Yaser AbuHilaleh, the man, his blog and his recent ‘attack’ on the Luweibdeh park

A post in two parts

I.

Yaser AbuHilaleh, the well known journalist, fascinates me.

I just discovered that the man is one year older than me (born 1969) and that he has a new blog (on the new Maktoob blogging service). I also just found out (on his blog) that we went to the same high school (Al Hussien College) in the late 80’s (though we never met). While at the time I was really getting into computers and being introduced to whatever global media a Jordanian youth could get his hands on (computer magazines, British papers at the Shoman library, pop music mags, etc), AbuHilaleh was taking on radical Islamist politics.

While he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps until the early 90’s (he was politically active during his Yarmouk University days), I never was interested in any Jordanian political party (but very interested in politics), and was more into reading the critical writings of Arab leftist/liberal/crticial thinkers like Mohammad Abed Al Jaberi, Naser Hamed Abu Zeid, Burhan Ghalion and others.

In my later university years I too became active in ‘student politics’ but in total opposition to the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in university political life. I got together with a group of friends and we talked the people responsible for the administration-controlled university newspaper into giving us a page in which we started expressing our opinions (no blogs those days!). Our main principle was democracy. While the Brotherhood-controlled council only allowed activities in line with their narrow ideology, we simply wanted diversity. A group of us even ran against them in council elections for the Faculty of Engineering and we got almost one third of the vote (but no council seat due to the electoral system in place).

Do you understand now why AbuHilaleh fascinates me? His past represents those whom I considered the closed minded ‘other’..

As a journalist he was a managing editor of the Islamist Al-Sabeel. He later worked at the Jordan Times and currently is the Amman bureau chief for Al Jazeera. Another fascinating point: the man responsible for running Al Jazeera channel in Amman, admitted in an article recently that, in his capacity as election program author/editor for the Islamic Action Front, during the parliamentary election in the early 90’s he actually called for BANNING satellite dishes in Jordan as they are a conduit for western cultural invasion. The man has come a long way!

On his blog, go and look for what he posted November 27, 2005: An article (in Arabic) written about him back in 1996 by the prominent Lebanese columnist Hazem Sagheyeh, in Al Hayat. It’s a portrait of AbuHilaleh and his transformation from a radical youth to a much more moderate, tolerant Islamist journalist. It is an amazing story of a radical discovering the diversity of life outside his radicalism, and the role of Jordan’s relative democracy and open cultural attitude in this transformation.

As a subscriber to Al-Ghad newspaper I read all his articles, as he’s a columnist for the paper. He is an intelligent writer but I find myself disagreeing with quite a lot of what he has to say, or with the attitude in which he states his opinions. Still I try not to miss any of his articles.

II.

AbuHilaleh and Al Luwiebdeh park
Away from politics, Iraq, terrorism and other hot political issues, I was intrigued when I saw an editorial by Abu Hilaleh in Al-Ghad about Jabal Al Luweibdeh and its cultural life. He was full of praise of Darat Al Funun and he wrote lovingly about it. He also expressed his view on how Jabal Luweibdeh represents the ‘true’ diversity of Jordan.

But then he launched into a scathing attack on the newly upgraded Luweibdeh park. Amongst other things, he wrote that an ‘apartheid wall’ was erected inside the park (between the garden and the building that used to be a public cafe) and that it is totally improper that the ‘common people’ were barred from entering the park after 8 pm and that only the ‘elite’ were allowed in the the privatized coffee shop/bar at night.

The article completely trashed the park and failed to see the effort that went into its upgrade and the ongoing effort to keep the garden intact. I also found the use of the term ‘apartheid wall’ totally uncalled for. Why is it that journalists need to over dramatize things?!

In Monday’s Al-Ghad, Dr. Khaled Khreis, Director of The National Gallery, who’s two buildings are adjacent to the park and who is partly responsible for it, shot back with a long letter to the editor, accusing AbuHilaleh of being biased in praising only one cultural institution and ignoring all the others and unfairly trashing the improvements in the park (which is based on the concept of water conserving plants). Khreis wrote that the 8 am till 8 pm opening time is a normal policy for many parks around the world and that the garden has won the praise of the local residents of Al Luweibdeh.

The story doesn’t end here!
Totally unsatisfied with Dr. Khreis’ reply AbuHilaleh is shooting back again in today’s Al-Ghad with even bigger guns. Now, he’s contacted all the members of parliament of the Luweibdeh district asking them if they were ‘consulted’ about the park (they weren’t) and he’s quoting Mohammad Attieh, a member of the Luweibdeh Friend’s Society who’s stating that he was against putting a ‘bar’ in the park when he was consulted.

