A wave of violence and chaos has erupted in the headquarters of the Jordanian parliament, reaching unprecedented levels in recent weeks and days. This has prompted local affairs experts to forecast continued instability within the parliament. High-level Jordanian sources revealed to Al-Hayat that during a closed meeting with parliament speaker Saad Hayel Srour, King Abdullah of Jordan threatened to dissolve the parliament before the end of its term as specified in accordance with the Constitution — that is, four years — to preserve the internal and external reputation of the legislative institution.
The wave of parliamentary violence shocked Jordanians days ago, when the oldest MP entered the parliament building with a Kalashnikov and opened fire on a colleague for having a different opinion.
In this respect, the public prosecutor had decided earlier to arrest MP Talal al-Sharif for firing at his colleague Qusai Dmeisi inside the parliament, while the overwhelming majority of MPs decided to dismiss Sharif and suspend Dmeisi’s membership for one year. [Dmeisi was not hurt.]
According to official information leaked to Al-Hayat, the Jordanian parliament dodged a royal decree ordering its dissolution only eight months after its election, before deciding to oust Sharif.
The information revealed that King Abdullah summoned the parliament speaker to his residence in al-Hummar Palace (west of Amman) hours after the incident, requesting him and the MPs to promptly respond to the shooting before the situation got worse.
A few hours after the incident, the parliamentarians voted unanimously in favor of the ousting and suspension decisions.
According to information, the state's political and security institutions worked until the last quarter of an hour from behind the scenes to ensure the presence of more than two-thirds of parliament members in the meeting held on the same day to vote in favor of Sharif’s dismissal and Dmeisi’s suspension.
It is worth mentioning that by virtue of the Constitution, in force since 1952, the decision to dismiss a parliament member requires the approval of two-thirds of the MPs.
Sources told Al-Hayat that a relevant political and security report was submitted to the king on the same day, considering that the parliament’s failure to take a decisive measure would complicate its mission, amid rising popular anger toward the violence of the legislative institution.
Vice Chairman of the Jordanian parliament Khalil Attieh said, “The decision to dismiss Sharif safeguarded the parliament against scenarios that would have prejudiced it and harmed its reputation.”
“The dismissal decision has definitely empowered and safeguarded the council, as it has protected its dignity and given it a boost against attempts on the part of its political enemies to undermine it and perhaps push toward its dissolution,” he added.
Independents and members of strong clans in rural areas and the desert, along with some businessmen (of Palestinian origin), had won the biggest number of seats in parliamentary elections. These elections were held on Jan. 23 and were boycotted by the majority of opposition political parties and the Islamic Action Front, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and the largest opposition group in the country.
Zaki Bani Arshid, one of the leaders of the Brotherhood group, said that the shooting inside the legislature “moved MPs to start counting their last days. It is true that the crisis has been temporarily contained, but it could inevitably explode at any time.”
“The parliament has turned into a battlefield where the exchange of fire using automatic weapons takes place. Parliament would do well to remember that its days are numbered,” he added.
He continued, “MPs have to prepare themselves for the next election instead of clinging to the continuation of the current parliament. He wondered, “Can the current political situation and the state of Jordan handle the continuation of such a parliament for another three years?”
Arshid enjoys broad support from poor Jordanians, but faces harsh criticism from supporters of the state and senior officials.
The Jordanian parliament had witnessed a few months ago an incident in which MP Shady al-Adwan tried to pull a gun on another MP after a dispute. This developed into a fistfight and ended with a tribal reconciliation between the two. The incident stirred angry reactions both inside and outside parliament.
Yet, the incident that preoccupied the Jordanian people the most was when MP Mohammad Shawabka pulled a gun on a TV host, who was a former MP, during a live TV debate broadcast by Josat channel. The two engaged in a heated altercation in which they exchanged insults. Shawabka threw his shoe at his interlocutor and then pulled his gun on him. The incident ended with a tribal reconciliation between the two.
Footage of MP Mohammad Shawabka pulling a gun on a TV host.
