NED Program 2012-2013:

Jordan took its first steps towards democratization in 1989 with the introduction of political pluralism and liberalization and an end to martial law. Since then, there have been additional reforms including new political parties, freedom of press and publication laws, elections and the emergence of civil society organizations. The leadership of the kingdom has undergone a crucial transition from an accomplished statesman, King Hussein, to a novice and military commander, King Abdullah. At the same time, it has been tested by pressures from a war in Iraq, a dormant peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis, and now by a civil war in Syria.

Since his ascension to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah has responded to the regional pressures by shuffling his cabinet ten times. The legislature, whose current extraordinary session is scheduled to end in late September remains subject to the king’s direct power, and is generally perceived as a vehicle for its members to direct services and patronage to their constituents. While parliamentary elections were held in 2003, 2007, 2010, and January 2013, the king has since dissolved parliament twice. Between November 2009 and November 2010, there was no parliament in session. As for the judiciary, it has struggled, and so far failed, to establish independence. It has not cemented public confidence in its ability to adjudicate fairly. Municipal elections, initially scheduled for September 2012, have been postponed to August 2013.

Reform in Jordan has proven to be a slow and challenging process, and many are cynical about any true intentions to change the country substantively. For more than a year, there have been sustained street protests. Those voices have been hampered by dissent, and lack of collective identity or demands. They have also been sidelined by the government's announcement of a number of cosmetic changes. This includes a new electoral law that will conceivably produce a more representative parliament, albeit unlikely to be one that is genuinely independent. There is little popular confidence that these reforms will cut deep or last long, but they do prevent further protests in key blocs of society. In addition, pressure from the Syrian front has encouraged continued support for the trade-off between stability and security, and democratic reforms.

This does, however, provide some opportunities for civil society to weigh in on the government's reformation efforts; Jordanian civil society is becoming more vocal in discussing draft legislation and conducting public discussion forums. Civil society in Jordan is at a critical juncture with a unique opportunity to influence reform. It needs to broaden its appeal to the awakened public, consolidate its influence over political processes, and focus on legislative reforms. In particular, it needs to assert its independence and credibility. Without a strong and independent civil society ready and equipped to expand existing openings and provide a check on new restrictions, democratic development within the kingdom is threatened by co-optation of civil society. Furthermore, most CSOs are environmental, charitable or sports groups. Still, these margins provide local CSOs with ample opportunities to operate and reach out to constituencies, especially youth and women, who would otherwise remain unexposed to even the most basic concepts and practices of democratic freedoms.



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