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Institutional reform as a prerequisite to countering popular distrust, frustration

Aug 18,2018 - Last updated at Aug 18,2018

In June 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU. What resulted was a divided country where Leavers and Remainers argued, and continue to argue, back and forth using statistics, theories, predictions, nationalist slogans, common sense (or lack of it), emotional blackmail and naked anger to fight their corner and insist on the validity of their position.

That same feud played itself out in my own home where my English husband and I stood on differing ends of the argument, failing miserably to find agreement on Brexit. We have now, two years on, finally accepted that our marriage is more important than Brexit, at least till our next big argument.

But the feud continues silently. And as part of the silent “advocacy” efforts taking place in our home, he shared with me this week an answer published on Quora by a high profile Brexiteer called Barney Lane answering the question “how will the life of an average person in the UK be better or worse after Brexit?” In this answer, Lane makes the argument that the British people will find cohesion as a nation as they distance themselves from the EU in what he believes will be the key impact of the “package” of reforms that will necessarily accompany Brexit.

And although I know my husband was hoping that Lane’s logic would resonate with me and bring me closer to his position on Brexit, I actually found his answer really interesting, but rather in a Jordanian context. 

Without grossly misinterpreting the way he graduated his logic, what Lane essentially argued was that when considering the benefits or disadvantages of the EU membership for Britain, what he missed was the connection between the individual citizen and the institutions that govern him or her, whether in Brussels or Westminster. Where economists were looking at the relationship with the EU as one based on a linear economic argument of cause and effect, and therefore focused mostly on trade, he argued, what they really should have done is considered it as a “curved” conundrum across multiple disciplines. Through that lens, governing institutions would have been judged against their fit with modern society and what kind of behaviour they promote, including whether they stimulate coherence and fair play and counteract fragmentation.

Because the EU approach was based almost purely on economically driven cause and effect, people felt alienated from the governing institutions it produced and out of tune with their mandates and functions. They ultimately, Lane argues, started referring to the EU, and even Westminster, as largely ill-defined and unformulated “them”. People, Lane believes, resist institutions because they do not believe in them.

He goes on to propose four steps of reform post Brexit, which he feels will rebuild the trust between the institutions and the people to produce a more cohesive Britain. His proposed reforms are basically to review the function of all the main political institutions; decentralise power and bring the decision-making processes closer to the people they affect; undertake a thorough programme of regulatory reform to reduce cynicism about state-sponsored barriers to business and personal freedom; and finally address what he called key bottlenecks in the economy that are preventing aspirations being realised. 

And it was a no brainer to go from reading of this reform package for Britain, post-Brexit, to taking those same four reform steps and corresponding them, word by word and sentiment by sentiment, to us here in Jordan. And here I am referring to the Jordan post popular-demonstrations-demanding-reform and post new-Razzaz-government appointed-promising-economic reform. And without tiptoeing too much around political sensitivities, it appeared that these steps are especially relevant if we are thinking of policies to counterfoil an emerging-yet-worrying political trend among young Jordanians to embrace violent extremism to vent their anger with the system. 

By all means, let us express how incensed we are that our own young men have become our own homegrown terrorists using a misinterpretation of religion to validate violence against us. I am all for vocalising and communicating that raw emotional anger. But then, we must bypass that first phase of anger to the phase of drawing credible strategic plans that are inwardly critical and responsive to nation and state-wide malaises at the institutional, political and economic levels. Only if we go down that route will we be able to bridge the emerging distrust and at times disconnect between our Jordanian citizens on the one hand and our institutions of state on the other. Ultimately this plan must focus on remedying the lack of cohesion and deficiency of interrelation between the institutions that govern Jordanians and the Jordanian people themselves.

It can be argued that there are global and regional “governing” institutions that dictate policies to Jordan but are also disconnected with the priorities of the Jordanian people (a la Brussels and EU institutions to Britons), however, that relationship needs to be addressed separately.

Of priority today, and most probably more under our control than regional and global institutions, are our own institutions and our own reform policies.

The first step towards reform must be to review the functions of all our political institutions and to decentralise power so that people become engaged and invested. We cannot sideline or delay political reform. The “terrorists” of last week could arguably have been convinced to participate or utilise “political institutions” to express their frustration had those been credible or representative. But the policy had been to make a mockery of our political institutions, and especially Parliament, political parties and more recently the decentralisation councils, and to denigrate them publicly. We purposely evacuated these institutions of any political meaning or clout leading Jordanians to believe that they are unnecessary. Whatever “smart” political purpose was driving us when we undermined all political institutions that could make the government accountable, is now proving itself to be politically shortsighted.

Economic reform must tackle regulatory reform not as an end in itself, and this is so important to note, but in order to “reduce the cynicism” about state barriers to investment and opening possibilities and creatively finding pathways to ensure that the “aspirations” of the people are “realised” and that “bottlenecks” in the economy are removed. 

