Election Law & Selective Representation

As part of a final paper I’m working on, I requested, and obtained a copy of a M.Sc. and B.Sc. thesis in Political Science at MIT, entitled “Containing the Opposition: Selective Representation in Jordan and Turkey”, by Raffaela Wakeman, who also worked in the Center for Strategic Studies in the University of Jordan for a while.

So, I went through a good chunk of it and read it, and while it reaffirms most of what we hear already about representation being the most fundamental problems, it also hows how fundamental a problem it is. Cities like Amman, Irbid, and Zarqa are between 2-3 times under-presented than Balqa’a, Karak, and others.

However, upon reading this, a very common fallacy also came to mind, in which the ruling power’s decisions are always rationalized on the basis of self-interest/ill-intentions, which I think is not the right approach. For instance, Jordan’s sheer under-representation of Palestinian-Jordanians in the parliament (or rather, under-representation of intellectuals in the parliament), is not part of a master plan to create a nation with an idle mind, or dominate the people, but rather (very unfortunate) measures to secure the 1994 Peace Treaty, or (very unfortunate) responses to events ranging from Abdullah I’s 1951 assassination, to Black September.

In any case, saying Jordan’s selective representation (which is a real problem) is a plan to “contain the opposition”, ignores the strong opposition that many Islamists as well as Bedouin “loyalists” possess to many crucial Hashemite plans.

I do hope the new election law is more representative. Current rumors are not so promising; Amman and Zarqa seem to be getting more seats, but not nearly enough.

My two-cents.

On the Arab Revolt

As an assignment, I was to write a review of the movie Lawrence of Arabia. Part of the such review included, of course, a comment on the Arab Revolt, which I think might be relevant to share. In any case, for the relevant parts, here we go:

The status of the Arab Revolt is complex, especially when considered by an Arab. While on the one hand, the Arab Revolt signifies a rebirth of the Arabs, in which attempts for independence re-emerge, and in which the yearning to greatness after years of dormancy is rekindled. In that respect, there is a big chance that Sherif Hussein’s correspondence with the British to secure an independent Arab future lead to the existence of the modern Arab states. One the other hand, however, while the Arab Revolt might signify the birth of Independent Arab entities, it also embodies some sort of death; a more serious Arab decline.

The deep involvement of the British with the Arab Revolt, as well as the Hashemite-British alliance have given leverage to Britain over the Arabs and allowed it to secure an autocratic role in handling the remains of the Ottoman Empire after its dissolution. The Arab Revolt, instead of resulting in the Birth of a unified and independent Arab state in the Arab regions of the Ottoman Empire, lead to the partitioning of the entire empire, the creation of artificial nation states, often with imported regents or rulers, the birth of the Palestine Question and the greater Arab-Israeli Conflict, the continued ‘colonization’ of the fragmented Arab states as a weak periphery ever supporting the west.

This complex two-sidedness of the Arab Revolt makes it particularly hard, especially for an Arab, to determine one’s views towards it. While an Arab might owe it to the revolt to still call oneself ‘an Arab’, its long term political failure means that an Arab also owes it to the revolt that he probably is, with an increased probability, regretful of being ‘an Arab’.

I do not think I am in a position to comment if the Arab Revolt was benign or not, worth it or not, positive or not. My point is not to comment on Sherif Hussein’s efforts in the revolt, nor the efforts of the Arabs as a people, because I think it is largely irrelevant. Regardless of the motivation, goals, and intentions of the revolt, the reason I view it with some sort of melancholy or regret is the end result of fragmentation and instability. And I do not think that Hussein or any of his peers had an impact on that. I look at the revolt with melancholy because of the British involvement, the broken promises, the double-alliances, and the way history unfolded. What a shame.

Dearest Jordan

Photo  by Ibrahim Oweis (edited). Source. License: CC Att-SA 2.0

As the end of my extended winter vacation approaches, the stay back home has come to a (temporary) end. I’ll be on a 15 hour trip to get me to my “third home” in Boston, Massachusetts (we have always been taught “المدرسة بيتك الثاني”, meaning “school is your second home”) in anticipation of another lovely semester at MIT! Though it is probably juvenile to ‘say goodbye’ before spending a short time apart from home, I have garnered a few observations and articulated my timeless feelings and attitudes towards Jordan, and why such feelings and attitudes (positively) inhibit me to begin with. So here we go…

I live in a country whose borders were arbitrarily drawn by Gertrude Bell, so carelessly that a misalignment in transparent paper didn’t seem to bother her one bit. A country low on natural resources, that the late King Hussein’s quote “الإنسان أغلى ما نملك” (meaning “mankind is our greatest asset”) is used jokingly to reference the lack of oil, water, and arable land. A country with a nonexistent independent historic cultural identity, and a nascent national identity.

