Popular Youth Coalition for Change” and the “Irbid Popular Movement for Change,” both of which called for the reversal of the decision on fuel protests.

Protesters also called for the release of the detainees who remain in custody.

Other Areas

Protests against the fuel price increase were also held in Karak, Maan, Tafileh, and Zarqa, according to @Freedom_Jordan.

 

Is Kuwait Headed for Yet Another Election? (After this one)

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has said that he will accept any decision by the constitutional court regarding his decree reducing the number of votes citizens are allowed to cast from four to one. He said this in a speech during which he urged citizens to vote, and the government has also launched ads urging citizens to cast their ballots. The opposition is planning a rally organized by @KarametWatan for November 30th, the eve of the election that will be called “Dignity of the Nation 3.”

The opposition’s boycott is largely due to the decree issued by the Emir in which he reduced the number of votes that citizens are allowed to cast from four to one. With the Naitonal Assembly consisting of 50 members, with ten each elected from five districts. With the one-vote system, this means that it will be easier for the government to manipulate the electoral process to ensure success by pro-government candidates. Even with the opposition boycotting there are still 389 candidates running for 50 seats, meaning that those elected would likely need less than 10 percent of the vote to win – which is why the opposition views it as favorable to government allies and why they refuse to participate.

Legal challenges may be filed against the Emir’s decree – and this is where it gets interesting. A challenge to the electoral law may be referred to the Constitutional Court by ordinary trial courts, at which point the Constitutional Court can consider making a ruling on the constitutionality of the decree. If the court does decide to overturn the decree – and that’s a big if – then its interesting to see what would happen.

I foresee one of two things – the court itself ordering the dissolution of the national assembly because it was elected improperly (or it being dissolved) or an attempt by the government to resist holding new elections, which would escalate the country’s political crisis further. My guess is that they take the first route, which could lead to yet another general election for Kuwait, which would be the sixth since the current Emir assumed the throne in 2006. If the court decides to maintain the decree then the opposition boycott will continue.

Either way the political crisis is likely to escalate over the coming months, with no clear resolution in sight.

Pensions for MPs: A Case Study of Symbolic Steps Combined with Inaction

A couple of days ago King Abdullah rejected an amendment to a law enacted in 2010 which eliminated pensions for Members of Parliament. The King also sent a letter to Prime Minister Ensour outlining plans for broader reform of civil service pensions. The government-owned Jordan Times had an online article today which is entitled “King’s decision on controversial pension law ensures equality — columnists.” The article quotes several columnists who say that the decision highlights the King’s commitment to equality, incluiding Jumana Ghneimat the chief editor of Al Ghad, whom the article said praised King Abdullah because he “used his jurisdiction to ensure equality among all, noting that the decision is in line with his constitutional powers.” From the article, one might assume that the elimination of pensions for 150 MPs may lead to greater equality among all Jordanians, but don’t be fooled. No real reform has been made.

The last parliament had a total of 120 MPs, and the parliament that will be elected after the January 23rd election will have a total of 150 MPs. According to recent reports, the total pension expenses for retired elected officials (MPs, in addition to former Prime Ministers and other officials), totals only about JD14 million, and an estimate made when MPs voted to give themselves lifetime pensions in May of this year indicated an estimated total annual cost of between JD3 to 4 million annually – all this is out of a total budget of JD6.8 billion in 2012. Is this too much? Almost certainly, and it should be dealt with, but fixing this one thing does little to solve Jordan’s long-standing economic problems. It is like prosecuting one corrupt official while leaving the overall system in place. It does nothing to solve the problems with the system itself.

So eliminating pensions for MPs is a token measure if there ever was one – becuase (with the opposition planning to boycott the election) it will only affect those likely to dominate the next parliament – “Independent” MPs who are likely allies of the King to begin with. The fact that this decision was implemented by royal decree shows that nothing has changed. In this context, whether or not the decision was the right one is irrelevant – because it was made in a flawed manner, even if it was in alignment with the will of the Jordanian people. The decision to cancel pensions for MPs was a way for the King to earn popular support at a time when he has come under fire from protesters, without actually changing anything.

