Countries at the Crossroads 2006 - Jordan

  • Author: Pete W. Moore
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    3 August 2006

(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)


In 1989, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan launched the Arab World's most promising experiment in political liberalization and reform. A well-educated professional class, a history of political participation, and a cooperative Islamist movement all gave Jordan a comparative advantage in expanding rights and inclusion. Today, unfortunately, the country has reversed course, and the actions of recent years no longer demonstrate a clear commitment to democratization. Freedoms of assembly and expression have been restricted, the electoral system remains unrepresentative, and years of economic liberalization policies have failed to decentralize economic power. In a 2005 opinion poll, 77 percent of Jordanian respondents reported that they fear criticizing their government.1 Dissidents, observers, and scholars agree that the source of this de-liberalization is the quest by the monarchy to maintain centralized power in the face of domestic opposition and regional instability. While capital flight from the violence in Iraq and violence between Palestinians and Israelis has benefited the political and economic elite of the country, the risks of instability were never distant. Tragically, those risks were realized by Iraqi insurgent bombings of three Amman hotels on November 9, 2005. As a result, King Abdullah quickly replaced the government of Prime Minister Adnan Badran to make way for a government headed by former general Marouf al-Bakhit.

When he ascended to the throne in 1999 after the death of his father, King Hussein, Abdullah II bin Hussein inherited a country that had already begun backsliding on political reforms. The logic for this is straightforward. As a general rule, monarchies cultivate the image of an umpire above politics, yet in reality, their survival depends very much on politics, specifically, formal constitutional powers over all branches of government and informal cultivation of support from a narrow segment of society and manipulation of opposition from the wider segments. Thus, the liberalizations initiated in 1989 and the end of marshal law in 1991 can be seen as controlled measures to cope with a previous decade of economic decline and decreasing patronage from the state. In the 1990s, the Jordanian monarchy began to realize new funding and political support through its relationship with Washington and Tel Aviv, as well as its involvement in the Oslo Peace Process. When Jordanians began to utilize their new liberties to voice disagreement with these policies, the monarchy was forced to choose between détente with Washington and democratization for Jordanians. The choice was clear. In the last years of his life, King Hussein moved aggressively to deny professional associations the right of political expression, curtail press freedoms, and jail a number of opposition leaders and journalists. The rhetoric of democratization endured while the rollback of political liberties moved forward. From 1994 until 2005, American financial and military aid to Amman reached a total of US$5 billion.2 In 2000, Jordan became only the second Middle Eastern country, after Israel, to conclude a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States. The FTA has been hailed as proof of Jordan's reform progress, yet government restrictions on the freedom of association in 2004 and 2005 directly contravened commitments to labor rights in the trade agreement.3

After assuming the throne, King Abdullah delivered speeches suggesting democratic change was coming; however, the decline in rights and participation has continued. In 2001, the king suspended Parliament and over the next two years ruled by decree, enacting some 250 temporary laws. Continued violence in the West Bank and Iraq has generated capital flight, making Jordan "a hub for activities in Iraq."4

Such investment has primarily benefited the country's political and economic elites, who dominate the real estate and service sectors that have absorbed the capital. Consumer prices, particularly for fuel and housing, have increased significantly, while overall per capita income has remained close to what it was in the mid-1980s.5 Violence between street demonstrators and police took place in 1996 in Marj al-Hammam and in 1997 in Kerak, while the most extensive clashes took place in November 2002 in the city of Ma'an. Government officials were quick to blame this and other unrest on outside criminal influence, yet subsequent analysis suggests the unrest was related to domestic political de-liberalization and economic pressure.6 In 2002, the government launched a public relations campaign titled "Jordan First," ostensibly to counter the vision of a divided Jordan. However, popular opinion came to see the campaign as a clever means to paint any opposition to government policies as anti-Jordanian. The return to parliamentary elections in 2003 was welcome, but biased electoral rules resulted in the election of a progovernment Parliament.

In 2004, the government's campaign against the nation's professional associations – the country's largest civil society organizations – led to a crisis as the Interior Ministry and security officials attempted to deny the associations the freedoms of assembly and expression. Peaceful street demonstrations were met with security force deployments and arrests. King Abdullah eventually broke the standoff by calling for the resignation of then prime minister Faisal al-Fayez and appointing a new government under Adnan Badran.

