How to apply the rule of law in Jordan
Jordan's King Abdullah hit the nail on the head when he focused his Sixth Discussion Paper on the need to respect and abide by the rule of law.
The rule of law is not a new concept. It basically means that law, a written clearly stated law, should govern the country, as opposed to arbitrary decisions by government officials.
Some trace the concept of the rule of law to the 16th century Britain; others go back to the ancient philosopher Aristotle who wrote that “law should govern”.
But how do we apply this concept in today’s Jordan?
To begin with, it is important to understand, as the King stated, that loyalty and devotion “remain abstract and theoretical in the absence of respect to laws”.
This means that if you speak and sing praises to country while not respecting the law, you are much worse than a person who is critical of the country but respects its laws.
If accepted correctly, this would wipe out an entire class of individuals who constantly clap and sing the country’s praises but are often the first to ask for wasta and exceptions to the law.
Jordanians give this class of people the term “sahijeh” which refers to the celebratory clapping that is done for a bridegroom on his wedding day.
But of course these sahijeh would be out of business if government officials did not reward them and allow them these wasta exceptions.
Nothing empowers this class more than the fact that they are able to do things and obtain favours that an ordinary citizen cannot.
The rule of law means equality and justice in the practice of day-to-day governance.
Individual government officials are not only required to apply the law fairly and equally but should be forbidden from creating an alternative legal structure.
Too many times one discovers in Jordan the existence of an alternative, unwritten, law that often takes precedence over the written law.
Some hide under the excuse of tradition or custom. Even though a written law exists, they will argue that they have done this or that for centuries even though it is in contravention of the written law.
Such random application of an unwritten law is not only confusing, but renders the system totally useless.
What is the use of discussing, debating voting on a particular law (lawmakers are aware of the existence of various traditions before issuing a law, no doubt) only to have an individual official decide on his own to bypass it?
While sometimes this unwritten law is bypassed in keeping with traditions and customs, at other times it is done under a different justification: the public good.
Officials, whether at the level of policeman, governor or minister, decide on their own that they know best what is good for the country.
When enforcing such unwritten laws, whether to ban a public event or pressure a journalist not to write a story, officials use a variety of tools and pressures.
The security service is often brought in to do the dirty work, often using a variety of levels of intimidation.
And since most decisions or even a public document (passport, building permit, an import licence) need a security clearance, if one dares refuse the pressures, there are so many ways to make one’s life difficult simply by denying any official request one is entitled to.
With such intimidation and indirect pressure, the public rarely fights the system and is often forced to carry out the whims of these officials reluctantly.
But as a result of such practices, citizens start to carry grudges and become bitter. If these actions persist, citizens become apathetic (hence for example the low voter turnout) and start looking for a chance to emigrate.
In order to translate a concept like the rule of law, a serious and robust effort must be done to punish violators, to protect whistle-blowers and to do so in a transparent manner, so as to deter others from continuing on the wrong path.
Leaders must lead by example, ministers and all levels of government need to walk the talk and implement what they swear allegiance to when taking a public office.
The oath of office calls for the respect of the Constitution and the laws of the land.
A successful implementation of the sixth royal paper should see the end of unwritten, arbitrary, laws and the true respect of the written laws.