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Playing it safe threatens to feed politics of resentment

Sep 01,2018 - Last updated at Sep 02,2018

The government of Premier Omar Razzaz issued some 10 days ago an infographic that apparently showcased its success in achieving over 60 per cent of its pledges to Parliament with expectations that it would achieve all within the 100 first days in office. That claim riled most Jordanians and increased discontent among government observers. There are explanations for why it was particularly disturbing that I believe need to be transparently discussed, to ensure that the frustration felt by Jordanians is understood within its critical framework and therefore, steps are taken to avert increased popular tension and resentment.

To contextualise the government claim accurately, we must remember that the list of pledges referred to in the infographic were first announced as part of Premier Razzaz’s promise to Parliament in order to gain the parliamentary vote of confidence. In their majority, they were pledges to consider solutions, form committees and study possibilities rather than commitments to clear paths of action. At the time, these pledges were immediately criticised as vague, not substantive and non-committal.  

These pledges, also in their majority, were qualitative in nature, i.e primarily exploratory to gain an understanding of underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations and therefore, cannot be referred back to in numbers and percentages showcasing quantitative progress. Putting forward a numerical value to the apparent “achievement” utilising these particular pledges was at best misleading.

Jordanians also did not want to be reminded of what they saw as the fiasco of the government formation and vote of confidence. For all intents and purposes, Jordanians had turned their back on that phase and rationalised it away as a one off dictated by “certain forces” and fragility of the times. 

Their hope was that this chapter would be closed and that the government and especially the prime minister would be able to quickly regain ground and launch forward to meet the people’s aspirations. To purposely refer to the pledges made during the confidence session, which many Jordanians viewed as wishy-washy at best, confirmed to Jordanians that the government did not raise the bar any higher than the quite low level of empty commitments made in the prime minister's confidence speech.

So, the infographic awakened a serious concern that the government is still “under the influence” and more focused on gaining popularity through the creation of positive perceptions and weaving and spinning news rather than making strategic decisions and kick-starting and owning measurable reformist action.

This is harsh criticism of Razzaz and his government. It is especially harsh when one remembers that he came to office on the heels of popular demonstrations demanding that someone with his credentials, reputation and history take control of the executive authority and implement a programme of reform in quick, concise, clear and determined steps. 

Critics cite an Arab saying: The text (or letter) is obvious from its address: The government make-up was disappointing, the confidence speech was not substantive, ministers have been given free rein to make statements as they wish while the premier steers away from publicly championing so-called controversial issues, there are no clear economic or political reform plans and to many the litmus test was the back and forth debacle leading to the appointment of the president of the University of Jordan which highlighted that not only is this business as usual, the government is unable to show political will or take up the responsibility to push forward a reform mentality.

Supporters argue that critics are unrealistic, overambitious, impatient and appear to discount the fact the government has not had time to showcase results and action. They are pleading with Jordanians to give consideration to the enormity of the task, the accumulated layers that need to be peeled off before government action can reveal results and they argue that we all therefore should wait before declaring judgement and writing off this government prematurely. They are worried that by increasing the pressure on the government, reformists are giving more weight to the anti-reform conservative camp that has been working to politically undermine the government since its first days. 

Sitting on the fence, it appears that both sides are right. The government has not had enough time to showcase tangible action but at the same time has failed to utilise opportunity to indicate political will and commitment to any definitive reform. But that means, in my opinion, that the government needs to more urgently increase pace and start moving forward.

Clearly and in order for the government to meet the expectations of its supporters and perhaps even wins some of its detractors, it must immediately shift from the consultative and dialogue stage to that of declaring commitment and taking action. Jordanians want to hear the prime minister commit his government to a vision of reform that is groundshaking, actionable and substantive. 

Jordanians do not want to hear that youth are a priority, they want to hear exactly how the youth are a priority, in which way is the government providing them with renewed opportunity for economic participation, improved educational and learning environments and improved forums for political expression and engagement. Does the government realise that handing off 43,000 university students at the University of Jordan to traditionalist management is not reform and does not improve the situation for youth? What is it going to do to remedy the situation in Jordan’s universities to bring them to this 21st century? Does the plan for youth engagement recognise the growing disparity between urban and rural youth and does it understand their different sets of needs and demands? Is the minister in charge able to deliver that vision?