AbuHilaleh is clearly pissed off with the existence of a ‘bar’ in the park. He’s saying that Jordanian laws prohibit serving alcohol in a public/governmental place. He says that he is defending the public’s right to use a public space and that Khreis’ reply did not address that point or the ‘bar’ issue.

This sparring on the pages of Al-Ghad is really something! But to Mr. AbuHilaleh I say: your point about the ‘bar’ is worthy of debate, but you’re totally off the mark in trashing the effort that went into the park and your over dramatized ‘apartheid’ remarks. Save us from this demagoguery..

To Dr. Khreis I say: My wife, son and I visited the park last Friday and it’s pretty neat. But where the heck did the kid’s slides and swings go?


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19 Responses to “Yaser AbuHilaleh, the man, his blog and his recent ‘attack’ on the Luweibdeh park”

  1. Nas Says:

    That was quite an interesting read, although I have some comments.

    You used the word radical quite often, now I am a student of politics so I’ve formed my own definitions and even now they are debatable in my mind. However your definition seems to be along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood as being radicals in the sense that radical means extreme or that radicals are extremists. Am I correct in this assumption?

    Also I do agree with you, journalists tend to sensationalize stories although like you said the presence of a bar in a public arena where people take their families and kids is pathetic. I admit I havn’t seen it so I am basing my judgement on the above readings only.

    lastly I did not understand the issues of the park’s hours. khreis said they close at 8pm but AbuHilaleh said the elite come after those hours?

  2. Amanda Says:

    Do you have any pics of the new cafe and park, Ahmad? I’ve been really curious to see what’s been done with it. I have to say, even though I have no problem with bars, per se, I’m a little bummed if the space is another one of those typical “elitist”-type places.

    When we lived down the street from the park, we always took our dogs there—daily, as a matter of fact, and you’d be surprised by the huge number of people that use the park daily. In all the years I lived in Weibdeh, there was only one event there that I felt truly was for the people that frequented the park—some kind of musical troupe that did kids’ music (sponsored by the Centre Culturel Francais). Samer and I happened to be there when they were there and we were so happy to see something going on there that actually included everyone—not just the typical “culture” types. It was great.

    Anyway, would love to see a pic.

  3. Chivas Says:

    Your near-obsession with AbuHilaleh aside, I don’t think that the man has travelled as much as he should.
    As evident from your observation about his concentration on the “bar” issue, the man still has dogmatic hang-ups, which would be fine if he was not assuming the role of public conscience.

    I was quite distressed when I was watching Al-Jazeera coverage of the Amman bombing to hear him talk dismissively of the hotels as dens of boozing and debauchery, he used the word “Khamarat” to describe the bars and F&B outlets. To me that is how the fundamentalist describe them, including Zarqawi, who said the same in his statement.

    I think that the man’s use of the megaphone he posses by virtue of his employment to push his values can be expected and maybe even tolerated, but his smearing others and their projects when they are fall afoul of his dogmatic view should be countered very publicly.
    Silence in the face of intolerant rants will enforce AbuHilaleh’s and others feeling that they speak for the whole society, which is certainly not true.

  4. Humeid Says:

    Amanda and Nas,

    I visited the park. It is open for the public from 8 till 8. The restaurant/cafe is licated on the upper part of the park and takes up a small part of it (it is basically the renovation of the building that used to be there). The park closes at 8, but the restaurant has a seaparet entrance.

    The way AbuHilalaeh has written sound almost as if there is a guard on the park’s gate who, after 8 pm, only lets the ‘elite’ into the park. That’s not the case. No one enters the park. As I said, the restaurant is separate and has an entrance on its own.

    When i visited, there were local kids there and the usual couples and families who sit there. THere is nothing restricting people (although the guards don’t want kids trampeling on the plants).

    Quite a lot of effort was put into the garden’s design. Everything has been upgraded from pavements, benches and wastebaskets, let alone the plants.

    I will try to take photos and post them here.

    Now about radical, extremist: please read the article posted on AbuHilaleh’s site on Nov 27. He himself says that he became an extremist. Now maybe there is a difference between ‘radical’ and ‘extreme’ but I am using them interchargably.

  5. Roba Says:

    I absolutely hate the way the word “elitist” is tossed about so casually these days.

    Anyway… I am one of those people who is extremely impressed with the uplift of the National Gallery and the Weibdeh park. I believe that the experience of visiting both has now been escalated.

