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Last updated 18 January 2013
Civil society in Jordan has roots within the tribal system, which is deeply embedded in society and operates alongside the formally established legal system. The tribes in Jordan play a political role, offer an alternative judicial system and provide services to communities. Indeed, the formal legal system, in defining societies, does not eliminate the tribal concept of “families.”
Many formal civil society organizations (CSOs) in Jordan initially focused on charitable and aid activities. Once Jordan acceded to international conventions, such as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, some CSOs emerged to raise public awareness in relation to human rights, including the rights of assembly and association. At the same time, however, fundamental rights and freedoms are still subject to governmental interference, due to the Government’s claims of fighting terrorism and protecting national security.
Jordan’s legal system is based on civil law (French code) and Sharia law (applied in certain cases). Until recently, civil society organizations (CSOs) were governed by the Law on Societies and Social Bodies (Law 33 of 1966), which allowed for pervasive government interference in the affairs of CSOs. In 2008, the Law on Societies (Law 51 of 2008) was enacted; although an improvement, the new law was met with criticism for not going far enough to remove restrictions on civic space. As a partial response to these criticisms, the 2008 Law on Societies was amended in 2009 by the Law Amending the Law on Societies (Law 22 of 2009).
|Organizational Forms||Societies (associations), closed societies (foundations), and private societies (not-for-profit companies)|
|Registration Body|| Societies Registrar of the Ministry of Social Development
Note: the Societeis Registrar is an independent entity and not considered a department of the Ministry
|Approximate Number||1,197 domestic societies; 49 foreign societies (Ministry of Social Development, 2010)|
|Barriers to Entry||Societies may not have any "political goals." Approval is required from the Council of Ministers for registration of any society in which a founder is a legal person or non-Jordanian and in case of registration of a foundation.
|Barriers to Activities||Societies are restricted from "political activity and political activities."
Criminal defamation laws.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||No legal barriers to speech or advocacy, but in practice, vocal human rights organizations may face difficulties in dealing with government.|
|Barriers to International Contact||No legal barriers.|
|Barriers to Resources||Prior approval required to receive foreign funding and to collect donations from the public.|
|Population||6,508,887 (July 2012 est.)|
|Type of Government||Constitutional monarchy|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 78.82 years
Female: 81.61 years (2012 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 95.8%
Femaile: 89.2% (2010 est.)
|Religious Groups||Sunni Muslim 92%, Christian 6% (majority Greek Orthodox, but some Greek and Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestant denominations), other 2% (several small Shia Muslim and Druze populations) (2001 est.)|
|Ethnic Groups||Arab 98%, Circassian 1%, Armenian 1%|
|GDP Per Capita||$5,900 (2011 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||95 (2011)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||62.0 (2011)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||25.4 (2011)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||58 (2012)||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5 (2012)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index||90 (2012)||177 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1975|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||--|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1975|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1974|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1992|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1991|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
|Key Regional Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|Arab Charter on Human Rights||Yes||2004|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was adopted in 8 January 1952.
Relevant constitutional provisions include:
- Article 15: (1) The State guarantees freedom of opinion, and every Jordanian shall be free to express his opinion by speech, in writing, or by means of photographic representation and other forms of expression, provided that such does not violate the law. (2) Freedom of the press and publications shall be ensured within the limits of the law. (3) Newspapers shall not be suspended from publication nor shall their permits be revoked except in accordance with the provisions of the law.
- Article 16: (1) Jordanians shall have the right to hold meetings within the limits of the law. (2) Jordanians are entitled to establish societies and political parties provided that the objects of such societies and parties are lawful, their methods peaceful, and their by-laws not contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. (3) The establishment of societies and political parties and the control of their resources shall be regulated by law.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
- The Law on Societies (Law 51 of 2008); and the Law Amending the Law on Societies (Law 22 of 2009)
- Instructions to Adjust the Positions of Societies (Ministry of Social Development Instruction 148 of 2010)
- Regulation on Private Societies (Ministry of Social Development Regulation 32 of 2010)
- Non-Profit Companies Regulation (Ministry of Industry and Trade Regulation 60 of 2007)
- Order of Licensing and Registering Youth Clubs and Organizations (2005)
- System to Identify the Relevant Ministry of Societies (Ministry of Social Development Regulation 13 of 2009)
- System for the Collection of Charitable Donations (Ministry of Social Development Regulation 1 of 1957)
- Income Tax Law (Law 57 of 1985)
- Penal Code (Law 16 of 1960)
- Articles of Association for the General Union of Voluntary Societies (as amended in 1996)
Although the 2009 amendments streamlined and liberalized the 2008 Law on Societies, they have nevertheless been criticized by domestic and international NGOs for not going far enough. Among other changes, procedures allowing for the registration and continued operation of foundations (referred to as “closed societies”) and not-for-profit companies (“private societies”) were added; and the registration process was simplified with the creation of a one-stop location for registration. (Previously registration applications were to be passed between multiple ministries in a lengthy process that allowed for independent approval or rejection of applications by different authorities). Significantly, the 2009 amendments did not liberalize the foreign funding provisions of the 2008 law that require Jordanian societies to get approval from the full Council of Ministers (cabinet) before accepting funding from abroad.
