Thursday, May 21, 2015

“It's time to change the limited understanding of who we are” 
HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal

As we celebrate Jordan’s Independence Day this year, I have to ask: do we even know our own Constitution? Or is 25 May simply a day to wave flags and chant slogans? 

A few years ago, during a meeting with HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal and heads of his institutions in Jordan, I recall his wish for the Constitution to become a living document in the minds and hearts of Jordanians – it should promote the larger goal of educating for citizenship, inspire change and empower individuals and communities, the “silenced majority”, in the words of Prince Hassan   those who are often victimised, excluded or marginalised.

The Jordanian Constitution: Historical Background
Jordan’s Organic Law was instituted in April 1928 under the guidance of Emir Abdullah. It provided for a consultative parliament, and Jordan’s first elections were held in April of the following year. This document was transformed after Jordan gained full independence in May 25, 1946, following the abolition of the British Mandate. A new Constitution was formulated and adopted by the Legislative Council on November 28, 1947. It was published as law in the Official Gazette on 1 February, 1947. 

A few years later, the Constitution was liberalised by His Majesty the late King Talal and ratified on 1 January, 1952. It led to a new structure of political power under which the government and Jordanian ministers would be responsible to the Parliament, and it is the Constitution in use today. 

Jordan’s Constitution stipulates that the country is a hereditary monarchy with a parliamentary system. It outlines the functions and powers of the state, the rights and duties of Jordanians, the guidelines for interpretation of the Constitution and the conditions for constitutional amendments. It mandates the separation of powers (the executive, legislative and judiciary), and outlines the regulation of the government’s finances, as well as the enforcement and repeal of laws. 

Most importantly, the Constitution specifically guarantees personal freedoms, including equality of opportunity through employment and education to all Jordanians and freedom from discrimination based on race, religion or language. Freedom from arrest, imprisonment, forced residence and forced labour, exile, expropriation of property without due process of law, freedom of worship, press, opinion, petition, and peaceful assembly are guaranteed within the limits of the law and with the provision that their objectives are lawful.

Jordan's National Charter was ratified in 1990, embodying the democratic values of the leadership and people. It reiterated the principles of human and civil rights and the equality of opportunity for men and women alike, and provided a broad range of democratic freedoms. 

Today, the National Charter, along with the Jordanian Constitution, serve as a guideline for democratic institutionalisation and political pluralism in the country and provides a compass for a national debate on fundamental issues.

With HRH Prince Hassan and our team during my time as Senior Coordinator of the West Asia - North Africa (WANA) Forum (now WANA Institute

Gifted, Humble, Compassionate 
By Laura Haddad
Published in The Jordan Times on 19 March, 2012

I had the privilege of knowing HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal while I worked for the West Asia – North Africa (WANA) Forum (now WANA Institute), a regional initiative he launched in 2009. During my time there, I saw people who idolised him for his princely title or intellectual brilliance. Others resorted to character assassinations precisely because he is a prince. Then there are those who simply know him as the extraordinary ordinary man he is: gifted, humble and compassionate. 

I share the hopes and dreams we all have for ourselves and our children and join fellow citizens in prayers for peace in our turbulent times. While I support the right of demonstrators to shake up the status quo, I often wonder if there is substance behind the slogans. How do I know that the person who calls for positive change today won’t be my oppressor tomorrow? Democracy is noble, but as history and current events all over the world demonstrate, it doesn’t automatically ensure justice, equality and human rights and doesn’t necessarily live up to promises of social cohesion, economic growth and sustainable development. 

Prince Hassan said that “passion is no substitute for discipline”. While most of us want to live in a society that upholds justice and curtails abuse of power, this society doesn’t emerge with solely calls for change to our leaders, but with a commitment to change how we live day-to-day; it’s in how we run our own homes and workplaces and in how we choose to live in our natural environment and treat our neighbours – both friend and foe. Government is meant to serve us but we also have a vital role in safeguarding rights and exercising our responsibilities. 

Prince Hassan’s life’s work represents a citizenship greater than superficial lines on a map, blind allegiance, partisan loyalties and arbitrary divisions. It is a deeper understanding of our individual and collective responsibility to what he calls our “shared humanity”. He would reiterate, “I don’t matter; it’s not we who count but the millions of people without a voice.” For the many interview requests he receives, he would ask repeatedly, “How can this help our region?” 

I’ve also seen his courage to stand alone and risk judgment, exclusion and marginalization; what matters to him is doing what’s right – not what’s popular. We can all disagree over what’s right but without civil discourse it won’t get any of us far. “We need to see an end of the eons in which we assume that those who disagree with us are disagreeable people,” Prince Hassan said. He welcomes everyone with the hope and faith that concerted action will prevail over hallow words.

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