Musallam al-Barrak and the Competing Arenas of Kuwaiti Politics

Today, Musallam al-Barrak is scheduled to return to court for his appeal against a five-year prison sentence he received for allegedly insulting the Emir. Whatever the court rules today, the ruling will highlight the increasingly bisected nature of Kuwaiti politics between the regime-dominated political system and the opposition’s arena of popular mobilization.

Today’s hearing was scheduled on April 22nd, when Barrak appeared in court and was granted bail by the judge. Following the judge’s decision to grant him bail, thousands of his supporters gathered in the seuare next to the main prison in Salibiya region and lifted him onto their shoulders in an impromptu parade. Barrack said that it was his supporters who had him released after the hearing rather than his bail payment. He feels, not without justification given the fate of many other opposition supporters, that he must rely on public opinion to protect him from the regime’s crackdown on dissent. Last year’s nullified election in February demonstrated the extent of his backing as he received more votes than any other candidate (he boycotted the December election).

During the week between his sentencing on April 15th and his court appearance on April 22nd, Barrack repeatedly insisted that he would comply with the law and surrender when he saw a copy of the original arrest warrant, which he insisted police did not have. He evaded several attempts to arrest him, including a raid on his home (he was not there at the time), which he called a “cowardly action” by the government, which provoked a crowd of about 10,000 protesters to clash with riot police outside of a police station. He denied that his comments from an October rally that the Emir must not rule autocratically were an insult, and his supporters took to repeating his words as a show of solidarity. He insisted publicly that he would comply with the court’s rulings but his actions prior to the court hearing on April 22nd were those of a political figure confident of popular backing and intent on defiance.

The regime’s actions in the recent political crisis, including regarding the case of Barrak appear to be based on the calculation that these protests do not pose a fundamental threat to overthrow the regime. The regime seems also to be attempting to take advantage of the dominance of the political system that the opposition yielded to it by boycotting the election in December.

The stage was set when the February 2012 election resulted in the election of a parliament with a majority of opposition MPs, which meant that the regime could expect more opposition from parliament, including efforts to grill ministers. A series of events following the election took place which suggested that the regime may have been attempting to regain by decree what it lost at the ballot box. Over the summer a court ruling dissolved the parliament elected in February 2012 and reinstated the one elected in 2009. Subsequently, the regime attempted to have the courts overturn the 2006 electoral law, and when this failed, the Emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, issued a decree seen to favor the regime by reducing the number of votes Kuwaitis could cast from four to one, in a decree seen to favor the regime. This decree, along with the court ruling dissolving the parliament elected in February 2012 was the main catalyst for the opposition’s boycott of the December 2012 elections.

The central calculation by the regime appeared to be that its support would be high enough that they would be able to claim the boycott was a failure, or at least not an unmitigated success. The new parliament legitimized the electoral decree, and actually held a recent debate where MPs criticized the Interior Minister for not cracking down hard enough. The regime’s control of the formal political system has enabled it to have legal justification for cracking down on what it terms to be dissent (e.g. the allegations directed against Barrak for “insulting the Emir”).

Whatever happens in court today, the decision is likely to underline the divisions between Kuwait’s formal and informal political spaces. A denial of the appeal would trigger protests that could potentially be larger than those that have occurred in recent months, but the regime may be able to weather them. A decision to release Barrack – and the decision is up to the judge – would embolden his supporters and also set the stage for further protests on other issues, as well as future legal battles as the opposition would seek to contest the regime’s dominance of the political system. Either way, Kuwait is likely to experience demonstrations this week, and the ruling will be a key factor in determining their nature, their demands, and the degree to which they are violent or peaceful. This is the immediate implication of the decision to be handed down later today.

What Does the Recent Violence in Maan Mean?

Over the last week there have been recurrent episodes of violence in Jordan, triggered by the tribal violence at Al Hussein Bin Talal University in Maan. On Friday there were rallies held across Jordan condemning this violence and the regime for failing to stop it. This violence at the university, which announced that classes would be cancelled for a third day is tragic, and the risk is that if it spreads it could harm Jordan’s educational system, which is one of the country’s strongest assests. Over the last two decades the literacy rate and the enrollment rates have both increased, despite continuing issues with the exam-based selection process for universities and other secondary education such as medical school. Preventing this type of violence is critical because if it continues for a long enough period it will do lasting damage to Jordan’s educational system even if it were eventually brought under control.

