The Trouble With Jordan’s Pardon Law

Am I the only one who feels in the lurch regarding this news of 8,000 pardons being issued as a temporary law? This is one of those “announcements” that seems to come out of the blue and is a clear attempt at appeasement given the timing. But like all things related to our government, the announcement was yet another communications blunder that has created more confusion than clarity. In the typical manner we have grown accustomed to, the announcement has been spoon fed to the people via the mainstream media, in fragments. From the pieces most of us have been able to put together in the past few days, we know that this law seems to be flowing from the Monarch, and basically under directions from the King himself, as opposed to it emanating from the Prime Minister (i.e. the actual government).

And since the law is based on a royal directive, in typical fashion, it is being carried out in a cart before the horse manner, where upon the King has given an order, the government has scrambled to announce it as quickly as possible (and on Independence Day no less, just to add that hint of nationalism) and seems to have forgotten to actually do a study. To clarify this point I refer to a recent article stating that the pardon law will include 8,000 people but the government still doesn’t know which cases specifically will be included. While I understand the dynamics related to the King issuing this directive, I am befuddled to discover that this directive did not originate as a result of careful study as to who would be considered in the first place. In other words, even the excecutives of other nations can issue pardons (such as the President of the United States) but even such a directive is announced after careful study, if anything than for the sake of making sure that none of the cases will end up a public relations disaster.

And the last thing the state needs is another public relations disaster related to the judicial branch. The timing of these pardons amidst the disappearance of Khalid Shaheen, who has quickly become a symbol for corruption and social injustice in this country, is simply put, terrible. Does it not go without saying that from a purely PR point of view, it may not be the best idea for the King to announce pardons for 8,000 people at a time when all people are talking about is Shaheen being “on the run”. I mean this isn’t about facts and realities, this is about public perceptions, and if these pardons are nothing but a PR move (which they usually are, otherwise that’s just bad politics) then one would think an assessment of public perceptions would be in order before issuing such a law. No?

In the midst of this confusion, the public, and media, has been left to speculate as to whom will be included in these pardons. We “know” they will not include Shahin, and we “know” they will not include Dagamseh, the Jordanian soldier who shot six Israeli girls over a decade ago. Other than that, it seems to be floating between inmates (those who are actually in prisons) and traffic ticket violators. One Jordan Times article states:

The release of detainees and inmates will save the state nearly JD40 million. However, a senior official noted that the treasury will lose more than JD150 million in expected revenues from traffic tickets and overdue fines on citizens who have failed to pay their financial obligations to the state.

In another piece:

The law stipulates that the pardon be granted to persons involved in criminal offences, misdemeanours, violations and criminal acts committed prior to June 1, 2011, with specific exceptions. Exceptions include persons and accomplices involved in crimes of espionage, national security, narcotics, organised illegal activities, forgery, sexual assaults, abduction, premeditated murder, fraud and human trafficking. Also excluded from the amnesty are persons and accomplices involved in money laundering, terrorism, theft and embezzlement as well as violations to custom duties and tax laws.

Ok, so who’s left?

Aside from this communications blunder and bad timing, two things we’ve grown accustomed to expect from the state, there are more important ramifications to consider. The social consequences.

This is a time when people are demanding social justice. This is, in my opinion, the underlying demand that has been swimming beneath the currents of discontent. Whether people are asking for the corrupt to be held accountable, or for jobs, they are asking for equality, they are asking for social justice, they are asking for accountability – these words are synonymous. Unemployment in Jordan is not merely defined by the people in the context of job creation; it is about leveling the playing field and ensuring that one applicant to a job has just as much of a chance as the next applicant – it is a call to end wasta. It is the same thing with nearly every rational demand people have been making as of late. Social justice means everyone is treated equally, everyone is considered to be equal, everyone has access to the same resources and services equally, and everyone is held accountable in a just and equal fashion. People’s frustration with the Shaheen case, for instance, stems predominantly from the public perception that those who are elite, those who have the money and those who are corrupt, can get away with it because the justice system is governed by a political apparatus that is indistinguishably elite and corrupt.

So while the state seems to be aiming to curry favor amongst the masses, especially those who’s relatives are in prison (or who have apparently failed to pay parking tickets), the long run ramification is, simply put, a continued validation of social injustice that has plagued this country for the longest time. It is a policy that will inherently prolong and proliferate this culture of dependency on the state that has been cultivated by the state.

