In order to place the Jordanian democratic experiment on proper footing, a 60-member royal commission was appointed by King Hussein in April, 1990 with the aim of drafting guidelines for the conduct of political party activity in Jordan. The commission comprised members representing all the political groupings in the country, and it produced a written consensus in the form of the National Charter. This document not only enunciated the terms under which political parties could operatenamely, within the framework of the Constitution and free of foreign fundingbut also established broad agreement on the need for political pluralism. On July 5, 1992, Parliament legalized political parties, and within two years 22 parties had been formed.
This speech is His Majesty King Husseins address to the Jordanian National Congress, a national conference of over 2000 leading Jordanians, after they adopted the National Charter. In this address, King Hussein calls for Jordanians to continue their march toward democracy by exercising responsibility, tolerance and loyalty first and foremost to Jordan. He describes the prerequisites of a free and democratic society, and looks ahead to the next natural step in the quest for progressthe establishment of political pluralism.
Address to the Jordanian National Congress
June 9, 1991
(Translated from the original Arabic)
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Members of the Jordanian National Congress,
My Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We thank God for guiding us to do what satisfies Him, for uniting us in seeking the good of our country and people, and for uniting us in a pledge of cooperation, and mutual support. I thank you sincerely for blessing the National Charter and endorsing it. I am confident that every Jordanian shares with me, in this historic moment, feelings of happiness, appreciation, and gratitude for your national decision. The decision which you have made today signifies many great things, primarily that our democratic process is consolidating and taking root, and that our democratic institutions are on their way to completion.
You have demonstrated a deep level of awareness and national commitment which I always trusted you to possess. From this day the National Charter becomes a pledge that binds us, and a trust which we shall keep and protect, with the assistance and guidance of God.
Your endorsement of the National Charter signifies that the path of political pluralism is now clear, free from pitfalls and deviations. Since the constitution is the foundation of the state and the fence that safeguards it, so the National Charter is its conceptual reference in the process of nation-building and the quest for progress. The next natural step will be to complete the establishment of political pluralism, which will be done in two stages:
1. To amend the law on the formation of political parties in accordance with the rules of the constitution and under the guidance of the principles of the National Charter.
2. To permit the formation of political parties in accordance with the anticipated legislation on political parties. I hope that our national political arena will not see a profusion of political parties, because overcrowding impedes progress.
Brothers and Sisters,
Today, as we cross a new threshold in the progress of Jordan and its political development, we must be conscientious of the fear of God and the interest of the nation. We must focus our attention on the serious challenges facing us, and the dangerous problems accompanying them. We have a great deal of work to do, demanding reflection, respect for the rational process, confluence of opinions, and the closing of the ranks. The persistent financial problem, and the economic crisis, with its resultant social problems, remain the top priorities of our national political agenda. Naturally, you are aware of the reasons why these problems have escalated. Some of these reasons are structural, related to the imbalance between our population and resources, mainly water. Others are exogenous, such as the effects of the Gulf crisis.
The manifestations of these problems are numerous and well known to you. The most obvious and painful perhaps, is the rise in the number of people living below the poverty line which has reached a third of the Kingdom's population. Another is the rise in unemployment to a terrifying level, amounting to twenty percent, after Jordan had received the third wave of mass immigrants in less than forty years. The imbalance in the pyramid of the working force and type of employment needed has become more acute as a result of outdated social and cultural inhibitions which are no longer compatible with the requirements of our time.
It would not be sufficient to talk about these problems. Each needs a tremendous effort to cope with it. What is required is reasoning, legislation, action, guidance, and patience. Foremost, what is needed is a comprehensive and realistic perception of the reality of our situation and of the challenges that face us every day, regardless of our size and location. We shall not be saved, nor shall we gain anything by closing our eyes to what is happening around us, and how it affects us. We live in an age of science and technology, and in a world of mutual interests. We live in the age of the quest for a better life, where human dignity and human rights are respected.
Therefore, we must work diligently to benefit from our experience and that of others. We must remember that despotism, isolationism, and social disharmony will only bring about more backwardness, more irrationality, and more dilapidation.
