Jordan aims to avoid unrest with dialogue on sweeping reforms
There is an ever-present worry in Jordan that, if dialogue fails now, a public that has so far asked only for reform of the regime could start thinking of revolution.
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"The executive branch of government has occupied a wide spectrum of activities at the expense of the legislative and the judiciary," explains Jordanian attorney Anis Kassim.Skip to next paragraph
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Skepticism over current reforms
Many Jordanians, including Mr. Kassim, have been suspicious of the government's current reform push from the start. In recent decades, Jordan has seen numerous dialogue committees, charters, and even a massive reform blueprint called the National Agenda, all of which were quietly abandoned by the government.
Kassim calls the latest national dialogue "a sponge" to soak up the anger of the Jordanian street. "I think the government designed it that way."
The fear is that this committee's recommendations will evaporate, especially since it was initially only given a mandate to create a new elections law and political parties law. The Islamists refused to join because the government declined to meet demands for broader reforms. After the committee's first meeting, on March 19, leftists also threatened to walk out.
"It's not just the left," says Mr. Aburumman, the political analyst, who is a member of the committee. "I think most of the people on the committee hope for something more."
Government concedes to committee demands
Yesterday, the day set for the walkout, committee leader Taher Masri presented a new draft agenda that included discussion of constitutional amendments affecting the entire political and parliamentary system, not just elections.
"The government was refusing to include the political system in the amendments," says Mr. Masri, who is the head of Jordan's Senate and one of the country's most universally respected political figures. "I overruled the government veto."
"We are our own masters. … We are independent, and I want to prove it," he says.
The Islamists, however, still feel the concessions are not clear. Mr. Assaf says the Islamic Action Front was asked to rejoin the dialogue on Tuesday, but that what was being offered might be only a superficial change in the committee's mission.
"It could be one constitutional amendment, it could be 10, it does not really specify anything," he says. "It's just trying to get us to participate in this committee, to give it some value, and then they do what they like. The time for that has passed."
Few in Jordan want to speculate about what will happen if the opposition's demands are not met, including opposition leaders themselves.
"We will keep on asking for reforms," says Assaf. "We will not give up, and if they don't want to do it, that's up to them. We advise the government to carry out what the king has told them to do."
Even the opposition seems wary of upsetting Jordan's stability. Tuesday's compromise has forestalled that day, and allowed dialogue to continue. And though January's optimism is gone, many say there is still momentum in the Jordanian political sphere that will be hard to resist.
"The region is in turmoil," says Masri, who heads the dialogue committee. "The Arab street – and we are an important part of that – is eager to change a lot of things. We cannot ignore that. Things have changed, and regimes have aged, and we need to be ahead of the wave."