Amidst such circumstances, the nascent liberalization process with which Jordan entered the 1990s has acted as a major buffer for state and society against the critical political and economic circumstances which governed the rest of the decade and indeed up to the present day. Jordan's process of liberalization has not necessarily replicated western democracies'. However this home-grown model of liberalization has allowed for a wider base of debate and freedom of expression, more democratic processes of legislation and a stronger belief in national institutions-- all of which has been essential to mediate the numerous global, regional and national challenges that the country has witnessed during the past 12 years.
Frequently painful economic legislation has had to be passed to ensure the country's adherence to its structural adjustment program and the requirements of economic globalization. According to the recently adopted Poverty Alleviation Strategy, poverty levels in Jordan today range between 15% to more than 30% of the population, depending on the poverty line used, and unemployment is estimated at 13.7% and may be as close to 25% if underemployment is taken into account. Clearly therefore the hardships which many poor communities in Jordan are experiencing cannot be underestimated.
On the political level, after decades of enmity, the peoples' representatives in the Jordanian Parliament approved the peace treaty with Israel in 1994. Presently this optimistic step often resurfaces as a highly contentious issue given the intolerable situation in the Palestinian occupied territories. Nevertheless Jordanians and Jordanian institutions are trying to weather these storms, affirming the notion put forward by the Human Development Report that democracies are better placed than other systems of governance to manage conflicts and sudden downturns.
At this time however, the current regional situation has obliged the government to take certain measures including the postponement of Parliamentary elections until next year and in the interim, provisional laws are passed by the Cabinet. This has naturally brought forth accusations that the country is receding from its political liberalization process. Yet as the Human Development Report notes, true democratization means more than elections. It requires the consolidation of democratic institutions and the strengthening of democratic practices, with democratic values and norms imbedded in all parts of society.
Even though Parliamentary elections have been postponed, numerous democratic mechanisms in the country are being strengthened and heightened emphasis is currently being put on issues of governance, decentralization and participation. For example, the responsibility for local developmental efforts has been devolved to local mayors and local governors. And the municipal law has been amended in fact to give local mayors a larger mandate and greater responsibilities.
Monitoring mechanisms such as the annual opinion poll on democratic practices in Jordan are being encouraged by the government to be widely published, even if recent findings are by no means always complimentary. Yet such experiences do strengthen the country's liberalization initiatives and moreover, as noted by the Human Development Report, democracy that empowers people must be built, it cannot be imported. So whatever views we in Jordan may have on the current status of democracy, the overall belief by and large is that we can make it work because we have developed it to respond to our needs and to fit our circumstances, rather than replicating a blueprint from outside.
Our country's liberalization process has opened the door for Jordanian NGOs to become more and more involved in democratization issues, as in other parts of the world where according to the Human Development Report, NGOs are taking more direct roles in local decision-making and monitoring and are developing new collaborative forms of governance.
So in this light, I would like to turn to the work of the Jordanian Hashemite Fund for Human Development, JOHUD for short, a national NGO for which I have been working closely since 1977. In many ways the challenges faced by NGOs like JOHUD are similar to those faced by the country as a whole. Confronting the external realities of globalization and regional turmoil as well as the domestic realities of political and social change has become the responsibility of all actors. Jordanian state and society alike are facing the dilemma of trying to achieve human development goals while the context of daily life is becoming increasingly difficult.