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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Abdullah II King of Jordan: L’État, C’est Moi

Abdullah II King of Jordan
Jordan’s King Abdullah II (C-R) reviews the honour guard upon his arrival at parliament, as he opens the regular session in the capital Amman on November 12, 2017. KHALIL MAZRAAWI / AFP

Youssef Sharqawi

While the Jordanian government describes the new constitutional amendments as a “road map” for the next political phase, a new era is in the making in Jordan. Game rules will be different from the previous ones. These rules will be up to governments formed based on a partisan majority in Parliament.

Parliamentary discussions lasted for about 60 hours over nine sessions within a week. The Jordanian Parliament approved 30 new constitutional amendments sent by the government, based on the outcomes of the Royal Committee to Modernise the Political System. One hundred and four MPs voted in favour of these amendments, and eight rejected them out of the 112 MPs who attended the voting session. But another amendment stipulating that the king becomes chairman of the Security Council and Foreign Policy was rejected by the majority.

Background

A few months ago, the Jordanian King formed the Royal Committee to Modernise the Political System, headed by former Prime Minister Samir Rifai. This committee has been widely criticised for many reasons. The list of reasons includes choosing the first prime minister toppled in the street during the Arab spring to be a chairman of this Royal Committee. In addition, the King appointed the 92 members of the Royal Committee before the resignation of two of them. Moreover, the purpose of this committee ignited criticism. The Royal Committee’s task is to present new proposals for partisan and electoral laws. That paves the way for fulfilling the wish of Jordanian King Abdullah II to form a parliamentary government. Nevertheless, it would take this aspiration a decade to be achieved, as Rifai said.

When the RC submitted amendments adjusting 22 constitutional articles, all influential parties confirmed their non-interference in its work. These parties denied interfering either through the King or the Intelligence Department whose head Major General Ahmed Hosni Hatouqai, pledged in a meeting publicly, with the editors-in-chief of local newspapers and media websites, to “protect the outcomes of the Royal Committee, and create the appropriate atmosphere and solid ground for gradual implementation.”

This draft led to establishing a National Security and Foreign Policy Council instead of a National Security Council. This council is subject to the oversight of Parliament. Although the King is not its chairman, the Council meets, when necessary, at the invitation of the King, in his presence or the presence of whomever he delegates. The council includes the prime minister, the defence minister, the foreign minister, the interior minister, the army chief, the director of intelligence, the public security director, and two members appointed by the King.

However, among the most prominent approved amendments, “the King was granted individual authorities to appoint and dismiss religious and security positions, such as the grand mufti, the supreme judge, the head of the sharia judicial council, the director of public security, the minister and the chief of the royal court, in addition to the King’s advisors, without a placement from the Cabinet.”

Not the First Time

Abdullah II King of Jordan
Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Crown Prince Hussein (R) arrive for the opening session of the fourth ordinary parliamentary session in the capital Amman on November 10, 2019. Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP

That is not the first amendment to the constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom, but rather the fourth in 10 years. The most prominent amendments were the 2011 amendments during the Arab Spring and the 2016 amendments that gave the King unilateral authority to appoint certain positions. The constitution provides the King with massive powers. He can appoint the prime minister, members of the Senate, judges, in addition to issuing and ratifying laws.

Also, the King can convene, suspend and dissolve Parliament sessions, and order the holding and postponement of general elections. The King directs orders to the armed forces, declares wars, and concludes peace agreements. According to Article 30, the King is the head of the state and is protected from all liability and responsibility.

Some legal, political, and opposition circles believe that these amendments would grant the King new competencies. The Jordanian government and the Parliamentary Legal Committee considered these competencies “authentic to distance them from any future political and partisan conflicts, with the completion of two new bills for parties and elections expected in the next weeks.”

The idea of ​​forming a National Security Council is not new, as stated in an article published by the Al-Akhbar newspaper: “There have always been efforts to form it after the invasion of Iraq, knowing that its concept revolves around the establishment of a body similar to its American counterpart, bringing together the sensitive and executive parties in the state, to act in crucial times, and to serve as an advisory and evaluative reference for the state administration.”

The King’s State

The government’s proposals to form the National Security and Foreign Policy Council headed by the King, in addition to the King’s new authorities, mean that the state will be the state of the King entirely, “without the oversight of the people, who are the source of the authorities, according to the constitution.”

Meanwhile, Lawyer Abdel Moneim al-Odat, the head of the Parliamentary Legal Committee, considered that the amendments “come to keep religious and military institutions away from political or partisan strife.” These amendments would be, according to al-Odat, an opportunity for those who can be called the “deep state” in Jordan, fearing a genuine democratic openness (whether positive or negative).

The controversy initially began over the Council name, whether it would be a “national” or “supranational” one. Later, the council was called a National one, given that it is “concerned with internal affairs and the foreign policy that Abdullah wholly directs.” However, this council has to include the prime minister, the ministers of interior and foreign affairs, the army chief, the director of intelligence, and two other members appointed by the King. Based on that, the government proposed that the King chair the council.

Former Jordanian Minister of Information Mohammad al-Momani said that this council should “unbear the upcoming partisan governments from all unpopular decisions, but these decisions are necessary for Jordanian national security and foreign policy, and here lies the importance of this council.

This entity constitutes a guarantee to move forward in the stage of partisan governments. It establishes many understandings and coordination that parliamentary governments emanating from the partisan majority need. According to the political analyst Munther al-Hawarat, “the constitutional amendments came to limit the powers of the upcoming executive authority and its general jurisdiction”. al-Hawarat believes that these limitations would be apparent in establishing a National Security Council dealing with foreign policy, security and internal files. al-Hawarat added: “intimidating emerging political parties from interfering in the security and institutional structures, and dyeing them with partisan colours and threatening by their interference in political work is incompatible with democracy and freedom of choice”.

Rejection

Jordanian parliament
Jordanian parliament members are separated during an altercation in the parliament in the capital Amman on December 28, 2021. AFP

The Parliament, by its majority, rejected the King’s presidency of the National Security Council and foreign policy. And the House of Representatives opposed the amendment of Article 3 of the draft constitutional amendments, “Concerning Article 32 of the Constitution”. The Jordanian House of Representatives supported the decision of the Legal Committee not to approve Article 3 of the constitutional amendments, which states that the King is the head of the National Security Council and foreign policy.

The rejection came by 113 votes out of 130 for considerations related to subjecting the National Security Council to oversight by the legislative authority. The amendment was considered a violation of the principle of authority and responsibility in the monarchy and the constitutional powers of the King, who heads the executive authority and handles it through his ministers.

Confusion

In conjunction with this controversy, King Abdullah II went out to libel the “deep state,” whom he described as “parties who want the reform process to fail,” according to an article published in the Al-Akhbar newspaper. It was also mentioned that “his speech seemed confusing, given that the government is his government, and the royal committee is his as well.

Undoubtedly, King Abdullah II achieved what he wanted through the Royal Committee. Nevertheless, this was not devoid of negative effects on his image, which was shaken a year ago after the “Strife Incident,” let alone the “Pandora’s leaks” that have inevitably decreased his popular credit. Jordan runs through poor economic conditions, a water and identity crisis, as well as a governance crisis. All of these challenges are on the way of King Abdullah II. He has to find solutions to them before establishing the fifth monarchy and the official coronation of his son.

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