The University of Jordan Faculty of Law Hosts a Conference on Constitutional Rights

January 2014

From December 4–5, 2013, the University of Jordan Faculty of Law—an ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) partner—hosted a conference on democracy, media and other constitutional rights. ABA ROLI invited eight experts from Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan to discuss these critical issues in the wake of the Arab Spring movements across the Middle East and North Africa region.

Dr. Tariq Hammouri, dean of the law school, said that the conference was organized to allow Jordanian legislators an opportunity to learn from the experiences of regional experts as Jordan implements its recently amended constitution and creates a new Constitutional Court. Former Egyptian and Lebanese ministers joined a Constitutional Court judge and prominent constitutional scholars in assessing the impact of the Arab Spring movements on fundamental constitutional rights, such as freedom of expression. Dr. Azmi Mahaftha, the University of Jordan’s vice president, said that the recent movements in the region witnessed the dismantling of police states in the face of citizens’ demands. He also emphasized the role of strong civil society and democratic institutions, such as an independent judiciary, in avoiding civil war and continued strife. Some panelists argued that the common factor linking the Arab uprisings was a fight against corruption, while others thought that broader demands for basic rights were at the core. Justice Sherif of Egypt said that the revolutions in the region were a clear call for stronger constitutional guarantees of rights for people and limits on the authorities. Professor Ramadan Bateekh, an Egyptian constitutional-law expert and former constitutional council member, said, “Revolution can happen because the existing constitution is not applied,” adding that sometimes—instead of writing a brand new constitution post-revolution —amending the flaws of an existing one and implementing it might be sufficient.

There was a consensus among participants that achieving the laudable transformational goals of the Arab Spring movements will take time and the process is fraught with challenges. Dr. Antoine Masarra, a Lebanese Constitutional Council member, said that there is a need for an “educational revolution” to raise citizens’ legal awareness to sustain the region’s achievements. Dr. Masarra added, “[The] best constitutions provide a prescription, not a treatment; if that’s followed well, then the ailment can heal, or else the diagnosis must be revised.” The conference also highlighted the role of religion in politics, with a majority of presenters calling for a strict separation of religion and politics.

Panelists from Egypt and Lebanon said that Jordan’s recently established Constitutional Court can ensure that the kingdom’s constitution serves the people while discouraging a flood of cases or the use of the court as either a political tool or a litigation-stalling tactic. They also shared their concerns that the nonrenewable six-year term limit for the King-appointed Constitutional Court judges might pose challenges for the court’s independence. Justice Mohammad Ghazwi of the Constitutional Court, a former dean of the University of Jordan Faculty of Law, said that the court’s role is limited to reviewing “the constitutionality of legislated law.” He added that, modeled after the systems in Bahrain, Belgium, France and Italy, the court can be accessed through the parliament or cabinet.

Following the last session on whether countries in transition require amended or new constitutions, Hammouri outlined common key recommendations, including  to strengthen Arab discourse about political rights and opinions, encourage Arab universities to forge new ways of peaceful transitions toward democratic changes, study the constitutional courts’ monitoring of laws, and review the European revolutions’ lessons on constitutional-building and generational impact.

The event was covered in the Jordanian press, and a related Jordan Times article can be read here.

To learn more about our work in Jordan, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

January 2014

From December 4–5, 2013, the University of Jordan Faculty of Law—an ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) partner—hosted a conference on democracy, media and other constitutional rights. ABA ROLI invited eight experts from Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan to discuss these critical issues in the wake of the Arab Spring movements across the Middle East and North Africa region.

Dr. Tariq Hammouri, dean of the law school, said that the conference was organized to allow Jordanian legislators an opportunity to learn from the experiences of regional experts as Jordan implements its recently amended constitution and creates a new Constitutional Court. Former Egyptian and Lebanese ministers joined a Constitutional Court judge and prominent constitutional scholars in assessing the impact of the Arab Spring movements on fundamental constitutional rights, such as freedom of expression. Dr. Azmi Mahaftha, the University of Jordan’s vice president, said that the recent movements in the region witnessed the dismantling of police states in the face of citizens’ demands. He also emphasized the role of strong civil society and democratic institutions, such as an independent judiciary, in avoiding civil war and continued strife. Some panelists argued that the common factor linking the Arab uprisings was a fight against corruption, while others thought that broader demands for basic rights were at the core. Justice Sherif of Egypt said that the revolutions in the region were a clear call for stronger constitutional guarantees of rights for people and limits on the authorities. Professor Ramadan Bateekh, an Egyptian constitutional-law expert and former constitutional council member, said, “Revolution can happen because the existing constitution is not applied,” adding that sometimes—instead of writing a brand new constitution post-revolution —amending the flaws of an existing one and implementing it might be sufficient.

 

There was a consensus among participants that achieving the laudable transformational goals of the Arab Spring movements will take time and the process is fraught with challenges. Dr. Antoine Masarra, a Lebanese Constitutional Council member, said that there is a need for an “educational revolution” to raise citizens’ legal awareness to sustain the region’s achievements. Dr. Masarra added, “[The] best constitutions provide a prescription, not a treatment; if that’s followed well, then the ailment can heal, or else the diagnosis must be revised.” The conference also highlighted the role of religion in politics, with a majority of presenters calling for a strict separation of religion and politics.

 

 

 

Panelists from Egypt and Lebanon said that Jordan’s recently established Constitutional Court can ensure that the kingdom’s constitution serves the people while discouraging a flood of cases or the use of the court as either a political tool or a litigation-stalling tactic. They also shared their concerns that the nonrenewable six-year term limit for the King-appointed Constitutional Court judges might pose challenges for the court’s independence. Justice Mohammad Ghazwi of the Constitutional Court, a former dean of the University of Jordan Faculty of Law, said that the court’s role is limited to reviewing “the constitutionality of legislated law.” He added that, modeled after the systems in Bahrain, Belgium, France and Italy, the court can be accessed through the parliament or cabinet.

 

Following the last session on whether countries in transition require amended or new constitutions, Hammouri outlined common key recommendations, including  to strengthen Arab discourse about political rights and opinions, encourage Arab universities to forge new ways of peaceful transitions toward democratic changes, study the constitutional courts’ monitoring of laws, and review the European revolutions’ lessons on constitutional-building and generational impact.

 

The event was covered in the Jordanian press, and a related Jordan Timesarticle can be read here. (http://jordantimes.com/legal-experts-urge-constitutional-reforms-in-wake-of-arab-spring)

 

To learn more about our work in Jordan, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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