The educational system’s improvements are not merely statistics printed on a sheet of paper. They have produced real benefits for Jordan and is an asset that the country possesses. One of the assets that this has produced is a health care system that is one of the best in the region, where foreigners come to obtain medical treatment. For example, Jordan is currently in a major dispute with Libya over hospital bills that the Libyan government has refused to pay, leading Jordanian private hospitals to stop accepting the Libyan government’s promises of future payment. Why did Libya, an oil-rich state send its patients to Jordan? They were sent there because the medical care was among the best, if not the best, in the region, and the reason why Jordan is able to offer such care is the quality of its education system and medical schools. This is why this type of violence cannot continue.

What is significant about these protests is what the protesters are actually calling for is security and stability and this is what the regime has failed to provide by failing to stop these clashes. This violence is outside the traditional dynamic of regime/opposition clashes. It involves a tribal dispute of unclear origins involving students and their relatives that turned violent in a public place, where anyone could have been caught in the crossfire. Justice Minister Hussein Majali has said that there were 22 arrested for weapons possession but time will tell if this incident is adequately investigated.

At a time of intense political turmoil and a newly-reappointed government steps have to be taken to make sure that this type of incident will never happen again. Many opponents of reform may argue that security and reform are diametrically opposed, but this incident – in which violence occurred

Musallam al-Barrack Defies Regime at Appeals Court

Musallam al-Barrack, in a potent display of his political power, was able to attend a court hearing today and avoid arrest after being granted bail on KD5000. At the court hearing, the Judge was faced with barrack’s supporters who marched on the Palace of Justice with him, as well as 35 lawyers who showed up to defend him. In the end, the judge granted bail and adjourned the trial until May 13.

Barrack is walking a fine line – in court he denied that his speech insulted the Emir, but also said that if he had another chance he would say the same thing again. His lawyer, Mohammad al-Jassem said that sending him to prison would threaten his life, and sought more time to prepare a defense along with Barrack’s other attorneys. Al-Jassem is himself an activist who has been the target of attacks and legal action by the regime, including a few months ago when he urged other Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the UAE to stay out of Kuwait’s internal affairs in an open letter posted on his blog.

To this point, Barrack has been successful in his defiance of the regime to the extent that he has been able to avoid being arrested on several attepts, including two where he refused to surrender on procedural grounds and once where he avoided arrest when his home was raided. After that raid he returned to his diwaniyya later amid cheering crowds that included tribesmen who were firing automatic weapons into the air in cheering him on. Amid this atmosphere the court hearing today was destined to be a showdown. Perhaps the regime hoped that Barrack would avoid attending the hearing and that an arrest warrant could be issued, but if this was the course of action that they sought he outmanuvered them by showing up and pressuring the judge to release him.

However, it is important to recognize that Barrack has defied the regime and to this extent succeeded because he has put them in a difficult position and has a great degree of international and local support. However, in a certain sense the fact that he has been able to escape arrest at this point is a sign of the breakdown of the judiciary’s independence. The regime has until this point allowed Barrack to escape arrest, but the numerous Twitter users who have been arrested and sentenced to similar sentences have not been so lucky. It is important that every case, in addition to Barrack’s receives the same degree of attention so that these violations of the protections guaranteed in Kuwait’s constitution by the regime will be prevented from continuing.

UPDATED: Musallam al-Barrak Raises the Stakes

Update – Musallam al-Barrak’s appeal hearing has been set for April 22nd, which is next Monday. At this hearing the presiding judge has the power to suspend the implementation of Barrak’s sentence (which would drop the arrest warrant, though the case could remain) or order his arrest, which means he would be taken into custody immediately if he shows up for the hearing.

The regime appears to be sensitive to criticism from its loyalists that it is not cracking down hard enough. Perhaps ominously, the National Assembly, which was the first real parliament in the Gulf has become a forum for supporting the government’s efforts to crack down, and criticising it for not cracking down hard enough. The National Assembly issued a statement that condemned “insults” directed towards the Emir, which also supported the regime’s efforts against the opposition. Matters may come to a head next Monday depending on whether or not al-Barrak decides to attend the hearing.

