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Middle East Democracy

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The world is in the midst of an important political change. It is in light of a post-Cold War era, in which democracy was the ideological victor. It is now, however, that undemocratic states are increasingly pressured by the Western world to adopt democratic ways, despite the fact that many of these states' adopted democracies are highly corrupt and facades . Democracy is a hot topic, especially in the Middle East. This question is particularly interesting when asking if Islam and democracy can merge into one, and perhaps even more importantly that if they cannot which will be the victor: Islam or democracy? From this issue arises one interesting and fairly unique Middle Eastern country: Jordan. The intrigue in Jordan and its political future are spawned from an underlying dichotomy in the country between traditional Islam and progressive liberalizing activity. Firstly, the King of Jordan has fundamental roots to Islam: he is assumed to be a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammad. Yet, despite this deep tie to Islam, the King is very progressive in his ideology in cases both of politics and economics, as he has allowed elections and is increasingly becoming part of the global economic market. Not only is the country making progressive democratic steps, but it has also developed historically good relations with the Western democratic world. It is interesting, therefore, to propose the question if Jordan is a country ripe for democracy. I propose that based upon more frequent elections with large voter turnout, increased steps to improve the economy as a free-market involved in world trade, and its historic familiarity with Western democracy that in many ways makes Jordan ripe for democracy.

Before political aspiration of democracy can be discussed, it is important to first understand the history of Jordan as a developing economic and political state. Jordan has a rich history of both royal descendents as well as a rich history of fighting for its people. The first people to settle in Jordan, the Nabateans, settled in Petra- a city on a main trade route between east and west Asia. The Ottoman rule took over in 1516, a rule that was problematic for Jordan, as it was discriminated against heavily. Jordanians, therefore, took part in uprisings due to Turkification, oppression, failing economics, poor security and stability in the Arab world, and political corruption. This uprising, or the Great Arab Revolt of 1916, was led by Al-Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca and King of the Arabs.

Originally, the countries of the Arab East were all united into one large state including Iraq, the Hijaz, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. Prince Faisal I announced the establishment of a united government in Damascus in October 1918, but on October 22, 1918 Britain divided Greater Syria into three regions. The Arabs, understandably, were angered by the proclamation, and a meeting in Damascus declared the unity and independence of Syria under Faisal I. Britain and France refused to back down, however, in this age of Imperialism, and issued a mandate to follow such orders on April 25, 1920. A series of battles occurred in opposition to the mandate, ending on July 27, 1920.

The Arab lands were freed and Sharif Hussein's son Abdullah took the throne of Transjordan. On April 11, 1921, the Emirate of Transjordan was founded and formal independence of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was recognized by Britain on May 25, 1946. King Abdullah was a very successful king in that he protected Arab East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War as the Jordanian Arab Legion fought alongside other Arab armies to hold onto Palestinian territories of the West Bank from Israel. Success was perhaps short-lived, however, as King Abdullah I was assassinated on July 20, 1951. Taking over King Abdullah's position was King Talal. However, King Talal only reigned for a short time due to illness, and Hussein was proclaimed King of the Jordan on August 11, 1952, assuming constitutional powers on May 2, 1953 after his eighteenth birthday. King Hussein controlled Jordan until Februrary 7, 1999 when he died due to cancer, ending an important era of Jordanian history. King Hussein achieved extreme amounts of progress in Jordan, but is most remembered as a "king of peace", as he attempted to create peace in the Middle East and worked toward multiple alliances with the West in order to achieve this goal. Taking over the throne is Prince Abdullah, the eldest son of King Hussein. King Abdullah, now, is the reigning king of Jordan .

Perhaps a good question to pose now is whether a democracy is viable in a state with such a rich lineage of royalty. More importantly, though, is the fact that the royalty extends into the roots of Islam, and thus traditionalism. In understanding this, it is important to understand that while Jordan is indeed deeply rooted in Islamic royalty, it has a long history of modern ideas and imposing more democratic ways. Although in 1952 elections were terminated and political parties were not permitted to develop, 1989 marked a new political era for Jordan under King Hussein. In 1989, parliamentary elections were held, and in 1992 laws allowing political parties were allowed to form: "A Party is every political organisation which is formed by a group of Jordanians in accordance with the Constitution and the provisions of the Law, for the purpose of participating in political life and achieving specific goals concerning political, economic and social affairs, which works through legitimate and peaceful means." There were certain requirements to create a political party which served to help prevent political corruption, such as ensuring that all parties are uniquely independent and are not located within "public, private, charitable, religious, productive or educational institution[s]", that members of parties agree to abide by the Constitution, and that, perhaps most importantly that in choosing leaders and positions within a party, all decisions must be "done on a democratic basis." These policies stressed democracy, as in the last exampled provision, as they allow Jordanians to exercise a certain amount of political clout, if nothing more than discussing politics openly and legally (while in other Middle Eastern countries such an allowance is taboo, and secret meetings must be held). If for any reason the Ministry (the department that oversees the formation of new parties) did not agree to the formation of a certain political party (which would happen if the party did not meet "the conditions set out in this Law"), then "Each of the founders has the right to challenge, before the Court of Justice the Minister's decision...within thirty days of the date of receipt of decision."

The Kingdom of Jordan's reasonably free and open laws allowed certain things



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