Jordanians also do not want to hear that the tax burden on citizens is a priority, they want to hear how exactly the economic burden on the Jordanian citizen is going to be lifted as part of a holistic package that looks at tax in tandem with clear reform steps removing nepotism from pathways to employment in the public sector supported by a legislative framework that encourages and even protects meritocracy in the public, private and the not-for-profit sectors. How is the corruption-riddled bureaucracy hindering investment being completely turned on its head and shaken clean of all impediments and impurities? Where is the dust from that storm? Is there an economic reform plan that lays out the mega-investment opportunities in all the governorates of the country in order to engage all Jordanians within their own communities and geographic locations? That would be economic reform that can be touched by Jordanians.

Jordanians also do not want to hear that political reform is not a priority today, pending the government first spotlighting and tackling economic reform. What? Political reform can be separated from economic reform? How does that work? Why do we have nearly 30 Cabinet ministers supposedly working in parallel if the pathways to real reform are going to be piecemeal to the capacity of an individual working one priority at a time? Where is the political commitment to democracy, equal, fair, representative, inclusive and just representation of the Jordanian people in their political parties, local councils, civil society organisations and parliament? How can a so-called reform government get away with banning public meetings and public demonstrations without legal grounds? How can a reform government realistically delay political reform until it is ready? Really?

Where are the tables that have been turned to open forums for public political expression and discussion so that people do not head back to the streets to collectively express their resentment? Jordanians want to see the government’s action plan to free up the spaces for free and transparent political engagement. Jordanians want the government to remove legislative barriers to embracing all Jordanians regardless of their origin, political affiliations, gender or religion in order for them all to find their political voice and therefore increase their investment in the country. All Jordanians want their sub-identities to be recognised and respected as representative of their tribes, families, communities, villages, rural areas, cities, political ideologies, economic interests and social peculiarities and they all want their chair at the political and therefore economic table. That is the political reform that will encourage economic activity, investment and engagement. 

Today the government is at a crossroad. It can decide if it is a conservative bureaucratic government that will take turtle steps towards improved government performance or if it is a true reform-as-in-turn-the-tables-and-create-a-storm change maker. Jordanians want the latter and expect the latter. In fact, they demonstrated and demanded the latter. What they fear is that the government of Razzaz may be trying to play safe and as the Arabs say “walk closely by the wall to avoid being caught in controversy”. 

The fear is that this approach will eventually fuel politics of resentment and with it, instability.

 