Original Post - On Wednesday, former MP Musallam al-Barrak attended an impromptu rally at his diwaniyya accompanied by thousands of tribesmen firing machine guns into the air as if they were ready for battle against the regime. Three times since his sentence on Monday to five years in prison for alledgedly insulting the Emir, Barrak has evaded capture. The first two times the police went to his diwaniyya and he insisted that he would surrender to police if they produced the original arrest warrant, and he said they only had a copy. There were hundreds of his supporters present and the police decided not to risk a confrontation. Then, on Wednesday commandos were sent to raid his house, where several of his relatives were allegedly beaten. Up to 10,000 protesters responded by marching on the police station in Andalus, where they were repelled by riot police using tear gas and stun grenades. A fire was set to a vehicle belonging to the interior ministry and to a nearby market in Andalus, with several injuries reported. Following this, al-Barrak defiantly appeared again at his diwaniyya, stating once again that he was prepared to give himself up. After initially hesitating, his supporters marched towards the police station, setting off fireworks in response to the use of tear gas.

The National Assembly held a secret debate about these developments, and the interior minister has come under criticism for not cracking down harder, showing that Barrak’s actions and the regime’s perceived lack of response have angered many of the regime’s supporters. Several MPs had signalled earlier their desire to grill the Interior Minister, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Humoud Al-Sabah for his failure to crack down hard enough. It is worth noting amid these developments that one of the MPs who criticized the Interior Minister, Safa al-Hashem, has, to a degree, a vested interest in the regime’s actions, as she came in 14th the the February 2012 election, failing to win a seat by about 2500 votes. In December she benefited from the Emiri decree reducing the number of votes from four to one, and won a seat in an election that the opposition boycotted. Perhaps a troubling development of that boycott, and the opposition’s withdrawal from electoral politics is that the National Assembly has become a forum for urging government crackdowns rather than acting as a check on the executive’s power.

The opposition alledges that Barrak was not given a fair trial after his lawyers walked out after not being able to call their desired witnesses, including the Prime Minister, and denounced the verdict as political. An increasingly common sign of defiance against the regime by the opposition is the recitation of Musallam al-Barrak’s speech in October which led to his arrest in which he warned the Emir not to rule autocratically. It has been recited every night since the sentence by protesters, and was recently posted on the Ministry of Information’s web site when it was hacked on Wednesday. By doing this, opposition supporters are metaphorically “crossing the rubicon” by committing the same acts for which Barrak was arrested.

Through his actions following his sentence, Musallam al-Barrak has raised the stakes in Kuwait’s ongoing political crisis. In February 2012, in elections that have since been annulled, he received more than 30,000 votes, more than any candidate anywhere in Kuwait. By comparison, the candidate who was elected in first place in the 4th constituency in the boycotted December election received less than 3000.

In some ways, for more liberal protesters Barrak is an interesting symbol for their cause. Mona Kareem writes that although Barrak has become a symbol of the protests in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Gulf, he is in fact a conservative with political positions on women’s rights (he supported gender segregation in universities and opposed women’s suffrage) and blasphemy (he supported a law that provided for the death penalty) liberals would consider deeply troubling. In turn, this gives the regime a chance to say that its opponents are politically unpalatable to distract from its repression. Much is unclear about the future, but it is clear that as an MP, or as a political prisoner, Musallam al-Barrak is a powerful force in Kuwaiti politics.

Is Kuwait’s Anti-Expat Momentum Stalling

It seems that after a series of measures targeting expats were introduced In Kuwait that the momentum behind them may be stalling. On Wednesday, the National Assembly rejected a proposal to charge expats the full price for fuel, which would then be dispensed to Kuwaitis with a ration card. Other components of the measure would have required the deportation of expats who commit “grave violations” of traffic laws.

The vote in the National Assembly was decisive, with over 30 members voting against it including government officials who are ex-officio members, while 8 MPs voted in favor of it. It seems then that the momentum that has been targeted against expats has stalled for the time being. Measures that have been proposed recently such as fixed residency periods that would require them to leave the country after a certain period of time as well as nationality quotas have foundered due to the fact that after the emotion has left the picture they turn out to be detrimental to the country. In particular, if skilled workers such as teachers have been in the country for ten years should they then be forced to leave?

It is important to recognize of course that part of the sentiment that is behind measures like this is intended to increase the job opportunities for Kuwait’s citizens. However, the issue is that expats have recently been targeted with proposals to such an extent that recently it felt like hardly a day went by without the introduction of another one. There are indeed still some under consideration such as the proposal to effectively segregate health clinics by permitting expatriates to attend them in non-emergency situations only in afternoon hours. However, the rejection by the National Assembly of the proposal to charge Kuwaiti citizens different fuel prices indicates that the momentum may be shifting on this issue.

At the end of the day, Kuwait has a problem with its citizens relying on guaranteed state employment (the source of income for over 90 percent of them). However, the decisions that have recently been taken against expats have appeared intended not at ultimatley opening jobs for Kuwait’s citizens but instead aimed at stirring up anti-expat sentiment to deflect attention from the government’s failings.

