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Youth in Jordan: From limited participation to youth-led movements

Jul 12,2018 - Last updated at Jul 12,2018

One fifth of Jordan’s population is between 15 and 24 years old, according to the Department of Statistics. They are the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs and influencers, which makes their political participation increasingly important. Yet, are Jordanian youth sufficiently engaged? And are we witnessing a move away from the traditional political parties?

 

Limited participation despite interest in youth

 

Supporting youth participation in Jordan has been a priority for several governments. The recent decentralisation law, for example, opens up new horizons for youth representation in social, economic, cultural and political life. Jordan was also the first Arab country to draft a National Youth Strategy (2005-2009).

In addition, youth in Jordan can benefit from many international and local capacity-building programmes aimed at increasing their participation in social and political life, and building their skills to become community leaders. Despite the many initiatives, their overall social and political participation remains limited, however. 

One explanation might lie in the aftermath of the ban on political parties in Jordan from 1952 until 1989, when the Jordanian government prosecuted prominent party figures. During this period, political awareness among Jordanian youth decreased and overall participation dropped. Moreover, the memory of the prosecution of politically-active individuals has led many Jordanian families to advise their children against engaging in any political movement opposing the government.

Even today, with 49 active political parties in Jordan, Jordanians still suffer from a lack of political awareness and education. A 2012 study by Al Hayat Centre for Civil Society Development showed that over 75 per cent of Jordanians are not interested in Jordan’s political parties, and over 14 per cent of them do not trust these parties. This distrust seems to be the result of previous conflicts between parties who (mis)used protests to promote themselves.

 

Youth-led movements instead of traditional parties?

 

The 2018 protests in all governorates of the Kingdom indicated a turning point. Youth-led movements played an essential role in initiating the protests in Amman near the Fourth Circle. They were also key in the national strike led by the Professional Associations Union against the proposed income tax law and the latest price hikes. On these occasions, youth voiced their points of view peacefully through slogans, signs and social media posts.

The recent protests united a wide range of mostly middle-class Jordanians around a common cause without major interference from political parties. The large-scale participation of youth who are not affiliated with any political party was new on the Jordanian scene. 

Another example that indicates that youth political participation might be moving away from the traditional party system are the recent elections in the Professional Associations Union. These elections ended 25 years of Muslim Brotherhood control over the union, and helped create space for youth-led movements to exercise more influence compared to traditional parties.

 

Breaking the barrier of fear

 

The recent protests drew attention to the newfound political awareness of Jordanian youth and their ability to peacefully protest and demand genuine reform. Their efforts paid off with the decision of His Majesty King Abdullah to dismiss the government.

This achievement obliges us to re-evaluate youth’s ability to bring about change in their communities. It is high time that we look at youth in Jordan as an opportunity instead of a challenge, especially after they succeeded in breaking the barrier of fear of political participation and expression of opinion. It is now up to the new government to put in place laws that increase youth participation in decision-making.

 

The writer is a civil society researcher at the West Asia – North Africa (WANA) Institute. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times

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