Yet, not an inch of Jordan exists that I cannot but absolutely adore. More importantly, however, are the people whose culture and identity astound me enough to understand this “haunting beauty” the late king refers to. This culture and identity whose presence I am in awe of, is the same one that began to formulate a mere 64 years ago. What I like about our magnificent ‘national identity’, that I’d rather call a cultural identity, is how it acknowledges and cherishes the fact that it is indeed nascent; an identity summed by the thought that we, “the Jordanian people”, whether Bedouins, old locals, Circassians, Chechens, Palestinian refugees, Iraqi refugees, and others have come together to build something good out of… well, not much. It is an identity of hospitality, generosity, but most importantly, fraternity and cooperation of people united by sharing a common vision of seeking improvement.

It is hard for many living in Jordan to appreciate or even realize the goodness I feel. Indeed, we have problems of our own; we are no beacon of human rights, social norms can be disappointing, and a real influential and internal political party is yet to be seen.

Criticizing the wrong we have in Jordan is the only way to improve; and writing about what is missing is the best way to inspire future leaders to step up and fix things, again, to do something good in an area that was previously lacking. My only message is that such criticism, however harsh it may be, remains to be done in a light where the criticizer realizes that things aren’t necessarily static, and change is very well possible.

It is the duty of a critical thinker to point what is wrong, but it gets to a point where criticism is done in an atmosphere of negativity, a negativity that might convince the thinker and the reader that an effort to improve isn’t worth it… and that’s when the thinker needs to stop and think things through.

I mean hey, we just fixed our tax laws! We’re working on great energy improvements. We’ve made great progress on economical reform. And human rights, like it or not, have improved drastically over the past 20 years. Change is being done, and that’s a positive thought one should keep in mind. Never mistake my sentences as trying to impose satisfaction on whatever we already have; I’d like to remind you that change has happened in the past, and it can happen in the present and future if we work for it. Some things are easier than others, but it’ll work.

/end emotional insights

No intent to negatively target websites, constructive criticism is welcome, government says.

In an uplifting turn of events, Samih al-Ma`ayta, political adviser of the prime minister and one of those assigned to work on the implementation of the Cassation Court’s ruling on Websites and the Press and Publication law, said earlier today that the government welcomes coordination and constructive criticism, according to AmmonNews.

There is no battle between the government and the electronic media, and the government welcomes constructive criticism and values differing opinions on the matter, and will not seek any form of the law without the consultation and approval with publishers of online journals, and welcomes the cooperation with all concerned parties to achieve the fitting formulation. We are committed too coordinate with those who disagree and no one-sided decision will be reached.

I happy. Now lets hope that the electronic press committee itself isn’t corrupt. I hope the Jordanian blogosphere also takes advantage of such statement and makes sure that the blogosphere itself will be engaged in a healthy dialogue with the government.

Source: http://ammonnews.net/article.aspx?ArticleNo=53067

Dear Jordanian Blogger, Don’t Change—Not yet at least!

I know the whole talk about inclusion of websites in the press and publication law can indicate some very bad scenarios, chief among them is self-censorship, fear of writing critical high-quality articles, etc. My only message to the Jordanian blogosphere is: don’t change.

There are a lot of things we don’t know yet, and unless there’s direct evidence that says that we should worry, we shouldn’t. That is not to say that we shouldn’t care about the issue, but we shouldn’t let it change our attitude towards whatever it is that we do.

First, there no clear evidence that the ruling applies only to media sites/news agencies (i.e. alghad.jo, ammonnews.net, ammannet.net, etc.) or blogs as well; so bloggers don’t need to worry from now.

Second, there is no indication of how things will work. As it has been mentioned earlier, there is a government committee trying to figure out how to apply the law to the web; requirements about identity vs. anonymity, trade unions, having an editor-in-chief, etc. most likely won’t apply to blogs. Similarly, some of the restrictions on information in news articles (who are there to portray facts), might not apply to blogs (who are there to portray opinion).

So go about your business for now and write freely; if a government spokesperson drops a bombshell, its another story. When fighting the decision, speak as honestly and freely as you always have. If you have a critical post in store, share it and educate us all. Criticize the government, and hope they’ll be open minded and strive to improve. Act as if its some sort of utopia, and if a decision or announcement tells us definitely that its not, you’ll have time to go back and self-sensor your past posts or something.

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