Throughout this period, the Jordanian government's role in Washington's war on terrorism and support of U.S. policy has been tied to mounting reports of torture, secret detention centers, public/private corruption, and press intimidation, all of which have damaged Jordan's international standing. In response, King Abdullah launched a National Agenda Committee to create a 10-year reform strategy for the country. Hints of the agenda's reform proposals have leaked, yet as of November 2005 no document had been publicly offered. More broadly, the National Human Rights Center (NCHR) in Jordan concluded that "no substantial change or positive development in legislation or procedure related to civil and political rights took place during 2005."7

Accountability and Public Voice – 2.83

Since institutionalization by British mandate authorities in the 1920s, a hereditary monarchy (the Hashemite family) has ruled Jordan. The selection of the monarch and a crown prince are internal family matters with no public participation (Article 28 of the constitution). Jordan's constitution vests all executive power with the monarch, including the power to appoint a prime minister, the cabinet, and a 55-person Senate. Along with the Senate, an elected 110-member Chamber of Deputies (or Lower House) comprises the legislative branch of government; however, Article 91 of the constitution directs the prime minister and his cabinet to submit draft laws, leaving the Chamber of Deputies the power only to amend and to approve. With few exceptions, draft laws are crafted and introduced by the cabinet with little if any participation by outside societal or interest groups. The monarch has sole purview to call Parliament into session and to disband it. The constitution also allows for the monarch to dictate temporary laws when Parliament is not in session. Through formal and informal means, the monarch rules by decree and manipulates the electoral process.

Few avenues exist for informing citizens and political parties about government activities. Formally, Article 96 of the constitution allows parliamentarians to pose questions to ministers on public issues. In practice, few such inquiries are made, and better connected parliamentarians simply rely on informal means to gather information. Parliamentarians and civic associations regularly complain of the lack of knowledge about draft bills in preparation or temporary laws. For example, upon the return of the elected Parliament in 2003, members were surprised to find that instead of an expected 100 to 150 temporary laws, the number presented to Parliament actually approached 250.8

Since the late 1990s, civil society activists and opposition candidates have increasingly complained that the Government Intelligence Directorate (GID) regularly intervenes in parliamentary votes as well as electoral campaigns. In the 2003 election, for example, one parliamentary candidate reported receiving a warning from the head of the GID about his campaign platform: "If your sons want to work in Jordan in the future, it might affect them."9 In 2005, the NCHR reported that members of several political parties were summoned by security officials on charges of distributing criticisms of government economic policies.10

Political parties are legal in Jordan, yet historically very weak. Of the two dozen or so political parties, only the Islamic Action Front (IAF) is viable and effective. In part, this general weakness is due to the simple fact that political power is centralized within the monarchy, and thus parties are not competing for genuine political power or participation. More specifically, this weakness is tied to the lack of electoral representation in Jordan.

In 1993, a controversial one-person, one-vote electoral law came into force on the heels of a rezoning of the country's 20 electoral districts (now 45 districts). The rezoning created a system that underrepresents opposition-minded Palestinian urban areas and overrepresents rural, regime-loyal East Bank areas. For example, the second district of Amman (location of the Wihdat refugee camp) has over 73,000 registered voters and is allotted three seats, whereas the Governorate of Ma'an with 23,000 registered voters is allotted five seats. In combination with one-person, one-vote, the incentive is for the voter to support "the candidate you might know personally and of whom you may expect direct assistance should you need it, rather than voting on issues or ideology."11 The result has been the consistent electoral dominance of tribal and pro-monarchy candidates.

This law was only slightly modified for the June 17, 2003 elections. While the modifications set aside quotas to increase representation for women and continue quotas for minorities – nine seats for Christians, three each for Circassians and Chechens, and six for women – the systematic underrepresentation endured. The 2003 election thus returned a Parliament with 62 seats going to pro-regime loyalists and the IAF accounting for 17. Turnout was 57 percent with few complaints of voter fraud. All political parties participated, although the IAF boycotted the earlier municipal elections in response to a temporary law that allowed the government to appoint all mayors and half of all municipal council members.

Potentially, the most important development on the electoral horizon concerns hints of reform coming from the still-evolving National Agenda. In September and October 2005, elements of these reform recommendations began appearing in the local media. Most notable was the idea of moving away from a one-person, one-vote system to proportional representation or split-ticket voting, something the opposition has called for since 1993. On the other hand, the leaked recommendations made little progress in establishing a truly independent electoral commission, advising instead that the judiciary be tasked with oversight.12 It is important to emphasize these are only recommendations and drafts and therefore far from constituting change in Jordan's unrepresentative electoral system.

All nongovernmental associations require approval from the government to operate. This gate-keeping function has allowed government officials to block formation of associations for political reasons. This was precisely the claim by Jordanian human rights activists in response to the continued government refusal to allow registration of the Jordan Citizen's Rights Association in 2004.13 It does not appear that laws restrict foreign funding of nongovernmental organizations.

The Jordanian government and King Abdullah consistently proclaim commitment to press freedom and free speech. Indeed, independent-minded publications do emerge, Al-Arab Al-Yawm in 1998 and Al-Ghad in 2004, but within a few years informal and formal regime restrictions push them into line. In December 2003, the government ended its monopoly of broadcast media, allowing registration of private entities. However, rules for approval are vague and licensing fees quite high – even higher if the outlet wishes to have political content. Out of 14 radio stations licensed to broadcast, only 10 are currently on the air, and in 2005 only one FM station, AmmanNet, carried news and limited political content. In 2003, the government amended a 2001 temporary law that had allowed prosecution of media persons in state security courts; instead, trials would take place in civil courts. However, legislative approval is still pending.

