The Saban Center for Middle East Policy held a policy luncheon with Sameer Jarrah, the first Todd G. Patkin Fellow in Arab Democracy and Development, on March 22, 2007. Jarrah described the relationship between the Jordanian government and various non-governmental associations in the Kingdom, and suggested ways of improving this relationship.
Citing reports from the National Center for Human Rights in Amman, Jarrah said that Jordan has witnessed setbacks in the advancement of human rights in the last decade. He argued that the government interferes with the work of non-state actors—professional syndicates, welfare associations, and not-for-profit companies—in a variety of ways. These include the requirement that such non-state actors avoid discussing issues deemed relevant to be in the spheres of politics or public policy and that they need the permission of Jordan’s domestic security services to operate.
Jarrah said that such infringements on the functioning of the non-state actors violate Jordan’s commitments under international human rights treaties to which it is a party. He suggested that one of the reason for official wariness about the free operation of the non-state actors is because some of them, such as the professional syndicates, have a reputation for transparency and accountability. This gives them a credibility that, along with the money and influence that they command, puts the syndicates in a position to potentially challenge the authorities and hold them to account.
Jarrah said that the United States had at one point played a positive role promoting freedom of association by helping establish various pro-reform Jordanian non-governmental organizations. However, during the last three years the U.S. government has shifted its focus to encouraging economic reforms, thereby diminishing its level of support for political change.
With regard to support for democratization in Jordan, Jarrah noted that the United States still provides some funding for a few Jordanian civil society groups working to open up the political sphere. He added that exchange programs, such as those funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, are extremely useful in the long-term for bringing about political reform.
Jarrah argued that recent setbacks in the advancement of political reform in Jordan cannot be excused merely by pointing to the crises in the Middle East. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic about Jordan’s prospects, noting that many other countries in the region continue to view Jordanians as pioneers in political reform.