Jordan’s New Cabinet: 18 ministers, No MPs

The composition of Jordan’s new cabinet was just announced, more than two months after the election. It consists of 19 members including Prime Minister Ensour, none of whom are Members of Parliament, though Ensour has said he would seek to include MPs in the cabinet in the next several months. Of the members of the outgoing cabinet, four of them retained their posts. The list of new Cabinet Ministers is as follows:

  1. Prime Minister and Defence: Abdullah Ensour
  2. Interior and Municipal Affairs: Hussein Majali (new, merged portfolio)
  3. Justice and Prime Ministry Affairs: Ahmad Ziadat (new, merged portfolio)
  4. Foreign Affairs: Nasser Judeh (unchanged)
  5. Trade, Industry, Communications, and Supply: Hatem Halawani (unchanged, merged portfolios)
  6. Finance: Ummaya Tukan (new)
  7. Planning, Tourism, and Antiquities: Ibrahim Saif (new)
  8. Education: Mohammad Wahash (new)
  9. Higher Education and Scientific Research: Amin Mahmud (new)
  10. Water and Agriculture: Hazem Nasser (new, merged portfolio)
  11. Information, Political Development and Parliamentary Affairs: Mohammad Momani (new, merged portfolios)
  12. Health and the Environment: Mjalli Mheilan (new, merged portfolio)
  13. Social Development: Reem Abu Hassan (new)
  14. Housing and Public Works: Walid Masri (new)
  15. Energy: Malek Kabariti (new)
  16. Labour and Transport: Nidal Qatamin (unchanged, merged portfolio)
  17. Islamic Affairs and Awqaf: Mohammad Qudah (new)
  18. Culture: Barakat Awajan (new)
  19. Public Sector Development: Khleif Khawaldeh (unchanged)

The list of Ministers includes nine newcomers and five who have previously served as Ministers, and among the newcomers is one woman, Reem Abu Hassan, who will be serving as Minister of Social Development. The most noteworthy holdover from the previous government is Nasser Judeh, who gains an additional responsiblity for Expatriate Affairs in addition to Foreign Affairs.

This list of cabinet ministers includes many changes in the individuals who are serving in the government but it seems much less likely that it will lead to corresponding changes in policy. Despite the number of changes, many of them, despite their status as first-time ministers have served in other posts within the government. Many of them have served in think tanks, some of which were affiliated with the Jordanian government although others served at think tanks that were independent.

For example, Interior Minister Awad Khliefat (who had been mentioned as a candidate for PM following the election in addition to Ensour) was replaced by Public Security Department Director Hussein Majali. Majali was director of the Public Security Department during protests against the fuel prices, and while those protests were ongoing claimed that two Syrian nationals had been paid to protest to increase the size of crowds. The payments, he said were made by a political party, which does not show an attitude that is favorable to the parties that the government says it wants to encourage.

Finance Minister Ummaya Tukan is another appointee who cannot be considered a newcomer after having served as head of the Central Bank of Jordan from 2001 to 2010. Ibrahim Saif, the new Minister of Planning is one of the more interesting additions, becoming a Minister after several years at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is the author or coauthor of numerous publications related to the Jordanian economy.

Malik Kabariti will become Minister for Energy, a crucial portfolio as the government considers steps that might be taken regarding electricity prices. Prior to his appointment to the cabinet he was Chairman of the Board at the National Electric Power Company

Interestingly, Reem Abu Hassan, the women’s right’s activist who is the only woman appointed to the cabinet is the daughter-in-law of Ahmed Obeidat, the head of the National Front for Reform, as she is married to his son Thamer. Prior to her appointment she was head of the National Council for Family Affairs, a government-supported think tank.

Mohamed Momani is another Minister who comes from an academic or think tank background, as he is a media figure and academic who joins the cabinet from the Jordan Media Institute, which offers an MA program in journalism. Barakat Ojwan joins the cabinet from private practice as a physician and activist in Maan. His involvement in the cabinet begs an interesting question – given that the cabinet excludes MPs currently does this mean that he would have been excluded as well had he won a national list seat that he ended up losing?

The Ministry of Supplies (under incumbent Minister Hatem Hawalani) was brought back under the new cabinet, and other changes included dividing Education with Higher Education, and combining Higher Education with Scientific Research

The new government faces many challenges, including those such as electricity prices that were left over by the previous government, which may have been one issue that caused the process of making the current cabinet to take such a long time. The way that it addresses these challenges will set a precedent for the future of both the policies that are implemented in Jordan and the way future governments are formed. The process of selecting a cabinet took more than two months this time. Next election, it would be extremely damaging to the Jordanian reform process if these types of delays were to happen again.

