Laws of Associations
Jordanians have the right to form and join civic organizations. According to the Law on Associations and Foundations of 1996, the use of associations for the benefit of any partisan organization is prohibited. The Federation of Jordanian Chambers of Commerce, the Amman Chamber of Commerce, the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions, and the Jordanian Engineers Association (JEA) are important umbrella organizations. About 13 professional organizations constitute effective forces in Jordanian politics.
The Jordanian constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and speech within the limits of the law. The Political Parties Law of 1992, which repealed the law of 1955, regulates the framework within which Jordan’s 33 political parties operate. The Ministry of Interior licenses political parties. They must work through legitimate and peaceful means, adhering to the supremacy of the law, the principle of political pluralism, and the preservation of national unity; they must renounce all forms of violence and discrimination, and avoid utilizing the state for partisan purposes. The headquarters, communications and correspondence of political parties are protected by the law from raids and searches without judicial approval. Parties are allowed to issue publications in accordance with the Press and Publications Law.
A new Political Parties Law was approved by the Jordanian parliament on March 19, 2007. The new law was actually an amended version of the 1992 law proposed by the government. In a precedent, the new law extends public financial support to political parties, but it requires parties to rely on known local sources and imposes government monitoring of their accounts. The law also requires political parties to grant women advanced positions within their ranks and links public financial support to the existence of women in leadership positions. The law also allows parties to use public media and public premises for their activities. However, the new law introduced two "negative" amendments. It transferred supervision of political parties activities from the ministry of political development to the ministry of interior. Second, it increased the required number of founding members from 50 to 500, coming from at least 5 governorates. Jordanian political parties unanimously declared their rejection of the new law. They decided to stop attending the meetings organized by prime minister Ma'rouf Al-Bakheet for discussing the electoral law, stating that such meetings are futile. Moreover, political parties, including "Muslim Brothers" Communists, Baathists, Arab Nationalists, Leftists, and Centralists, hinted that they would boycott the next parliamentary elections if the government and parliament stick to the new political parties law. They appealed to the King to save them from being targeted by more restrictions, pointing to constitutional provisions that guarantee political freedom and pluralism. The only banned political party in Jordan is the "Islamic Liberation Party" which does not recognize the legitimacy of the Jordanian regime.
The Jordanian Ministry of Interior has revoked on April 16, 2008 the licenses of 22 political parties that were unable to correct their legal standing in accordance with the amendments of the political parties’ law which gave parties one year to do so. The amendments were approved by parliament in 2007 and the grace period ended on April 15, 2008. The amendments required all licensed political parties to submit to the Ministry of Interior membership lists that include the manes of 500 members equally distributed over 5 different provinces. Of the 36 licensed parties, 5 parties chose to dissolve themselves before the end of the grace period, 2 parties were licensed according to the provisions of the amended political parties’ law, and 12 parties were able to meet the required provisions, while 17 parties were unable to meet these requirements and hence were officially dissolved. The Jordanian law stipulates penalties of up to 6 months imprisonment and a fine up to 500 Jordanian dinars (US$750) on any person who carries out unlicensed party activity. The dissolved political parties can apply for a new licence 6 months following their dissolution date. Both pro and anti government political parties objected to the amended political parties’ law. The Higher Coordination Committee for the opposition parties declared that the amended political parties’ law is unconstitutional. The Ministry of Interior announced the political parties that were able to correct their standing are: The Islamic Action Front (the political arm of the Muslim Brothers Group); the National Movement for Direct Democracy; the National Constitutional Party; the People's Democratic Party; the Popular Unity; the Call Party; the National Jordanian; the Islamic Center Party; the Mission (Al-Risalah); the Communist; the Socialist Baath; the Progressive Baath; the Unified Jordanian Front; Al-Hayat (Life); Equality and Welfare; and the Freedom Party.
Government employees are no longer allowed to belong to a political party as of December 2002. A political ban on the leftists and the Islamists was lifted in 1991, opening the way for their representation in the parliament. Some analysts point to “the Jordan example,” arguing that parliamentary representation has softened the rhetoric of previously excluded groups.