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
The Ministry of Social Development has announced an intention to amend the Law on Societies, but as of this writing no information has been made public concerning the content of the amendments.
According to the Law 51 of 2008 as amended by Law 22 of 2009, there are three (3) available legal forms for civil society. Foreign not-for-profit organizations are also permitted to establish branch offices in Jordan.
Society: A society is a group of not less than seven individuals that provide services or conduct activities on a voluntary basis. Societies are registered at the Ministry of Social Development and supervised by the competent ministry to which the society’s objectives are related. Membership in a society is open to anyone that meets its membership criteria, which are specified within its articles of incorporation. Societies may benefit from income tax exemptions and charitable status.
Closed Society: A closed society is a society of one or more member(s) where its financial resources are limited to the funds/money paid by the founding members to achieve its objectives. Closed societies are registered at the Ministry of Social Development, and require the approval of the Council of Ministers to be registered. Closed Societies are supervised by the competent ministry to which the society’s objectives are related.
Private Society: A private society is a society with a limited number of members, which should not be less than three and not more than twenty. Private societies are registered at the Ministry of Social Development, and are also supervised by the competent ministry to which the society’s objectives are related. If the membership of a Private Society is limited to one legal person, approval of the Council of Ministers is required. Private Societies do not have an open membership scheme, and were formerly known as not-for-profit companies.
Foreign Societies: Law 51 of 2008 and its amendments allow the registration of operating branches of foreign societies. The registration of branches of foreign societies is handled by the Ministry of Social Development.
According to the 2008 law, both Societies and Private Societies are eligible to receive local and foreign funding, and support from the Fund for the Support of Societies. Closed societies are prohibited from seeking any kind of funding other than the money put by the members, and foreign societies may not seek local funding without the prior approval of the Council of Ministers.
Public Benefit Status
The Income Tax Law (Law 75 of 1985) exempts the income of societies and other social entities from tax; it also exempts the income of any religious, charitable, cultural, and educational, sports, and health organizations with public benefit purposes. Societies apply to the Income Tax Department requesting recognition for tax-exempt status; the Department verifies whether the eligibility criteria stated in Article 7 of the Income Tax Law has been met by the applicant, and issues a decision to that effect.
In addition, the Income Tax Law grants certain societies charitable status. Societies with religious, charitable, humanitarian, scientific, cultural, sports, or professional purposes are eligible to apply for charitable status. Donations made to societies with charitable status are exempted from income tax; the exempted income, however, should not exceed one quarter of the taxable income of the donor. For the society to benefit from charitable status, a request should be submitted to the Council of Ministers requesting recognition of the society as charitable. The Council of Ministers will then verify the eligibility of the applicant society and issue a decree to this effect.
Barriers to Entry
Law 51 of 2008 as amended makes registration of societies mandatory. It does not specify a sanction for unregistered groups, but it does stipulate that the law does not prevent the application of any penalty stipulated in any other law. The Penal Code (Law 16 of 1960) stipulates that unregistered societies are illegal, and that individuals who conduct activities for such unregistered groups or become members therein are subject to a penalty of up to two years’ imprisonment.
Founding members of societies must be Jordanian citizens; fully competent and at least 18 years old; and not convicted of a crime or felony involving morals. The approval of the Council of Ministers is required to give approval where one of the founders is non-Jordanian or a corporate identity. Approval from the Council of Ministers is also necessary for all closed societies and for private societies of only one member.
Jordanian law provides the Council of the Society Register with 60 days to review an application for registration, and 15 days for the Society Register Officer to complete registration procedures. In practice, therefore, a society applicant may have to wait 75 days from the date of submitting his application before he receives proof of his registered legal status.
The Societies Registrar has met on several occasions and decided on 150 registration applications, 98 of which were approved. The Council of the Society Register has the right to reject any application without stating a justification.
Finally, the law prohibits the registration of any society with illegal objectives or that contradict the public order in Jordan. CSOs are also prohibited from having any political objectives or seeking to achieve political goals.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Societies may not pursue any political goals that are governed by the Political Parties Law. Neither the Law on Societies nor the Law on Political Parties defines the term "political."
Societies are obliged to inform the Registrar and the relevant minister of the date of their General Assembly meetings at least two weeks in advance, or the meetings will be deemed illegal. Both the Minister and the Register Officer may appoint delegates to represent them in such meetings. The approval of the Council of Societies Register is required for any resolutions by the General Assembly to amend the society’s articles of incorporation.
Law 51 of 2008 requires that all societies submit the following reports: (1) copy of the general assembly resolutions within fifteen days from the date of the meeting; (2) annual plan; and (3) annual report indicating the CSO’s achievements, activities, and any received donations or funds. In addition, societies with a budget of more than 2000 Jordanian dinars are also required to submit an audited annual balance sheet.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
There are two legal barriers worthy of note – criminal defamation and the prohibition against political activity.