At a time when the people are asking for social justice and accountability the state is busy formulating a law to re-affirm the perception that already largely exists in people’s minds: the perception that while there is supposedly a system and a rule of law, there is also a parallel structure that allows a select few to be bypass that system and be treated disproportionately. A structure that says the application of accountability by the state is arbitrary.

It is perhaps easy to make assumptions as to how such manifested perceptions will negatively impact the public. However, the most troubling thing about all of this is that state couldn’t possibly care less about that, for as long as people are kept appeased in the short run, the policy must be a winner. The problem with that kind of thinking is quite clear, and it is important that the state be aware of the consequences as they pertain to its own livelihood, or, in other words, why such thinking is bad for it, as opposed to the people. Continuing this policy of appeasement, and thus sustaining that culture of dependency is the boomerang of public policy. It will inevitably come back to haunt the state in one way or another. That same approach, which has been carried out specifically in the past decade, has helped create the social problems we see today. It has contributed to, if not completely shaped, the social discontent that is alive and well today.

Meeting a failed policy of appeasement with more appeasement has not only never worked, it has only served to accumulate and postpone the inevitable.


  • Naseem ya Naseem ! i just discovered as should you by now that every single article you wrote in this blog here ( which is great man ) can be commented on with a simple phrase :

    ” STATUS-QUO ”

    honestly i am starting to actually believe the whole its HM King Abdulla the ll fault ! intentionally or not ,he is the one maintaining the current ” status-quo ” either we want to admit it or not . something gotta change starting from the top from him and the monarchy ! its not us who keep giving him the tsok tsok .


  • You know Mahmood; I always said in Jordan, we raise our kids to love the monarchy and then God and then Jordan. My family wants to kick me out of the house every time I make this statement. It’s true though. Any other country in the world teaches kids that their love for the country should be first. Look at Egypt for a simple example.

    In any case, I don’t think the monarchy in itself is a problem. After all, you can see other nations are able to function with that political model just fine. It is what the monarchy holds control over and how much of it. Jordan is different. It’s the “3ashaer” that we all know is a different component than other countries and it is those who most support the system. We are not Syria, not Egypt, not Tunisia…etc.

    When the citizens belonging to those 3ashaer start understating that their loyalty first and foremost should be to their country, your “Status-Quo” statement will change. Then and only then, will we see a society striving to change.
    I am accused of being a socialist in my family (as all deeply rooted Jordanian families they are very devoted to the monarchy). I am however far from that. I don’t even think socialism really works. I simply wish, as Naseem stated, we all had the same resources and all were treated the same, held accountable the same, and given the same rights as citizens. That is a non-existent condition in any country and we all know that, but I wish we can try to be as close to that concept as possible. But since Jordan is a country controlled by those who hold the power, and by that I mean those who have the money and the support of al 3ashaer, this concept will be just that, a concept. That is one among many other issues, some of which Naseem discussed in his blog before.

    I don’t believe the Jordanian people will in a million years ask the monarchy to step down and part of it is the fear of a replacement nation for the Palestinians. Black September is nothing that Jordan will ever forget and they never want to deal with again. Even those of us who didn’t live it, but heard about it from our parents and grandparents. Anyway that’s a whole other long issue. But, be that as it may, the monarchy needs to either give up some control, or start respecting the people by treating them as if they are NOT idiots.

    The “bubble” Naseem talked about in a prior blog is what those few Jordanians wishing change end up in, and until there is enough “bubbles” to start bursting each other, “Status –Quo” continues.

  • I agree with most of your post “Independent Jordanian” , status-quo will continue for a while but I disagree that it will end by bubble bursting or merging.

    the reason is although some individuals and some nations can live for some time in a bubble they can’t do it for ever, and Jordan certainly doesn’t live in a bubble.
    the African nations, the indigenous nations of the Americas and Australia lived in a bubble for sometimes and they were ok until confronted with stronger powers and perished, they failed to modernize (due to geographical isolation) in time to protect themselves from foreign threats and blunder.

    we FAILED to modernize in time when we had the chance and we will only suffer the consequences!!! (more backwardness, civil war, blunder of all resources and an end of our culture which have already happened in many parts of the middle east and we are waiting for our turn)

    our bubble will burst when israel and the US ( a stronger force) impose their planned solution of giving out the concentration camps of the west bank to Jordan and creating a civil mess in Jordan to pass this resolution but it will be too late then to fix anything, personally I would give it between 5 to 10 years until that happens.

