Judicial reform could ease corruption and stabilize Jordan and the Middle East
Jordan’s King Abdullah, like his forebears, inherited a difficult position because of the country’s geography and demographics. Managing Israel’s polar twin, guardian of Al-Haram ash-Sharif, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, while being the host to millions of refugees is expensive both economically and politically. The king, who is visiting the United States, is expected to meet with President Biden, with whom he spoke by phone in April.
In its transition to a constitutional monarchy, Jordan has both the Royal Hashemite Court and divided Jordanian tribes and Palestinian peoples to assuage. Corruption and nepotism are always at risk of occurring during a lengthy transitional process, and it is a struggle for any monarch to find more than iterative opportunistic solutions to a status quo, given competing interests.
It is, perhaps, only under the gaze of the global public eye that meaningful progress can be achieved as royal court opposition to a problem melts into the sands. King Abdullah has made iterative, repeated attempts to resolve corruption in the kingdom. The time perhaps has arrived for a final series of administrative changes to resolve the problem.
King Abdullah’s background makes him the ideal monarch to manage Jordan’s constitutional transition and the competing local and great-power interests. He is a 41st generation direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad and, since tribal descent is exclusively patrilineal, any questions regarding his expatriate English-born, Muslim-convert mother should be moot — aside from with those seeking excuses. He began his schooling in Amman and then attended Deerfield Academy and Georgetown University in the United States and the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Oxford University in the United Kingdom. The king’s wife is Palestinian, which endears him to the large, growing Palestinian population, yet it may be the cause of some local and Jordanian tribal resentment as Jordan struggles with significant demographic change.
King Abdullah found the opportunity to replace the head of anti-corruption in 2019 with a no-nonsense general, Muhannad Hijazi, who has successfully gathered evidence on unresolved corruption cases. This was a great step forward, but it appears that the king is seeking further reform and has set up a 92-member committee to propose parliamentary reforms.
Evidence is a prerequisite, and a responsive, independent and impartial judicial system is essential to proceed to prosecution, yet not straightforward for any state to achieve — perceptions of the rule of law by country differ substantially. The king, therefore, should overhaul the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, bringing in a younger generation. An independent inspectorate should be set up to monitor the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Judicial reform could be achieved by recruiting the brightest young Jordanian university law graduates and making them young judges, free of past customs and norms, allowing for free interpretation of Jordanian law and the Constitution going forward. This has worked well in Uzbekistan.
Bringing in a younger generation would enhance political support and substantially increase the free flow of ideas in government. Bureaucratic modes of official interaction should be replaced with interactive forums that might garner popular support and bring ministers closer to understanding the disparate needs of Jordan’s peoples.
Judicial reform would strengthen Jordan’s institutions while enhancing ministerial authority and accountability, reducing the inevitable turnover in the king’s government.
Foreign direct investment would balloon, because overseas capital welcomes a level playing field and enforceable property rights — circumstances that have worked well for Jordan’s neighbor, which also relied on a British institutional and legal framework.
The economic boost from overseas investment, receipts from the outstanding corruption cases, and enhanced economic support from the United States, United Kingdom and the rich Gulf states following on from these much-needed legal reforms, would improve Jordan’s economic prospects both for the local tribes and the Palestinian population, while inevitably limiting the intermittent unrest that Jordan is experiencing because of high rates of unemployment and fallout from the pandemic. After all, how many billions of dollars would be raised in this process? Jordan has a history of raising successful foreign direct investment and it should look to remain avant garde.
Continued corruption in Jordan is an unfortunate reality that has been used as a poor excuse to try to undermine King Abdullah, despite his efforts to reform corruption laws and procedures. Through recent adversity, opportunity now presents itself for further change, without likely resistance from members of the Jordanian Court.
James Arnold is a British financier, geopolitical strategist and an investor in deep-learning technologies who writes on U.S. politics and foreign affairs.
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