Monday, December 08, 2008

Jordanian Bloggers, Politics and That Guy

If you're a Jordanian blogger who discusses or have discussed politics, you either have a passport of another country that really really protects its citizens or you just know how to shut your mouth and resist saying a lot of things that you feel like saying every while and then. I have self-censored myself on my own blog more than a Saudi TV station would have censored Britney and Madonna making out.

Our freedom is not that limited. There's always a Parliament you can trash, and a government that you can criticize (be careful not to trash). And again, if you're not politically strongly associated with communists or islamists, you've got less things to worry about. But you have to be very selective in your language, and the more important the person you're discussing the more careful you become. Besides, there is no anonymous Jordanian blogging. We all realize that everyone is watched in Jordan, which very occasionally may be necessary.

The freedom we have as blogger is unlimited as long as you agree with the government. You're always very free to praise the government. Once you disagree you have to be very selective in your language in saying so. Now when it comes to discussing that guy, you have to be extremely careful. You have to watch every word you say and make sure it cannot misunderstood. I have deleted a couple of my own entries days after I posted them just because I felt some readers may feel that I was criticizing that guy when I actually was not. The thing is, I'm not looking for people to start criticizing that guy. I like that guy. I really think he's doing a great job especially in a country like Jordan, which has little resources and a weak military in comparison with other countries. But sometimes I feel like I want to say a few things but I stop from myself from saying them. I feel like other people too may want to say things but they really cannot express them. That guy may be like your father, you really like him and hope he'll be always be around, never hoped to have a different father, but if he has a bad friend, or if he's investing his money in something he shouldn't be investing in, or you felt someone is planning to hurt him and hurt your brothers and sisters, you'd really like to say so. You would want to tell him to do this and not do that. Maybe it won't change much of what's going to happen, but you just feel like you want to say, at least to get it off your chest, and that indeed makes you feel more like you belong to this one big family where everyone cares about the other.

I hope you had a nice weekend and Happy Eid.


Whisper said...

happy Eid to u too hareega
i know what u mean...u mean happy Eid in ur house not in ur aunt house "beat khaltak"

good advice....and u say it all :D

kinzi said...

Well said, Hareega. I think 'that guy' doesn't want a bunch of automons just singing his praises. I think he listens and does a great job treading so lightly, but moving forward as he does. Carefully.

Jad said...

Well said 7aj 7areega, maybe I can summarize what you said in a single sentence "the big brother is forcing us to be realistic since we can't be that alone".

I always think of that guy as a manager in a company I own or financial investor in money I own; and in worse case scenario he would get 7 out of 10 but of course that's because I'm realistic.


Eid Mubarak O Happy Christmas 7aji hareega.

Nadine said...

Freedom of expression, respect, and the understanding that diverse and opposing voices are absolutely inevitable and necessary is a process. Jordan has been out of practice for a very long time and so we're in a rough/confusing stage right now.

Perhaps with every blog post one ought to take a wider step and raise the bar.

I think we're a bit too self edited though. If you are not slandering and getting personal, and are able to weave a story with critical, progressive language around your point, you shouldn't worry. If in your heart of hearts you're not a bad person and are offering a contribution, you shouldn't worry.

There's always another way to say things without anger and blame and hatred and blasphemy. In truth, ugly conversations go nowhere. Enlightened, passionate voices are a necessity. Be clever, rather than hold yourself back.

Eid mubarak.

Perhaps it's a good occasion to sacrifice some fears :)

Ammar said...

I wont be surprised if that guy reads this post, but the way you wrote this, might be a great way to express your disatisfaction with any government official, our freedom of expression isn't like that of Sweden, but if you choose the right words, as you've mentioned, and use the father-children argument you made, you could get away with almost anything! indirect sarcasm is always a safe bet, I've done it a couple of times, once in arabic and once in english, to make sure it covers the bilingual audience out there lol.

Anonymous said...

