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November 22, 2004



The Jordanian law doesn't sound a whole lot different from a law recently passed by Israel which forbids Israelis from marrying non-Israeli Arabs and living with them in Israel. That law was also motivated by demographic concerns and it provoked a lot of justified outrage around the world. Where is there any similar outrage at Jordan's running roughshod over the civil rights of its citizens? In Israel, the law is at least being challenged in the Supreme Court. Do Palestinians have any such recourse in Jordan?

the aardvark

At this point, I'm not seeing much outrage - although, to be fair, it did just happen over the weekend and to this point has only been widely reported in the Arab media including al Jazeera. I'm also not sure what recourse anyone will have - I'm still investigating it. But given the history and politics of Jordanian-Palestinian relations over the last 10-15 years, my fear is that these Palestinian-Jordanians will be screwed, and nobody will care.


Given that Jordan owned the west bank until comparatively recently, what definitions of Palestinian/jordanian are they using, especially for over 40s?


This may be a little cynical, but may I suggest that one reason for the State Department's lack of interest is the influence of a sort of "anything-but-the-Islamists theory" in policy-making circles, just as anything (including Islamists) was better than the Communists during the Cold War. If ethnic Jordanian nationalists are sufficiently strong in the country to obtain such a law, that would be a good sign according to this reasoning as the logic of national identity will have triumphed over pan-Islamic (or even pan-Arab) sympathies, for all the protestations by Islamists that national identities were imposed on Muslims from outside as part of a colonialist plot to break the unity of the Muslim umma. I should think that the US government is quite happy to see mobilisation on ethnic lines here, just as it is happy to see confessional and ethnic mobilisation in Iraq. This does not mean that they do not really believe in spreading democracy, just that as in the Cold War, short-term tactical considerations are paramount.

the aardvark

Another reason for the lack of wider outrage may be that this is a decision not to implement a promised new policy rather than the actual change of existing policy: the Jordanian government isn't taking away existing rights, it's just backing away from a commitment it made to rectify a glaring injustice in the existing law.

Yet another reason is that Palestinians themselves have always been ambivalent about any move by the Jordanians to extend benefits to Palestinians - even if it improves their lives, they fear that it weakens their claims on the "right of return" and may signal a Jordanian ambition to return to the West Bank. So that may keep some Palestinian-origin Jordanians from speaking up too loudly.

But neither of those points change the fact that this really stinks for Jordanian women and their children.

the aardvark

There's a bit of discussion about this going on over at Matt Yglesias's blog - which for some reason never shows up in trackbacks:

Here's what I wrote in response to some people who pointed out that enfranchising Palestinians in Jordan isn't necessarily a pro-Palestinian position:

...many Palestinians are deeply ambivalent about anything which smacks of "resettlement" in Jordan (or anywhere else), since this might be seen as taking away their right of return. Open American pressure on Jordan to naturalize Palestinians would almost certainly lead to screaming that the US is trying to force Palestinians to give up their right of return.

On the other hand, I don't see any way in which this isn't a humanitarian disaster for Jordanian women and their children. And in Jordan the campaign to disenfranchise Palestinians is tied to an ethnic chauvinist trend which is generally anti-liberal and anti-democratic. So the move hurts a lot of generally powerless people, while rewarding anti-liberal supporters of the regime. To my mind, in the Jordanian context this kind of move against Palestinians goes hand in hand with the evisceration of civil liberties and political freedoms.

I think the best response would be a principled insistence on human rights and pushing for liberalization inside of Jordan. Far too many anti-democratic moves get swept under the carpet because the US thinks Jordan is a country that "gets it." So push for a system based on full equality and civil rights for Jordanian citizens, and some of the problems other commenters identified go away. And push for a more democratic and liberal Jordan, and you begin to show some real teeth behind all the democracy talk.

Jonathan Edelstein

The Israeli law was motivated primarily by security concerns rather than demographic reasons. The government's main argument during the Knesset debates was that Palestinians had gained Israeli nationality by marrying Israelis and then committed terrorist acts (although, in court papers, it could only come up with six such instances). Demographics did play a part, especially with the far right, but they wouldn't have carried the day without the security issues. I can't think of _any_ recent case where the Knesset has passed legislation purely for demographic reasons, and I'm aware of several cases where such legislation has failed.

In any event, the Israeli marriage law is pretty evil, and I expect it to be struck down by the Supreme Court. The judges appeared to be leaning that way during oral argument, and they struck down a similar ministerial policy a few years ago.

I also believe that Egypt has a similar law about nationality of married women, albeit not targeted specifically at Palestinians.

the aardvark

Jonathan - thanks! I had been wondering about the Israeli debate and how that had played out. Very different political contexts, obviously. Have you heard anything in Israeli media/debates about the Jordanian decision? Or about the new "Jordan option" that was being bandied about a few months ago?

Tom Scudder

As far as I know, every single Middle Eastern country has similar laws related to citizenship - it passes from fathers to children exclusively, is not conferred by marriage, and is not passed from mothers to children. I know this is the case for Lebanon and Egypt, and am pretty sure it applies in Syria as well.

the aardvark

You're right - and this has been the target of quite a lot of activism by Arab women and human rights NGOs. They've talked about changing the law in Egypt, but haven't yet done so to my knowledge:

In Jordan it has special resonance because so many of the women in question are married to Palestinians, and not citizens of other states - which means that not getting nationality dooms them to statelessness.

The initiative to grant this right to Jordanian women actually came from Queen Rania, to great fanfare at the time (and harsh criticism by ethnic Jordanian nationalists). For background, see this excellent Christian Science Monitor piece from December 2002:


Jonathan Edelstein

I haven't seen _any_ coverage of the Jordanian decision in the Israeli media, not even the "how dare those hypocrites criticize us now" variety. Then again, I also haven't seen much coverage anywhere else. Unless Queen Rania takes up the cause, I suspect this will slip under the radar - given the political considerations you mention, I doubt that even the international Palestinian organizations will oppose it vocally.

the aardvark

Jonathan - yeah, I'm starting to think that if I hadn't noticed, then literally *nobody* would be talking about it, rather than microscopic subset that now is, kind of. And I think you're right that only Rania's intervention will bring this to the forefront in any real way. But since she is, I believe, something like 8 months pregnant, it's probably not in the cards just now.

Jonathan Edelstein

The part I don't understand is why the Jordanian government thinks that 500,000 more Palestinian citizens would be a demographic threat. Don't they have the legislature gerrymandered well enough that it doesn't matter how many Palestinian voters live in Amman?

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