When I heard about Jordan, I used to think of it as the best democracy among the Arab countries. Being in the middle of a region with a very problematic political situation, it has managed not to fall under the same rule and not to suffer from the effects of the Arab Spring. Jordan has
When I heard about Jordan, I used to think of it as the best democracy among the Arab countries. Being in the middle of a region with a very problematic political situation, it has managed not to fall under the same rule and not to suffer from the effects of the Arab Spring. Jordan has succeeded in keeping itself away from the turmoil that has absorbed the region with the help of United States, its strong ally, who consideres it to be the most stabilized democracy in the Middle East. We don’t usually hear many cases of infringement of democracy in this country, perhaps because the focus is on its neighbours who are suffering from conflict and war.
Despite the strong promotion of Jordan as a functioning democracy, there are many problems concerning its political situation and the rights of its citizens. The system is heavily directed by King Abdullah II, who is highly praised in the West for his pro-Western ideology and his progressive reforms. In a region in which countries are suffering from oppressive leaders and a dictatorship, Jordan has embraced another way and is trying to follow a more democratic model. However, there is a lot of criticism regarding the means that the government uses in order to establish its ‘democracy’.
In Jordan, freedom of speech and expression exist, but it has its terms and conditions. Jordan criminalizes freedom of speech that is critical of the King, government officials, and other institutions. In the recent years, the penalties for breaking this law have intensified. In April 2013, a journalist called Jamal al- Muhtasab was charged for writing an article concerning the King’s intervention in a corruption case. He was jailed and released several weeks later. But this is just one among the many cases. A member of the parliament was once jailed for expressing his opinion on a possible Republic. Another citizen was jailed for two years because of a Facebook post, in which he wrote: ‘Jordan is heading towards an Abyss.‘
The government is in a constant battling with opposing political parties, civil society and the press, all of which tend to be very critical towards the politics of the country. As a consequence, the government has taken several measurements. For example, a few years ago it nationalized the press, which ended up being an army of government policies advocates. In 2012, it modified the law for the Press and Publications. Under the new requirements, local news website would obtain a license from the government’s press in order to proceed with their activity. Also, every information that would go online, would first be passed through a filter. The blocking measures defy the right of the citizens to access information from different sources and point of views, thus brainwashing them into believing the right source.
The fear of criticism that comes with the freedom of speech, is strongly related to the government’s security measures. Many actually consider these laws as a medium between freedom of speech and security. The government and the King want to avoid another ‘Arab Spring’ type uprising. Or perhaps the Jordanian governments has imposed censorship and limited freedom of expression, in order to prevent any possible risks for the overthrown of the King, which would probably destabilize the country and would make it very vulnerable to the threat that has long devoured the surrounding neighbours. Perhaps these security measures have been put in place in order to ‘fight terrorism’, which nowadays can easily be promoted by extremists on social networks. Or, it’s a possibility that all these measures are just a way of keeping up the legacy of the Jordanian monarchy.
No matter what the reasons are, lack of criticism is not part of a democratic system. There should be debating, clashing opinions, tensions, critique towards the government, and the total freedom and courage to do so, otherwise the very fabric of democracy ceases to exist. The Human Rights Watch has rated the press in Jordan as not free and the Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has ranked them as 143 out of 180 countries.
Even though Jordan is considered a Western ally and a country that strongly opposes Islamic extremism, there is clearly a contradiction between how it tries to appear on the world stage and how it behaves domestically.