The Media Line Staff
Jordan's King Abdullah said he would adopt a series of constitutional amendments that will decrease his power and make government more accountable to the people. But local politicians and experts say the reforms may be too little and too late.
"The wall of fear has fallen," Basel Burgan, an Amman pharmacist and social activist told The Media Line. "People are no longer scared to speak their minds. If His Majesty the King does not speed up the reform process, more and more people will take to the streets."
On Sunday, a Constitutional Review Committee established by the King in April ceremonially submitted a document containing 42 revisions to the constitution of 1952. The proposed changes call for increasing Jordan's balance of power and widening civil liberties.
One amendment will empower the parliament to appoint the prime minister, rather than have him personally chosen by the King. At present, elections may be postponed indefinitely after a parliament is dissolved by the King. A constitutional amendment will limit the interim period to four months.
"There is an overwhelming consensus in Jordan that this move is historically significant, strengthening the separation of power and reducing the King's prerogatives," Assaf David, an expert on Jordan at Jerusalem's Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace, told The Media Line. "The question is will it be enough. Three months ago it may have been, but today there's a predominant sense of nihilism and mistrust."
Weekly demonstrations demanding political reform erupted in Jordan in January, but were milder that protest movements elsewhere in the Arab world which demanded regime change. A sluggish response by the King to the reform demands coupled by police violence against protesters has pushed many Jordanians to mistrust any government initiative.
"The amendments are a positive step, but are void of real change that could have been included," Hamza Mansour, Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, told The Media Line. "In all modern states, the Senate is elected by the people and not appointed from above."
Ten Jordanians were injured in a pro-reform protest in the southern city of Karak on August 12. The unarmed youth demonstrators blamed the government for unleashing pro-regime thugs who attacked them with sticks and knives, independent news agency Ammon News reported.
"People have lost faith in the entire political system," Fatima Smadi, a journalism professor and political columnist with the independent daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, told The Media Line. "The regime talks about reforms and then sends thugs to disperse protesters."
Smadi said that deliberations on the constitutional amendments should have included representatives of the Jordanian public and not held "behind closed doors." She added that many in Jordan believe the amendments should be voted on in a national referendum rather than ratified by parliament alone, since the public completely mistrusts the current parliament.
"These amendments are important enough to be put to a public vote," she said.
The parliament is expected to endorse the amendments within one month, and the King has promised to implement the recommendations by the end of the year.
Some of the amendments strengthen the civil nature of the political and electoral processes. A new constitutional court will be created to replace the weaker Higher Council for the Interpretation of the Constitution, as well as an independent commission to oversee elections. Civilians will only be tried before civil, not military courts and provisional laws will only be enacted in extreme cases.
But the tribal public that demonstrated in Karak on Friday, formerly the linchpin of King Abdullah's political stability, went as far as attacking the King personally; a red line in a Kingdom where criticism of the royal family is punishable by up to three years in prison. Two Jordanian students were arrested in July 2010 for criticizing the King online.
"In Karak protesters mentioned the King's gambling problem," David, the Jordan expert, said. "This is something unheard of in Jordan's tribal periphery."
Interior Minister Mazen A-Saket criticized the Karak demonstrators' slogans against the King on Monday, but said they would not be arrested.
"We have laws and civil courts," he told Al-Arab Al-Yawm daily.
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