"and a [weak] military in comparison with other countries" For the above sentense "they" can do alot to you. It is that silly

Anonymous said...

enta 3an 3am te7ki lol
really nice one))
By the way the guy is not God he makes mistakes so i think from time to time ppl that really love Jordan should say something.
And ppl in Jordan should really stop tamsi7 joukh for that guy.
E7tirami Doc

Nas said...

i think while That Guy is human and errs like everyone else, when it comes to free speech, the struggle and the problem has very little to do with That Guy but rather the 10,000 other guys underneath him and the 10,000 guys underneath them.

there's a trickle down effect where the vision from the top is lost by the time it reaches the bottom; the implementers...the "guardians".

there is a recognizable internal conflict between The Guy and Those Guys. much can be done to resolve that conflict but it will require a dramatic paradigm shift.

in the meantime, as bloggers, yes, careful language as a precaution is required i agree. but in general, it is always healthy to use careful language as it forces someone to be critical of something in a constructive manner rather than destructive manner, and that is a demonstration of how much a citizen cares about the well-being of his or her country. that's how you push the debate. and that's where the hope lies.

when you are being critical of something, is it with the intention of simply lambasting it or deconstructing it, debating it, grappling with it, attempting to solve it? this is an important question any blogger or his commentators has to ask themselves. what is the endgame? is it our desire to create a club of haters who deem themselves as revolutionaries or to actually do something about it?

as jordanian bloggers, i think there is a subtext of responsibility for us to push that debate forward. to push the envelope an inch at a time. don't expect anyone to change anything overnight. it is a long and tedious battle, but it has to be fought, and with every post, with every day, with every debate and every conversation you are pushing the offense line bit by bit. you are gathering minds together to host a conversation that everyone can read and participate in.

what you say, think or believe as a blogger is important, but it is not nearly as important as what it inspires the next 1,000 people to say or think or believe.

eid mubarak.

Ali said...

There is a clear red line for criticism in Jordan. You can bash the Government, the Parliament, some ministers and that's it. I guess you got it now.

Musa said...

Great to see you join the debate here after you understandably chose to be a by-stander during a similar one that was taking place on your own website (after all the level of that debate tended to significantly slip at times...or you may have your own personal reasons...)

Either way, I hope you are aware that statements like "the problem has very little to do with That Guy but rather the 10,000 other guys underneath him" , "the vision from the top is lost ", and "there is a recognizable internal conflict between The Guy and Those Guys" you are sounding like the typical flag-waving regime apologist, who justifies living under an autocratic regime based on unrealistic scenarios of internal conflict between the palace and its matter how you articulate it.

On a different note, who determines constructive vs destructive criticism? Who classifies people under haters, revolutionaries or nationalist activists? The mokhabarat? the regime apologists ? the unrealistic "embracers" of anything royal?

Now since we both agree that the debate need to be continuously pushed forward (at the time being or maybe later), I will cut and paste my question from my comment at your Jordan- Qatar relations post:

Those who suggest that his majesty’s decisions (and to a certain point his finances) should not be discussed publicly and openly are assuming that:

-We either live in theocracy where the ruler is an impeccable God ( Greek mythology and African dictatorships models)

-We live in a constitutional monarchy (England, Netherlands).
[And we agree that the king plays an active and not an honorary role.]

-We live under an autocratic regime that is afraid of questioning, recruits people to discourage its questioning and may even resort to its police apparatus if needed to suppress questioning

Anyone who believes that there could be other reasons why his majesty is beyond reproach please go ahead and point it out…

Nas said...

Dear Musa,

"you are sounding like the typical flag-waving regime apologist.."

oh you're so cute when you call me names.

but please note that i don't even own a flag. although i guess i should get one. for sporting events and what not.

it is difficult to debate something like this when the person wanting to engage is pigeonholing you with a certain label and pretty much saying that no matter how you articulate your point you are still the label that i have given you. in other words, it doesn't matter what you say. because see, i'm sure if i shut my eyes really hard and thought really hard i could come up with a few descriptors for you, but i dunno, is it possible for you to put aside your personal grivences with me (the whole list of them that you keep under your pillow) for just a bit and have an actual conversation with me?

just for a bit. you can go back to the name-calling later at your leisure.

now, the problem seems to be that saying anything contrary about this situation from a point of view that differs from yours - a point of view that holds the King responsible for pretty much everything wrong that happens in the country - then one is deemed a "regime apologist" or "flag waving nut".

my belief is that there is a vision at the top but it is not very well articulated leaving only atoms of it to ever be implemented, if that. part of this vision is something i agree with and other parts not so much.

