Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Country of Contradictions... How Do We Reconcile Them?

Living in Jordan has been a very interesting experience. I expect living in any country where you did not grow up inculturated is a similarly eye-opening experience. However, Jordan is such a set of contradictions. I find myself wondering, am I the only one who fails to see how anyone can reconcile them. With the drama unfolding in the region, much has been said about Jordan. In the US, as is often the case in this fabulously Muslim-fearing world, the news has focused on alarming demonstrations (far smaller and more peaceful than those back in 2009 over Gaza mind you). I posted previously the wish that Westerners would just call to a halt the scare-tactic laden discussions of my chosen home. However, no one seems to be talking about the challenges facing Jordan's King.

Jordan is a country with deep divisions. The gulf between East Amman and West Amman is wide. East Amman is the more historic part of Amman. The buildings are often older and the people tend to be more conservative. West Amman is marked by newer buildings, most of it having been constructed in the last 20-30 years. Walking down the streets of the bustling West Amman shopping districts, it is not unusual to find young ladies in outfits that would raise an eyebrow in New York. And the ladies are not foreigners. In a country where some women wear the niqab (the covering that hides everything but the eyes) and others wear shorts, sleeveless tops, and sandals it is hard to see how everyone can come together.

Reading articles like this one, which talks about how many different groups want reform doesn't help. Let's have economic reform, some are calling. Let's have political reform others shout. And yet, notice we don't see calls for social reform. Somehow people seems to think that by clamoring for the freedom to think, say, and write what they like other freedoms won't naturally follow. In a country where eating on the streets is illegal during Ramadan (regardless of your religion or interest in observing), let's have political reform and the freedom to write what we like. Somehow I think that the same people who are clamoring for change really want only the changes they want. They want financial transparency and at the same time a return to less privatization. One step forward, one step back. At the same time, there are many who want real economic reform and further liberalization of the market. How does one reconcile these opposing positions?

The splintering demonstrators of the last month failed to even agree to continue on. The Muslim Brotherhood/IAF and the other opposition groups found their aims and goals too far apart to maintain unity for more than a few weeks. How, then, is the King supposed to take concrete action upon which that all groups can agree? I certainly don't envy His Majesty this fine line he must tread. People want speedy reform, except that they actually need slow progress. Society will need time to change itself and keep up with the changes in both the political and economic fronts. For free and open elections, you would need a public that sees voting as a civic duty. That is not currently the case. It is also not a fast change to come. When I voted (in the last 2 elections here in Jordan), friends from Jordan were astounded. What?! I, who was not born and raised here, would actually go and vote? But why? You see, that attitude must change before Jordan is ready for free elections that actually represent the people, not a single politically active segment of the people.

I am part of an absolutely wonderful e-group of ladies here in Amman. We are mostly American (with other nationalities mixed in for flavor). And mostly hijabi (not me, of course, but...). Most of the ladies are very observant Muslims. They paint for me a realistic picture of the beauty of Islam. It is a very different picture than I see when I see terrorism in the name of Islam. I am blessed to have this counterpoint. And yet, these ladies have many of the same challenges inside their local families that I am talking about. The gulf between them and their families is not less (and actually in many ways perhaps greater) than that between them and me. So how then do we reconcile this disjointedness? How can the King architect a future that all Jordanians can get behind? I don't have any answers (a position I hate to be in, mind you), but I think the questions are worth asking. The one thing I do know is that King Abdullah II is an exceptional bright spot in Jordan's global image. His wife, regardless of what others may think, is opening America's hearts and minds to Muslims and to Jordan. As the face of Jordan, this couple is an inspiration.

The problem Jordan faces are not simple. In order to solve them, it needs real dialog among people who recognize that they are part of the solution. The King can not architect this on his own. It simply isn't possible. And, in order to solve these real and difficult issues we must each set aside ourselves and think about what is best for Jordan. Not our tribe, not our family, not our religion. We need to think about what is best for all Jordanians if we are to find a way through these terribly difficult global times. I wish His Majesty the very best of luck and my prayers are most certainly with him. I know that with wisdom and honest openness, Jordan's path can be a shining example to the entire region.

Happy Resolutions!


