Jordan's King Embraces Pluralism Accord with Opposition on Pluralism Widens Monarch's Acceptance - and the Political System

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THE legalization of political parties in Jordan marks a milestone in the Arab world's moves away from authoritarianism toward more representative government.

Analysts here say the June 9 ratification of a "national charter," which allows for a pluralistic system, is also a coup for King Hussein, who has managed to secure the allegiance of political rivals and undermine other Arab nations' chances of intervening in Jordanian affairs.

"The approval of the charter by the major political trends practically implies that they no longer oppose the regime, but accept (being) an opposition within the system," one analyst says.

But most significant, says historian and analyst Kamel Abu Jaber, the national charter "has given birth to a new sort of legitimacy that depends on the democratization process."

Under the terms of the charter - mithak, in Arabic - political parties will be legalized in return for opposition recognition of the Constitution, which stipulates that Jordan is a Hashemite monarchy. (The Hashemites attained power 70 years ago with British backing in what was then the mandate of Transjordan.)

Though the Jordanian opposition has not constituted a serious threat apart from two short spells in the 1950s and 1970s, acceptance of Hashemite rule is dear to the government. Most opposition groups have long implied rejection of Hashemite rule and advocated the establishment of "a nationalist democratic regime."

Pan-Arab and leftist groups, which reached their peak in the mid-1950s, saw Hashemite rule as "a British creation." But over the decades, Hussein has prevailed through a combination of suppression of political activities, delicately balanced foreign and Arab policies, and, finally, sweeping democratization measures.

In 1989, Hussein launched the democratization process - holding parliamentary elections and relaxing restrictions on political freedoms - but only after protests had swept the south, the bedrock of Hashemite support.

Until then, solid backing from the traditionalists, influential tribes, and the conservative Muslim Brotherhood (the only political organization that was tolerated by the regime as a counterweight to radicals) kept Hussein's rivals at bay. The 1989 protests were sparked by price increases. Decisionmakers apparently saw the unrest as a warning that the country's stability might be endangered without broader popular representation.

Since then, Hussein, viewed by some Arabs as too dependent on Western support, has increasingly relied on wider national consensus. His policies during the Gulf crisis, when he refused to join the United States-led coalition against Iraq, greatly increased his popularity at home and consolidated his image as a national leader. …