Shadi Hamid: Jordan is, in short, an absolute monarchy

Shadi Hamid: Jordan is, in short, an absolute monarchy

  Manuela Paraipan: Many welcomed the parliament dissolution in Jordan. How do you see it?

Shadi Hamid: The recent dissolution of parliament does nothing to alter the fundamental political situation in Jordan. As Taher Kanaan, a former deputy prime minister, put it, “changes of parliament and cabinet are just part of the entertainment business.” That said, the circumstances surrounding parliament’s disbanding are quite troubling and provide further evidence that Jordan has been and still is, an autocracy. Over the last two decades, Jordan has become steadily less open, less democratic, and more repressive.



It is interesting to note that, just as Jordan has closed up, its international reputation as a model of reform has grown.

In any case, Jordanian officials had been complaining about parliament’s performance for some time. Lawmakers were not going along with the government, and the King’s, efforts to boost foreign direct investment, primarily through tax reform legislation. Instead, parliament pushed for tax hikes.

The Jordanian government did not, it appears, have much tolerance for this kind of opposition, even though that’s presumably the independent role the legislative branch is supposed to play. And so parliament was dissolved two years early. Now, the government will be able to govern without a legislative branch, and without any official or formal opposition. Last time Jordan was without a parliament, in 2001-2003, the government unilaterally decreed more than 200 temporary laws. It is likely do something similar this time around.

The irony of all of this is that the just-dissolved parliament was dominated by conservative pro-regime figures. There were less than 10 opposition parliamentarians out of 110 with the Islamic Action Front, the largest opposition party in the country, with a mere 6. This was a direct result of the regime’s manipulation of the 2007 elections, which many observers consider to be the least free and fair since the resumption of parliamentary life in 1989, and possibly since the 1940s.


Manuela Paraipan: What happens next?


Shadi Hamid: There were initial signs that the King would call for early elections and use parliament’s dissolution for a fresh start, perhaps by introducing new electoral legislation. But it appears that elections will be postponed indefinitely just as they were in 2001. In any case, parliament, which enjoys relatively little power in the first place, is not the real issue. Parliament is used by the Jordanian regime as a convenient target for Jordan’s troubles, to distract citizens from more fundamental issues of distribution of power. 

Manuela Paraipan: What should be the visible, medium to long-term, result of King Abdullah’s attempt to facilitate reform inside the Kingdom?

Shadi Hamid: Real power is with the government and, ultimately, the King, who appoints the government’s ministers. All 40 members of the upper house of parliament are appointed by the King. Jordan is, in short, an absolute monarchy.

Jordan will only become more democratic when a significant degree of power is transferred from the monarchy and the executive branch to the parliament. This is the kind of substantive, structural change that Jordan needs. Anything else is simply a side issue.

The King, however, has not said or done anything to suggest that this is in the cards. Many will still insist that King Abdullah has a vision for reform, and perhaps he does. But his vision is oriented almost exclusively around economic change, while postponing any substantive re-thinking of political structures. Perhaps, in theory, international pressure could help change this dynamic.

But, considering that the dissolution of parliament was met with almost total silence in the U.S. and the international community, it’s probably safe to say that Jordan will continue along its present route: pretending to be democracy, while the hold of authoritarianism grows only stronger. 


Shadi Hamid is Deputy Director at Brookings Doha Center and Fellow at Saban Center for Middle East Policy.



Jordan’s King Abdullah II, pictured in April 2009, on Sunday urged the European Union to help put a halt to Israeli settlement building in Jerusalem, ahead of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.