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Jordan's Moderate Arab Spring

By Rusty Wright and Meg Korpi
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As we sat in a Parliamentary conference room, talking with Jordan’s Senate president and his colleagues, we could see why Jordan’s Arab Spring has been more subdued than most.

For nearly a year, dramatic upheaval has swept the Middle East. In Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, popular uprisings brought historic regime changes. In Syria, Yemen, Iran and elsewhere, civilian protests have met forceful government resistance. Syria’s response remained so bloody that the Arab League recently voted to suspend them.

The Middle East is a noisy neighborhood. In its midst, Jordan’s relative quiet can escape Western notice.

During the Arab Spring, the masses have clamored for freedom, democracy and self-determination. Rather than fighting their citizenry, Jordan’s leaders seem to respect and share their concerns. King Abdullah stresses values like “freedom, unity and equality." He’s been responsive to public opinion, replacing two prime ministers this year after public outcries.

Even before uprisings in neighboring countries, Jordan’s governmental leaders discussed transferring more power to the people. Jordan’s Arab Spring helped hasten that reform. Proposed changes include greater democratization, an independent judiciary and enhanced civil rights.

Learning from Mistakes

Though they have critics, the Jordanian senators we met seem serious about reform. “Learning from our mistakes, learning from the mistakes of others, is a quality of Jordanian leadership,” noted Senate President Taher Masri. “The monarchy is open-minded and we are supporting their openness and their moderation; we are amending the constitution.”

Masri says he and his close colleagues have promoted reform for many years. Government accountability is a major concern: “There were no proper elections. ...That was harmful. ... People want to be represented, their voices to be heard. ... Now [in the proposed reforms] we have enacted guarantees, steps, policies, where the voice of the people will be heard.” He hoped Parliament would adopt the reforms before year’s end.

Respect for America’s founding principles is apparent. Alluding to the region’s three major religions, Senator Akel Biltaji quipped, “Our fourth holiest book is the Constitution of the United States of America. It is the essence of the three monotheistic divine books we have: the Torah, the Bible and the Koran, if you were to translate that into civil...moral...ethical, human [terms].”

A Principled, Prudent Process

Masri wants to see his nation transformed, but not so quickly that chaos ensues. “We have to digest,” he explains. “We believe in evolution, not revolution.”

While Masri is Muslim, his Christian compatriot, Father Nabil Haddad, expresses similar sentiments. Haddada champion for Middle East peace, justice and human rightsearlier had talked with us about regional change: “This cannot happen overnight,” he said. “It takes generations. ... We don’t want to go from dictatorship to extremism [in the region]. We want to go from dictatorship to democracy and respect for human rights. We want to exhibit a civil and civilized thinking.”

Arab Summer or Winter?

As Senator Biltaji indicated, faith traditions loom large in Jordanian culture. These leaders’ concern for principled governance reflects wisdom from the earliest of their “three divine books”: “The king gives stability to the land by justice.” “Loyalty and truth preserve the king, And he upholds his throne by righteousness.”

Support for prudent change abounds. Mariam Al-Attar heads the department of Ethics, Philosophy and Religion at King’s Academy, a prep school modeled after King Abdullah’s alma mater, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts. Reflecting on the need for democratic rather than theocratic leadership, she illustrated, “If there’s a spring, then it should really be a spring, and all the flowers have to blossom. If we have only one religion in charge ... or that party’s in charge, then it would not be spring any more. It might be hot summer or cold winter!”

May Jordan’s flowers continue to bloom.

Rusty Wright is an author and lecturer who has spoken on six continents. He holds Bachelor of Science (psychology) and Master of Theology degrees from Duke and Oxford universities, respectively.

Meg Korpi studies character development and ethical decision-making through the Character Research Institute in Northern California. She holds a PhD from, and formerly taught at, Stanford University.

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