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Need for a healthy debate

Feb 10,2014 - Last updated at Feb 10,2014

At the heart of the Arab Spring was the urge to effect change and empower citizens. But we knew that there was never going to be a speedy transition to full-fledged democracy in the Arab countries.

Nor did we expect that there would be a quick fix for the lack of a democratic culture. Therefore, the setbacks that Arab Spring countries experienced should surprise no one.

Like other Arabs, Jordanians took to the street to protest the political status quo and to call for change. Indeed, reform-oriented activists thought that genuine change would only prop up the regime.

But Jordanians have yet to nourish a culture of tolerance and pluralism. We cannot reach an inclusive democratic system unless we work hard to have people internalise the culture of tolerance and pluralism.

I find it hard to believe when I hear some politicians demonise a certain component of our society.

For instance, those who voiced snide remarks with regards to granting children of Jordanian women married to foreigners civil rights cannot be more wrong.

Equally important, demonising tribes affects hundreds of thousands of Jordanians.

Some opportunist politicians — who have never been known as democrats — attack this important pillar of the country. This can harm our national unity, to say the least.

I believe that we need a healthy and inclusive debate. No one in Jordan has the right to exclude or demonise others. If this trend continues unchecked, we run the risk of nourishing a culture of hatred that could only turn Jordan into a divided society.

Some politicians think that coming up with snide remarks against women or against tribes can help them get re-elected. But I wonder whether they realise that they are spreading the culture of hatred.

Even when some use terminology like human rights and democracy, insulting an important component of our society is outrageous.

Jordanian laymen watch the debate in Parliament. It is shocking to see how the level of debate has deteriorated.

The performance of the parliamentarians leaves much to be desired, but it is equally shocking to see some “forward-looking” members contributing in no small amount to the culture of exclusion, demonisation and hatred under the pretext of some egalitarian terms.

The other day, I had a constructive discussion with some intellectuals in Amman. They all agreed with the fact that the government could do a lot to enhance the quality of debate.

Unfortunately, the government is only thinking of how to save the big newspapers, without associating this with the need of these daily newspapers to be open to other opinions.

State-run media tend to voice one opinion. Worse, some launched campaign against some political forces that do not see eye to eye with the government on crucial issues. The logical conclusion is demonisation.

I am not saying that the opposition groups are inclusive either. No one seems ready to adopt a measured stance in response to any case.

Take US Secretary of State John Kerry’s “framework” proposal for instance. The debate in Jordan about this unwritten proposal has been divisive and triggered mutual accusations.

In brief, the lack of a healthy debate is alarming. And one cannot say that the sun is shining when it rains.

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