Democracy must not be mistaken for irresponsible freedom. It is not a license for libel and defamation. It is not a license to cross the demarcation lines separating authorities. It is not a silk cloak under which to conceal poisoned daggers. It is not an invitation for each of the authorities to set traps for the other at the expense of the public good, instead of cooperating to promote it. It is not an umbrella for terrorizing the minds of others. It is not the means for the despotism of a majority against a minority. That would lead to anarchy which would kill democracy and bring about the ruin of the land and people.
A democratic society is one that respects the law, because it is the lawmaker. A democratic society is one of free but responsible dialogue. A democratic society is one that allows for a multiplicity of opinions, on conditions of everyone respecting the opinions of others and being committed to the public good. A democratic society is free from intimidation which expunges creativity and excellence from society. A democratic society is free from despotism which paralyzes it. A democratic society is one of competition free from violence, fanaticism, vindictiveness, hatreds and vendettas.
In order to protect democracy and political pluralism, and to avoid all the pitfalls which I have mentioned, we have succeeded, with God's help, in drafting the National Charter. Nevertheless, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that democracy will be safe and sound as long as its forms are in place. The Constitution and the National Charter, and the laws and legislation that emanate from them, are all important building blocks of the state of law and democratic society. No less important, however, are the citizens, in every place and positions and institutions, since they embody democracy in every word and deed.
I have watched closely the progress of the democratic process since the elections of 1989, and it has been, in general, satisfactory. This, in my opinion, has been due to the newness of the experiment. From now on, we are all duty-bound to correct any deviations until the experiment settles to its natural path and becomes an integral part of our lives. Monitoring the process of democratization and rectifying it is a collective responsibility which includes the executive and the legislative branches, and particularly a free press.
History teaches us that democracy, when rife with vindictiveness, rage, and anarchy, almost destroyed even its first birthplace, which was the state of Athens at the peak of its greatness under Pericles. Democracy was then practiced with vindictiveness and as a guest to settle feuds rather than in pursuit of the public good. I mention this only to stress that the threat to democracy can come primarily from people who shield themselves behind it, and who abuse democracy in the very name of democracy, whether they do so deliberately or inadvertently. Democracy does not consist merely of institutions. It is a tradition and a way of life that distinguishes society.
I make this clear reference to emphasize that the nation comes first and foremost. Every political party that comes to life in democracy and under its protection, must necessarily be a national party in its basic tenets, objectives, methods, funding and affiliation. Any departure from this fact would not only be a violation of democracy, but an act against the nation. This, of course would not prevent a party from having a pan-Arab or pan-human dimension, but true nationalism must always be the real criterion for political action on the national, pan-Arab, or human levels.
We must remember that it is only natural for a nation to have its own priorities according to its resources, size, demography, and responsibilities. Just as others do not allow us to define their priorities for them, we allow none to define ours. The possibility of a confluence of priorities and objectives between Arab states, or some of them opens the door for the confluence of thought between various parties, without sacrificing one's national interest. What is not permissible is the development of a state of party subservience to outsiders. Should this happen, the party would then lose its national character and violate the principles of the National Charter.
Perhaps the best remarks with which to conclude my address to you on this historic national occasion, as we stand on the threshold of practicing political pluralism, are those of the founder of the Kingdom, my grandfather, the late King Abdullah, may he rest in peace. This is part of his address to the members of the first elected Jordanian House of Deputies, on October 20, 1947:
"There is no doubt that all people are born free, and that no one may usurp or contravene any of their rights, because God has protected everyone's rights from others. Similarly, we must not misinterpret freedom and commit the mistake of others, where everyone acts of his own volition and proceeds to contravene the rights and integrity of other people, seeking to justify such acts in the name of freedom. Freedom protects people from other people. There should not be lies, slander, and aggression, rather brotherhood, equality, and compassion. Nations become free when they enrich their freedom with the nobility of their ideals and harmonious fraternity, seeking to protect their rights through law and order, compassionately and in peace, each within his rights, which must be protected without hesitation or delay. Everybody is free as long as he respects the freedom of others. He becomes an aggressor the moment he contravenes the rights of others.
I repeat my thanks to you and I pray to God to grant me and you guidance and wisdom.
May God's peace and blessings be with you
Address to the Jordanian National Congress
June 9, 1991