but here's the kicker. if you remove the king from the equation all together. and if you remove pretty much everyone in the higher echelons of power, you are still left with a massive amount of implementers at the bottom rung who could care less about the new and stick tightly to the old. to what works for them. whatever one's view about the vision on top is, or the status of the higher echelons of power is, this fact remains true and is, in my opinion, the looming problem. visions have come and gone. corruption has come and gone. governments have come and gone, and yes, kings have come and gone, but these people have remained; unchanged.

that is my point of view. it is not an apology or an excuse for anything or anyone. this is a country that is suffering from all angles. some holes in the ship are bigger than others, but all have to be fixed in order to keep it afloat.

i believe that jordan should be a fully-functioning, constitutional monarchy and that his majesty is not, and should not be, untouchable.

"On a different note, who determines constructive vs destructive criticism? Who classifies people under haters, revolutionaries or nationalist activists? The mokhabarat? the regime apologists ? the unrealistic "embracers" of anything royal?"

who makes that determination is a very, very valid point and deserves a public debate. some things are quite obvious and we see them, in black and white, quite frequently. most of the time, these things are stuck in shades of gray, so yes, it requires a debate (to say the least).

as for embracing anything that's royal. i've endured my share of disappointments from royal initiatives just like everyone else, and continue to.

lastly, regarding your less-than subtle comment about where i chose to state my opinion. the jordan/qatar post evolved in to a completely different discussion in the end there about the king and the country, and it was a discussion lead by various commentators. i had no part in its evolution so there was no need to jump in. moreover, i don't see it a problem if i voice my thoughts on a fellow blogger's post. who are you to control where i demonstrate some free digital speech? you're not one of those undercover, flag-waving mukhabarat guys?

Musa said...

What part of "sounding like an" you don't understand ....not to get too technical but where is exactly the name calling in "when you say stuff like that you sound like (insert name) that you are"
But my ex-girlfriend agrees with you ...I am cute.

I did not label you anything...nor do I revert to such idiotic presumptions especially when trying to initiate a debate (If Faisal al-Qasim taught us anything, it is that the easiest yet most useless conversation is the one that goes "You are are a traitor" then quickly morphs into "you are an idiot....your momma...").

"No matter how you articulate it" was simply referring to the statements you made in the previous comment which are really hard to view as anything other than "excuses" – at least in that context.

Now that you are willing to emphasize your point beyond "the problem has very little to do with That Guy" and explain how you believe "the vision from the top is lost", I can disagree with you again in regard to who is really in charge in such a totalitarian regime.

While "holding the King responsible for pretty much everything wrong" is not realistic, it is definitely not the " massive amount of implementers at the bottom rung" to blame – in this particular debate. Are you seriously convinced that a bunch of interchangeable ministers (or lower level government employees, tribesman, ..etc) are the obstacle standing between Jordan and a mechanism to question and discuss the king's decisions and finances? Isn't that what we are talking about here?

Maybe this is the group (the guardians as you called them) that is impeding the move towards political reform capable of producing a serious parliament and parliamentary governments and hence a constitutional monarchy. There is an argument there. But we are aware that we are still far from this stage (a little too far maybe)... and in the meantime we need the palace to take an active role in the political (and even daily) life (from appointing the government to tweaking the annual budget in the form of "here is a 50JDs for everybody")...but at that (current) level of involvement, the palace is not entitled to the same immunity awarded in constitutional monarchies.

Now, the will of the regime to take serious steps towards that constitutional monarchy is questionable at best and may be even doubtful. The failures (or disappointments as you called them) of the royal initiatives in that area could easily lead you to believe that "the vision" is a mere PR stunt (And one can easily tell how aware is the palace of the importance of PR)

In your list of things that have come and gone (although corruption does not belong on the list), there is one constant: a regime headed by an autocratic ruler who relies heavily on a base of parasites and beneficiary graduates of the security and police institutes (from the parliament and government to the publication and printing department) to ensure that it can afford Elie Saab custom made dresses.

[One last note on a personal level:
Can you seriously think of any reason why I would have a "personal grievance" with you ??!!
You can assume that I am jealous because you are "cuter" than me, but I really have no idea how you look like!

I do have a little problem with your inconsistency in "demanding reform" then posting Queen Rania Youtube clips and looking away when it comes to one of the most dysfunctional aspects of Jordanian politics. I find it a little "strange" – and that is the main theme you can notice in most of my comments that you interpret as "having (personal!) grievances" with you.