First, any expression that constitutes defamation or libel of government officials is subject to sanction under the Penal Code. The Penal Code of Jordan defines defamation and libel to include attaching false accusations to a person or treating a person disrespectfully through speech, writing, drawings, etc. Libel and defamation against a public official carries more severe penalties, ranging from two weeks to three years imprisonment.
Second, societies are prohibited from conducting political activities or having any political objectives. Political activities are not defined in either the Societies Law or the Political Parties Law. Such vague terminology invites government discretion and potentially subjects societies to a chilling effect in their expressive activity.
Barriers to International Contact
There are no restrictions on International Contact.
Barriers to Resources
Foreign funding to societies is subject to the approval of the Council of Ministers. The request for approval should include the source of funding, the amount of funding, the means of transfer, and the objectives for which the funding will be spent, in addition to any special conditions. The Council of Ministers shall issue its decision within thirty days (or else the funding is deemed to be approved). The same applied to not-for-profit companies.
There are no restrictions on the ability of societies to seek domestic funding or conduct income-generating projects or economic activities, provided that such income is allocated for the society’s objectives and not distributed amongst its founders or members. Public fundraising requires the prior approval of the Ministry of Social Development as per Regulation 1 of 1957.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||National Report
Compilation of UN Information
Report of the Working Group
Summary of Stakeholders' Information
Decision on the Outcome
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Jordan|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||Not available|
|U.S. State Department||2011 Human Rights Report: Jordan
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report 2010: Jordan
|Failed States Index Reports||2012 Foreign Policy Failed States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Jordan: Selected Issues: 2008
Jordan: Fifth Post-Program Monitoring Discussions - Staff Report
Jordan: Press Release on the Executive Board Consideration
|International Commission of Jurists||Not available|
|NGO Regulation Network Reports||Jordan|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Jordan|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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UN food relief agency chief stresses need to strengthen aid to Syrian refugees (November 2012)
The head of the United Nations food relief agency said the world body and its partners are intensifying their efforts to assist Syrian refugees who continue to grow in numbers due to the violence in the Middle Eastern country. “The humanitarian situation is evolving on a daily basis and we must ensure that we can continue to meet the food needs of those affected by the conflict,” said Ertharin Cousin, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), during a visit to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.
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Jordanian website owners reject attempts to gag them (September 2012)
Among the most important rights achieved by Arab demonstrators in the past two years are the freedoms of assembly and of expression. Millions of Arabs gathered demanding an end to autocratic rules and a share in the political decision-making processes in their countries. Now Jordanians are fighting back against restrictions on their online activities.
Demonstrators call for release of jailed protesters (September 2012)
Hundreds of Jordanians called for the release of over one-dozen jailed protesters as demonstrations over the men's detention stretched into their third week. Dozens of leftist and independent activists hit the streets in cities across the country calling for the "immediate release" of 18 protesters arrested earlier this month, accusing the authorities of enforcing "martial law".
Jordan moves to censor online freedom of expression (September 2012)
A proposed law requiring electronic publications to obtain a license and granting executive authorities the power to close down unlicensed sites threatens the freedom of expression online. The government on August 22, 2012, sent the draft amendments to the Press and Publications law to parliament for approval.
Jordanians protest Internet censorship law with SOPA-style blackout (August 2012)
The United States, Russia, and Malaysia have all recently protested proposed Internet censorship laws by having websites “go dark” to demonstrate what the web would look like without them. Today Jordanian netizens have launched their own Internet blackout. In addition to the blackout, thousands have signed a petition addressed to Jordanian MPs, and participants are tweeting using the hashtag #BlackOutJO.
Women CSO activists prepare for post-Arab Spring environment in MENA (July 2012)
A group of women activists from around the MENA region stressed the need to empower women economically to face any threats to their rights that might result from the Arab Spring revolutions. The call came during a one-day meeting of women activists, journalists, politicians and leaders in the women's rights movement from 11 countries in the region with US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues Melanne Verveer. Lawyer Fatimeh Dabbas said women in Jordan should continue to "press the government to ensure that the gains made by the women's movement over the past 20 years are safe and secured." During Verveer’s visit, she is scheduled to meet with government officials, political party representatives, business leaders and the media, to discuss specific steps to support Jordan's efforts to increase women's engagement in politics, the economy, and society at large. She will also discuss Jordan's participation in the G-8's Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative, a forum bringing together governments and civil society representatives to discuss solving the pressing issues in the region.
For rising press freedoms, social networks are both the medium and the message (May 2012)
Since the events of the Arab Spring began, advocates of independent media have looked to social media and citizen journalism as a means of circumventing censorship in the region and promoting freedom of speech and the press. Last week, a group of 30 journalists from Jordan and Lebanon, press freedom activists and journalism students came together in a two-day training workshop organized by UNESCO, IREX and the Samir Kassir Foundation that aimed at calling attention to the importance of press freedom and the power of social media tools to achieve those freedoms. Organizers said they also had sought through the course to train the participants to use social networks such as Facebook to launch awareness and advocacy campaigns.
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The foregoing information was collected by ICNL LLC Middle East / North Africa Regional office in Amman, Jordan.