Reform, loyalty and sports

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After weeks of debate and accusations that reflect differences based on national origins, Jordanian nationalism received a major boost recently from an unexpected source. Jordan’s national football and basketball teams played well, winning games against Iraq and China, in football, and reaching the finals of the Asian Cup in basketball.

The success of the national teams came at a time the country was witnessing the historic process of effecting constitutional amendments. The process left reformers with mixed feelings. The creation of a constitutional court was welcomed, although its effectiveness will not be known for a while, since the government was given three years to amend existing laws and regulations in order to be defensible in this newly established court. Reformers were very upset with the performance of the parliamentarians, many absent for some of the most important votes. Those present were blamed for what was considered an apathetic attitude. One YouTube video showing a people’s representative passing peanuts to the MPs who stayed drew thousands of visits and produced tens of jokes.

What seemed to bother reformers most was the way these people’s representatives deliberated, often reflecting a regressive attitudes which denied amendments that would have strengthened the powers of the legislative branch and weaken the ability of the executive branch to dissolve Parliament.

Another source of anger was the MPs’ unwillingness to consider articulating the issue of gender equality. Hundreds of Jordanian women married to non-Jordanians held demonstrations demanding that the 2011 Jordanian Constitution provide equality between men and women. Nationalist MPs refused to consider such issues, worrying that this could cause the addition of new citizens who are children of Jordanian women. Jordanian men, however, are able to pass on their citizenship on to their spouses and children.

Jordanian women led by Nimeh Habashneh have been demonstrating almost daily, demanding that Parliament address this inequality; they are planning to challenge the guidelines denying citizenship to children of Jordanian women. While mostly motivated by demographic and political reasons, MPs claim that the issue is that of loyalty to the Kingdom.

The issue of loyalty to Jordan was evident to me this week. As Jordan was fighting for victory in the final game of the basketball tournament, children in the family were split. My daughter was zealously cheering on the Jordanian team while her cousin was rooting for China. He had no specific reason except that he liked Chinese food.

The irony in this family feud over the results of a sports game is that while my daughter has been denied nationality because her father is not Jordanian, my wife’s brother, who is married to a British woman, is able to give citizenship to his children even though they may have little feeling of loyalty to Jordan.

Reform in Jordan has yet to arrive full force. Tiny steps have been taken by the 42 amendments to the Jordanian Constitution. Contrary to expectation, these changes will do little to usher in a democratic phase in Jordan. While some amendments have been welcomed by human rights activists, the overall picture of the changes reflects mostly superficial amendments that are unlikely to shake up the governing process in the Kingdom.

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