Instead of Helping Citizens, Kuwaiti MPs and Ministries Target Expats

Recently a number of measures have been considered in Kuwait that target the country’s substantial population of expatriates. It is important before this issue is examined in more detail that the background be discussed. It is estimated that out of a total population of about three million, two thirds are expatriates while the remaining one million are citizens. There is, essentially, a dichotomy in the economy between these two groups. The state provides essentially guaranteed employment to its citizens in the public sector that comes with generous benefits, and citizens have taken advantage, with more than 90 percent of them holding jobs in the public sector. Meanwhile, the private sector is dominated by expatriates, who hold over 98 percent of the jobs.

The expense of employing approximately 91 percent of its citizens is a substantial one for the Kuwaiti government, but it is one that it is currently able to afford due to the current high price of oil. Kuwait export crude is projected to be $107 per barrel with one month remaining in the fiscal year, which leads to a major surplus. However, the official budget projections, which are included in this economic report by the National Bank of Kuwait, are calculated with a projected oil price of $65 for 2012/2013 and a projected oil price of $70 for 2013/2014. According to these figures, if the oil prices were at that level, Kuwait would have large budget deficits, totaling approximately KD7.3 billion ($25 billion) for 2012/2013 and KD3.05 billion ($10.7 billion) for 2013.

Since the Arab Spring began at the beginning of 2011, the regime has done two things – first, it has reacted to clamp down on dissent, and second, it has boosted government spending substantially. These spending increases could include granting interest relief to Kuwaiti citizens who overspent their income and obtained personal loans to do so, or having the government purchase the loans. The issue, beyond that of equity or fairness, is that financial institutions are likely to continue extending such loans if they believe that the state would continue to bail them out by repaying them.

This increased spending has happened to a degree that the World Bank reported in 2012 that it would be unable to sustain it over the long term. The IMF projected in 2012 that at the current rate Kuwait would run out of extra oil revenue by 2017 and would no longer be able to save funds for its future generations fund. At the time that report was written it estimated that the breakeven point was $44 per barrel, but the recent budget projections show that the breakeven point is now substantially higher.

It is impossible to predict the direction of oil prices, and a decline to $70 a barrel is not unforeseeable. It might not be likely, but it is not impossible either, and would, as the statistics above show, put a serious strain on Kuwait’s budget (and could lead to subsidy reductions as well). It is therefore necessary to increase the private sector employment opportunities for Kuwait’s citizens so that they do not need to rely on government employment, which over the long term could be affected by fluctuations in the price of oil. There was recently a plan passed by the National Assembly to help finance small business projects that employ citizens but it has been criticized as having many of the same flaws as previous efforts, which helped establish some businesses but these did not employ substantial numbers of Kuwait’s citizens. There is, then, a pressing need for employment for the substantial young population, but currently a lack of adequate steps being taken. A recent $111 billion development plan that included contributions from the private sector was blocked by parliament last year. The danger is that Kuwait will, even with recent measures to attract foreign investment, lose out on business to other states in the region such as the UAE.

It is in this context then, that recent measures have been taken targeting Kuwait’s substantial population of expatriate workers. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor announced a plan to reduce the number of expats by 100,000 annually to reach 1 million in ten years. The Kuwaiti Ministry of Health recently implemented a measure intended to segregate the hours that Kuwaitis and expatriates receive non-emergency medical care. They have also been blamed even for traffic jams and accidents. However, the measures to restrict expatriates have two flaws – first, they are attempting to scapegoat a population of workers for issues beyond their control. Expats only recently (in 2010) received a degree of protection that included a minimum wage, and have suffered abuse from employers in the past. Second, it could under present economic conditions lead to a loss of valuable skilled workers, as a recent survey of Kuwaiti citizens showed.

What, then, is the solution? The exclusion of citizens from meaningful economic (and increasingly political) participation is a long-term issue that need to be addressed. What is required is careful study and well-studied and implemented plans, not measures intended to target a class of workers for long-term problems that are not of their creation.