    It is also wrong to ignore everything that Canvas is and disregard it as a “bar”- it is not a bar, it is a restaurant. Yes, it serves alcohol, but that’s nothing strange, there are supermarkets that serve alcohol practically across the street anyway, and isn’t the street “public”?

  6. Basem Says:

    Excellent pick Ahmad…

    It is actually very thrilling to find a –an almost- high-profile figure willing to expose more personal perspectives beyond the shades of Al-Jazeera or the limits of contractual column writing.

    It always tangled my imagination to know what’s it is –personally- like to have close encounters with them; the leaders, decision-makers and news-breakers, or how it feels like to be in the scene of a momentous event. I hope he’ll deliver upon his stated motto of the blog.

    A nagging reflection: will his personal writing be estranged from his professional one? Does it need to be like so?

  7. salam Says:

    I refer you to my previous post http://reflections-allmine.blogspot.com/2005/12/jabal-lwaibdeh-comes-to-life.html

    The place is great..no elitist crap..you don’t want to drink alcohol go there and have a coffee or a sandwich no one is going to stop you..let’s not overreact ..abu hlaleh is..after the bombings some people started finding excuses for al qaeda saying the wedding was not the target but the bar next door..I ask where did you read thou shalt not drink and shall bomb whoever does?

  8. natasha Says:

    Great post Ahmad.. I really enjoyed reading it.

  9. manal Says:

    i totally agree with roba especially thiers A-LOT of people consider them selves elite grade even in a “mini-market”...anyway this is not the subject…
    the park and el-webdeh area in general has its own unique atmosphere than any other place in jordan and the new place Canvas embodies that atmpspher pretty well, aside with the park area and it had not taken any extra space of the park, 2nd thier is a big diffrence between a bar and a place that sells lequer and a place that has on its menue a couple alchoholic bevrages…3rd i agree with thier law of not having alchoholic in public/governmental places but on the other hand who approved for “night clubs” (u all know which night clubs a mean) and for liquer stores to be in our streets and naigbhour hoods which are totally public area n then thier are so many of our goveners that drinks and get drunks and…..so on, i guess that Mr. AbuHilaleh needs to concentrate on bigger essues
    after all it seems that his concerns and reactions is no diffrent than the ones when he used to go to collage.dont u agree with me Mr.Humeid

  10. hatem abunimeh Says:

    I have nothing against drinking alcoholic beverages and I even used to be a social drinker during my youthful years.
    I’d like to say that alcohol beverages shouldn’t be served in any public park period. In the United States, the country that cherishes drinking prohibits drinking, serving a drink, or even bringing alcoholic drink from home to be consumed at the public park.

    In my opinion, the restaurant should stay but the serving of alcoholic beverage should be stopped immediately.

  11. Firas Says:

    Well off topic,
    Aljazeera is pro-Islamists! It’s pro-Al-Qaeda!
    This Tayseer Alooni guy is Al-Qaeda!
    All their coverage focuses on Islamists…like in any demonstration they’ll show u only Hamas and the Islamic brotherhood!
    They were the first TV channel to get Israeli officials on an Arabic speaking TV, they are the only source for Al-Qaeda videos!
    They run BS stories about Jordan, I remember when they ranted about a huge fight that broke between a Jordanian official and a Palestinian one, and then the story turns out to be totally BS!

    Al-Jazeera can go to hell!

  12. Hala Says:

    REgardless of Yassers ideology or lack of it, i still agree with him that the park should not be closed in favor of the restaurant, that is absolutely wrong.

  13. manal Says:

    well hatem we do not live in the states, its not an american park…n we are not american citizens….. think arabic

  14. jameed Says:

    Manal, you should go out more often.

    I do not particularly agree with serving alcohol in parks, but if there is a national gallery close by where writers and artists can meet (and i haven’t been to the park lately to know what changes took place) over a cup of espresso or a glass of cognac then let it be. The places across the street sell alcohol and do not serve it. And the liquor laws in the US are not as relaxed as Hatem may have inadvertently portrayed. Compare to Europe. The only difference is that many more Americans tend to be extreme in everything they do, including laughing, crying and drinking.

    The respected reporters of al jazeera are only a select few and abu hilalah unfortunately hasn’t yet proven himself worthy of being included in this category although in all honesty he is much better than others like Ahmad Mansour, but hey, that’s only relatively speaking.

  15. hatem abunimeh Says:

    manal,

    No problem, you asked for it you got it :I’m going to think Arabian : For the sake of keeping the public park areas happy and healthy, Get that intoxicating liquid out of there now. Thank you.

  16. Ameen Malhas Says:

    Ahmad, Hatem, and Iyas… thanks.

