But then Egypt started going down the wrong path, and Jordan made a set of wise choices.
Put simply, Egypt chose democratization before liberalization. Elections became the most important element of the new order, used in legitimizing the new government, electing a president and ratifying the new constitution. As a result, the best organized force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, swept into power, even though, on the first ballot, only 25 percent of voters chose its presidential nominee, Mohamed Morsi. The Brotherhood was also able to dominate the drafting of the constitution. The document had many defects, including its failure to explicitly protect women’s rights — only four of the constitutional assembly’s 85 members were women — and language that seems to enshrine the traditional “character” of the Egyptian family. It also weakens protections for religious minorities such as the Bahais, who already face persecution.
Some of its provisions ban blasphemy and insult and allow for media censorship in the name of national security. These are all ways to give the government unlimited powers, which the Muslim Brotherhood has used. More journalists have been persecuted for insulting Morsi in his six-month presidency than during the nearly 30-year reign of Mubarak. In November, Morsi declared that his presidential decrees were above judicial review.
In Jordan, by contrast, the king did not rush to hold elections (and was widely criticized for his deliberate pace). Instead, he appointed a council to propose changes to the constitution. The members consulted many people in Jordan and in the West to determine how to make the country’s political system more democratic and inclusive. A series of important changes were approved in September 2011. They transferred some of the king’s powers to parliament and established an independent commission to administer elections and a court to oversee the constitutionality of legislation.
The commission recently got its first use. The election was boycotted by Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood on the grounds that the changes were too small and that power still resided with the king. But 70 percent of eligible voters registered, and 56 percent turned out at the polls, the highest turnout in the region. Many critics of the king and government were elected; 12 percent of the winners were opposition Islamist candidates. Thanks to a quota the commission set, 12 percent of the new parliament’s members are female. King Abdullah II retains ultimate authority, but the new system is clearly a step in the transition to a constitutional monarchy.