In a country where some Facebook groups have more members than most political parties, isn’t it time for new types of political forces to emerge?
In Jordan, the government is the only real political force with some sort of a plan. After all, those in government have to actually run the country and make sure that, just for example, the lights stay on, garbage gets collected and kids go to school.
The other political force, of course, are the Islamists. They enjoy big popular support (no one really knows how big) but they don’t seem to have concrete plan on how to realistically run the country (or if they have a plan, they are really bad at communicating it). Ideology and “Big Issues” like Palestine dominate the Islamist’s discourse (that and moralistic issues, like opposing male/female intermixing and so on).
Then the are all these small, insignificant parties. In the tiny Communist camp alone there are something like three parties fighting over who is more legitimate than the other. Things are a bit better for the milder leftists and Arab nationalist but they, like the communists, are really stuck in the past.
As for tribalism, well, in the bigger cities it is starting to lose importance. Tribalism as a form of political organization does not make much sense anyway.
So, in the end, we just have the Islamists, with their ever angry image and the government, which, as I said is the only political organization with any real power in the country.
We have a political landscape that is totally out of date and out of touch with today’s emerging Jordan. Political participation, everyone agrees, is important. After all, Jordan has become a more complex place than a few decades ago and cannot be run without real participation from the people (or forces that represent the ever more complex interests and needs of the people).
Today’s Jordan has many new constituencies: new commercial/urban elite, small business owners, young people who are educated (or are being educated), marginalized urban communities, environmentally sensitive communities and so on.
We have also been quickly transforming into a consumer society. Just five years ago we did not have glitzy malls. Now we do (in Amman at least). One third of Jordanian households have a computer and by the end of this year, a little under one fifth of households will have internet access. The younger generation’s ability to communicate has been freed up from parental control. A country where a majority of people have mobiles has different communication patterns than one (like Jordan ten years ago) where the father controlled the land line. Private media is establishing itself.
New realties. New politics.
Such an emerging Jordan needs new forms of political representation that go beyond the traditional government,-Islamist-tribal triangle.
The latest municipal elections where boring (during the campaign) and, after the vote, turned into a fiasco as the Islamists and the government started shooting heavy accusations at each other.
This country deserves better politics. So is anything on the horizon?
I was thinking about these issues as I read a recent article by Al-Ghad columnist Muhammad Abu Rumman, who is becoming one of my favorite local writers.
His article last week entitled “New ideas and upcoming political forces” was the first I read that talks about new forms of political forces in Jordan appearing on the radar screen.
I will not attempt a full translation of Abu Rumman’s article but I would like to highlight some of its main points.
He says that his prediction about the emergence of new political forces in Jordan is not just a ‘wild guess’, as social and economic developments will, naturally. give birth to new ideas, even if these ideas are just ‘seeds’. These seeds will grow and have the potential to change the political scene if their natural growth is allowed.
One such political project is what is being called ‘Torches of the Future’, which represents what Abu Rumman calls “young private sector capitalists” who feel they have a political role to play, dictated by their political and business interests.
Abu Rumman makes a distinction between the people behind the ‘Torches’ elite and the ‘young globalized elite’ who already occupy leading positions in the political structure. The main difference is that the ‘Torches’ feel that their ascent to politics has to be through democratic means in a manner that reflects a certain social reality. I think what Abu Rumman means is that many of the young leaders in government are merely the sons of traditional political families. They were never elected to their positions.
Interestingly, Abu Rumman says that the ‘Torches’ adopt a ‘Haririst’ model, meaning that they consider the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri as a guiding example, as he’s someone who came from the world of business to play a decisive role in the political, cultural and economic development of his country, carrying with him an elite of business people and intellectuals whose creativity was directed through Hariri’s movement to help the national Lebanese project and also create opportunities for the less fortunate sectors of society.
Close to the ‘Torches’ idea, are the cultural activities of the ‘Free Thought Forum’ which is a young liberal initiative that, although elitist in nature, reflects a growing social trend as well.
On the other end of the spectrum are movements born out of harsh economic realities. The prime example is that of the “Thabahtoona” student movement (Arabic: ‘You’re Killing Us’) which is a grassroots movement that fights against the increases in tuition fees in Jordanian universities. (I could not find an offical home page for the movement).
Similar movements can be expected to appear as people organize themselves in the face of escalating costs of living in the country.
Abu Rumman also mentions a party under formation with the name of ‘Life Party’, which is supposed to defend the rights of marginalized sectors of society, such as people with disabilities, women and young people. The party also stresses environmental and social issues.
Abu Rumman ends his article by saying that such new political forces can bring new dynamism to the stale political game in Jordan, which is dominated by the Government-Islamist duality.
I might add that regional developments might also help give birth to new political forces in Jordan.
Take Turkey for example. Today the country is being ruled by a mildly Islamist (yet pro-western/pro-business) President and Prime Minister. Will a mildly Islamist party appear one day in Jordan that appeals to people with conservative social views but who do not fully subscribe to the angry discourse of the current Islamist movement in Jordan?
Jordan is a country that has, for decades, enjoyed an amazing degree of stability. It is also a safe country. This is something people are appreciating more and more as they see the tragic developments in Iraq and Palestine.
A foreign social scientist who studied and visited Jordan once told me that Jordan remains a ‘soft’ country. We had no major upheavals or bloodshed for decades. In this sociologist’s view, Jordan is a good candidate for the emergence of new kinds of original ideas on the political and social levels.
If we take this comment, then look at our developing reality and add to it the observations and examples of Abu Rumman’s article, then we might be witnessing the birth (or the embryo, to be more accurate) of a new political age in Jordan.
Read these related posts on 360east:
- The secret confessions of the owners of cool mobile phones
- Hajjaj Watch: Can you tell the difference between these two cartoons?
- Jordan’s islamists have a real problem with women’s rights
- Elections 2010: political bankruptcy of Jordanian society?
- Jordan’s Gaza demonstrations and the vibrancy of the online discourse