    Manal, here’s the ‘bigger’ Issue, personal liberties and freedoms. If you choose not to drink, don’t. Let’s assume everyone in Jordan shares your disdain for alcoholic beverages, don’t you think these places would go out of business or stop serving alcohol on their own? It’s merely a personal choice. If anyone ever forces you to drink alcohol, show them to Hatem, Iyas and I, we’ll deal with them, after which we might take them for a Beer to discuss their abhorations.

    Now, I’ve been to Canvas on a couple of occasions and I must say it seems seperate from the park, the wall of ‘Apartheid’ can be seen here. But it is by no means a seperation that is beyond the average indiviual to overcome. You can get a Haloum and Za’atar sandwich at Canvas for about 2 JD. It’s lightly toasted, comes with chips, and may induce a strange desire for a cold pint afterwards. So, literally anyone can walk in, sit down and order a sandwich and a pepsi for about what you pay at Chili House (is this comparison moot? is Chili also an elitist establishment?).

    Here is what you need to do to (in the words of Reagan) “tear down this wall,”

    1. You exit the park at its main entrance (across from the Abu Mahjoob offices and the National Gallery, and next to the signs thanking USAID and a few other agencies for their work on the park (ZIONIST PIGS)),

    2. Proceed to your right hand side, carefully maneuvering the tiny sidewalk and avoiding the Valet’s attempts at parking cars on your feet.

    3. Make your first right in through the Canvas gates, casually nodding to the guard.

    4. Wait at the entrance to be seated by one of the staff members.

    5. Enjoy your Za’atar sandwich while screaming in your head “Viva La Revolucion!”

    Now as for the point about stored selling alcohol literally across the street, I have it on good authority (my own) that Abu Ya3goob on Duwar il 7awooz will sell you Amstel post 11 pm if you establish a mutual rapport with him during ‘legal’ business hours.

    As for the closing time issue, many parks close early around the world, this is neither a new or novel idea. They even have private parks in certain places around the world paid for by co-ops or neighborhood associations. This ‘closing time’ helps control vandals, who prefer night time for obvious reasons, sneaky couples, similar reason to vandals – different motives, possible bums or beggars who would ostensibly sleep/reside there, and various other reasons.

    Good night and good luck.

  17. manal Says:

    u got me wrong here,i dont mind canvas having alchohol drinks,i dont mind places serving alchohol,i dont mind ppl drinking,i hate ppl that get drunk,i dont mind even the law, what i didnt like is that mr.abuhelaleh having a problem with something that have no problem in the first place,while there are bigger essues to discuse, for an example the rising nombers of alchoholic stores(which are more than enough),i hope u all understood me itseems sometimes im not good with words…
    anyway u never know maybe one day we will end up at canvas(my most comfortable place) and i “might” share u fine ppl a “pina-colada”,
    n as for u hatem,i just didnt like how ppl usually go USA this USA that, cause the parks we have here is totally nothing like the ones in the US neither the arabs consume liqour the same way that americans do,i really didnt mean to bother u or what ever i did,my apolopies for adding “think arabic”

  18. Isam Bayazidi’s Blog » Blog Archive » Arab Blog Services: Jeeran and Maktoob Says:

    [...] from a company like Maktoob. I first learned about their service by a post from a post by Ahmad Humeid about Yaser AbuHilaleh’s blog in maktoob new service. Visiting AbuHilaleh’s blog, I notic [...]

  19. The Observer Says:

    I used to live in El Webdeh in my childhood right in the street of the Orthodox Church near the park. My mother didnt allow me to go to that park because it was known of being a place for ‘el zo3ran’, but I used to break that rule from time to time with my friends as of when I reached 11 years of age. My friends who were in 6th-7th grade used to go to the park in order to smoke cigarettes there behind their parents backs. I went with them only few times but didnt smoke :) .

    The park was not clean at all. The place where the Cafe exists now used to smell bad back then because of the smell of public bathrooms they had. The trees were not taking care properly, and there werent enough seats as well.

    I guess that having a Cafe with a bar now is much better than before cause drunk men used to hang in the park at night drinking in the dark of the park. There is a mini-market that used and still sells alcohol right across the street. I still can’t forget the image of those dirty drunk men at night buying alchohol from the shop then going to the park drinking till they loose it and sleep on those couches!

    The Cafe doesn’t serve alcohol to the people in the park as someone stated before. There is no alcohol in public now as opposed of before. Even those reffered to as ‘elite’ wouldnt be hanging drunk in the park if they ended up drunk!

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