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A constitutional monarchy works

The Jordanian peopleBy Nisreen El-Shamayleh

The Jordanian people’s demand for a constitutional monarchy is no longer a taboo subject.

Protests in the country inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab world have emboldened the masses to publicly speak about the formerly unmentionable issue of the monarchy’s role.

The demand, echoed clearly by the influential Muslim Brotherhood and repeated by other groups, requires a return to the 1952 constitution.

The constitution had a provision for parliamentary form of government, democratic elections, and political parties were influential, while the Jordanian Hashemite monarch had less executive power than he has today.

Following the influx of refugees from the Palestinian territories in 1948 and 1967, that ideal constitution saw extensive changes and transformations from the 1950s onwards.

The changes handed the monarch sweeping powers to appoint prime ministers and cabinets and dissolve parliament.

After suspension of parliamentary life for 20 years, it was revived in 1989 with a skewed one-person-one-vote election law favouring sparsely inhabited Bedouin areas.

Bedouin areas, considered the bedrock of support for the monarchy, were preferred over urban areas densely populated with Islamists and Jordanians of Palestinian origin.

The goal was clear: to make sure the majority of parliament was Bedouin and East Bank Jordanian, even if that came at the expense of a lower house that did not accurately reflect Jordan’s demographic composition.

The claim that Jordan cannot go back to a constitutional monarchy on the grounds that Palestinian Jordanians would have more say in running the country no longer holds ground.

It is a fragile argument that has been made for decades so as not to derail an internationally-backed plan to establish a long due future Palestinian state and appease odd voices in Israel that say Palestine is in Jordan, with such a large number of Palestinians settling down there.

If anything, Israel will not be able to stand against a strong elected Jordanian government that voices the true opinions of the people.

What Jordan needs is to hold free elections and fight corruption, with the monarch’s throne remaining the unifying force and arbitrator between Bedouin tribes and a Palestinian majority.

And there is no need to pre-empt a demographic threat or divide.

Jordanians believe now is the time to make these demands, when they are seeing the pressure exerted on Arab regimes working as a means to lead to their demise.

Jordan is neither Egypt, nor Libya, nor Tunisia. People admire the monarch and will continue to do so. There doesn’t need to be bloodshed, there just needs to be a listening ear.

But ignoring these demands will not be rewarding in the long term.

Nisreen El-Shamayleh is a Jordan-based correspondent currently in Jerusalem.

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