Real reform involves not simply pensions for lawmakers but the way that they are elected, and in a free and fair election voters would be free to chose opposing candidates if they did not like the pensions that MPs voted to give themselves. This is true reform – not the throwing of crumbs to the population by royal prerogative.

Prince Hamzah and Jordan’s Protesters

The New York Times reported about the support that Prince Hamzah has among some of the protesters in Jordan. According to the article, activists from the opposition movement Hirak are planning to hold up pictures of Prince Hamzah at upcoming demonstrations. Prince Hamzah was said to be King Hussein’s favorite, and he insisted that King Abdullah name him Crown Prince when he assumed the throne. He did so, but in 2004 removed him, replacing him with his own son, Prince Hussein, saying that replacing him as Crown Prince enabled him to perform other duties.

Many of the supporters of Prince Hamzah are from the tribal base which the monarchy has relied upon for support. Many of the protesters arrested for chanting against the King came from areas which would traditionally be considered to be supportive of the monarchy, and they have been especially angered over the government’s recent decision on fuel subsidies. At the same time, their anger is not one-dimensional, as they are upset about the fuel subsidies but are also upset – despite being the traditional base of support for the monarchy – at the lack of political reform despite repeated promises even as they oppose the fuel price increase. In politics, nothing is ever simple.

As these same people remember King Hussein fondly, support for Prince Hamzah becomes an attractive alternative to King Abdullah, whom they view as corrupt. It is also worth noting – as this article points out – that Queen Rania has not been spared their anger either.

As of now, Prince Hamzah has said nothing, and many of the demonstrators chanting against the King have called for a republic, but Prince Hamzah’s role as an additional factor is too important to overlook. Stay tuned.

November 20: Unrest Continues; King Abdullah’s Worries Continue to be Elsewhere

The regime’s crackdown on people demanding their rights continued unabated on Tuesday, one week after the government announced that it would be raising the price of fuel. Since protests began, the regime has offered only token gestures – like cancelling the pensions of Members of Parliament – without addressing any of the real demands of the people, which extend beyond merely cancelling the price increases on fuel. The government also pledged that they would review fuel prices every month, and that they would be altered to reflect market prices – leaving open the door for further price increases after the one that was implemented last week, though prices could also fall if oil prices fall. The government also announced that payments to lower-income families could be applied for at Knowledge Stations located around Jordan. Also, Prime Minister Ensour gave an account of his meeting with the JTA saying that they “left satisfied” from meeting him on Saturday, even though they decided to go ahead with the strike action on Sunday. If he believes this, he’s very out of touch.

These actions miss the point entirely though – the government that implemented this decision was appointed by the King, rather than by parliament, and the next government after the elections will be selected by a parliament packed with “Independent” candidates who are supporters of the King. The election for this parliament will take place under inequitable laws, and will be boycotted by the opposition.

Speaking of King Abdullah, a video on YouTube may potentially offer indications as to his whereabouts during the first few days of protests. If this is real, he is mocking the demonstrators? His attention during the demonstrations has almost deliberately been focused on events occurring everywhere but in Jordan. Today, for example, he spoke with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi about the situation in Gaza, and also spoke with Netanyahu, whom he warned not to launch a ground attack in Gaza.

Since the protests began last Tuesday, @Freedom_Jordan reports that between 260 and 300 people have been arrested, with 91 of them facing charges in State Security Court. He tweeted a list of names of those arrested (in Arabic) here.

Protests continued today against the government’s decision. There were rallies in Amman and elsewhere throughout the country, and several activists were arrested. Many protesters called for the dismissal of Prime Minister Ensour and the formation of a “Government of National Salvation.” Check the regional sections below for more information about events occurring in areas around Jordan.