And to answer your question: yes I am a flag-waving mokhabarat guy. I get paid by the hour to track down comments. I get paid by the IP address. I also manage an online news agency in Arabic and English that preaches unlimited freedom, then blackmail companies for banner ads.

Nas said...

"the obstacle standing between Jordan and a mechanism to question and discuss the king's decisions and finances? Isn't that what we are talking about here?"

that's not what i'm talking about at all. at least not specifically. i understand your point of view here and i do agree that the destination we need to get to is a place where questioning the king's decisions and/or finances is a normal part of our being.

there are many obstacles. yes, there is corruption. yes, there are many unqualified top-level people. however, what i'm trying to emphasize here is that this is a small country and whether you elect or appoint these people, the results are relatively the same as you are picking from the same pool of labor. those that are appointed never stick around for too long anyway.

you said the only constant is the King, and while I agree with that, I should also point out that the the primary body of government is also a constant that has not changed. the overwhelming majority are uneducated, wasta-appointed, low-level employees who are the front-end of the business and have been so for years and years. if the king says we need faster passport procedures, they implement (and thankfully that's one aspect of government services that actually has improved in recent years).

this mechanism of the king demanding and the front-enders implementing is something i disagree because there is simply no sustainability (to say the very least). as a student of public policy, it's simply a system that is defunct. we've all seen high-level directives being given to improve something or implement something, and while there is a short-run accomplishment, in the long-run it is abandoned by those who are employed to sustain it.

this is my greatest concern. even if you change everything from the top, the bottom remains as-is.

"could easily lead you to believe that "the vision" is a mere PR stunt"

this is something i am sometimes pushed to believe, however, jordanian politics is a very complex thing. it's not black and white, and the country is made up of various parties all of whom seek to be satisfied equally. my problem with this statement is that it would serve little purpose. no one is fooled by ingenuine decelerations. if its a show for the sake of international donors, they already know what's going on. if it's a show for the youth population or the reformist population, well a Jordanian is unlikely to change his mind about anything even if the sun and moon switched places.

in other words, PR-driven moves serve really no purpose. in fact, they are a huge digression from the more traditional, state-clamp down that was king hussien's legacy. why mess with a formula that works? why make promises you know you wont be keeping, which will only end up angering various parties? why put yourself in that position and not simply continue the legacy of your father's era? when people have little or no expectations, they live obliviously. fill them up deliberately with false-hope, well, then you're simply poking a caged tiger who will eventually break down the bars. no leader would logically put him or herself in that inevitable position on purpose. at least from my perspective.

these are the questions i'm forced to ask. furthermore, while so much of our current system is questionable and should be questioned, i cannot deny the fact that some positive changes have been made. some progress has been made (as little as that is). and some promises have been kept. on a scale, the bad may still outweigh the good, but it is enough to at least erode the validity of the whole PR argument.

"I do have a little problem with your inconsistency in "demanding reform" then posting Queen Rania Youtube clips and looking away when it comes to one of the most dysfunctional aspects of Jordanian politics. I find it a little "strange" – and that is the main theme you can notice in most of my comments that you interpret as "having (personal!) grievances" with you."

i don't want to get technical about this, but the queen rania videos are a good example of my disappointment. the idea, as presented in the start, was a valid one and i admit, it did intrigue me in the beginning. as it evolved i began to question some of its presentation, particularly the one about working jordanian women, which i made a long note about on the black iris. the underlying message from my point of view remained in tact until it totally fell apart in the end, and at this point it became a big disappointment for me. one that was topped by the queen receiving an award and local papers diving into a feeding frenzy and plastering it all over their front pages like it was major news.

see, this is one of our problems as jordanians, and arabs in general: we cling to the notion of the unchangable. in other words, everything is static including the mind. in other words, a person is not allowed to evolve. he is what he is not matter how he articulates it. people are not allowed to change their minds. we have this need to label and categorize a person's beliefs and ignore the fact that people evolve accordingly to their context, their surroundings and its various variables at work. they're supposed to evolve.

for instance, i was much more optimistic about jordan when i started blogging from my dorm room several years ago. that perspective changed dramatically when coming back to live here. the experience, that variable, changes everything and i can't deny or resist it. i acknowledge it and evolve with it. that's what we're supposed to do.

jordanians dont do enough of that for some reason and we are very stubborn when it comes to our beliefs and moreover, expect that others are exactly the same. any change in tone is considered an inconsistency.

most jordanians simply form opinions of the status-quo early on in their life and cling to those notions forever, despite the changing variables.

