Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jordan: The Reform Debate

By Hassan A. Barari
Rarely will there be a Jordanian who speaks against reform. On the contrary, speaking about, not necessarily believing in, reform has become the fashion during the Arab Spring.
It is not only the “liberals” who sat in the most undemocratic governments who attract attention to the issue of reform, but also the most conservative politicians who suddenly shout about reform from the rooftops.
Explicit in each statement coming from both government and from opposition is the need to turn a new page in Jordanian politics and start instantly the long-awaited process of reform. Yet, this is easier said than done.
It is not enough to talk about reform. Most important is to say how reform can take off in Jordan smoothly, in a win-win fashion.
Some are quite pleased with the reason behind the calls for reform because of the failure of successive governments to live up to people’s expectations.
“Reformists” are benefiting from the growing trust gap between people and successive governments. It really is hard to avoid the feeling that people, on the whole, do not have faith in this government or in the ones before.
It is in this atmosphere that “reformists” are operating. Although much of their rhetoric rings hallow, the fact remains that the government is slow and reactionary.
And yet, reform is the prerequisite for survival for the country as a whole. If one looks at what is going on in the region, one can conclude that there is nothing unique about our situation. In other words, the often-repeated argument that “we are different” is both misleading and perilous.
So far, I have not been able to see a healthy debate over the issue of reform. Much ink has been spilled over some accusation in regard to corruption and much of the talk has to do with account settling rather than with real demand for reform in a gradual and realistic manner.
It is the debate about what should practically be done that is missing in much of the public discussion. Very few are serious when it comes to the practical steps that need to be taken to attain reform, and much talk has been simply off mark.
Some anti-reform politicians and writers are upbeat because of the lack of consensus over what constitutes reform.
Indeed, even some of the members of the National Dialogue Committee are on record criticising the outcome of the committee.
This is where we need a Royal initiative to that effect. The reason is that it is hard to spot a national agreement on anything. This can only delay the inevitable reform and help radical calls that resonate with a disgruntled street.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 23/08/2011

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