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Making sense of Jordanians’ grievances

Apr 29,2019 - Last updated at Apr 29,2019

Not a while ago, I had the chance to talk to a 95-year old man with a vivid memory of the unfolding events since the independence of Jordan. As I talked about the rampant corruption as the main cause of the deteriorating economic situation, he  took a deep breath and said, “listen son, in the past, we lived in bad economic situation and we survived”. But, he added: “We were blessed of having good people who led us and built the country.”

When I thought of what he said, I realised that he was right. All scientific polls conducted in Jordan boil down to one basic fact: Jordanians do not trust the ruling elite. Social media buzzes with complaints about the lack of trust in public figures in Jordan. The lack of genuine accountability of decision-makers only worsened the status of the ruling elite. I think that the only way for us to get out of the bottleneck is through adopting genuine democratic reform.

And yet, in present-day Jordan, the conditions required to support a prospering and genuine democracy are not yet existent. While Jordan has, indeed, weathered the Arab Spring, emerging almost intact, Jordanians have become increasingly restive due to the short-sighted policies embraced by successive governments. Indeed, these policies have exacerbated the declining living conditions of the Jordanian populace. Thus, last year’s wave of demonstrations at Amman’s Fourth Circle was hardly surprising. With the public’s perception of itself and its unelected leaders profoundly shifting since the start of the Arab Spring, a new, pervasive sense of empowerment poses an unprecedented challenge to Jordanian authorities. The once-blindly loyal trans-Jordanian public has become discontent with the reality of Jordanian political and economic life.

With all hopes in the current government to make a difference dashing, and with Jordanians’ growing dissatisfaction with economic conditions and government policies reaching a boiling point, the government should expect another round of protests, particularly in Ramadan. The last wave of protests revealed that the traditionally revolution-adverse Jordanian political culture can no longer be taken for granted. Such severe transformations may pose serious challenges with the potential to push the Kingdom to a tipping point, thus jeopardising the country’s stability. Short of addressing Jordanian citizens’ deep-seated political frustrations, the entrenched ruling elite would run the risk of putting the country in the trajectory of irreversible instability.

I wish that the prime minister was with me to listen to the wisdom of the old man I met. The plenty of stories he told me convinced me that the current situation is not the worse in our modern history. But there is also a message to the current government. No amount of public relation campaign could convince people that their economic situation is not bad. On the whole, Jordanians strongly believe that the deteriorating economic situation is grounded in bad rather than good governance. Therefore, all justification of the surrounding regional turmoil and the consequences on Jordan fall on deaf ears. When the old man said that they were blessed in having good people to lead, he stated what we need right now in Jordan. Not surprisingly, the current tools or mechanisms of hiring and firing will guarantee bad choices.

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