No, this isn’t about our election. There are other elections in the world nearly as important to the future of the planet.
On January 23, 2013, Jordanians will elect a new Parliament. One third of their Constitution has been rewritten to reflect the demand of the opposition factions to have better representation in a more balanced Parliament and more parties participating in the election process. Under the old Constitution, the rural tribes had more representation than the heavily populated cities. Unfortunately, the election is being boycotted by the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood. They claim the cities are still underrepresented.
King Abdullah II brought together a large group of opposition and tribal leaders at the palace in Amman to persuade them that boycotting the election is counterproductive.
Addressing the several thousand delegates, King Abdullah said, “My message to you and to all the political forces if you want to change Jordan for the better, there is an opportunity through the coming elections and through a new parliament. The door is open to everyone, including the opposition to be in the coming parliament. Those who want additional reforms or developing the electoral law can work under the dome of the next parliament and through the ballot box.”
The King is very popular among Jordanians, not an easy feat in a nation that lacks the oil which funds so many other Middle Eastern nations. The population is an uneasy combination of native Jordanians and Palestinians. Though the King has never been accused of choosing his wife for political reasons, Queen Rania is Palestinian, a fact that helps the monarchy with the ethnic tensions in the country. She is, not incidently, stunningly beautiful and very modern. He is also a Hashemite, a direct descendant of the Prophet, which gives him a certain cache among his people that dictators lacked.
There are very natural fears in Jordan that the successes of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian elections and Islamists in the Tunisian elections will be mimicked in Jordan. The IAF has broad support among the poor in the cities, but not among the very conservative tribes. The United States has pledged economic aid help build Jordan’s economy and help it resist an Islamic rebellion drawn from the poor. If things were difficult enough for the country, they are being overrun with refugees from Syria. For the native Jordanians, it’s deja vu all over again. Though King Abdullah’s grandfather and father kept many of the refugees from Israel in the West Bank, the world’s largest refugee “camp,” many relocated inside Jordan. The situation with the Syrian civil war has reached the point where King Abdullah requested and received a small number of American soldiers to help protect the refugees crossing the border and prevent the kind of incursions that have taken place into Lebanon and Turkey.
The success of this new election, and the manner in which the new parliament tackles the question of further reforms and expanded representation is critical, not just to the survival of the Jordanian monarchy, but to the entire region. King Abdullah has been a voice of reason in a region where not enough reason has driven reform and change. His success in meeting the demands of his people for more equality without bloodshed or the loss of this crown could inspire others in the region who are dragging their feet, like the leaders of the Arabian peninsula countries. Proving to others that tolerance and equality are the ways to prosperity would go a long way to help stabilize the region. Jordan may have fewer than seven million people, but those seven million can influence so many tens of millions more, simply by casting a vote.
He went on to say, “We believe in the right of the opposition to be true and original partners in the political process away from opportunism, glittery slogans and exploiting difficult economic conditions and people’s emotions. No group is allowed to claim they hold a monopoly over the truth.”
Can we borrow this guy for about eight years?
Unlike other countries, in Jordan the Islamists were not outlawed or persecuted. They have existed in the light and while under-represented in the parliament, they have been free to raise their voices in opposition. King Abdullah also pardoned 20 tribal activists who were charged with insulting the monarch during demonstrations. Free speech stops at the tradition that one does not publicly insult a Hashemite any more than one insults the Prophet. He addressed this problem to the gathering, “Let us talk about some of the slogans that a small number of protesters carried, ‘Down with the regime’ First, what is the regime? The regime is the state in all its institutions. Hashemite rule was never for us about holding a monopoly on power, nor about power and its tools, but about supporting state institutions according to the constitution.”
It takes a very strong leader to be a hereditary king and not abuse the power, but share it with his people. In 1649, the British people asserted for all time that the divine rights of kings were not as great as the rights of free people. A people can choose a king, can choose to retain a king, and still have the rights of free people. Now, the choice belongs to the Jordanians. They can choose to come together and remake their country to assure more equality and power for the people, or they can choose to be petty and narrowly focused on keeping their self-inflicted persona of “repressed minority.” It is to be devoutly hoped that they will make the best choice for Jordan’s and the region’s future.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The journey to Jordan’s future begins with a single ballot.