The Jordan First campaign was launched in October 2002 by King Abdullah, through which he intends to mould citizens in “a unified social fiber that promotes their sense of loyalty to their homeland, and pride in their Jordanian, Arab and Islamic identity.” It invites civil society institutions and the private sector to increase their contributions in building a modern state through focusing on achieving economic, social, and political development, fighting unemployment, and improving the standard of living. The campaign calls upon the government to construct an atmosphere of tolerance and democracy in which people are treated with dignity and equality by enhancing public freedom and abiding by the principles of accountability and transparency. It also introduced a women’s quota for the June 2003 parliamentary elections. More importantly new temporary citizenship law was formed in November 2002 allowing Jordanian women to pass citizenship on to their children.
Associations and Unions
The Jordanian civil society organizations (CSOs) enjoy one of the most favorable political environments in the Arab world for participating in their country’s political liberalization. Important examples are the Charter on Civil Liberties (mithaq), written in 1989 by a committee which included major Jordanian civil society groups, and the National Charter, which sets guidelines for political party activity and affirms the state’s commitment to rule of law and political pluralism.
The Jordanian Society for Citizens' Rights (JSCR) was shut down in October 2002 making it the first civil society institution to be closed since 1989. The JSCR had to end its activities after the Minister of Interior ordered its closure and the cancellation of its registration for alleged violation of the Societies and Social Institutions Act. Three trade unionists of the Anti-Normalization Committee of the Jordanian Professional Associations (JPA) were imprisoned because they advocated political changes to Jordan’s diplomatic ties with Israel, but were later released. The government has threatened to dissolve the Council of the Jordanian Professional Associations.
Media and Government Regulations
Any discussion of state-civil society relations in Jordan would be incomplete without reference to Jordan’s press laws that regulate freedom of expression and are at the heart of the general debate on political participation and transparent governance. All publications in Jordan have to be licensed by the government. Important political pressure groups, such as the Council of Professional Association Presidents and the Jordanian Press Association, have been particularly concerned about some of the constraints on freedom of expression embodied in the 1997 amendments to the 1993 Press and Publications Law. In 1999, following an appeal by King Abdullah for greater openness, a committee set up in the Press and Publication Department of the Ministry of Culture and Information removed hundreds of books from censorship; and the parliament abolished the prohibited topics listed in the previous press law. The Jordanian parliament approved on March 21, 2007 the draft Publications and Publishing Law. The new law reaffirms the 1999 reforms and, as a result of protests organized by the journalists’ syndicate, retracted its approval of draft approved on March 1, 2007, that had permitted imprisoning journalists for “spreading false rumors” or a variety of other pretexts.
The Legislation Bureau in the Prime Minister’s Office issued a decision on September 23, 2007 concerning electronic press Websites and electronic press in general, viewing them to be a complementary part of the printed press and thereby stipulating that they must comply with the provisions of the publications and publishing law and be subjected to the supervision of the “Department of Publications and Publishing.” The head of the department announced that he would exercise immediate supervision and censorship with regard to the contents of electronic websites and the electronic press. The head of the Jordanian press syndicate, Tareq Al-Moumneh, rejected all censorship of publications whether in print or electronic form. He asserted that such censorship harms Jordan’s reform efforts and restricts freedom of the press and the media. Several owners of electronic websites threatened to resort to courts if that decision were to be enforced or activated.
Amendments to the Penal Code passed as a temporary law by Royal Decree on October 8, 2001, raised new concerns about freedom of the press. Article 150 threatens anyone with prison for "publishing a story, speech or act in any way that offends national unity, stirs people to commit crimes, implants hatred among members of society, instigates sectarianism and racism, insults the dignity and personal freedoms of individuals, promotes fabricated rumors, incites others to riot, sit-in or organize public gatherings that violate the laws of the country." Any such violations are now handled by the State Security Council, and the punishments range from three to six month jail terms and/or a fine of 5000 Jordanian Dinars (about US$ 7000). Censorship of the media is allowed in time of martial law (under the Martial Law of 1967) or during a state of national emergency.
United Nations agencies work closely with Jordanian Ministry of Telecommunications, Ministry of Social Development, and some civil society organizations. The Jordanian National Forum for Women has close ties with all United Nations agencies. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works with the National Task Force for Children, the World Health Organization (WHO) with the Noor Al Hussein Foundation, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a number of ministries and the parliament.