Economic reform, therefore, must look at dealing with corruption and most especially the corruption that people believe is being facilitated through political institutions (such as Parliament) and government bodies (through backdoor contracting and tax exemptions) in order that we are able to regain faith in these institutions. In parallel, the government must legislate to encourage meritocracy, transparency and opening the country to free investment, creative innovation and competition while at the same time putting in place social safeguards to protect against citizen poverty.

Ultimately, and I repeat from Lane’s words, governing institutions would come to be judged against their fit with modern society and the kind of behaviour they promote, including whether they stimulate coherence and fair play and counteract fragmentation. In our Jordanian context, this would mean that the governing institutions would become accountable to the people and held to a declared set of values that citizens would also be answerable to.

 

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Comments

FIRST, LET US DISECT PAUL'S RESPONSE TO THIS ARTICLE. NERMEEN'S ARTICLE IS A CLASSICAL EXAMPLES OF SIMILE AND METAPHORIC COMBINATION OF EXPRESSION OF THE ILLS IN OUR SOCIETY FROM AMMAN TO THE ENTIRE WORLD. BREXIT IS NOT A FUNCTION OF DEMOCRACY BUT XENOPHOBIA, NIMBY AND BRITISH FIRST AIMED AT RE-CREATING A HOMOGENOUS UK WHERE CITIZENS FROM POOR COUNTRIES SHALL BE LIMITTED IF NOT SHUT OUT.
MY UNDERSTANDING OF NERMEEN'S ARTICLE IS THAT SHE USED BREXIT TO EXPLAIN WHAT WE ARE UP TO IN TRYING TO CHANGE THE CALCULUS OF CREATING A NEW JORDAN WHERE WE ALL HAVE TO DANCE TO THE TUNE OF CIVILIZATION AND FREE WORLD ORDER GOVERNED BY DEMOCRACY AND MERITOCRACY. IN UK, THE FORCES OF OF THE OLD WORLD ORDER OUT-MUSCLED THE NEW WORLD ORDER TO REJECT INTEGRATION, COMPETITION, FREE MOVEMENT OF PEOPLE AND MERITOCRACY WHICH THEY HAVE SINCE SEEN THAT THE NET EFFECT WILL BE NEGATIVE. " TIME WILL TELL ". JORDAN MEANWHILE IS DOUBLING DOWN ON THEIR OLD WAY OF DOING THINGS THAT HINDERED ECONOMIC PROGRESS, MERITOCRACY, DEVELOPMENT AND POWER BY CLAN AND TRIBES. THE OLD BRIGADE IS WELL ENTRENCHED THAT THERE ARE NO ROOMS FOR ANY PRODUCTIVE AND VISIBLE CHANGE. SIMPLY, JORDAN IS STRUGGLING TO EXIT THE CURRENT WAVE OF THE DEMAND FOR DEMOCRACY, DECENTRALISATION OF POWER, POLITICAL REFORMS AND ONE STANDARD OF CITIZENSHIPS FOR ALL, PARLIAMENT WITH OUT POFOLIO AND THE FREE PARTICIPATION FOR ALL CITIZENS IN THE NATION BUILDING. AS UK STRUGGLES TO EXIT EU WHERE THEY WANT ONLY TRADE BUT NOT HUMAN CAPITAL, JORDAN IS STRUGGLING TO DEFAULT BACK INTO THE OLD GOOD DAYS WHERE THE POWER IS CENTERED ON ONE TRIBE AND WOMEN SHACKLED IN THEIR HOMES IN THE KITCHEN, ONE CAN SEE HOW DIFFICULT IT HAS BECOME FOR JORDAN TO JOIN THE FREE WORLD AND WEAN THE KINGDOM OUT OF WHAT THEY ARE USE TO KNOW AND LIVED UNDER. THIS IS ABOUT THE SAME IDEA EXCEEPT THAT WE HAVE A LEAVING GROUP IN THE CASE OF UK BUT A RETREAT FROM BEING A FREE SOCIETY AS IT APPLIES TO JORDAN. THE KINGDOM IS A COUNTRY WHERE MODE OF THE POPULATION DENSITY IS BELOW 30 YEARS OF AGE BUT THIS AGE GROUP IS TECH. SAVY, SEE HOW PEOPLE LIVE TODAY ALL OVER THE WORLD AND VIEW THEMSELFS AS BEING LOCKED UP IN A CYCLE OF POVERTY, ZERO PARTICIPATION, ZERO HOPE OF INCLUSSION AND COMPLETELY LEFT OUT. HISTORY TELLS US THAT IDLENESS IS DEVIL'S WORK-SHOP. WITH HOPE AND FREE PATICIPATION, MOST OF THE ELEMENTS OF RADICALIZATION CAN BE AVOIDED.

The UK is leaving the EU in March 2019, it’s called democracy; all this ‘hot air’ re Brexit is media driven - in the UK, the people are sovereign, despite what others may think?

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