Amendments to Jordan’s Law on Societies (No. 51 of 2008) came into effect today after Jordan’s King Abdullah II signed the Law Amending the Law on Societies (No. 22 of 2009) and the amendments were published in Official GazetteNo. 4983. Although the amendments streamline and liberalize the 2008 Law on Societies, they have nevertheless been criticized by domestic and international NGOs for not going far enough.
Interestingly, the final bill approved by the parliament was more restrictive than the draft legislation put forward by the Jordanian government. The lower house of parliament or Chamber of Deputies made several changes to the government’s draft before approving the amendments on July 12. Among other changes, the lower house rejected the government’s proposed liberalization of the foreign funding regime. Under Article 9(c) of the 2008 Law on Societies, Jordanian associations must apply for approval from the full Council of Ministers (cabinet) before accepting funding from abroad. The government had proposed that this process be simplified to require only the approval of the Minister of Social Development, but this proposal was rejected in a 76 to 42 vote in the Chamber of Deputies.1 As Speaker of the Parliament, Abdulhadi Al-Majali stated, “the parliament requires the approval of the Council of Ministers on foreign funding.”2
The lower house also rejected an addition to Article 9 of the Law on Societies that would have allowed for the registration of “regional offices [of international associations]… to provide services outside the Kingdom [of Jordan],” arguing that only regional offices providing services inside as well as outside of Jordan should be allowed to register.
Jordanian Deputies had heated discussions concerning the role of foreign associations in Jordan; MP Abdul Karim Al-Doghmi rejected the “pressure” made on the Jordanian government to amend the Law on Societies less than one year since its passage.3
Civil society representatives were generally disappointed in the vote. Mr. Akef Maaytah, a human rights consultant in the National Committee for Women’s Affairs, stated that “civil society organizations hoped for the help of the MPs, but the government showed more flexibility and understanding than the MPs.”4 Ms. Amnah Al-Zubi, president of the Jordan Women’s Union, said that “requiring the approval of the Council of Ministers for foreign funding would restrict the work of civil society organizations.”5 On the other hand, Dr. Amin Mashaqba, president of the Public Union of Societies in Jordan, argued that “requiring the approval of the Council of Ministers for foreign funding is necessary to control the activities of foreign organizations in Jordan.”6
At the request of MP Mamdouh Abbadi, the government’s proposal to amend Article 29 of the 2008 Law on Societies to allow “non-Muslim” religious entities to provide social and volunteering services in Jordan was amended to only allow for “Christian” and Muslim religious entities.7 (The Jordanian Senate requested that the original language of the government draft be restored, but the Deputies refused and the Senate approved the Chamber of Deputies language on August 5).
The parliament also approved several additional improvements to the 2008 Law on Societies. 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.
- The registration process was simplified. A new “registration board” including representatives of the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism and Archeology, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Political Development, and three appointed civil society representatives was created to be 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.