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Viewing cable 08AMMAN705, JORDANIAN IDENTITY POLITICS TRUMP GENDER CONCERNS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08AMMAN705 2008-03-05 09:09 2010-12-28 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Amman
VZCZCXYZ3251
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHAM #0705/01 0650937
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 050937Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1966
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L AMMAN 000705

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR G/IWI AND NEA/ELA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/13/2018
TAGS: PGOV KWMN KPAL KDEM JO
SUBJECT: JORDANIAN IDENTITY POLITICS TRUMP GENDER CONCERNS
ON CITIZENSHIP LAW CHANGES

REF: A. 02 AMMAN 6528
B. 03 AMMAN 5012
C. AMMAN 391

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Daniel Rubinstein
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (C) Summary: The issue of who can and cannot transmit
citizenship is an ongoing concern of many women in Jordan,
and was revived in the public consciousness during recent
parliamentary elections. Jordanian women married to
non-Jordanian men do not transmit citizenship to their
children. This creates a precarious situation, primarily for
the children of Palestinian fathers, but also for the
children of foreign laborers resident in Jordan. Women's
rights activists have worked on this situation for years, to
no avail. Even public statements by, and strong support for
legislative action from, the Queen have fallen on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, the number of families with a tenuous legal
situation in Jordan is growing as the Palestinian-origin
population intermingles with East Bankers. Lawmakers dismiss
changes to the law as politically impossible, even as civil
society professes its willingness to compromise. In the end,
it is Jordanian identity politics, not gender concerns, that
are at the heart of this debate. End Summary.

The Battle Over Jordan's Citizenship Law
----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) During the parliamentary campaign season, Jordanian
voters (especially women) started to resurrect an issue of
specific importance to them - amending Jordan's citizenship
law. The issue of citizenship transferral has long been an
issue in Jordan, which is home to large communities of
refugees (and their descendants) as well as foreign workers
who have naturally integrated with their Jordanian hosts.
For the past several years, civil society activists and some
parliamentarians have called for a new law or amendments to
the current statute that would allow Jordanian women to pass
citizenship to their children.

3. (U) According to the citizenship law currently in force
(which dates to 1954, with several amendments), non-Jordanian
women who marry Jordanian men can naturalize as Jordanian
citizens after living in the country for certain periods of
time. Wives of Arab extraction or nationality can become
Jordanian citizens after three years' residence, and those
from other countries can obtain citizenship after five years.
While naturalization is possible for the wives of
Jordanians, there is no such naturalization statute for
children. The current law automatically grants citizenship
to children of Jordanian men, regardless of where they are
born. Yet there is no statute whereby women can transmit
Jordanian citizenship, either to their spouses or their
children. Note: The one exception is illegitimate children
born to Jordanian women or cases where the father is unknown.
These children automatically receive Jordanian citizenship.
End Note.

4. (SBU) This issue impacts Jordanians of Palestinian origin
and migrant workers from other Arab states most acutely.
Note: Between the two, these groups are estimated to
constitute as much as eighty percent of Jordan's population.
End Note. Due to the varying degrees of citizenship
available in Jordan, it is often the case that Palestinian
men of less than full citizenship (refugees from Gaza or
"green card" holders from the West Bank, to be covered
septel) along with long term non-citizen laborers from Egypt,
marry "full citizen" Jordanian women, producing children who
have no rights to Jordanian citizenship. Over time, this has
resulted in a growing number of families with split legal
status in Jordan, despite having been born in Jordan or
having lived in the country for decades.

5. (C) Queen Rania (herself of Palestinian origin) raised
hackles and eyebrows in 2002 when she declared support for a
provisional law which would allow women to pass Jordanian
citizenship to their children (Refs A and B). That statement
was followed up by a brief spate of op-eds and civil society
campaigns in support of the law's implementation. The law
was enacted, yet the new right remained theoretical in
practice, as it required approval by the Council of Ministers
for individual cases rather than making citizenship
transmittal automatic. Since the law's enactment, no cases
have been referred to the Council of Ministers for approval.
Contacts note with wry smirks that even the Queen's
intervention was not enough to quell the backlash of Jordan's
political establishment. Eva Abu Hawaleh, a human rights
lawyer, says that since "the decision didn't come from inside
the government," the security services effectively quashed

the law's effect. Note: Provisional laws, enacted by the
government in the absence of parliament, remain on the books
until considered in a subsequent legislative term. Six years
after its enactment, the parliament has yet to revisit the
changes to the citizenship law. End Note.

Growing Pressure for Change
---------------------------

6. (C) There is a growing realization among women's rights
activists and female members of parliament that something has
to be done. Rawa Sarrar, head of a women's center in the
Baqa'a Palestinian refugee camp, says that changes in the
personal status law are a primary political concern among the
women she serves. Through the center, the female voters of
Baqa'a camp raised the issue repeatedly during the campaign
season, and continue to do so with women who were seated in
parliament as a result of the quota. Sarrar hopes that
political pressure from NGOs and female voters will lead to
necessary changes in the law, but she realizes that it is an
uphill political fight. "Hopefully, it will happen during
this term," she says.

7. (C) "Families in Jordan suffer from many provisions in
the law," says Senator Haifa Abu Ghazaleh, who also serves as
the Secretary General of the National Council for Family
Affairs. She cites the many foreign laborers from Egypt and
elsewhere in the Arab world who have lived in Jordan for long
periods of time and are married to Jordanian women, but whose
children are not entitled to Jordanian citizenship. Like
many of our contacts, Abu Ghazaleh theorizes that until the
Palestinian question is solved in Jordan, changes to the
citizenship law are basically impossible. "We are waiting
for the Palestinian issue to be solved. It won't be solved.
Nobody here wants it to be solved," she complains (Ref C).