  • Ali, do you think its too late for us?
    I still have hope that one day , when my child is old enough to understand all of this, when he goes to Jordan , he comes back with a desire to not only move there , but to also question me on why I moved him away from his roots in the first place. I can then explain to him that Jordan underwent major changes by some amazing people and thats how it became the great small country it is. What a dream !

  • هذا العفوا يستثني أصحاب الرأي الحر، كما يقول المثل العربي هذا العفوا بمثابة ذر الرماد في العيون، لن يقدم ولن يوئخر على ما هوا قادم ØŒ الأفلاس السياسي لهذا النظام هوا جزء لا يتجزاء من تركيبته البنيوية، لا أحد يستطيع إن يقنعني أو حتى أقناع نفسه أو نفسها بئن هذه الحكومة الدكتاتورية قادرة على المضي في تقديم أصلاحات سياسية مزمنة ناهيك عن أصلاحات أقتصادية تفاقمت وتضاعفت وتشابكت، هذ الكيان فقد شرعيته منذ زمن بعيد لأنه تائسس على قواعد هزيلة لا تمت الى القانون والشرعية بصلة

  • @ independent Jordanian ,,, ya3ni man what i am trying to say is that somehow the poeple around the king gave him the impression that people are only loyal to him because he is maintaing the ” Status quo ” and that he can only maintain it by keeping them in their positions with all that comes with that !

    ya3ni i do believe he is becoming weak , and the funny thing is that most people love him and loyal to him bas 5alas man he just want to make sure that his monarchy goes on !

    i mean can you imagine he actually uses faisal il fayez ( which is some1 worth respecting ya3ni he is a patriot) as a PM ! there is a 1000 more fayez to take that post and with the right credentials and requirements but no King abdulla think that he is buying the fayez tribe loyality by keeping 3yaal mithgaal around him ! pathetic i know and completely untrue!

    imagine him hiring some1 as racist as the al-qaadii !

    that was just a little ex. i hope you got what i am aiming at !

    bottom line man ,,,, get a foreign passport you never know !


  • AND to be honest ,, their will be a change but alas it will be a devastating one the whole scene is getting polarized you talk about black sep. i say what is happening here is worse , my father used to talk about black sep. and how he saw fidaa2ieh shot infront of him and how in black sep. it was fida2ieh vs the jordanian people ! now or in the near future its gonna be jordanian vs jordanian , after black sep the majority of palestanians condemned what the fida2ieh tried to do and sided with the gov.

    the country will split unless the king intervenes, he can’t keep ignoring the fact that he is helping the tension with his current methods .

  • I love the discussion here and it gives me some (very small) hope
    @Independent Jordanian, I really wish same as you that it would happen, I love Amman and Jordan but I think its better to look at things without bias and its not always a bad idea to be an out spoken pessimist to sound the warning alarm.

    why I think we are not heading in the right direction and are not far from “doom” , I hope you accept my liberty here of a small comparison and remarks about an a nation with the majority of its people living under poverty, I am not going to compare us to rich nations because you all know what people will think of such comparisons.
    I’ve been in china many times.
    -in China many poor people read and have books and you can buy books in many places,
    -a taxi driver would rarely if ever try to cheat you
    -people would go to parks and you can see many elderly couples in parks dancing and performing sport.
    -I saw many car mechanics who have a laptop and are using it to watch news, chat etc…
    remember these are people who some of them find it very hard to eat but they are developing
    -there is equal number of women and men on the streets, cafes restaurants, work etc…

    facts about Jordan:
    -after coming back here first thing I had to do was fix my old car, the mechanic I hired did everything imaginable to cheat me and was even threatening me with his “wasta” as someone who knows the secret service. his level of cheating was so bad that really it was basically sabotage that does good to no one, not even him.
    -people here don’t read, could even look down on you if you read and consider you a snob, its even hard to find books here, there isn’t many Jordanian authors.
    -everyone will try to cheat you when buying anything, we all know how we treat foreigners, and yes it happens everywhere but not to the extent Jordanians exhibit.
    -people are very violent and willing to pick a fight at any moment.
    -we don’t have parks, the elderly have no activities.
    -you walk down the streets and its mostly men around because a lot of women are set at home wives who are not allowed to go out.
    -the smallest security guard at any mall have the right to grab your ass and look into the personal belongings of your wife purse.

    please tell me how can this society reproduce the miracle of Finland for example!!!