Activists and politicians recalled attacks on social networking sites and violent incidents that took place between MPs, including a quarrel that happened between the leftist MP Jamil Nimri and Yahya Saud, the controversial MP who has close ties with some decision-making institutions (they both hail from highly influential Jordanian clans). Saud threw his shoe at Nimri during a parliamentary session, showering him with insults.
The Jordanian parliament has also witnessed many fights during the past few days, some of which involved the use of belts, cups of water and paper. The latest incident took place a few days ago between Talal al-Sharif and Yahya Saud on the one hand and Qusai Dmeisi on the other.
A number of MPs confirmed to Al-Hayat that dozens of MPs carry weapons in their personal cars, and that some of them carry them into the legislature.
Local media outlets that covered details of the incident reported that the shooting has topped the list of things currently worrying Jordanians.
It also elicited reactions expressed by citizens on social networking sites, ranging from anger to cynicism. Some people [satirically] posted pictures of Sharif on advertisements promoting action movies.
Facebook and Twitter pages published cynical comments that called on MPs to shoot their guns on happy occasions. There were also jokes implying that parliamentarians would be shortly provided with tanks and heavy weapons.
Observers and political commentators attribute the repetition of the scenes of violence between members of the Jordanian parliament to the mechanism of selection of these representatives. This mechanism is based on the “one man, one vote” law, which managed to neutralize the opposition and weaken political representation in the council, whose majority was either elected based on clan affiliation or because they represent a group of influential businessmen.
According to sources close to the authorities, the prompt and decisive way the Kalashnikov incident was dealt with confirms that the ruling establishment is seeking to retrieve the attributes of the old state that preceded the Arab Spring uprisings, seeking to arrange its domestic issues in a bid to recover the prestige of the state in light of the enormous external challenges.
The sources also said that following the shooting, sovereign political and security establishments succeeded to some extent in reducing the powers of the legislative institution. This reduction came on the grounds that failing to take firm measures would lead to the collapse of the reform plan — on which the state has relied over the past two years — let alone the combat against tribal violence, which has moved into parliament in an unprecedented way after there were hopes that it would be limited to the street and universities.
Maher Abu Tair, a political analyst close to decision-making circles, said that the Jordanian state “lost its prestige during the Arab Spring. It has relinquished the enforcement of the law, due to its concerns over what is taking place in neighboring countries. It is clear that it feels that it has overcome the risks today. This explains its attempt to recover the prestige that was lost, by taking decisive measures regarding parliament and some tribal entities.”
Yet, some Jordanians believe that the government has voluntarily accepted customary law to be implemented in the country. This allows tribal justice to replace civil laws, whenever tensions break out between tribal groups, whether in parliament, schools, universities, rural areas or in the desert. Mohammed al-Momani, a researcher on tribal conflict affairs hailing from the tribal northern governorate of Ajloun, said that loyalty to the tribe in Jordan “comes before loyalty to the nation or the society where we live; this is at the root of the violence that occurs in the country.”
He added, “Today, there is a larger reliance on the tribe when resolving violence in parliament, for instance, as well as in similar incidents in the educational institutions or in the tribal provinces.”
Tribal social violence has affected the image and prestige of Jordan, especially following the acts of violence in the universities and streets, which left people dead and injured, particularly this year.
Violence broke out in a southern Jordanian town in the middle of the year, resulting in the death of a young man. This came following an exchange of gunfire in a university, where members of his tribe clashed with another, throwing stones, smashing ATMs and burning government cars and headquarters.
A similar riot ended two months ago in the southern Jordanian governorate of Maan, which resulted in civilian victims. The riot lasted for days, before the two tribal leaders signed a truce agreement with the authorities to quell anger between the conflicting parties.
Tribal tensions in Jordan have caused the mass evacuation of families from areas where they reside, and the imposition by riot police of a curfew in entire neighborhoods.
Although tribal violence is not new to Jordan, it has become more frequent. It has gone beyond the protests accompanied with reform demands or those organized to support Arab and Islamic issues, the Palestinian issue in particular. It had also resulted in clashes with the authorities.