In many ways, Jordan could be a model for what a successful “reform from above” process would be like, a model that is yet to materialize. Much of the reason is because it is ruled by a monarchy that is seen as legitimate by the overwhelming sectors of the population — and necessary as a unifying force for the different ethnic groups in the country.

Although the country does not have a strong tradition of parliamentary party politics, the Hashemite royal family has always advocated liberal social policies toward its citizens, including Christians and women. While the system didn’t allow much competition in political affairs, equally it didn’t engage in brutal practices against its opponents as many of its neighbors did. Politically, the Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to operate legally and as a result, the Islamists adopted more moderate policies than they did in other Arab countries.

Marwan Muasher
Muasher is vice president for studies at Carnegie, where he oversees research in Washington and Beirut on the Middle East.
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Despite its history, however, Jordan still seems stuck in a system that has so far promised far more reforms than it has actually delivered. To be sure, the constitution was amended and agreed on the establishment of a constitutional court for the first time, long a demand of political activists, and an independent election commission to supervise all aspects of the election process.

However, these amendments fall far short of several necessary measures. While the king lost the ability to indefinitely postpone elections, all other powers have been left intact — for example, the monarch still appoints and dismisses the prime minister. On the key issue of the election law, not much has changed. Despite more than a year of deliberations, the law went through different variations, resulting in the end in a formula that would have 82 percent of parliament elected according to the same old unpopular formula.

If reform from above has any real chance to succeed, it would be in Jordan. But it will require a dramatic shift of priorities by a system that has been so far resilient to serious change — a shift that can be led only by the king.