In point of fact, Jordanian officials regularly impose both direct and indirect restrictions on press freedom. The state funds a number of media outlets, including prominent daily newspapers such as Al-Rai. Hence, the press engages in a great deal of self-censorship, particularly regarding information about the U.S. military in Jordan, relations with Israel, public corruption, or criticism of the monarchy. Human rights observers and journalists consistently report that GID officials intimidate editors and employ a network of informants among the press. For example, on September 19, 2005, GID officials stopped print runs of the weekly Al-Wahda as a means to censor an article in that edition.14

Officials also take advantage of Jordan's vaguely worded penal code (Article 191) regarding "slander" and "defamation" of government officials (foreign and domestic) to jail journalists and writers.15 In 2004, security officials detained Fahd al-Rimawi, editor in chief of the private weekly Al-Majd, for a story about Jordanian military cooperation with the United States in Iraq.16

These laws are also used to discourage poetic expression. Poets Haider Mahmoud in early 2005 and Sameer Al-Qudah in 2004 were summoned by GID officials after publishing work that was viewed as criticizing the monarchy and public corruption.17 In response to the unfavorable international reaction, King Abdullah issued decrees in April 2005 prohibiting the arrest and detention of journalists. However, just four months later in a national address he warned: "We should refrain from joining these newspapers in promoting whatever rumors, accusations, and slander they circulate."18 The implication is that there are a number of ways to curb press freedom short of physical detention. To whit, a new survey of journalists in 2005 revealed the use of 12 additional means including official and unofficial threats, summons by security agencies, suspension from work, arbitrary transfer, and bodily harm.19

The National Agenda is also reported to be considering media reforms. Among the recommendations to surface is an end to mandatory membership in the Jordanian Press Association for all journalists. International human rights organizations have praised the recommendation as supporting worker freedom and choice.20 Journalists in Amman protested the idea as threatening their collective action by weakening the association.21

In regional comparison, Jordanians' access to the internet is relatively free. All internet service providers, however, are routed through government firms. Censorship does occur, especially regarding news sites. As of 2004, at least two outside news sites were banned within Jordan, and one domestic news site has been harassed.22


  • The Hashemite monarchy should initiate a political process to detach itself from all executive power and place the institution and its individuals under the law within a constitutional framework. Such a process would entail a number of sizable reforms, but the simple announcement of the intent to constitutionalize the monarchy would represent the foundation for the ability of Jordanians to become citizens and not subjects.
  • The Government Intelligence Directorate should be expressly barred from involvement in domestic political issues, and past offenses by its officials should be brought to public light.
  • Reforms considered under the National Agenda need to abolish the current voting system in favor of a proportional or mixed voting system. An independent and transparent electoral commission should be established.
  • The government should remove itself from the media by liquidating or privatizing its holdings in those firms.
  • Penal code laws that allow prosecution of speech acts should be revoked. Intimidation and censorship of the media should be criminalized.

Civil Liberties – 3.12

Jordan's constitution and penal code expressly outlaw torture, detention without trial, and arbitrary arrest. In practice, however, state enforcement has been weak and citizen complaints of mistreatment by state officials rarely prosecuted. Human rights observers and opposition leaders consistently highlight patterns of violations of individual rights. While the penal code calls for prosecutor notification 24 hours after a suspect's arrest and the filing of formal charges within 14 days, delays and extensions can significantly postpone trials and lengthen pretrial imprisonment.

Reports of torture and extralegal detention are common, particularly in connection with the government's support for Washington's "war on terrorism." International human rights organizations have documented the testimony of several Jordanian citizens arrested abroad and in-country who accuse GID officials of beatings, sexual violations, and psychological torture.23 There is no accountability for torture perpetrators. It is widely assumed that Jordan is one center for the U.S. rendition program, a program in which U.S. authorities covertly turn individuals over to foreign governments for interrogation that likely involves torture. Additionally, Jordan is reported to be the location for a detention and interrogation center run by Central Intelligence Agency officials.24 Though the existence of these highly classified American centers has been detailed through investigative reporting in the United States,25 Jordanian officials pointedly denied their involvement in October 2004. For 2004,26 the country's NCHR reported that it received 56 complaints of torture in the period from June 2003 to December 31, 2004. In its 2005 report, the NCHR stated that it received 54 similar complaints.