At 10:15 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

At this juncture only fundamental change would set the country back in the right track. When the Jordanians signed the pact with King Abdallah the first, the make up of the inhabitants living in Jordan was totally different from what it is nowadays.Now the majority of the inhabitants are Jordanians of Palestinian origins.They disenfranchised politically.Reforms towards Democratic democracy has been going backwards over the lst decade or so. The country's fore-gin debt doubled up in just few years, no one knows where all this money going especially the revenue that was garnered from the privatization process.Corruption, nepotism, lack of accountability and lack of transparency are the order of the day.Projects that cost millions of dollars are benefiting only the select few, more times than often the projects fail half way through before completion or never leave the state of rough draft, example on that would be the national agenda, the disi project, and decent housing for decent living.People demonstrate peacefully asking for a national unity government the king in turn appoint a new prime minister that had already tried but failed to do anything about the million problems which the country is experiencing.I'm afraid that there are some low level voices starting to call for a whole regime change example on that would be the so called report signed by 36 people of tribal leader. AFP already reported about it.So as far as reconciliation is concerned I think that it is more or less too little too late, the minimum acceptable to the people at this point would be a constitutional monarchy where the King would have to give up his powers to the Parliament and new national salvation government would have to be established by an elected prime minister for a limited period of time. I doubt that the king is ready to relinquish any of his powers, he is going to say that the country is not ready for democracy, change would have to come by slow, something which we have been hearing for more than twenty years.So what is left it probably would be something similar to what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and please don't say that Jordan is different because it is not. It may even be Little more bloody but change requires sacrifices.This may look like like I'm painting grim picture but unfortunately I wish that I can say something that is a little more cheerful but it looks like it is too little too late, change is coming to Jordan no if and or but about it.

At 12:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a different Anonymous than the first one, obviously. MommaBean I salute you for sharing your perspective. You seem to be more courageous that the two anonymous contributors to your blog.

You wrote: "Somehow I think that the same people who are clamoring for change really want only the changes they want." This certainly captures it all.

For a small country such as Jordan, we certainly punch way above our weight in the global political scene. This is a result of the wise leadership that this country enjoys. I guess we take that for granted.

What people don't realize, is that we do not have natural resources, yet we've managed to more than double our per capita income during the last decade. Jordan's per capita income increased from 1,224 dinars in 2000 to approximately 3,100 dinars in 2010 or about 250% over the ten year period!

What Jordan needs is a "change culture"! Yes there is poverty and there's unemployment. At the same time guest workers account for 24 per cent of the overall workforce in Jordan according to the Jordan Time article of Feb 3, 2011. I assume there are many more foreign workers who do not have work permits.

When will Jordanians compete for those Jobs? Or would they rather sit at home and enjoy the safety net afforded by the family and the government paying a monthly benefit!

At 12:58 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Anon 1, thanks for your comment. Personally I think that if there is no compromise possible, Jordan will fail at any sort of democracy. Therein is my exact point. The people MUST find a way to come together. I only hope that Jordan will watch very carefully what occurs in Egypt and Tunisia. Those who think that their path is over and they've won "freedom" need to pay close attention. Right now, they have hardly even begun. And throwing out one guy you don't like doesn't guarantee you'll get someone after him that you will...

Anon #2, thanks for your thoughts. The number of guest workers in Jordan is amazing, but then again it seems to be a similar issue to that in the US. There are simply certain types of jobs Americans would rather not do. I have a sense this may be the case everywhere. There are social stigma to certain professions. The lack of resources is a crippling problem and one that those clamoring for change don't seem to have any proposals for. I certainly hope they begin to think along such sophisticated lines. After all, it's always exceptionally easy to talk about what a bad job someone else is doing. What we need to know is how would you do better? It's easy to take what we have for granted, I only hope that more Jordanians will begin to appreciate the need for the right types of change in society and politics and economics...

At 3:54 AM , Blogger Wamik said...

Interesting article,First of all i have to say that i am very much alien about jordan's Politics.The way I see the problems in Jordan & Middle east are the direct result of economic enslavement,Inspite of being rich in resources the region has fallen prey to Capitalistic monoply.Both in egypt as well as in tunisia the prime factor that fueled the protests was a flat economy.Same is the case with Jordan, the economy is in shambles plus the rift between traditional jordanians & palestinians living in jordan.Unless and until there are some healthy economic measures brought about resentment against the state will never die down and also there needs to be an unequivocal stance on palestine once it for all rather than being ambiguous.

At 11:40 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Wamik, thanks for joining the conversation. Unlike most of the Middle East, Jordan actually isn't rich in resources. It has no oil, no water, and very little in the way of goods. Jordan definitely has economic issues, however I am certain they are complex. A path forward that people can believe in is absolutely vital. And, of course resolution of the Palestinian issue will make a huge difference.


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