Jordan Monarchy: a model that is yet to materialize

In many ways, Jordan could be a model for what a successful “reform from above” process would be like, a model that is yet to materialize. Much of the reason is that it is ruled by a monarchy that is seen as legitimate by the overwhelming sectors of the population and necessary as a unifying force for the different ethnic groups in the country.

Jordan, Arab country of Southwest Asia, in the rocky desert of the northern Arabian Peninsula.

Jordan is a young state that occupies an ancient land, one that bears the traces of many civilizations. Separated from ancient Palestine by the Jordan River, the region played a prominent role in biblical history. The ancient biblical kingdoms of Moab, Gilead, and Edom lie within its borders, as does the famed red stone city of Petra, the capital of the Nabatean kingdom and of the Roman province of Arabia Petraea. British traveler Gertrude Bell said of Petra, “It is like a fairy tale city, all pink and wonderful.” Part of the Ottoman Empire until 1918 and later a mandate of the United Kingdom, Jordan has been an independent kingdom since 1946. It is among the most politically liberal countries of the Arab world, and, although it shares in the troubles affecting the region, its rulers have expressed a commitment to maintaining peace and stability.

The capital and largest city in the country is Amman named for the Ammonites, who made the city their capital in the 13th century BCE. Amman was later a great city of Middle Eastern antiquity, Philadelphia, of the Roman Decapolis, and now serves as one of the region’s principal commercial and transportation centers as well as one of the Arab world’s major cultural capitals.

In Jordan, The overwhelming majority of the people are Arabs, principally Jordanians and Palestinians; there is also a significant minority of Bedouin, who were by far the largest indigenous group before the influx of Palestinians following the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948–49 and 1967. Jordanians of Bedouin heritage remain committed to the Hāshimite regime, which has ruled the country since 1923, despite having become a minority there. Although the Palestinian population is often critical of the monarchy, Jordan is the only Arab country to grant wide-scale citizenship to Palestinian refugees. Other minorities include a sizable number of Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan because of the Syrian Civil War, as well as a number of Iraqis who fled to Jordan as a result of the Persian Gulf War and Iraq War. There are also smaller Circassian (known locally as Cherkess or Jarkas) and Armenian communities.

A small number of Turkmen (who speak either an ancient form of the Turkmen language or the Azeri language) also reside in Jordan.

Jordan is a hereditary constitutional monarchy (Massadeh 1999; Sharp, 2017). The nation is the source of power; the nation exercises its power through the legislative branch and the king (Massadeh, 1999). The king is the supreme head of executive power, and he is the commander of the Jordanian armed forces, naval forces, and air forces (Massadeh 1999; Sharp, 2017). His majesty has a constitutional power, not a symbolic one, which empowers him to declare war, affirm peace, and endorse treaties (Massadeh, 1999); to appoint and dissolve the prime minister and all judges (Sharp, 2017); and to assign the crown prince, the military leader, and the senate (Sharp, 2017). The king is authorized to dissolve the Parliament of Jordan and to delay an election of House of Representatives (Sharp, 2017).

Jordan’s political system is based on the power separation principle: legislative power, executive power, and judiciary power. The Jordanian Constitution defines terms of reference for each power without inference between them (The Parliament of Jordan, 2017). The relationship among these powers is participatory, balanced, and complementary (The Parliament of Jordan, 2017). The following discussion clarifies the structure and responsibility of each power.

Legislative branch

The legislative power charters the bicameral system, which includes the house of senators, who are appointed by the king, and the House of Representatives, who are elected by Jordanian citizens (The Parliament of Jordan, 2017). The major functions of the legislative—National Assembly—power are: 1) Enacting laws through proposing bills and passing drafts of laws (United Nations, 2004), and 2) overseeing government performance and questioning the executive branch through direct questions about the progress of the government and investigations of illegal acts (United Nations, 2004). Generally, the National Assembly is responsible for Jordan’s annual budget through discussing and opposing or confirming items and the annual budget’s cost (The Parliament of Jordan, 2017).

Executive branch

The executive branch consists of the king, the prime minister, and the Council of Ministers (Massadeh, 1999). The king is the highest-ranking of those in the executive branch, and as declared in Article 26 of the Jordanian Constitution, “The executive power shall be vested in the king who shall exercise his power through his ministers in accordance with the provisions of this constitution”.

 The Council of Ministers is comprised of ministers and is headed by the prime minister. The council manages Jordan’s external and internal affairs, accepting issues needed to amend the constitution (Massadeh, 1999). Ministries and the council are responsible for executing public policies, and all of their duties and functions should be ratified by the King (Massadeh, 1999).

The Prime Minister is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the king and is responsible for all of the ministries (Massadeh, 1999). The Prime Ministry oversees and coordinates the Council of Ministers’ functions parallel with the royal court, the national assembly, and other authorities (Massadeh, 1999). The prime minister is accountable before Parliament for implementing policy and managing financial resources according to budgeted items and allowances (Massadeh, 1999).