NCHR was established by royal decree in December 2002, but its independence and power to pursue violations are highly suspect. The head of the NCHR is former prime minister Ahmed Obeidat, who prior to becoming prime minister in the 1980s was the long-time head of the GID, the state agency most associated with rights violations and de-liberalization. Of the 56 torture complaints in 2004, the center reportedly closed only 10 cases with "satisfactory results."27 The 2005 report was less specific, stating only that security officials had adopted specific measures in 74percent "of the beating complaints." The most notable and positive aspect of the NCHR's first report was its investigation into conditions at nine of the country's prisons. Although investigators in 2004 were not allowed to visit facilities run by the GID or the military, findings on the prisons that were visited highlighted inmate overcrowding, complaints of torture by guards, and "the lack of judicial monitoring of prisons and detention facilities." In 2005, the NCHR was allowed to tour a GID detention facility and a military run Reform and Rehabilitation Center, yet the representative nature of these sites was unclear as was the status of prisoners interviewed.

In the last several years, women's rights have shown signs of formal advancement in some areas (appointment of women to prominent government offices and fulfillment of the quota for Parliament), yet disappointing implementation in other areas (honor killings and employment). Women do not have full equity under the law, and where laws stipulate equal treatment (in pay, for instance), enforcement is rare. Female employment has generally been concentrated in the civil service, but in the last several years, government officials have funded programs to encourage greater female employment in private garment industries operating in the country's Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ). Zone managers and government officials contend that these factories succeed in employing and training rural women, a demographic traditionally lacking extra-household income. Labor activists and studies have criticized some of the factory working conditions and questioned the high percentage of foreign workers.28 The NCHR conducted its own survey in 2005 and found QIZ working conditions below acceptable standards in terms of health, safety, environment, and wages. Government officials have responded with anecdotal evidence of fair practices, but as yet no systematic information about the conditions of QIZ employment or the benefits to female employment has appeared.

The government has also failed to follow up regarding the issue of honor killings, a crime in which a male family member kills a female member for perceived harm to family honor. Often perpetrators are able to go free by exploiting loopholes in the penal code. Reliable government data on violence against women is scarce. A little-known government agency, the Department of Family Protection, affiliated with the GID, released a 2005 study indicating that between 1998 and 2005, 1,761 crimes were reported against women, including rape, kidnapping, and honor killings.29 The National Institute for Forensic Medicine reported in 2004 that in Amman alone, 750 women a year visit their medical clinics suffering from domestic violence. According to human rights reports, 17 women were victims of honor crimes in 2003 and 22 in 2002. In cases of abuse and death, activists believe the real numbers are higher. Police officials commonly employ the tactic of jailing potential victims of honor crimes for protection.

The government announced in September 2004 its intent to create women's shelters in 2005, but it was unclear if potential victims of honor killings would be welcome. Activists have praised the king and queen for their roles in championing reform in this area, yet since 2002, progress has halted. Among the temporary laws passed between 2001 and 2003 were two important revisions: the loophole was closed in Article 340 (though Article 98 has been used similarly) of the penal code that had allowed perpetrators of honor killings to go free, and the Personal Status Law was passed, giving women the right to divorce and the right to monetary compensation. Parliament has yet to take up the revisions to the penal code, and in June 2004, the Lower House rejected the proposed personal status law. Given the monarchy's previous vocal support for the new law and the rights of women, the lack of executive action or government response puzzled observers. In contrast, in the same session of Parliament, after deputies amended a law to stop all cooperation with Israeli human rights groups, the government swiftly forced a re-vote that killed the amendment.

Women have the right to vote. In the 2003 elections, 54 female candidates competed, yet owing to the electoral rules, none of the six reserved seats were filled by women from the largest urban area, Amman. Four of the six won in the more progovernment southern parts of the country,30 and the largest vote-getter proved to be the Islamic Action Front's first elected female to Parliament.31 Meanwhile, Jordan's first ever elected female parliamentarian, Tojan al-Faysal, was convicted in 2003 of slandering the prime minister (she published a letter criticizing some of the temporary laws). Although her prison sentence was suspended by the king after a month, the conviction in state court made al-Faysal ineligible to run for public office.

The status of children from the marriage of a Jordanian woman to a foreign man remains unresolved. There are an estimated 40,000 to 150,000 such marriages. Children born in these marriages are unable to receive Jordanian citizenship. Increasingly, the non-Jordanian spouse is simply deported.32 In June 2004, it was reported that the government was considering several amendments to these laws, including allowing all children born to Jordanians (male and female) to be considered citizens wherever they are born (a positive step forward if passed) as well as less positive amendments in which children from marriages involving Palestinians would not be granted citizenship.33 Inheritance laws still favor males.

Although accurate census data is lacking, it is generally believed that Jordanians of Palestinian origin are a majority, based mainly in urban areas in the middle and northern parts of the country. In September 1970, King Hussein and Jordanians loyal to the monarchy prevailed in a short but bloody civil war with Yasser Arafat's PLO commandos. Thus, the Palestinian-East Bank divide is an important yet complex issue in Jordanian society and politics. Jordanians of Palestinian origin are not a monolithic group but have traditionally been identified with various forms of political opposition. Supporters of the monarchy and the rank and file of the security forces are generally East Bank tribes and elites. As a result, Palestinians are discriminated against in government employment.

