Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Failing To Produce Leaders

By Hassan A. Barari

I have been closely following up on events in Jordan ever since the onset of the Arab Spring. Yet, it is shocking to come to the realisation that we do not have capable leaders with independent vision. All we see is a bunch of demonstrations or sit-in leaders who excel only in raising slogans with no idea of how to implement them.

Of course, I am not in the business of finger pointing or blaming the people for failing to produce leaders; the problem is way deeper than that. Any honest attempt to account for the lack of those who fit the bill of leadership should take us to the root cause of this phenomenon.

Over the decades, there have been a few people - if any - who had access to funds independent of the state. As a corollary, the vast majority of the elite in Jordan were dependent on the state. Put differently, the state created a kind of rentier mentality that led to two consequences: first, the lack of confidence on the part of the elite to chart an independent political stand lest this affect their political or economic interests; second, people on the whole had little faith in the elite and looked down at them as opportunists.

Let me clarify this point by the following example. We have seen some politicians who made a career of sitting in governments that fought tooth and nail against genuine democratic changes or the emergence of street leaders. The irony is that when these politicians fell out of grace with the regime and lost their political status, they turned against the whole political game altogether. Some of them tried to rehabilitate themselves by advocating an agenda of reform. Hardly a week passed without an article on this issue. They left no stone unturned while speaking about the agenda of reform in a desperate attempt to have people forget their political past. Alas, few if any take them seriously. Not only did they fail to make a difference while in power, but they are also seen as opportunists.

Also, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that preempting the emergence of real leaders has become an industry. Those in positions of responsibility have done what it takes to make sure their status remain unchallenged. To that effect, it has never been a number one priority for state educators to allow for critical thinking in schools and universities. In fact, a student who shows any kind of critical thinking gets discouraged. If this trend continues unchecked, there is little hope of seeing genuine leaders in years to come.

Reasons for this leaderless state abound. In addition to education, one can talk about security interference in universities, rigging of elections, and the weakness of political parties. Yet, things can change if there is a political will to do that. Now, given the tsunami of changes that have swept the region, the authorities should realise that one of the requirements of survival is helping the people produce leaders. Short of doing that, the situation could easily degenerate into mayhem as it is happening in some Arab states.

This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 26/07/2011

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