King Abdullah’s Post-Interview Damage Control Begins

Image by Troy Carter (@CarterTroy)

Image by Troy Carter (@CarterTroy)

The damage control effort following King Abdullah’s interview with The Atlantic has begun. Today, the Turkish Foreign Ministry sought clarification regarding comments King Abdullah was said to have made regarding Prime Minister Erdogan. In the interview, King Abdullah said “I see a Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey.” Regarding Prime Minister Erdogan, King Abdullah said that “Erdogan once stated that democracy for him is a bus ride…Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.” He also compared Erdogan to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, saying “Instead of the Turkish model, taking six or seven years, [instead of] being an Erdoğan, Morsi wanted to do it overnight” He also had more critical comments to say about Morsi, saying that “There is no depth there” and gave the example of Morsi’s attitude towards reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. The interview also contained criticism of King Abdullah’s family, who he said behaved more like royalty the further they were from the throne (and said he would punish them sometimes to send a message), the Islamic Action Front (who he said wants to overthrow the government), the National Current Party headed by conservative and loyalist former Speaker Abdul Hadi al-Majali (which he said lacks a political platform), and the GID, which he criticized as well, as well as an anecdote about Bashar al-Assad being unfamiliar with jet lag, as well as comments about his relatively strong relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

From a PR standpoint it was a disaster. After Turkish diplomats complained about his comments regarding Ergogan, the regime has moved into full damage control mode. King Abdullah posted on his facebook page that the interview was “inaccurate and dishonest.” Jordanian officials have said they will give a “public general explanation” regarding the interview. What could such an explanation entail? Either King Abdullah made these remarks about the leaders of neigboring or nearby countries such as Egypt or Turkey or he did not. Either Jeffrey Goldberg is a fabricator (which would require a substantial amount of evidence to back up) or perhasp, as might be more likely, King Abdullah thought his comments were off the record. Even if this is the case it overlooks a larger point – even if King Abdullah did not expect these comments to be published, they were still what he said and still what he thought.

There is a larger danger here, not just for King Abdullah but for any leader who speaks off the record in a manner that is substantially different from when they are on the record. What do these comments achieve? They hurt Jordan’s relations with several countries and caused potential internal strife without achieving any gains. Turkey, like Jordan, borders Syria and is heavily involved in addressing the conflict in that country. Egypt is a major supplier of gas to Jordan, and yet both of those countries are not likely to take kindly to these comments. The damage control has begun.

What is clear from this interview is this: even if some of the things that King Abdullah said are arguably true, they should not have been said by someone who has stated he aspires to be a constitutional monarch. It is also, regardless, imprudent to damage Jordan’s relations with states in the region and damage its diplomatic position without any corresponding gains.

Violence Spreads to Jordan’s Parliament

**Update** Here is a YouTube video with the footage of the fight from Telegraph TV.

Violence has spread to Jordan’s parliament. During a speech by Prime Minister Ensour defending his government’s fuel price increase last week, he was interrupted by MP Zaid Shawabkah from Madaba, who started yelling at him before his colleagues intervened and convinced him to calm down. Soon after, an altercation began.

Ensour continued his speech and argued that the government had no choice due to Jordan’s budgetary situation, when Shawabkah interrupted him again, standing up and accusing him of corruption. Deputy Speaker Khalil Atiyeh apologized to the Prime Minister on behalf of the house for any disrepectful behavior from its members, and Ensour, though angered, continued his speech.

Shawabkah started interrupting Ensour again, and MP Shadi Odwan – whom Jordan Times reported seemed to have a firearm, though he did not pull it out – to move towards him, and colleagues intervened to separate the two of them. As more MPs started to become involved the situation escalated, Atiyeh ended the session.

The participants in this altercation were not protesters who stormed parliament, they were MPs, elected officials. A key element of political reform is having institutions such as parliament where policies are debated, and where those who are upset with the government can both work within parliament and outside of it to gain political support to either change policies or win future elections. This incident shows that it takes more than just changing laws to change a political culture.

Electoral Reform in Jordan Since 1989 at a Glance

Electoral reform is a major issue in Jordanian politics right now. Although these elections were held under a new electoral law, many have argued the current law is inadequate and should be reformed, and King Abdullah himself criticized the electoral law as flawed in his recent speech from the throne. As the direction of future electoral reform is debated in the coming months and years, it is helpful to understand the history of Jordanian electoral reform since elections were restored in 1989. The electoral reform bill passed last year was in fact only the latest of numerous changes to the electoral process since parliamentary elections were restored.

In April 1989, bread riots erupted following the implementation of austerity measures backed by the International Monetary Fund. In response to the riots and growing public discontent the regime announced that parliamentary elections would be held in November 1989, under an electoral law passed in 1986. The details of the electoral law are summarized in the next section.