    @ma7moodjo , this is not my idea but its burrowed from tolstoy, in his view in “war and peace” one person can never be responsible for everything, not only that, even the whole political elite can’t be responsible for everything. an army general doesn’t decide everything in reality even if he thinks so, he has to follow the terrain, weather, soldiers morale, etc…
    the problems we are in now are caused by our whole of society not only a small group.

    if you want to analyze the reasons of why we are here talking about this you would need to study the causes from back when one mongol leader had too much butter and fat which caused him a heart attack which caused his successes to stop their progress to europe and come back to his funeral and change their mind from attacking europe to attacking baghdad!

    wow one long post, I doubt any one would read it 🙂

  • Ali, I am reading believe me as long as you write 🙂

    It still gives me hope that this discussion is going on because I know I may be at odds with my family when it comes to these issues, but clearly not my generation. When you compare, I understand the socioeconomic similarities, but 2 totally different cultures. I am going to say something that a LOT of people will hate me for. Until Jordan, amongst other Arab countries is able to separate religion from state, in other words to have a “3elmaneh” type of government, many of things you discussed will hit a dead end because people use religion as an excuse, but that’s also a whole different discussion.

    To me, these things seem to be luxury compared to what really needs to happen. A revamping of the entire system needs to take place, and what you have discussed will simply follow. After all the cheating the hell out you while fixing your car is something that happens everywhere. I have never though heard of someone threatening with their “wasta”. That made me laugh to be honest but how ludicrous is this concept? What kind of a society have we become that I can steal from you and beat you for telling on me. Sounds a lot like Egypt.

    I will tell you what I would LOVE to see in Jordan, and why most of it now is stopping me from moving back, especially for a female.
    When I go to renew my passport, I don’t need a male with me. Just because I am a female, I will be treated like shit and stared at the whole time I am there. They will also give me the run around, and therefore I need one of my male cousins to come with me. I will also need to “mention a name” so the process goes smooth for me, even though all my documents are complete and correct.
    When I walk down the street, I don’t need to be stared at like I am some sort of an alien, worse in some cities than other like Zarqa. Lord forbid a female walks their streets (mind you I dress like in it’s a Colorado January, when in fact it’s a boiling hot Jordanian July, but I must cover my shoulders, arms and legs in order to get less death looks and many less whistles or cursing).
    IF a park does exist, I want to be able to go to it and take my child and play with him, without being surrounded with a tribe of men who look like they are about to rape me. Females pay for the sexual deprivation of that nation.
    When I drive my car, I don’t want to fight over the road. I don’t want to feel like my child’s life is in danger simply because he is riding in a car in Amman. How about we actually stop at red lights and people don’t yell and get mad at you for it? Or how about I don’t have to fight someone because I am driving in a one way street and they decided to use it as a two way?
    How about any citizen can run for elections without having to worry about religion, or who this 3ashereh wants in that seat? And people truly go to elect someone who will represent them not someone who their dad or uncle told them to vote for.
    How about when my little cousin graduates college, she can find a job that at least uses her some of her skills and education if not all? And how about when she can’t find one, she doesn’t mind working whatever comes along instead of sitting at home and saying, that’s not my level? That’s what refugees should be doing not us? :O
    How about dinner out doesn’t cost me half my vacation budget? Or my water doesn’t cost 5JD because taxes are 200% and a meal of kabab doesn’t cost 50 JD.
    How about if I ship my used car to Jordan, it doesn’t cost me as much as the car cost 5 years ago? Cz when I do move there I cannot afford to buy a car so I will need to ship mine. WHERE IS ALL THAT MONEY GOING? We should have the econmoy of the UAE for what they charge people everywhere.
    How about people mind their own business, and not ask me how much I make a year? or when is the next baby coming? And why when I leave the house to run for some milk I have sneakers on and not high heels, my hair is up in a pony tail, and my face is not covered with make up like I am attending the red carpet dinner so I am treated like a trash bag. OR when I say no TY I don’t smoke, and I don’t want you to smoke in my house or around my child and no I don’t smoke Arjeleh either, I am looked at as a snob, because I am worried about my family’s health and not following what’s “in” these days.
    And when I speak with my Jordanian accent, instead of adapting a new Lebanese like accent, my friends dont make fun of me, even though, just like me, they have parents from karak, madaba, Irbid, and not one of them is Lebanese.
    How about people respect each other. an elderly gets on a bus (and the bus is clean wow) and someone actually gets up to let to give them a seat.
    I don’t mind being realistically pessimistic. I actually think I just loaded your view to make it completely BALCK now. Sorry but sooooo much needs to happen, starting with mentality, because that is what forces change.