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Comments

WHILE IT IS FACTUALLY CORRECT TO SAY THAT ALL POLITICIANS AND NON POLITICIANS ALIKE IN THE GOVERNMENT HIGHER POSITIONS DO EXAGGERATE THEIR ACCOMPILISHMENTS BY OFTEN STREACHING THE TRUTH TO CREATE CONFUSION AND COVER
THEIR SHORTCOMMINGS, PRIMINISTER RAZZAZ IS TREADING ON A NORROW PATH BECAUSE HE IS NOT FULLY IN CHARGE OF THE
GOVERNMENT. THE PREMIER MAY PROPOSE BUT DO NOT DISPOSE AS WITH HIS PREDESSESORS AND SO A MEMBER OF THE AXIS OF MINISTERS WITH OUT POWERS AS THE JORDANIAN FORM OF DEMOCRACY IS BUILT ON APPOINTMENTS THAT ARE PUSHED DOWN FOR
RUBBER STAMPS. GIVEN THE FACT THAT THIS IS FACTUALLY CORRECT, WE NEED NOT TO BLAME THE PREMIER UNTIL JORDAN HAS A GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE. DO NOT EXPECT MIRACLE UNTIL THE PEOPLE ARE READY FOR SUCH MIRACLE(S).
ONE OF THE TACTICS USED HERE IS USING A BROAD BRUSH TO PAINT NARROW ANGLES. QAUNTITAVE AND QUALITATIVE MEASURES ARE DONE DIFFERENTLY USING DIFFERENT TOOLS AND STATISTICAL FUNCTIONS SO I DO AGREE WITH NERMEEN THAT THE FIGURE USED BY THE PREMIER IS STATISTICALLY INCOMPLETE AT BEST BUT WHAT DO JORDANIANS EXPECT FROM HIM?. CAN THE PREMIER WHO IS BY THE WAY VERY SMART CHOOSE HIS CABINATES BASED ON BETTER QUALIFIED CANDIDATES IN THE RIGHT POSITIONS? THE ANSWER IS NO LIKE HIS PREDICESSORS. APPOINTMENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF JORDAN AND THE CURRENT STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY IS A CLEAR EXAMPLE OF A GOVERNMENT FROM TOP TO BOTTOM RATHER THAN A GOVERNMENT FROM BOTTOM TO THE TOP AS EXPECTED IN A TRUE DEMOCRACY ORIGINATING FROM THE GRASS-ROOTS. NERMEEN'S VISION OF THE 21ST CENTURY IN JORDAN MUST HAVE TO WAIT FOR MORE DECADES TO COME. NO COUNTRY ON EARTH CAN MAKE RATIONAL DECESSIONS UNTIL THEY ARE FULLY INDEPENDENT AND FREE OF DEPENDENT ON VARIOUS ACTORS ALL OF WHOM ARE WORKING FOR THEIR BEST INTEREST AND THOSE OF THEIR FRIENDS AND SO JORDAN IS INDEPENDENT BUT FAR FROM BEING SOVEREIGN. UNFORTUNATELY YOU CAN NOT BE SOVEREIGN WITHOUT HARVESTING THE BRAINS OF ALL YOUR PEOPLES BASED ON MERITOCRACY AND THIS IS THE MAIN REASONS WHY JORDAN HAS CONTINUED TO REVOLVE AROUND THE SAME ORBIT. IT WILL BE VERY HARD FOR ANY ONE TO DISPUTE THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THIS WOMAN BECAUSE IT IS THE TRUTH, VERY MUCH A PUBLIC RECORD BUT REMAIN LATENT BECAUSE THE PEOPLE HAS BEEN TURNED OFF, AFRAID AND NO LONGER INTERESTED. NERMEEN'S CONTRIBUTIONS NEED NOT TO BE NERMEENS' ALONE BUT A DUTY FOR ALL JORDANIANS ESPECIALLY THE DOT-COM GENERATION WHO HAVE THE MOST TO LOOSE. AS SHE HAS SUMMERISED TODAY'S POLITICS IN JORDAN AS CONSEVATIVE OLD FASHIONED BUREAUCRACY, ONE CAN SEE THAT IT WILL TAKE A SHOCK THERAPY TO ACCELERATE INTO THE LAST CENTURY NEVER MIND THE 21ST CENTURY. THE PEOPLE THAT HAS REFUSED TO PARTICIPATE AND CONTRIBUTE EITHER BY FEAR OR BY CULTURE HAS THE KEY TO ANY SUCCESS WHEN AND IF THEY CHOOSE TO BE NERMEEN THE SECOND OR THIRD. TO MY IN LAWS AND FRIENDS IN JORDAN, LET US MAKE HEY WHILE THE SUN SHINES. PERHARPS NERMEEN IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED BECAUSE SHE IS A SMART WOMAN AMONG THE LOCKED UP WITH NO WHERE TO GO BECAUSE OF THE ME'S WORLD MENTALITY AND TRADITIONAL TABOOS. I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANY MAN WHO IS COURAGEOUS ENOUGH TO GO TO THE SAME LIMIT FOR THE SAKE OF THEIR COUNTRY. IF SO WHY AND DO WE EXPECT WOMEN TO BE A PART OF THIS JOURNEY FOR SUCCESS? THIS LAST SENTENCE SAYS IT ALL BECAUSE LITTLE OR NO OTHER JORDANIAN WOMEN HAVE SHOWN ANY INTEREST IN PUBLIC POLICY AND GOVERNANCE IN JORDAN AND THE LEAST THE COUNTRY THAT THE KINGDOM CAN DO IS TO FIND MORE NERMEENS' AND PUT THEM IN THE CENTER OF THE STORM AND TASK THEM TO SHARE THEIR VIEWS AND CONTRIBUTE.

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