8. (C) Asma Khader, Secretary General of the National
Commission for Women (and a former government spokesperson),
is less concerned about the Palestinian factor, and more
concerned about the message being sent to Jordanian women
about their role in society. "It's not just about politics,
it's about patriarchy," she says. Khader posits that the
lack of an egalitarian citizenship law shows that women are
second class citizens in Jordan, regardless of their
political class or national origin. Eva Abu Hawaleh
disagrees - she asserts that "it's not gender politics. The
assumption is that men from the West Bank would pour over the
border to marry Jordanians."

9. (C) "This is an issue for all women's groups in Jordan,"
Khader says. "We thought domestic violence would be the
number one issue among women, but it isn't. Citizenship
rights are the number one issue for women in Jordan." Yet
the National Commission for Women is stuck between a rock and
a hard place when it comes to lobbying for amendments to the
citizenship law. According to Khader, it receives floods of
petitions from Jordanian women asking for intervention with
the authorities on their behalf. Yet there is very little
that the commission can do, other than express concerns to
the Ministry of Interior and lobby the King and parliament
for changes to the law. Those efforts have had mixed results
at best: "His Majesty is very interested (in changes to the
law), but the Ministry of Interior is blind. They don't want
to recognize this problem." Khader says that even studying
the problem is politically impossible, as the government is
unlikely to cooperate in counting the numbers of women who
are impacted by the law's current provisions.

Working the System
------------------

10. (C) When asked about the possibility of a new
citizenship law which would clarify the situation, the
responses of parliamentarians range from deeply pessimistic
to bluntly dismissive. MP Reem Qassem, who was elected via
the quota for women, calls the ability of Jordanian women to
transmit citizenship to their children "a right," but
acknowledges that the issue is highly politicized. She holds
out little hope of action during the current session of
parliament. "We can't do it now," says MP Nasser Al-Qaisi.
He and other contacts talk about a worst case scenario in
which hundreds of thousands of new Jordanians are created
overnight - Jordanians who will require services and
representation from an already stretched government. While
recognizing that the issue is out there, Qaisi notes that it
is either low or absent from the government's priority list.
MP Fayez Al-Shawabkeh put forth the novel argument that with
rising levels of government support to Jordanian families to
offset rising prices, Jordan could not afford to take on
additional citizens.


11. (U) On February 23, a group of women's rights activists
and female parliamentarians met with Prime Minister Dahabi to
express their support for changes in Jordan's citizenship
law, among other issues. While the group was well-received,
the outcome of the meeting failed to point to concrete
actions in the near future. Commenting in the Jordan Times
after the meeting, activist Amneh Zu'bi stated that, "every
time we meet with a Prime Minister, we receive positive
responses to our demands. But in reality, we do not sense
any tangible changes." Activists and parliamentarians
complained in the article that changes demanded by women are
"locked in the government's drawers."

12. (C) Women's rights activists in Jordan assert that a
brand new citizenship law may not, in fact, be necessary.
Rather, they believe that the current law is permissive
enough, but simply not applied - hence the calls by Queen
Rania and others for broad implementation of "humanitarian
provisions" in the existing law which allow the Council of
Ministers to approve citizenship transmittal in individual
cases. "They just have to implement the law and the
constitution," says activist Fawzi Samhouri. He adds that,
as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, Jordan has a responsibility to treat the
sexes equally when it comes to citizenship rights. Even so,
Samhouri acknowledges that "rights in Jordan are subject to
the approval of ministers - they aren't automatic."

13. (C) Asma Khader is of the opinion that "Jordanians are
Jordanians wherever they are born," and that the citizenship
of children who should by all rights be Jordanian transcends
identity politics. Yet she is pragmatic, and is willing to
accept even a half solution if it leads to progress on the
issue. Khader points to the three year residency
requirements for wives of Jordanian men, and wonders if such
a provision could be extended to children as well - thereby
cementing their Jordanian identity. Many of our civil
society contacts share her view that compromise is possible
on the issue, as long as the root problem of divided families
is addressed somehow.

14. (C) Contacts in civil society are working behind the
scenes for either implementation of current statutes or a
clarification of the law itself, but hold out little hope
that change will happen soon. Fawzi Samhouri notes that even
the female members of parliament have done a poor job of
addressing the issue, and cannot be relied upon to take
action: "Women parliamentarians alone can't be advocates of
this kind of change. Civil society has to take that
responsibility." Asma Khader and Eva Abu Hawaleh raise the
issue constantly in meetings with the Ministry of Interior,
and pressure the government for action in specific cases.
Yet they cannot obtain results. "It's not a legal issue.
It's a wasta ("influence peddling") issue. These women have
no wasta," Abu Hawaleh admits.

Comment
-------

15. (C) Whether changes come through legal clarification or
changes in implementation, this seems to be a case where even
the royal family has difficulty in turning the ship of state
in a favorable direction. While the issue is on its surface
a gender concern, it is more fundamentally about identity
politics in Jordan. The assumption that the majority of
beneficiaries would be Palestinians prevents change from
taking place. The security needs of the state (i.e., to
prevent a takeover of the East Bank-dominated political and
security establishment) are the trump card that thwarts even
much-needed changes in the law or administrative practice.
It matters little whether the threat is perceived or real;
creating political will that can stand up to the demography
argument is nearly impossible in Jordan - even for the King.
In spite of the Queen's statements and direct lobbying by
civil society to the monarch himself with subsequent talk of
action, change remains elusive. Grassroots action aimed at
the implementing authorities in the Interior Ministry is
similarly unfruitful. The category of needed legal changes
which touch on the Palestinian issue in Jordan is waiting for
one thing, and one thing only: a solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
RUBINSTEIN