Monday, September 5, 2011

WikiLeaks And Jordan

By Nermeen Murad
I got a call from a friend two days ago, nudging me to start reading the leaked telegrams from the American embassy in Amman, which reviewed the situation in Jordan and assessed Jordanian officials holding senior posts in government, army, financial sector, etc.
Segments of those telegrams were being tweeted and retweeted by the generation of young - and some older - Jordanian activists online and whole sections were being translated into Arabic by teams of volunteers and posted online by at least two well-known news and commentary websites/weblogs.
I have been writing about Jordanian politics since 1984 and therefore very little of what was published or analysed in those leaked telegrams - at first glance anyway - was surprising, new or groundbreaking. But to an ordinary Jordanian, I expect that these telegrams will create unprecedented knowledge of Jordan’s political history - albeit from an American perspective - that has not been documented this extensively before and, more importantly, never with this much transparency.
My friend and many commentators I followed online were clearly most amused by the disparaging assessments of some of our Jordanian politicians and surprised by the fact that so many senior level politicians had no qualms about providing the American ambassador, his staff and senior visitors unhindered insight into Jordanian affairs.
The incompetence of some senior Jordanian politicians is not news to many Jordanians, yet I think that seeing it in print was amusing, rather than revealing.
As for the openness with which Jordanians spoke to the ambassador, I did not find that surprising either, considering the weight the US has in influencing regional politics and, more importantly, economics. Recognition of this role dictates the special relationship that developed between Jordan’s political elite, civil society activists and the embassy, which is documented in the leaked telegrams.
The new element therefore is the actual documentation of the process of political strategy making, the influencing factors among the power bases in Jordan, including those of Royal family members, security officials and private sector power brokers, the regional/international players, as well as the gossip and the minutes of secret meetings behind the gates of the American embassy.
Jordanians have been afforded a rare opportunity to be the fly on the wall in the - until now - never revealed discussions and meetings of the power agents and policy makers.
The debate of the impact of WikiLeaks on nations, and diplomatic operations and secrecy, is still raging in many of the countries that have had their secrets revealed by WikiLeaks. Particularly, there has been debate on whether these revelations are protected by freedom of access to information, freedom to know, the spirit of the freedom of the press or whether this amounts to non-consensual extraction of information that has become possible through online piracy.
I think Jordan will benefit from the leaked telegrams regardless of the moral questions behind the role of WikiLeaks as an organisation. All I could think of as I read through the documents is that our students of political science, our journalists and our political parties can finally study these documents and become acquainted with the motives and strategic thinking - or lack of it in some cases - that determine our policies or our political choices.
This transparent access and resultant process of quick and intensive learning must, by deduction, elevate the level of political participation in Jordan positively and at a faster pace than the slow-paced government-controlled reform project.
The Arab awakening and the revolutions that have gripped the Arab world have been credited with the increased awareness among Arab people of their rights and of the narratives and tools of freedom and democracy. This new-found awareness, married with the knowledge created by the leaked telegrams, will present a necessary challenge to conservative political policies and thinking in Jordan, and will finally lead us to the exercise of political accountability - an exercise that we have needed for some time now.
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 05/09/2011

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