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Don’t let clamour over tax bill eclipse alarming human rights report

Sep 12,2018 - Last updated at Sep 12,2018

The new income tax bill is finally out; same old same old, and no idea if people have the energy, the time and the mood to take to the streets "to change the government" like they did earlier this summer. 

But regardless of how the scene would look like in the coming days, what will definitely go unnoticed are the alarming findings of the 2017 human rights report issued by the National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR).

If a slice of the population will be paying extra cash to the government that would be a bitter medicine and not really good news for the rapidly shrinking middle class. Nevertheless, the debate and the commotion over this issue should not steer public attention away from the real and more serious problem of the deteriorating human rights situation.  

The NCHR's chief commissioner told reporters on Monday that "corruption has become inherent in the national culture". Is there a more terrifying statement than this? In fact there is: the explanation. Mousa Burayzat said that people find themselves forced to resort to "wasta", i.e., their connections in the government, to “secure their basic rights”. 

By the way, he forgot to add "bribery" to "wasta". 

So to take what you are entitled to, you need to be well connected or, otherwise, some official or officials might choose to deprive you of your rights and treat you like a second-degree citizen.

This reminds me of a personal experience that fits perfectly into this context. A few years ago, I was at one of the offices of the Personal Status and Passports Department to issue an ID card for my daughter, who was in her final year of high school and I preferred not to take her from classes that day. The official insisted that she should be there in person so that he could verify the photo. 

"Is this the law?" I asked, "I mean, isn't there a legal way out?" "No," he replied. "Ok, thanks" and I headed to my car. My wife was already on the phone with an ex-classmate of hers, who happened to be an employee of the same department in another office. We went there and everything went so smoothly. The director there just gave me a pen and asked me to write a "routine" line confirming that the picture belonged to my daughter and sign it. That was all it needed. Lesson learnt: Never do business with the government without making that phone call in advance. 

Until Monday, I thought that such an incident was the exception. Yet, when a prestigious human rights watchdog says that the practice of denying people their rights if they do not have “wasta” is "rooted in the national culture", we have a very, very serious problem, let alone the long list of human rights violations that remain unaddressed despite legislative changes, according to the said report. 

These include torture, administrative detention of suspects allowed under the controversial Crime Prevention Law, prolonged pre-trial detentions, more restrictions on the freedom of speech and bans on public assemblies without convincing reasons.  

People have the constitutional right to go again to the Fourth Circle to protest the increased taxes, but it also makes a lot of sense if young activists organised themselves in some way to fight for the rights of citizens, especially the marginalised segments, to better-quality government services and other civil rights.

 

The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times 

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Comments

‘Wasta: The Hidden Force in Middle Eastern Society
by Robert B. Cunningham and Yasin K. Sarayrah‘ is a good read for us ‘outsiders’.

May I applaud the author for his last paragraph - baby steps, as they say?!

Through "wasta" you got your rights and others' rights...

"Character assassination" is the new bugaboo they use to deprive people from freedom of expression...

THANKS TO MR AL ABED FOR YOUR COURAGE AND WILL TO CLEARLY STATE THE FACTS WITH AN EXAMPLE THAT NO ONE CAN DISPUTE. I SAW AND READ THE COFESSION AND THE DOCTRINE THAT DICTATES HUMAN RIGHTS RIGHTS IN JORDAN OTHERWISE
THAT JORDAN IS INFESTED WITH WASTA AND BRIBERY THAT DICTATES WHO GETS WHAT AND WHEN ( PUBLIC POLICY ). YOU ARE LUCKY BUT I WAS NOT AND THAT IS HOW IT WORKS. I HAVE TO TELL YOU THAT NOTHING WILL EVER CHANGE AND NOW THE ISSUE OF HUMAN RIGHTS WILL BE BURIED UNDER THE TAX DEBACO. THIS IS CALLED " WAG THE DOG ". I DO NOT HAVE ANY WASTA NOR WILL I SUPORT ANY HABIT OF BRIBERY AND SO MY SON WILL HAVE TO LIVE IN HIS COUNTRY WHICH HAPPENS TO BE THE GREATEST NATION ON EARTH EVEN THOUGH HE IS A PART OF JORDAN THAT WILL REMAIN INDIVISIBLE. THIS IS A YOUNG MAN NOW WITH YALE GRADUATE DEGREE. JORDANIANS WILL TOMORROW FORGET THE SO-CALLED HUMAN RIGHT REPORT IF THEY EVEN TUNED IN TO IT AT ALL. THANKS AND MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND THE JORDAN TIMES.

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