Sunni Muslims comprise 92 percent of the population, with smaller percentages of Christians, Druze, Shia Muslims, and Baha'is. The constitution establishes Islam as the state religion but provides for freedom of worship. Complaints of government interference in minority religious affairs are rare. However, the Ministry of Religious Affairs oversees and controls all of the country's Islamic institutions. Imams and their sermons are monitored, and unapproved political commentary is punishable. In September 2004, local government officials detained several imams for giving Friday sermons without prior approval.34 Human Rights Watch reported that since the beginning of 2004, about 40 imams have been barred from preaching.

The Jordanian constitution says little about the rights of disabled persons. Since the 1990s there have been laws for the protection of disabled persons and a national registry; however, these initiatives either diverge from World Health Organization standards or are simply not implemented. Nationally, there are just two public facilities for sheltering the mentally disabled, and in 2005 only 253 out of 1,073 applications for exempting customs duties on car purchases for the disabled were approved.35

Government authorities have severely curtailed the right to assemble and associate. The weakness of political parties and political representation has led Jordanians to turn to their 13 professional associations (or syndicates, al-niqabat) – with more than 130,000 members in fields such as law, engineering, and medicine, but excluding business associations – as avenues of political expression. Membership in these professional associations is mandatory for practice in one's given field. Labor unions (limited to 17) are controlled by the Ministry of Labor, and public sector employees and teachers are not permitted to organize. Mandatory membership is controversial. Union and association leaders (domestic and international) argue obligatory membership is the only means to guarantee a profession's collective action capacities (membership density and financial resources from dues). International human rights agencies tend to argue that obligatory membership restricts individual choice.

Indeed, since the 1990s government officials have sought a number of ways to weaken associational autonomy and independence of expression. In 2004 and 2005, Interior Minister Samir Habashneh launched a campaign to vilify the activities of all 13 syndicates as political and anti-Jordanian. He demanded the associations "completely halt" all activities deemed political. The governor of Amman followed by announcing that "any kind of event, gathering or meeting, save for weddings, should obtain prior approval."36 In December 2004, Ali Hattar, a member of the Jordanian Engineers Association, gave a speech at the Professional Associations headquarters in Amman titled, "Why we boycott America." Hattar was subsequently detained by security officials, charged with slandering government officials, and ultimately fined for his speech.37

In March 2005, the prime minister presented a controversial draft law for the professional associations. Among the draft's provisions were rules allowing government oversight of association elections, a banning of political activities, pre-approval from the Interior Ministry for any public gathering, and creation of disciplinary committees to punish members. Leaders of the associations supported by opposition activists universally rejected the changes proposed in the draft law for professional associations as well as those in a draft law on political parties – the provisions of which would criminalize any coordination among professional associations, political parties, human rights groups, and mosques. Association members peacefully attempted to protest the proposals. On four occasions, security officials physically intimidated protesters, shut down sit-ins, and even tore down posters at the associations' headquarters.38 Consequently, a majority of Jordanians believe that the right to demonstrate and protest is not guaranteed.39 Further standoffs were avoided with the replacement of Al-Fayez's government with Adnan Badran in April 2005. The draft laws are still pending.


  • The Jordanian government should respond to accusations of torture with transparency. International human rights groups should receive access to prison facilities. Accusations of torture should be publicly adjudicated in civilian courts of law.
  • The recently created National Human Rights Center should be detached from its connection to the government in all respects. An independent NCHR could then investigate abuses impartially.
  • Legislation pertaining to the Personal Status Law should be reintroduced to the Lower House for approval. All loopholes in the penal code that allow perpetrators of honor killings to claim self-defense or fits of passion need to be closed.
  • The state's repression of civil society, especially the country's professional associations, should end. Laws and regulations that control freedom of association and the rights of professional associations to expression should be revoked. Associations and the government should enter a national dialogue to establish new legal parameters for the relationship between the state and associations, including the issues of mandatory membership and the extent of state involvement in associational activities.

Rule of Law – 3.12

Jordan has three court types: civil courts, which adjudicate civil and criminal cases; Sharia and other religious courts, which adjudicate personal status and family issues; and the state security court, which in theory rules only on threats to national security (which include, defamation of the monarchy, drug trafficking, armed insurrection, and financial crimes).