Electoral Law (1989)

80 seats total:

  • 68 Muslim Arab
  • 9 Christian (6% of population, 11.25% of seats)
  • 3 Circassian/Chechen (less than 1% of population; 3.25% of seats)
  • 6 Bedouin (3.25% of population; 7.5% of seats)

By region (areas in red are underrepresented, while areas in blue are overrepresented):

  • Amman: 18 seats (1 Christian, 2 Circassian) (should have 28 if districts were equal size)
  • Madaba: 3 seats (1 Christian); (should have 2)
  • Balqa: 8 seats (2 Christian); (should have 6)
  • Karak: 7 seats (2 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Tafileh: 3 seats (should have 1)
  • Ma’an: 5 seats (should have 2)
  • Zarqa: 6 seats (1 Christian, 1 Circassian) (should have 8)
  • Mafraq: 3 seats (should have 2)
  • Irbid: 9 seats (1 Christian) (should have 10)
  • Aljoun: 3 seats (1 Christian) (should have 2)
  • Jerash: 2 seats (should have 3)
  • Ramtha & Bani Kinanah: 3 seats (correct amount)
  • Kourah & North Jordan Valley: 2 seats (should have 4)
  • Northern Bedouin (Bani Khalid, Azamat): 2 seats (should have 1)
  • Central Bedouin (Bani Sakhr): 2 seats (correct amount)
  • Southern Bedouin (Huwaitat): 2 seats (should have 1)

Rules/Regulations:

  • Political Parties Illegal
  • Nonpartisan party lists allowed
  • Voting age 19
  • Voters could cast as many votes as there were seats

1989 General Election Results

  • Muslim Brotherhood – 22 seats (14.54% of vote)
  • Independent Islamist – 11 seats (5.22%)
  • Tribal/Centrist Independents – 33 seats (12.86%)
  • Leftists – 6 seats (2.54%)
  • Arab Nationalists – 8 seats (2.54%)

In the aftermath of this election the regime was surprised by the strong showing of the opposition, particularly Islamists, and decided to alter the rules to favor tribal and independent candidates allied with the regime. The results was the electoral law of 1993.

Electoral Law (1993)

  • Number of votes each voter can cast reduced to one.
  • Districts remain the same.number of votes each voter can cast reduced to one.
  • Political parties were legalized in 1992.

1993 General Election Results

  • Tribal/Centrist Independents – 44 seats
  • Islamic Action Front – 16 seats (-6)
  • Independent Islamists – 6 seats (-5)
  • Jordan National Alliance Party – 4 seats
  • Al-Ahd Party – 3 seats
  • Al-Yakatha Party – 2 seats
  • Al-Mustakbal Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Arab Baath Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Arab National Democratic Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Communist Party – 1 seat
  • Jordan Democratic People’s Party – 1 seat

The measures that the regime took that favored independent candidates worked, and the Islamists lost seats. Turnout was up slightly. The regime was able to use its new majority in parliament to ratify the peace treaty with Israel and pass economic legislation. In response to the government’s actions during

1997 General Election

  • Tribal/Centrist Independents – 71 seats
  • Independent Islamists – 4 seats
  • National Constitutional Party – 1 seat
  • Arab Land Party – 1 seat
  • Jordanian Popular Democratic Unity Party – 1 seat
  • Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party – 1 seat

This election was held in a climate of increased censorship. Much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election. Turnout declined to 44 percent.

Electoral Law (2001)

110 seats total (+30):

  • 83 Muslim Arab (+15)
  • 9 Christian (6% of population, 8.1% of seats)
  • 3 Circassian/Chechen (less than 1% of population; 2.7% of seats)
  • 9 Bedouin (3.25% of population; 7.5% of seats) (+3 Bedouin Seats)
  • 6 women’s quota seats (top 6 female candidates with highest vote percentage who weren’t elected outright)

By region:

  • Amman: 23 seats (+5) (1 Christian, 2 Circassian) (should have 37 if districts were equal size)
  • Madaba: 3 seats (+1) (1 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Balqa: 10 seats (+2) (2 Christian); (should have 8)
  • Karak: 10 seats (+3)  (2 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Tafileh: 4 seats (+1) (should have 2)
  • Ma’an: 4 seats (+1) (should have 1)
  • Aqaba: 2 seats (should have 1)*
  • Zarqa: 10 (+4) seats (1 Christian, 1 Circassian) (should have 14)
  • Mafraq: 3 seats (should have 2)
  • Irbid: 16 seats (+9 including seats added from Kourah and Ramtha) (1 Christian) (should have 18)#
  • Aljoun: 3 seats (1 Christian) (correct amount)
  • Jerash: 4 seats (+2) (should have 3)
  • Northern Bedouin (Bani Khalid, Azamat): 3 seats (+1) (should have 1)
  • Central Bedouin (Bani Sakhr): 3 seats (+1) (should have 1)
  • Southern Bedouin (Huwaitat): 3 seats (+1) (should have 1)

*Removed from Ma’an in 1997. #Ramtha & Bani Kinanah as well as the district of Koura & North Jordan Valley were merged into the Irbid district.