Musa said...

Two quick follow-ups:
-Are you seriously misunderestimating the importance of PR for dictatorships in this day and age?! Both domestically and internationally? While it won't necessarily replace oppressive police-state techniques as the backbone of sustaining the regime, it is a highly sought after cosmetic that will appeal to shallow international press (and public) and a lot of the simple-minded citizens....Seriously, is there a "cuter" picture than her majesty hugging a public school teenager to appear on the first page on a daily paper....well maybe his majesty taking notes of the demands of some village somewhere...with that fake concern look...

-I hope the process of "evolving" will ultimately lead you to realize the fact that the variables of Jordanian politics has not changed since the mid-70s (some may argue even earlier) and is really not as complicated as it may look – look at any autocratic/kleptocratic regime in Africa, Latin America or East Asia and you will find staggering similarities of a sole decision maker cultivating several layers of beneficiaries, facades and policing apparatuses to achieve indisputable power and obscene wealth....

Nas said...

no, in the wise words of bush, I am not "misunderestimating" the importance of PR. what i am trying to say is that i think you may be overestimating its prevalence, as well as the obvious dangers it poses to those who attempt to employ it on the magnitude and frequency you may be suggesting.

"I hope the process of "evolving" will ultimately lead you to realize the fact that the variables of Jordanian politics has not changed since the mid-70s" who's doing the misunderestimating? ;-)

suffice to say, i strongly disagree with that statement and it greatly askew from the current social and political realities alive and well in Jordan.

Musa said...

The palace will for a true political reform that leads to a functional constitutional monarchy system remains DOUBTFUL until his majesty states his clear intentions to achieve so, and shows serious steps towards it. Everything else is "ingenuine declarations" marred with double-speak and false claims of inability to change the system.
And it is obvious that these occasional meaningless calls for political reform are capable of "fooling a lot of people" – (while the chronic fear infused by the ever-looming iron-fist takes care of the few who bother to hold his majesty accountable for his vague words and wonder"where the heck are those changes he promised?"

Without overestimating the prevalence of PR, when it comes to this issue, at least, there are no indications yet that rare calls for reform are not for show only.

One more thing, the minute a dictatorship starts relying on" why mess with a formula that works?" this will mark the beginning of its end. And history has proven that the Hashemites are the ultimate fluid adaptable rulers that does not rely on stagnant techniques to maintain their throne.

Can you please try to count three indications that support your strong belief that political realities has in fact changed over the past 20-25 years.
In the grand scheme of things here are the observations that prompted the above (shocking to some?!) statement:

-A single decision-maker at the top, with unquestionable authority.

-A group of palace sub-contractors.

-A flow of Gulf money contributing to the personal wealth of the above two parties (whether by solicitation, investment)

-A facade interchangeable government with an expiry date of around two years and interchangeable mostly corrupt ministers.

-An inactive parliament

-Inactive political parties (regardless of the reason).

-Heavy reliance on the army institute in recruiting a very high percentage of the population as unquestionable regime supporters, with unjustified benefits to the high rank officers.

-A proliferation of the security apparatus into every aspect of daily life (Just look at the number of ex-army and intelligence officers occupying civil positions over the years (from the prime ministers to the heads of the passports department)

-A reliance on the same figures for extended eras and repackaging them in new positions. The new faces either come from the sub-contractors group, the army/intelligence figures or the siblings of the old guards.

The application, details, maneuvers and initiatives required to achieve this end result is irrelevant. For example,at one point an economic crisis meant that king Hussein could not rely on martial laws to sustain the above, so he reconfigured his tools (in what appeared as if he had made some concessions)...which ultimately (and amazingly) lead to the same results.
All the other social and regional changes were dealt with effectively maintaining the above staples of the regime. And as remarkable as that is, it does not mean that much has changes.

Anonymous said...

I came across this interesting article in the International Herald Tribune which I think is definately worth a read.

