25 February 2011

Will Jordan Show The Way To Real Reform?

Friday, 25th February 2011

Friday morning. The early morning light is warm and bright with promise of a beautiful day in Amman, Jordan. In just a few hours the noon prayers will begin.

Sun rising over Amman
Fridays, the first day of weekend, have become “The” day. Because it is not a working day, Friday typically sees the largest protest demonstrations right across the Arab World. Even during the massive protests in Egypt, Fridays saw a huge increase in the number of protesters in the streets and at Tahrir Square.

Friday prayers at Al-Husseini Mosque, Downtown Amman
In Amman today the protesters are expected to number in the hundreds of thousands. The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Action Front have joined the protests. Unlike Egypt, Tunisia and Libya our protests are not demanding a change of regime. Our monarch is too well respected and loved for that to happen. The people of Jordan are demanding reform of the current modus operandi in the government. Historically, the government has been rife with corruption. Nothing could be accomplished without spreading bribes, sometimes lavish bribes. “Wasta” is the order of the day in almost all activities in Jordan. Wasta can be loosely translated as ‘clout’ or ‘who you know’ and is necessary when trying to get things done. Wasta is not unknown in the West, of course but it is pervasive in the Arab World.

The corruption in Jordanian government has affected the poorer population in the form of higher food prices and costs of living in general. In the areas most stricken with poverty the effect has been devastating. Most people in these areas must attempt to provide shelter, food, warmth and clothing to their families on an income of 150-200 ($200-280) dinars per month. Given the price of food, fuel and rent the family head is faced with insurmountable obstacles. Struggling each day to earn a living they are given constant reminders of the “other” Amman. Large, imported gas-guzzling SUVs zipping past on their way to the high-end shopping malls and expensive restaurants inspire anger and resentment. “Mashallah”, a man will say when he observes someone who is doing so well, who is so wealthy he can afford such things. It is a sort of prayer of praise meaning “God wills it”. It is meant to ward off envy, a cardinal sin in Islam. Despite the prayers, how can one help feeling resentment when he works himself into an early grave with little more than a rag and a bone to show for his efforts when the majority of his well-to-do countrymen achieved their status through corruption and wasta?

The fact that the corruption and wasta are institutionalized in the government makes it an even more bitter pill to swallow. The result? You are seeing it today. All across the Arab World and northern Africa the resentments are rising to the surface like the bubbles from yeast. It is alive and growing and being demonstrated in the age-old way people have shown their anger and disappointment; by taking to the streets and demanding change.

That the change will come is a given. The real question, for Jordan, is how that reform will be accomplished. Will His Majesty follow through on his promises and ensure his orders to the Prime Minister are obeyed? Will the Prime Minister ensure his cabinet are working toward the elimination of corruption and nepotism and wasta from the halls of Parliament? Will the election laws be amended in such a way as to ensure real representation of all the people of Jordan?

I don’t know a single Jordanian who is not part of one of the stronger tribes who feels he has any voice in the government. The elections, while completely mysterious to me, are said to be set up in such a way as to favor the tribal factions who control most of the money and commerce. With such a system in place, what trickles down to the poor neighborhoods and refugee camps? From my observation, not very much.

His Majesty, King Abdullah II recently sacked his government and appointed a new Prime Minister. On Sunday, 20th February he met with the Executive, Legislative and Judicial heads and members and left them with some strong words. He expects them to serve the people by communicating with them and putting their interests above anything else.

HM King Abdullah II
Regarding corruption, His Majesty said “I have directed the government to instruct the Anti-Corruption Commission to keep open its doors to receive any complaint of suspected corruption, so that such complaint is investigated and referred to the judiciary to hold accountable all those found guilty. The government is also required to enhance all anti-corruption mechanisms and agencies so that they can carry out their duties with the highest degree of proficiency and efficiency.” He further stated that he expected that when the People have questions “there should be clear answers to each and every question asked.”

He also told his government he wants “real and quick reform” in order to avoid wasted opportunities by officials because of fear of change and reluctance to move forward in order to “guard their own interests” and “I will not allow that to happen again.”

The King said that the government should drop the old and often used phrase “I have instructions from above” to avoid taking decisions. “There is nothing called ‘instructions from above’” he reminded them. He also warned the government that the interests, security, dignity and future of his people are above all other considerations and if he detects a failure to protect those rights he, himself will step in to safeguard them. “These rights are my top priority and they are a red line that I will not allow anyone to cross…”.

As a finish to his speech, the King admonished the government to work on “real reform” of the political process, “particularly the Election Law.”

Will the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan show the way for the rest of the Arab World? Will we prove that regime reform can be accomplished without bloodshed? I sincerely hope we will. God be with us!

Al-Wehdat refugee camp

Modern home in Amman

Poor family in refugee camp

Posh Amman neighborhood

Trying to earn a living

Villa for rent, $11,000 per year

Young delivery boy

Upmarket City Mall

Poor kids in refugee camp

Mecca Mall, another upmarket shopping venue

Boy in Jerash's Gaza refugee camp

Starbucks in City Mall

Refugee neighborhood


UmmFarouq said...

Jim, this is my first visit to your blog, via Kinzi.
WOW. Thanks for blogging! I'm a retired blogger and ex-pat who lives here in Amman; I lived in Tabarbour for a little over two years, at the very end of it, known as "Ghartoweyyah." Taxis dared not take me home those days, because they would not get a return fare back. Living there taught me SO MUCH. I had three small kids and a husband in the US, so I relied on my neighbors for nearly everything. They were blessings from God. I could share so many stories. I would not have traded that time there, albeit a bit isolated, for anything in the world. I applaude what you are doing by choosing to live there. Bravo, and keep writing.

Ol Big Jim's Place said...

Shokran Umm Farouq for those kind words! Please visit my blog again anytime, you are welcome here!

Motez said...

I love your blog allot, i love jordan, i love the king of jordan. And to be clear th love of my lives lifes in jordan, in tabarbour.

One day i will life in jordan as well.