  • very well put, I think it makes one feel better when he/she writes/types

    for me there is no sugar coating it and no need to be embarrassed about it, nothing but a secular country would work to advance any society.
    anyone who wants a feudal society ruled by the religious authority should learn from the dark ages of europe, what ever one believes about religion it should not be used to dictate people lives, reason being that anyone can interpret things as they like.

    the top of the religious authority pyramid will use it and interpret it to the gullible masses to what best benefits those few in collusion with the government, same as what is happening in Saudi.
    Saudi oil and Wahhabi power has been one of our curses but it will fade with Saudi oil production peak which is nearing as the major powers now fight over off-shore oil and gas resources for those very reasons

  • I think one of the tenets of a true democracy lies in the ability to discuss a difference of opinion and here I stress on “discuss” and “debate”. Not by accusing one person of certain characteristics such as “racism” or another by attempting to generalise by stating “tribalism” as the “main” cause of problems. These are easy ways out of actually thinking about issues and it may well do us all good if we should read a bit more and try to understand the issues (and listen to others’ viewpoints) rather than professing wisdom. If we continue to personalise as such we will certainly be leading out country into a dark hole. Using terms such as “racist” or otherwise is unacceptable. Moreover, what does “tribalism” actually mean? Urban groupings with common interests could also be categorised within a same frame of reference. Generalisations do not help but hinder our ability to understand and tackle the real issues we need to deal with.

  • @ Jordanian Floater. I am not sure which comment your response was geared towards, but I can speak for myself. When using “tribalism” in my comments, I don’t mean the concept is completely negative. As a matter of fact I emphasize that it is what makes Jordan different. None of us can deny the positivity “tribalism” brings, especially the uniting factor which makes working towards one goal easier. We however should not deny the negativity in it either. We, Jordanians, tend to hate admitting our short comes, and don’t want to face the fact in reality our society is different than what we brag about to other nations. I also never stated that it is the only issue, nor did I generalize. I speak from a personal experience. I come from a large family, and I am from Madaba where the concept is as clear as day light in every day interactions. I don’t proclaim wisdom. This is a discussion that will never hinder moving forward. If anything it will only strengthen it, and it does give me hope that we can agree to disagree.

  • Agree strongly on the long-term implications of the politics of appeasement, particularly its aggravation of social injustice. It also seems like this episode reaffirms the ‘image’ of the citizen as, at best, a powerless beneficiary. This is done in two ways, firstly, the citizen is not asked what his demands are, but a higher power decides what it is that citizens need and generously extends this benefit. The expected response is gratitude for relief of sorts (familial brought about by reunions or financial brought about by tickets being pardoned). The second is that the law does not serve the citizen and is in fact the reason for his unhappiness. Therefore, this higher power must subvert the law to allow for citizen needs (decreed, not claimed) to be met. The citizen is therefore still at the lowest rung of the ladder, being at the mercy of a higher power and the victim of the law: he is a beneficiary and he is a powerless one at that, because he can not claim his needs through the law, but must depend on a generous benefactor to decide what his heeds are and to break the law for his own good.

    For that reason I don’t think the issuing of the pardon is a problem of a lack of study only. I think it raises serious doubts as to who the law represents and who benefits from it. If the law is mine, as a public citizen (a naive thought I know), then those with traffic tickets were being fined for putting me in danger. They violated a law that represents and protects me, and therefore violated me. Now that they are pardoned, it either means that violating me is ok and that someone else has the power to determine whether I should forgive or not, or it means that the law was not mine or for my benefit in the first place. So the question becomes, whose law is it, and who is it serving?

Your Two Piasters: