Mediation in the Middle East, part 2

The Lawyer, Vol. 16, September 2006 and Vol. 17, October 2006

Jordan’s court pilot program in mediation will be the model for mediation in the Middle East.

At 4:30AM on an otherwise quiet morning late last March, I was awakened from a restless, jet-lagged sleep by the Islamic call to prayer “(Athan”) broadcast from minarets of the mosques of Amman, Jordan. I had arrived in the Heshimite Kingdom of Jordan to work with ABA/USAID as an ADR Specialist for a period of three months. Kathryn Ainsworth Monahan serves as the Deputy Director of the Middle-East ABA program and Director of the Jordan Office, and, is herself a passionate devotee of mediation. The Jordanian Parliament had, in March, passed a long-awaited Mediation Law. I arrived in Amman on March 23, 2006 to learn that the Minister of Justice, just days before, had established a deadline of June 1st to start the Mediation Court-Pilot Program. The Jordan ABA Office wondered anxiously how in the world we could get an entirely new Court Pilot Program for a brand new law accomplished in a matter of nine weeks. We did.

Jordan is a progressive county. Under the Constitutional Monarchy of King Abdullah and his bright, beautiful and articulate Palestinian wife, Rania, the country is progressive, economically sound and regularly positions itself as a neutral in the all-too-frequent imbroglios of the Middle East. As a progressive, the King supported establishing a Jordanian Mediation Law. As a voluntary option to litigation, the law provides for three types of mediators. Unlike our system in Florida, and other states which do not permit judges to act as mediators, the Jordan law permits judges to mediate. It also provides for “special mediators”, those appointed by the Minister of Justice and confirmed by the Chief Judge of the Jordan Supreme Court, and, a third category, of private mediators to be assigned to mediate, if approved by the court. The ABA, in anticipation of passage of this law, previously had trained many judges and attorneys for over 40 hours in mediation.

Oruba Qarain, a bright Jordanian attorney working in the ABA Jordan Office along with Haya, another Jordanian staff attorney, and I began intensive work with an established Mediation Steering Committee, comprised of Judges and attorneys. Together we prepared Mediation Forms used in the mediation process; developed an Exit Survey to evaluate and assess the progress of the pilot program; developed methods to integrate mediation logistics into a case management system; engaged in additional training for judges; drafted Standards of Conduct for Mediators; and, authored ethical training scenarios for judicial training, among many other preparatory projects. We also worked with Judge Qasim Moumani, Chief Judge of the First Instance Court of Amman, who at first was skeptical of mediation. His skepticism was evidenced in my first meeting with him when he asked me a pointed question, which left no doubt that I was not to bring only an American experience to the project. His later trip to the US in June solidified his acceptance and promotion of mediation in his court.

Of course, there was an initial issue of where to house the court pilot program. I was tasked with constructing a Mediation Center, funded by USAID. I managed the design and construction of a new center in one wing of the Amman Palace of Justice, a huge building with an atrium about four times larger than the new 13th Judicial Courthouse in Tampa. It is unlike any other place in the courthouse with its pastel colored mediation rooms, plants and a quiet, private environment. The mediation judges, who work only on mediation, have their offices there. June 1st came fast, but remarkably the pilot program and the Mediation Center were ready. The Minister of Justice, other Jordanian judicial and governmental luminaries and USAID top officials attended an open house held in the new Mediation Center on June 1, 2006. The requisite speeches were made, photos taken and food shared. We left with sighs of relief.

The Court Pilot Mediation Program in Jordan began on June 1, 2006, the first of its kind in the Middle East. In addition to assisting in starting the mediation program in Amman, I also taught mediation at seminars conducted the Arab Women’s Legal Network, part of the ABA’s gender program in the Middle East. The participants, lawyers and judges, were extremely bright women from Oman, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon. These women soaked up every bit of information on mediation and engaged fully and enthusiastically in discussions and role-plays. I was supposedly the teacher, but I learned far more from them. I learned about raw courage from the Iraqi women, even though there was desolation in their eyes. I saw how the residue of living in constant fear of death or bodily harm attacks innate hope in a human. These women shared daily life experiences that would diminish the will and ego of even the strongest person, yet the storyteller of each drama demonstrated fortitude and tenacity and a determination to avoid defeat. I stay in touch with several of them, offering encouragement and good will and what comfort I can.

My three months ended quickly, or so it seemed to me. Upon my return to Tampa, I was fortunate enough to continue working with some of the Jordanian judges who traveled to Tampa in late June on a USAID sponsored training trip, Mediation as a Profession. With generous help from many professionals in Tampa, including those at USF and HCBA, I developed the program. Together with Oruba, the ABA Staff Attorney, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice, Chief Judge Qasem, and one of the Mediation Judges, Judge Suhair Tobasi, each excited and enthusiastic, arrived in Tampa the last week of June. With the invaluable organizational and teaching assistance of the Honorable Elizabeth A. Jenkins, U.S. Magistrate Judge, the delegation was treated to meetings with individual federal judges, lunches with the judges as a group, a videoconference with the Federal Training Center in D.C., and a mock federal mediation. Numerous vigorous discussions with other judges and lawyers not only illuminated cultural differences, but also highlighted universal judicial goals, such as dispensing justice ethically. Observations of actual mediations in the Country Court Mediation Program and a visit to the Florida Dispute Resolution Center in Tallahassee impressed the group. Having traveled around the world within the past several years teaching mediation, Judge Jenkins gave freely of her time and energy, because, as she said, “it’s a labor of love”. Perhaps her statement likewise sums up my experience in Jordan. My work and personal experiences with the Jordan people were truly gratifying and personally enriching. The Jordanian people are genuine, open, generous of spirit, and strong in their commitment to family and peaceful values.

Thus, it is not surprising that Jordan is a pioneer in its Pilot Program in mediation to reduce congestion in its Court system. During its first 21 days, the parties in 25 cases in Jordan’s Court of First Instance had voluntarily consented to have their cases mediated. I can report that of the first five cases mediated, all of them settled. To make this first step toward court-related mediation happen, Jordan has drawn upon its ancient tribal traditions of using the tribal elder to bring parties together in resolving a dispute (“wasata”). As it was centuries ago in Jordan, and will be in Jordan’s modern mediation, the core of the mediation process is to resolve disputes without violence. Jordan’s mediation program is the model for mediation in the Middle East and its expansion can only benefit peaceful goals in the region.