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A tale of two Jordans

Nov 11,2018 - Last updated at Nov 11,2018

A giveaway sign of a deadbeat dad is that he complains about his wife and children and he blames them even for his absenteeism. I propose to apply the same logic to governments that complain about their people.

In the 1990s, whenever Jordan’s high and persistent unemployment was mentioned, the government answered that Jordanians do not work because of the culture of shame. International media provided a ready chorus, repeating that Jordan suffers from 18.5 per cent unemployment because Jordanians do not like to work.

Certainly, the culture of shame exists in Jordan and in all tribal pastoral societies, where the women work, while noblemen concentrate on looking dignified and fearsome. But why have these tribal norms of yore persisted in today’s Jordan which, as we are repeatedly told, is a modern state of laws and institutions? And if they are the cause of Jordan’s unemployment, what has the government done about them?

The Amman Municipality, for one, tried the classic solution of paying money for work. The salary of sanitation workers was raised to about JD350 plus JD80 in allowances, which placed it near the national average salary, JD468.24, and just above the poverty line (JD414, given the 2010 national annual poverty line of JD813.7 per individual, and the average family size of 6.1). 

This modest package has attracted a rising number of Jordanians to a job that can hardly be called prestigious. So Jordanians are prepared to work even for modest pay. 

But today, the government has adopted a new mantra: The challenge now facing Jordan, they say, is tax evasion; and again, the international media provides the chorus. Articles about Jordan in international media would be incomplete unless they mention in the same breath Jordan’s economic difficulties, and that hardly any Jordanians pay income tax.

According to Foreign Policy Magazine, for instance, “only about 4 per cent of Jordanians pay income tax [and former prime minister Hani] Mulki’s tax bill was critical for raising additional government revenue, reducing Amman’s aid addiction, and curbing debt”.

So, according to the international outlook, the poor Jordanian government’s problem is that we, Jordanians do not work or pay taxes. In 2016, we evaded taxes to the value of JD1.5 billion, out of our salaries, which average JD468.24 per month.

Clearly, we are talking about two countries named Jordan: The first, which is described by the Jordanian government and the local and international media, is brilliantly managed and would be wonderful, except for Jordanians there. The only reason I do not emigrate to it is that I recall the Jordanian proverb: Two people at the wedding said that the bride is beautiful: her mother and the beautician.”

The other is the Jordan which we know and live in, and which we read about in the social media. It has problems, of course, but we believe that the only reason for having a government is to work on solving these problems, not to vindicate itself internationally by complaining about us.


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