William and Mary Law School

Power to the People

At work, I am researching citizens' initiatives in the Arab World. Morocco's Constitution allows citizens to present proposals to Parliament, and while ROLI is working with locals to figure out how to define this nebulous provision, I am researching whether Morocco's neighbors have similar systems.

Suprisingly, the answer is yes. Lots of Arab constitutions have procedures in place to hear citizen complaints. I learned last summer, however, that it usually doesn't matter if you have a right on paper because the paper rights don't always transfer to reality.

In reality, it looks like direct democracy has not quite reached the Arab World, even after the Arab Spring. The most bizzare example of this is in Jordan. The Jordanian Constitution has a vague provision granting citizens a right to address public authorities, and King Abdullah II is all for the democratization of his country. Even though the King keeps instructing his Prime Ministers to pursue political reform, Jordan seems to be moving backwards in terms of political rights. Why? Because over the years, the Jordanian government has fostered an elite class, and this elite class, which is not too fond of change, is now more powerful than the government. This small group is maintaining the status quo, against the King's wishes. They're not just biting the hand that feeds them; they're chopping it off, frying it up, and serving it on a silver platter.

Over the years, King Abdullah has basically given up on his dream of a democratic Jordan. Maybe it's not always good to be the King.