The security court was established in 1991 after the end of marshal law. Though state authorities have avoided a return to formal martial law, the judicial mechanisms of martial law and repressive effects have been reintroduced through the increased use of the security court and the manipulation of civilian courts. The security court is comprised of a three-judge panel, whose members can be military or civilian and are appointed by the prime minister. The acceptance of testimony under duress, limited pretrial access to a lawyer, and the secret military character of the security court intimidate defendants and compromise judicial independence.40

The security court is a key element in Jordan's de-liberalization as it has been used to supplant and bypass civil courts to punish journalists and opposition figures on misdemeanor charges. Two examples are prominent. First, in December 2004, Jamil Abu Bakr, a member of the IAF and editor of its website, published criticisms of favoritism and corruption by public officials. He was subsequently charged with slandering public officials under the vague wording of the penal code. In early 2005, a civilian court dismissed these charges. In early 2006, however, prosecutors at the security court charged Abu Bakr with "belittling the dignity of the Jordanian state."41 The NCHR's 2005 report suggested this pattern of extrajudicial punishment was regularized with 513 persons reportedly detained by security officials.42 Second, a part of the civilian appeals court, the Court of Cassation, has ruled that the state security court cannot issue death sentences based solely on confessions under duress. Human rights observers argue this ruling is often ignored by the security courts. In particular, two men convicted for involvement in the killing of an American diplomat in 2002 received death sentences from the security court despite claims that their confessions were products of torture. In January 2005, the security court upheld the death penalties despite appeals to the Court of Cassation.43

In addition to interference, the autonomous operation of civil courts is impaired by internal factors. The Higher Judicial Council is tasked with the appointment and transfer of judges. However, the council, which consists of judges and senior ministry officials, greatly lacks independence and is accountable to the king not Parliament. Judicial appointments are consistently criticized as reflecting particularistic interests, not professional merit or judicial philosophy.

Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty and have the right to counsel. The state provides counsel for defendants in capital cases. Though Article 100 of the Law of Penal Procedures stipulates that a defendant be given judicial review after 24 hours of arrest, the NCHR's 2004 report estimated that more than 5,000 individuals were held beyond this period in 2004. The 2005 report concluded that there has been no progress on curbing these violations. In addition, defendants are often denied timely access to legal counsel. The length of trials and delays are common complaints, along with denial of counsel during interrogation.

Increasing court costs are of concern as it was argued in the NCHR's report that many citizens do not avail themselves of judicial avenues because of the cost. Strict guidelines on fines and sentencing and the lack of judicial independence are blamed for the inability of judges to show flexibility in reducing fees or streamlining court procedures to fit circumstances.44 Reports that the Higher Judicial Council adopted a code of ethics in late 2005 to address some of these issues may improve the situation. However, absent a capable bureaucratic agency to implement and investigate the new guidelines, observers believe the reforms will falter. Beyond these anticipated reforms, there appears no centralized effort to ensure the training or qualifications of judges to carry out justice. The increasing use of the security court and the continued control of the executive over the appointments of judges have resulted in widely varying levels of judicial competency and skill at the local level. High-ranking government officials are rarely prosecuted for wrongdoing, and there were no major cases in 2004 and 2005.

The principal intelligence and security arm of the government, the GID, is not under civilian control but reports directly to the king. Observers in and out of Jordan agree that the GID and affiliated military/security agencies regularly violate human rights. The GID operates both internationally and domestically, maintains a number of secret detention facilities outside public scrutiny, and is generally judged to be one of the government's largest bureaucracies. The sole event in which a high-ranking GID official was held accountable for his actions was the July 2003 conviction (by the state security court) of former GID head Samih Batikhi on fraud and embezzlement charges. This was the first time a head of the GID was put on trial, but observers suggested that Batikhi's crimes were much more extensive and politically sensitive than those for which he was convicted. Moreover, the lack of investigations or indictments since suggests the Batikhi trial was extraordinary and not likely to be repeated.

In May 2005, King Abdullah named General Samih Asfura, a long-time assistant to Batikhi, to head the agency. The king also created a new National Security Agency, but its functions are unknown.45 In the wake of the November 2005 bombings, dissidents and opposition figures expressed fear that the interference of the GID in domestic political issues would continue to expand. In particular, the role of the GID in manipulating and intimidating the political opposition and civil associations is expected to increase. Also given the power and independence of GID officials, speculation has increased in the private sector community that some officials operate businesses that profit from public works contracts and trade monopolies.

Jordan has long identified itself as a free market economy. Private property rights are guaranteed in the constitution, and public expropriations are rare. Still, land wealth and political patronage have historically been closely related in Jordan. In the last several years, significant real estate booms and property speculations have occurred in Amman and the port city of Aqaba. At the same time, rumors have increased of royal land grabs by redefining state or municipal land as crown land.46


  • The use of the State Security Court should be ended altogether. In all cases, testimony resulting from torture or intimidation should be expressly outlawed.
  • The GID should be made accountable to elected officials, not to the monarchy.
  • The Higher Judicial Council should be enhanced so that regular monitoring of judicial ethics and standards can take place. Greater transparency in the appointment of judges is needed through publication of lists of candidates under consideration and their qualifications.
  • Judges should be given greater discretion in determining court fees and increasing the speed of trials.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 2.28

Corruption and patronage are integral elements of Jordan's monarchical system, not aberrations. The issue is not the presence of these informal mechanisms (which exist in all societies) but who controls them and what they are used for. Historically condemning corruption and patronage, the monarchy has long utilized private goods (land grants and jobs) and public monopolies (such as state-owned enterprises, protocol trade agreements, and public works) to reward political allies and punish rivals. Though public officials acknowledge the need to address corruption in order to attract foreign investment, the political rationale for corruption is likely stronger.

