Jeopardizing Digital Rights in Jordan

Abdullah Jbour CEO of The Citizenship Center

In July, the Jordanian government sparked a wave of controversy when it proposed a so-called cybercrime law, adopted by the parliament later that month with only minor revisions and ratified by King Abdullah on August 12. With provisions that restrict freedom of opinion and political expression in the digital sphere, the law is a troubling sign for the trajectory of the kingdom’s political modernization project—which was launched over a year ago, aiming to reform the political system to increase public engagement. Journalists, human rights activists, civil society actors, and other Jordanians have protested the law, arguing that it will have far-reaching effects: impeding political participation, shielding public figures from accountability, compromising the proposed political reforms, and tightening the government’s control over social media platforms, paving the way for a worrying phase in internet censorship.


In general, Jordanian governments lack political and social legitimacy, as neither the Jordanian people nor the parliament representatives participate in selecting the government, which includes the prime minister and his cabinet.  Since being appointed by King Abdullah in late 2020, the current government has failed to gain the trust of Jordanians, as evidenced by periodic public opinion polls.

The Jordanian House of Representatives suffers from the same problem: the most recent parliamentary elections in 2020 witnessed a voter turnout rate of 30 percent, the lowest in the country’s history, and were marked by little oversight and only a modest presence of organized political parties.


The Jordanian government has long been preoccupied by what gets published on social media and digital news platforms, and has restricted access to certain websites and applications. Last December, during worker protests in the kingdom’s southern region over the rise in fuel prices, the government blocked TikTok to limit the spread of live coverage of the demonstrations—a move it took on Facebook and Twitter during prior protests. It has previously blocked the iPhone Clubhouse application to prevent Jordanians from discussing public affairs in the presence of foreign opposition figures. Access to Al-Hudood, the well-known political satire website, and 7iber, a news outlet critical of the government’s activities, has also been curbed. 

Jordanian governments have never been blind to the impact digital media can have on public opinion. This has only become more true as Jordanian citizens have lost trust in their public institutions, who have for years failed to find solutions to a multiplicity of socio-economic problems—foremost among them an escalating unemployment crisis in a country with a predominantly young population. The government, however, is not prepared to accept criticism or accountability. This was clearly demonstrated when the prime minister, during a meeting this past June with youth groups, encouraged his audience to engage in political work without fear or hesitation—only for group of party-affiliated youth who organized a protest against the cybercrime law to be arrested days after the meeting.


 Although the proposed law may have some positive outcomes—cracking down on identity theft, sexual blackmail, and human trafficking, for example (see articles 3, 10, 13, and 18)—it will criminalize the publication and circulation of information (including what the government deems to be “fake news” and “slander”—see article 15) and grant broad powers to public prosecutors to enforce its provisions. Moreover, the law employs vague and broad terms, such as “truth,” “national unity,” “sedition” and others, that are ripe for misinterpretation and weaponization. 

On the political front, the law is expected to undermine the credibility of the kingdom’s political modernization project—especially among Jordanian youth, who have been testing the waters of party-affiliated political participation. In this context, the law will likely have a chilling effect on political activism, given that youth rely heavily on digital media to reach the Jordanian public and voice their criticisms of the government, with serious consequences for parliamentary and local elections next year.

The law’s vague provisions could also negatively affect the Jordanian digital economy. Young startups and entrepreneurs are concerned because the proposed law limits electronic payment methods and digital services. It could potentially hamper the efforts of donors who use digital tools to help Jordanian youth and women overcome economic challenges and achieve self-reliance. 

In an official statement, The US State Department criticized the proposed law and warned of its repercussions on the digital economy, freedom of political expression, and the future of democracy in Jordan.

By rushing to pass the law, without leaving ample time and space for public debate, the government has repeated its past mistakes. The Jordanian parliament has also erred by adopting the law, missing out on an opportunity to build relationships with political parties, civil society, and most importantly the Jordanian public—who must be consulted if their confidence in the political institutions is ever to be restored.

Abdullah Jbour is a researcher in political sociology whose research focuses on youth and civil society, citizenship and identity, the state and democratic transition. Follow him on Twitter @jbour_abdullah.


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