Here's the link:

By Tim Sebastian

Friday, December 12, 2008
AMMAN: An odd thing happened the other day in the Arab world.

Amid all the recent backsliding on free speech and the general disinterest in democracy among Middle Eastern governments, one head of state drew a thin and highly significant line in the sand.

Typically, the other Arab states chose to ignore it, local journalists didn't believe it and the international press had its mind on other things. But in a region where good news has become a long-forgotten curiosity, it would be unwise to let it pass unnoticed.

The man at the center of this event was King Abdullah of Jordan, who last month gathered together the chief editors of Jordan's main newspapers and told them that from now on there would be big changes in the country's media environment. Specifically, no more jailing of reporters for writing the wrong thing and a new mechanism would be created to protect the rights of journalists, including their access to information.

"Detention of journalists is prohibited," he said. "I do not see a reason for detaining a journalist because he/she wrote something or for expressing a view."

Perhaps, after nearly five years broadcasting debates from the confines of the Middle East, I'm easily pleased. But over that period, no other Arab leader has come close to making a similar, public commitment and all the recent changes affecting the Arab media have led inexorably backward.

I am deluged by stories from editors in the region, who regularly have the guts censored out of their political articles, and who have seen a steep rise in the number of warning calls from their political masters, telling them what they can or cannot print.

In addition, all but two Arab states signed up last February to an Arab League initiative that pledged to restrict still further the rights of the myriad satellite stations in a vain effort to shore up that rarest of regional commodities - Arab unity. So against this background, King Abdullah's declaration marks a sharp departure from the current trend.

And yet it's hardly surprising that local journalists were unimpressed. The government still has plenty of legal instruments it can use against them. More than 20 laws continue to govern media conduct in Jordan, including the Penal Code, and there is no guarantee against "creative" prosecutions in the future under the pretext of other crimes or misdemeanors. No single statement from the royal palace can airbrush away years of harassment and interference.

Besides, the king's statement comes in the same year that his country has been downgraded by the Paris-based organization "Reporters without Borders" in its 2008 Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Jordan now stands at 128th position out of 173 countries - six places lower than last year.

Even a government report by the grandly titled Higher Media Council last year admitted serious problems with the country's journalism. The majority of reporters faced difficulties getting information, it said - or worse, were completely denied access to data.

So was the king serious about pushing through improvements?

One senior diplomat in Amman was heard to wonder whether his majesty's wishful thinking had got the better of him. A government minister even hinted that some "authorities" might take no notice of his strictures. There were suggestions that the engine room often took time to react to orders from the bridge.

Whatever the case, it would be a mistake to do what the opponents of free speech would like the world to do: Forget about the whole thing.

Jordan's king needs to be reminded that the world will not ignore his fine words. He should also be persuaded to repeat them and expand their scope in the months to come.

Plenty of leaders in the region have talked about reform - although considerably fewer these days than three years ago - but King Abdullah, now facing serious economic problems, is more receptive than most to external encouragement. Sweeping away repressive practices on the treatment of journalists would go a long way to improving his country's image, especially amid new accusations by Human Rights Watch of torture in Jordanian jails.

One other event also passed unnoticed in Amman over the last few weeks: the first regional conference for Arab investigative journalists.

Like me, you may be amazed that, given the many and varied disincentives, such an organization can still exist in the Middle East. But it is a tribute to a small number of brave and single-minded reporters, who labor across the region under the constant threat of arrest or arbitrary detention.

All they have to protect them are their questions - and in many cases, that isn't enough.

Last month, they got a small gift from the king of Jordan in the shape of a declaration of support. They need to unwrap it, display it and ask for more. If nobody takes it seriously - either at home or abroad - there is a strong chance this gift could be taken back.

Tim Sebastian is the chairman of The Doha Debates.

Musa said...

The article could have been easily the op-ed of a Jordanian daily like al-ghad or al-Arab al-yawm:

-The king is the visionary progressive gift-giving leader...
-he is placing Jordan way ahead of the crowd...
-but he hardly follows up with any real steps
-but poor guy,it is not his fault, it is the system that he cannot change ...nobody listens to him ...
-in the meantime publications laws continue to be as retarded as ever and reports of press freedom indicate a decline instead.
-but hey, the king is really cool, it is journalists, law-makers, law-enforcers and the people themselves who do not know how to take advantage of the vision...