If you witness any developments, do not hesitate to tweet to us at @ImpatientBedu or email us using our contact us form, and we will add it here. Let us know if you do not want to be mentioned by name.

Amman

In Amman there were protests in Jebel Hussein (which marched to the Nuzha area) and in Sweileh, where a protest organized by Islamists was held. Bara’a Also’od, an activist from Tafaileh was arrested by security forces, according to @Freedom_Jordan, who also reported that Mohammad Balawi was arrested in Baqaa.

Karak

A protest was held at the Almarj mosque, at which protesters chanted that the government was playing with fire by raising prices. An article (In Arabic) mentions this protest here.

Maan

Protests were held in Amman against the government’s decision to raise fuel subsidies. At these protests demonstrators also chanted against Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Tafaileh

Protests were held at which demonstrators called for the government to reverse its decision to end subsidies on fuel.

Salt

Two students were arrested at Balqa university, according to @Freedom_Jordan.

 

Jordan: One Week Later

Today marks one week since the government announced that subsidies on fuel would be withdrawn, sparking massive protests including many which called for the removal of King Abdullah. The authorities cracked down, arresting many demonstrators and, in some cases, using tear gas and water cannons to break up demonstrations. The King did not publicly mention the demonstrations for several days, appearing to ignore the domestic situation in Jordan entirely, except for his visit to injured members of the security forces, at which he praised their conduct during the protests. His words make us wonder if the “restraint” that he praised extends to their conduct towards children and teenagers arrested and in some cases tortured during the demonstrations.

Today the government-run Jordan Times posted an article about how Jordan’s record of protecting the rights of children is improving, even as authorities were interrogating children and teenagers arrested during the protests. One of them was Taqi-Aldeen Rawashdeh, 16 years old, who was tortured while in the custody of the security forces. Anonymous Jordan (@Freedom_Jordan) posted a video of him (in Arabic) after his release in which he talks about being arrested. @Freedom_Jordan also said that most of the children detained were released on Sunday night, but also that others had been arrested since, including Ahmad Alzou’bi, who was arrested in Irbid. The article in the Jordan Times mentions several areas including education and health care but neglects to mention other fundamental rights – including the right to demonstrate and criticize any government figure – including King Abdullah – without being arrested or tortured.

The government continued its usual pattern, of making token gestures of reform while actually doing nothing to bring out meaningful change – and ignoring the demands of the protesters that the fuel price increases be rescinded. An example of this is when King Abdullah cancelled the pensions of members of parliament, by rejecting a law that parliament had passed which restored them. It’s a token gesture, which does little to nothing – given that there are only 120 Members of Parliament (it will increase to 150 after the election), and in the same article he ordered a study of pensions in the civil service, which is said to have the aim of ensuring the “highest degree of fairness” in civil service pensions. What will this result in? There are no details. The Prime MInister, meanwhile, has repeatedly defended the government’s decision.

Much of the anger is not just about the decision to raise fuel prices but also about the way that it was done, and what it represents. The government’s promise to assist lower-income families misses the point entirely – which is that the decision was implemented without any sort of democratic accountability.

Protests took place around Jordan, including in Amman, Irbid, Maan, Karak, Aqaba, Tafileh, and elsewhere. Many protests in Amman called for the removal of King Abdullah. Irbid was the site of the protest movement’s first martyr, Qais Al-Omari, whom police initially tried to say was part of an armed attack on a police station. The authorities misled their own people – in addition to BBC and the Associated Press – about this incident but it is not clear if anyone is going to be held to account for it. There were also strikes by students, in addition to numerous professional associations.

The largest opposition groups – and many of those demonstrating – are calling for reform rather than the overthrow of the regime, but the regime seems at this point still committed to its course of stalling and making promises that it will later attempt to go back on. The events of the last week have made one thing clear – the people of Jordan have awakened and the regime’s old tactic of promising reform and democracy without ever actually delivering is not going to work anymore. The decision on fuel prices might still be in place, but something has changed in the last week.