In 2005 the Council of Ministers completed a draft anticorruption law that would include formation of an anticorruption committee.47 The level of the committee's independence and powers was not clear, and the law has not been submitted to Parliament for approval. Despite the perception of Jordan as a free market system (among Arab states, Jordan ranked fourth in terms of economic freedom in the Heritage Foundation's 2005 index),48 the Jordanian economy is defined by extensive state involvement yet weak regulation. State-controlled shareholding companies combined with the government employ roughly 50 percent of Jordan's labor force.

The state's budget relies heavily on external revenue in the forms of foreign economic and military aid, government-owned mineral exports, and oil trade agreements. It is difficult to provide an accurate measurement of these resources as not all forms of aid (particularly military and security) are reported, and revenue/expenditure statistics are highly suspect. By the government's own calculation for the 2005 budget, foreign aid accounted for 15 percent of gross domestic product. It is not known, for instance, how much revenue the Jordanian government earns from its sale of oil (provided by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia at preferential prices), a curious omission given that Central Bank statistics released in 2004 show Jordanian export of oil products increased 46 times from 2002 to 2003.49 The political weight of this issue is clear, given that while the Jordanian government is exporting oil products, its citizens have had to absorb significant increases in the price of domestic gas since 2004.

There is little transparency in how such externally derived resources are spent. It is not known how much foreign aid, specifically U.S. financial assistance, has been spent on the GID or whether those funds support the agency's role in domestic abuse and denial of rights.50 Public access to government budgets and expenditures is correspondingly low. Formal presentation of the budget through Parliament offers only a limited view. On the one hand, the informational-gathering capacities of the Jordanian government are underdeveloped, so that economic and budgetary data is uneven. In the late 1990s, for example, the Jordanian government twice misreported its gross domestic product to the World Bank. On the other hand, economic and budgetary information that is deemed politically sensitive is manipulated. For example, as of 2005 the government would report the number of businesses that opened in a given year, but not the number that failed.

Measuring direct foreign investment (FDI) is likewise manipulated with the pledged investment reported as FDI, not the actual investment. Since the late 1990s, Jordan's tax system has been undergoing fitful reform to increase tax collection through a national sales tax. Parliamentary efforts to craft a direct income tax faltered in 2004 and 2005. Effective internal tax auditing lags as does uniform implementation of the sales tax. In higher education, it is widely believed that bribery and personal connections are used to secure entrance, guarantee better grades, and win scholarships. Given that some of the violence in the 1990s and 2000 took place on university campuses, it is also believed that the GID has increased its presence at universities.

The process and selection of awarding public work contracts and private-public initiatives is determined less by merit and more by ascriptive concerns (East Bank versus Palestinian) and political necessities. In an act of rare public criticism, outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, Edward Gnehm, said in a June 2004 speech before American and Jordanian businesspersons: "We also continue to press for full transparency in the awarding of government contracts. &We must all work together to ensure that fairness and openness in contracting and procurement is pre-eminent."51 While a centralized tenders office exists and tenders are publicized, the process of deliberation and criteria lacks transparency.

The sale and privatization of government assets, a program first introduced in the mid-1980s, likewise lacks transparency. There is a Higher Privatization Council, but since public investment can be held by different ministries, the process of privatizing a given enterprise is decentralized and without transparency. Just as political necessity to maintain power shapes electoral laws, what is privatized and who does the buying is driven not so much by economic goals or competition but by political necessity.

Bribery of public officials, while outlawed, is irregularly punished and quite difficult to track (kickbacks to a minister's family member, for example). When bribery charges are brought against public officials, the evidence remains secret, as was the case with former GID head Samih Batikhi. No major corruption trials took place in 2004 or 2005. The high turnover of ministry officials, combined with few regulations to prevent private-public conflicts of interest, means that public service regularly yields private gain. The Lower House of Parliament did complete a draft financial disclosures law, which would require high-ranking public servants to reveal their family assets (in a sealed document) prior to holding office. Unfortunately, Upper House consideration of the draft was tabled in 2004 and 2005.

Reports of public-private corruption are numerous. Some of the more prominent and sensitive issues involve the QIZ, particularly accusations of public corruption in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone; Jordan's oil supply agreements (first with preinvasion Iraq and now with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) in which the Jordanian sale of the oil goes to private accounts of government ministers; misappropriation of funds in the Ministry of Religious Affairs; and the growing economic roles of GID officials and their family members.

As with other reform issues, King Abdullah has consistently spoken out against corruption. A number of economic committees and reform agendas have followed his edicts. One of the first efforts was the creation in 2000 of the Economic Consultative Council (ECC), staffed with privatesector representatives and chaired by the king. Tasked with charting economic reform and tackling corruption, the ECC eventually fell out of public favor amid reports of committee members' benefiting from public contracts and monopolies.52 The fate of the ECC is emblematic of a larger problem: the lack of a centralized auditor independent from the very subjects of investigation.