A ministry is a governmental department headed by a minister and aims to implement public policies in a determined domain in the form of public services. The minister is responsible for implementing the policies in his ministry and is accountable for any short work or illegal acts (Constitution of Jordan, Article 47; Massadeh, 1999). The structure of Jordan’s ministries are classified for both regional and functional structures. For example, each ministry has a headquarters in Jordan’s capital, and other ministry regional offices are spread across the 12 Governorates of Jordanian, their districts, and their sub-districts to provide public services in coordination with the central government of each ministry (Massadeh, 1999). A governorate is an administrative division of a state (Ministry of Interior, 2016). Therefore, the governorates and local governments are dependent entities, and they do not have their budgets (Massadeh, 1999). Jordan is working to alter the country’s administrative system, leaning toward a more decentralization governance approach; however, there is no clear evidence regarding the practical application of this movement.

The second ministry’s structure classification is based on the functions of the ministries. Because there is no specific number of ministers in each cabinet, the number of ministries varies based on the prime minister’s vision and his plan to accomplish the public will and to provide public services (United Nations, 2004). Generally speaking, the established ministry should fall into one of three categories: First, the interior ministry pertains to the preservation of safety, public security, and state sovereignty; second, management of religious affairs and holy places is responsible for mosques, places of worships, and all holy ceremonies (Massadeh, 1999); and third, public goods and services ministries provide public services, such as public education, public health care, social protection, and welfare ministries, to all Jordanians.

Judiciary branch

Judicial power is an independent entity and is represented by the courts of law and varies in its types and degrees (United Nations, 2004). According to Article 97 of the Constitution of Jordan, “judges are independent, and in the exercise of their judicial functions they are subject to no authority other than of the law.” As is argued, judges are appointed and terminated by the king (Constitution of Jordan, Article 98; United Nations, 2004). The major categories of the courts of law are 1) civil courts that pertain to civil and criminal cases; 2) religious courts, which concern Sharia and other religious community issues; and 3) special courts that include military courts, police courts, and municipal courts (Constitution of Jordan, Article 99; United Nations, 2004). The founding of any different courts, its category, function, and jurisdiction boundary, should be defined by a special law (Constitution of Jordan, Article 100).

Local government

Jordan has been divided into 12 governorates; geographically, the governorates of Jordan is divided into three regions: the north region, the central region, and the southern region. This geographic division is based on geographic connections and population centers (Ministry of Interior, 2016).

The administration of each governorate is the responsibility of an appointed governor, who is the head of that governorate and who has direct contact with the interior minister and reports to him (Massadeh 1999; United Nations, 2004). In essence, the Governorates of Jordan are an extension of Jordan’s central government and are part of the Ministry of Interior (United Nations, 2004). In short, a governor is responsible for coordinating ministries’ regional office actions and for participating in setting the agenda of the ministries’ regional offices based on the need of a governorate and the available resources (Massadeh, 1999).

Municipal councils in a governorate are elected for four years by the residents to deal with local issues and local services within the governorate’s borders. Local governments and municipal offices are dependent on central government subsidies because municipal offices do not have a wide autonomy to generate new revenue sources (Massadeh, 1999). To illustrate, municipal councils are only eligible to collect taxes and service fees as previously defined by the central government and ministry regional offices.

Non-central Public Administration Organizations

The Jordanian government has established several public organizations that are independent, have their budget and have legal power as self-governing entities (Massadeh, 1999). Public organizations could be business-like organizations, professional organizations, and NGOs, and they are still linked in one way with the central government (Massadeh, 1999). Moreover, public administration in Jordan promotes human rights and it takes the responsibility of preserving human rights and protecting women and minorities through establishing human rights organizations and family support organizations (United Nations, 2004).

 In summary, Jordan’s political and administrative system combines centralization and decentralization. The king is the supreme head of the country, and his authorities are guaranteed by the Jordanian Constitution. The three essential powers—legislative, executive, and judicial—are coordinated and harmonized to accomplish the nation’s will, and all of these powers are accountable before the king and the nation.

Although the country does not have a strong tradition of parliamentary party politics, the Hashemite royal family has always advocated liberal social policies toward its citizens, including Christians and women. While the system didn’t allow much competition in political affairs, equally it didn’t engage in brutal practices against its opponents as many of its neighbors did. Politically, the Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to operate legally and as a result, the Islamists adopted more moderate policies than they did in other Arab countries.

Despite its history, however, Jordan still seems stuck in a system that has so far promised far more reforms than it has delivered. To be sure, the constitution was amended and agreed on the establishment of a constitutional court for the first time, long a demand of political activists, and an independent election commission to supervise all aspects of the election process.

However, these amendments fall far short of several necessary measures. While the king lost the ability to indefinitely postpone elections, all other powers have been left intact — for example, the monarch still appoints and dismisses the prime minister. On the key issue of the election law, not much has changed. Despite more than a year of deliberations, the law went through different variations, resulting in the end in a formula that would have 82 percent of parliament elected according to the same old unpopular formula.

If reform from above has any real chance to succeed, it would be in Jordan. But it will require a dramatic shift of priorities by a system that has been so far resilient to serious change — a shift that can be led only by the king.

By Sanjida Xannat

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