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Viewing cable 09AMMAN1022, CHANGES AFOOT IN JORDAN'S PERSONAL STATUS LAW

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09AMMAN1022 2009-05-04 10:10 2010-12-28 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Amman
VZCZCXRO5483
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHAM #1022/01 1241015
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 041015Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5019
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 001022

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/21/2019
TAGS: PGOV KWMN KISL KDEM JO
SUBJECT: CHANGES AFOOT IN JORDAN'S PERSONAL STATUS LAW

REF: A. 08 AMMAN 1834
B. 04 AMMAN 6160
C. 02 AMMAN 6528

Classified By: Ambassador R. Stephen Beecroft
for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary: The head of Jordan's Islamic courts is
working on a package of amendments to the personal status
law, which governs marriage, divorce, the status of women,
and inheritance issues. The initial read on the amendments
is that they would represent a step forward in the promotion
of women's rights. Yet if the handling of past amendments to
this law is any benchmark, passage of the new amendments may
prove difficult. End Summary.

The Personal Status Law
-----------------------

2. (U) Jordan's personal status law governs the legal side
of family life. It lays out the rules on marriage, divorce,
the status of women, child custody, and inheritance issues.
Many provisions of the law grant effective control over these
issues to men, leaving women with limited recourse. While
the law's restrictions are often less severe than those in
many other Middle Eastern countries, they still prevent
inheritance flows to women in certain circumstances, allow
men to place effective travel holds on women and children
without justification, and make divorces initiated by women
difficult. The personal status law is implemented by
Jordan's religious court system. For most Jordanians, this
means that shari'a (Islamic law) courts are the ultimate
authority over legal issues that impact the family. Note:
Christian denominations have separate religious courts, but
they are also bound to implement the same personal status
law. End Note. The shari'a courts, which are completely
separate from the civil and criminal court system, are headed
by a Chief Justice (Qadi Al-Qudah in Arabic), who is
appointed directly by the King. The personal status law
impacts the family life of every Jordanian, and as such it is
highly sensitive. The law is connected to Islamic legal
codes and tribal traditions, and its substance and
implementation are closely monitored by Islamist and tribal
conservative politicians.

New Amendments in the Works
---------------------------

3. (C) A new set of amendments to Jordan's personal status
law were recently commissioned by Shari'a Court Chief Justice
Ahmad Al-Hilayel. A first draft has been produced, and is
now being quietly circulated through the government and
quasi-governmental bodies which deal with family affairs for
comments and suggestions. Contacts suggest that the
amendments could appear as early as parliament's ordinary
session in October, although Hilayel told poloff that his
office was "taking its time" with the proposed changes so as
to build consensus around them within the government before
moving forward. Hilayel told poloff that the ultimate goal
of the personal status law is to strengthen families. The
proposed amendments, in his view, aim to modernize the law to
keep pace with changes in societal attitudes while creating
further equality between the sexes. Whether he has any
further political motivations in their introduction is
unclear.

4. (C) The exact content of the amendments is still under
negotiation, and we have been told that further amendments
will likely be added to the package before it is finalized.
Contacts who have seen the circulated draft say that they
deal primarily with the rights of women. The new amendments
would eliminate the requirement that women pay back their
dowries before divorcing their husbands -- a significant
barrier to divorce for many women. They would also add
something akin to "irreconcilable differences" to the list of
official reasons that a woman can divorce her husband. Other
amendments would expand the rights of granddaughters to
receive inheritances and require that alimony be paid for
children who opt to stay with their mothers after a divorce.

2001 Amendments Hang in the Balance
-----------------------------------

5. (C) A previous set of changes to the personal status law
were highly controversial and never passed by parliament.
These amendments, put forward in 2001, raised the legal
marriage age and allowed a woman to initiate divorce
proceedings against her husband without his consent. They
were a very public pet project of Queen Rania, who angered
Islamist and conservative figures by taking an overtly
political stance on such a controversial issue.

6. (C) Since there was no parliament from 2001 to 2003, the

AMMAN 00001022 002 OF 002


amendments were put forward as a provisional law. (Note:
Provisional laws are placed into force by the government
directly when parliament is dissolved or out of session.
They remain in legal force until parliament considers them
(Ref A). End Note.) Following elections in 2003, the
personal status law amendments were placed on the agenda of
the lower house with a personal appeal by the Queen for their
passage. A coalition of tribal, conservative, and Islamist
legislators in the lower house twice rejected the amendments
(Ref C). Since 2004, the senate (which is composed entirely
of royal appointees) has refused to place the amendments back
on the agenda for discussion, effectively keeping them in
force and freezing the debate over their passage.

7. (C) Hilayel recognizes the risk that both sets of
amendments could be defeated if bringing forward a new set of
amendments re-opens debate on the legal status of the
previous package. Still, it is unclear if he has a concrete
strategy to deal with that risk. Asma Khader, head of the
Jordanian National Council for Women, sees the proposed
amendments as a positive step forward and hopes that the
political weight of a Chief Justice in Islamist circles will
resolve the legal status of the 2001 amendments through an
affirmative vote in parliament and help the new package
overcome expected conservative opposition.

Comment
-------

8. (C) As the current drive to amend the personal status law
goes forward, the unresolved fate of the 2001 amendments will
inevitably be part of the debate. Civil society contacts
acknowledge that any attempt to build on the 2001 amendments
risks the re-ignition of a societal debate on women's rights
that could ultimately result in the defeat of both packages.
Activists realize that they are working against the opinions
of many Jordanians on this issue, and will face a difficult
task in persuading conservative legislators to accept new
changes to the law when even the last round of debate was not
formally brought to a close. They have a solid ally in
Hilayel who is well placed to bring a new set of amendments
forward, even if his motivations for doing so are unclear.

Visit Embassy Amman's Website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/amman/
Beecroft