Most ministries maintain their own anticorruption units, resulting in narrow purviews and little bureaucratic incentive to investigate seriously. In 2003, the prime minister announced the creation of another anticorruption unit to operate out of the GID. Given the role of the GID in previous corruption scandals and the highly political character of corruption, it is no surprise that major corruption indictments were absent in 2004 and 2005. Additionally, there remains no legal protection for whistle-blowers.


  • A comprehensive and enforceable financial disclosure law should be acted upon by the Upper House.
  • Ministry-level anticorruption offices, especially the recent unit within the GID, need to be centralized under an independent public accounting office.
  • The government's annual revenue and expenditure data should be standardized and made more transparent. In particular, all forms and applications of foreign aid assistance should be made public.
  • Wide-ranging reform and disclosure is needed in how public works contracts are awarded as well as the process of privatizing public entities.


Pete W. Moore is assistant professor of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University and a Senior Research Fellow at the Interuniversity Consortium for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies, Montreal. He is the author of Doing Business in the Middle East: Politics and Economic Crisis in Jordan and Kuwait (Cambridge University Press, 2004).


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2 Alfred B. Prados, "Jordan: US Relations and Bilateral Issues" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Congress, Congressional Research Report, 19 May 2005), 16.

3 "Justice for All: The Struggle for Workers Rights in Jordan" (Washington, D.C.: American Center for International Labor Solidarity), 48-50.

4 "Jordan: Post-Program Monitoring Discussion," IMF Country Reports No. 05/100, March 2005, p. 11

5 Marwan A. Kardoosh, "Jordan's Economy from a Western Perspective," The Daily Star (Beirut), 26 November 2002.

6 "The Challenge of Political Reform: Jordanian Democratisation and Regional Instability" (Brussels: International Crisis Group [ICG], Middle East Briefing No. 10, 8 October 2003).

7 "Status Report of Human Rights, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2005" (Amman: The National Centre for Human Rights [NCHR], 2005), p. 5.

8 Curtis R. Ryan and Jillian Schwedler, "Return to Democratization or New Hybrid Regime? The 2003 Elections in Jordan," Middle East Policy XI, 2 (Summer 2004): 143.

9 Neil MacFarquhar, "Heavy Hand of the Secret Police Impeding Reform in the Arab World," The New York Times, 14 November 2005.

10 "Status Report of Human Rights, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2005," (Amman: The National Centre for Human Rights [NCHR], 2005), p. 29.

11 Schirin Fathi, "Jordanian Survival Strategy: The Election Law as a Safety Valve," Middle Eastern Studies 41, 6 (November 2005): 892.

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17 Stephen Glain, "Letter from Jordan," The Nation, 30 May 2005; MacFarquhar, "Heavy Hand."

18 Speech full text:

19 "Status Report of Human Rights, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2005," (Amman: The National Centre for Human Rights [NCHR], 2005), p. 26.

20 "Jordan: Reform Proposal Would Expand Press Freedom" (HRW, 23 November 2005).

21 Barakat, "Thirteen recommendations."

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25 James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (New York: Free Press, 2006), pp. 30-31.

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30 Fathi, "Jordanian Survival Strategy: The Election Law as a Safety Valve," 896.

31 Ryan and Schwedler, "Return to Democratization ... ?," 146.

32 "Status Report of Human Rights, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2005" (Amman: NCHR 2005), pp. 22-23.

33 Jumana Tamimi, "Jordanian Women Married to Foreigners Still Wait for Nationality Rights," Agence France Presse, July 7, 2004.

34 "State of Human Rights in Jordan 2004" (NCHR).

35 "Status Report of Human Rights, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2005" (Amman: NCHR 2005), pp. 56-57.

36 Shadi Hamid, "Jordan: Democracy at a Dead End," Arab Reform Bulletin (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2005).

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38 Glain, "Letter from Jordan."

39 Democracy in Jordan (CSS).

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42 "Status Report of Human Rights, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2005" (Amman: NCHR, 2005), p. 10.

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46 Glain, "Letter from Jordan."

47 "Status Report of Human Rights, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, 2005," (Amman: NCHR, 2005), p. 21.

48 2005 Index of Economic Freedom (Washington, D.C./New York: Heritage Foundation/ Wall Street Journal, 2005.

49 The Monthly Statistical Bulletin, Central Bank of Jordan, May 2004.

50 Silverstein, "US-Jordan."

51 "US-Jordanian Economic Relations," Embassy of the United States, Amman Jordan, July 30, 2004.

52 Oliver Schlumberger and Andre Bank, "Succession, Legitimacy, and Regime Stability in Jordan," Arab Studies Journal (Fall 2001/Spring 2002).

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