Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Jordan: Culture Of Protest Rears Its Head

By Hassan A. Barari
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 11/01/2010
A protest culture seems to have installed itself in Jordan over the last few months. The last peaceful protest took place on Friday in an area where more and more people are falling way below the poverty line.

It is difficult now to accuse “political salons” of being behind the emergence of this new culture. It is time for us all to take stock and figure out not only the reasons behind this kind of activism but also where to go from here.

The prevailing perception among average Jordanians is that the economy is at a standstill. Few are optimistic, and most are suspicious of the figures released by the government regarding the future trend of the economy. Phrases such as “nothing left for us”, “prices are skyrocketing” or “poverty is eating us up” are common these days.

Rarely does one hear assessments to the contrary. If one speaks to any cabdriver about his worries, he will quickly point to poverty, the deteriorating economy, inflation, price hikes and, more importantly, the feeling that the government does not have what it takes to address these critical issues.

When the Jordanian economy was on the verge of collapse, at the end of the 1980s, a considerable level of democratisation was introduced. We ended up with a strong, responsible and responsive parliament. This measure helped Jordan restructure its economy with an acceptable degree of transparency. People understood the situation and felt that their interests were both represented and defended.

The situation now is reversed. The economy is seen as doing poorly, people suffer further from inflation and are not convinced that there is proper political reform.

Subsequent governments failed to be a catalyst of change. Still, the ruling elite - whether liberal or conservative -has no interest in effecting reform and change. It is aware that in a democratic game, it stands little chance to survive. Therefore, it works against political reform, except for some cosmetic changes.

One is tired of saying that there is no political will to push the issue of democracy. The problem, and here is the crux of the matter, lies in the mindset of the people in charge. Put differently, and here I am stating the obvious, we lack democrats.

We have people in the driving seat who are neither willing to step down nor do they appreciate the positive consequence of having real public participation in governing.

The last peaceful sit-in, in the Bani Hamida area, is not going to be the last if the government fails to act in a way that alleviates the economic burdens of people. These people are not thugs or troublemakers; they have legitimate demands, chief among them food security.

The most important thing that the government and others need to internalise is that the current political equation is a recipe for instability. It cannot last.

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