When the parliament elected in 1997 reached the end of its term in 2001, King Abdullah – who took the throne in 1999 – promulgated a new electoral decree, and said that elections would be delayed for 10 months while it was implemented. However, elections ended up not being held until 2003. Subsequently, The seats were not added in an equal manner, the issue of malapportionment remained. For the first time, there were 6 women’s quota seats allocated to the best performing female candidates who did not win seats outright.

2003 General Election

  • Independents – 77 seats (5 women’s quota seats)
  • Islamic Action Front – 17 seats (1 women’s quota seat)
  • National Constitutional Party – 11 seats
  • Democratic Leftist – 2 seats
  • Popular Committees Movement Party – 1 seat

2007 General Election

  • Independents – 104 (including 6 women’s quota seats)
  • Islamic Action Front – 6

Electoral Law (2010)

In 2010, a new electoral law was passed that made two major changes:

  1. The number of seats in parliament was increased from 110 to 120, with the women’s quota increasing from 6 to 12. Four seats were added, including two to Amman, 1 to Zarqa, and 1 to Irbid.
  2. “Virtual Districts” were created. Each “virtual district” was its one race, as if it were a subdistrict, but voters could decide which virtual district in which they were going to vote, but could choose only one.

2010 General Election: Much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election, resulting in a sweep by pro-government loyalists and tribal figures.

Electoral Law (2012)

150 seats total (+30):

  • 27 National List Seats elected from lists by proportional representation (created by 2012 electoral law)

120 District Seats:

  • 87 Muslim Arab
  • 9 Christian (6% of population, 6% of seats)
  • 3 Circassian/Chechen (less than 1% of population; 2% of seats)
  • 9 Bedouin (3.25% of population; 6% of seats)

15 women’s quota seats: (+3 women’s quota seats from Bedouin Districts)

 

By region:

  • Amman: 25 seats (1 Christian, 2 Circassian) (should have 37 if districts were equal size)
  • Madaba: 3 seats (1 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Balqa: 10 seats (2 Christian); (should have 8)
  • Karak: 10 seats (2 Christian); (should have 3)
  • Tafileh: 4 seats (should have 2)
  • Ma’an: 4 seats (should have 1)
  • Aqaba: 2 seats (should have 1)*
  • Zarqa: 11 seats (+1) (1 Christian, 1 Circassian) (should have 14)
  • Mafraq: 3 seats (should have 2)
  • Irbid: 17 seats (+1) (1 Christian) (should have 18)#
  • Aljoun: 3 seats (1 Christian) (correct amount)
  • Jerash: 4 seats (should have 3)
  • Northern Bedouin (Bani Khalid, Azamat): 3 seats (should have 1)
  • Central Bedouin (Bani Sakhr): 3 seats (should have 1)
  • Southern Bedouin (Huwaitat): 3 seats (should have 1)

This election resulted in the use of proportional representation for a portion of the seats for the first time. Jordanians would cast two votes – one for National Lists and the other for Individual Seats. Virtual Districts were eliminated by the 2012 electoral law. Much of the opposition, including the Islamic Action Front, boycotted the election saying that the changes were not adequate.

2013 General Election

Numerous parties won National List Seats, including the Islamic Centrist Party (3 seats), Stronger Jordan (2 seats), Naiton (2 seats), and National Union (2 seats). Eighteen other parties each won one seat. For the results of the 2013 election in detail, click here for the election results post.

Conclusion

Electoral reform is a pressing issue facing the current parliament as it begins its term. Most political actors, ranging from the Islamic Action Front to King Abdullah (in his speech from the throne) have said that the current law is inadequate, and should be replaced by the coming parliament. The new parliament, however, will have many MPs who owe their election to malapportioned districts, which presents a problem in itself. No doubt whatever measures are taken, electoral reform will be a major subject of political debate during the current parliamentary term and beyond.