POMED Notes: Examining Jordan’s Unrest and Coming Elections
The Project on Middle East Democracy hosted a panel discussion on Friday entitled “Examining Jordan’s Unrest and Coming Elections.” The panel featured Naseem Tarawnah, blogger at black-iris.com and Co-founder of 7iber.com, Mariam Abu Adas, Deputy Director at Ruwwad and Editor of 7iber.com, Jeremy Sharp, Specialist in Middle East Affairs at the Congressional Research Service. The panel was moderated by Cole Bockenfeld, Director of Advocacy at Project on Middle East Democracy.
For full event notes continue reading, or click here for a PDF.
Naseem Tarawnah began with background information on the current political climate in Jordan, saying that people on the streets are calling for reform, but not a revolution. Noting general the distinction between “East Bankers” of tribal or Bedouin descent and “West Bankers” of Palestinian descent, Tarawnah said that East Bankers tend to dominate the public sector while West Bankers control the private sector. This has caused a riff because Amman, which is populated in large part by West Bankers, receives more financial aid but less representation in government, while the heavily-East Banker population in rural Jordan receives the majority of representation in government but less economic assistance. Tarawnah addressed the election law, which created virtual districts “designed to give a favorable outcome for the state.” Jordanians will still have a single voter system, where each person casts a single vote, but they will now also vote for one political party. However, only 27 seats are allotted to parties and the majority of seats are still reserved for individuals, thus lessening opposition parties’ impact. Tarawnah stressed that “security and stability are paramount,” which may explain why the opposition Muslim Brotherhood has received little support.
Mariam Abu Abas said that “prior to the Arab Spring, young people in Jordan were not interested in politics.” Another recent phenomenon is the rise in detainees throughout Jordan, who often are subjected to harsh treatment. The point of these detentions, Abu Abas argued, is “to create a culture of self-censorship.” This is clearly seen in the recent Press and Publication law, which requires all media organizations, including independent blogs, to register with the government and to be held responsible for all comments on their website. This has led many websites to remove the comment section, Abu Abas said.
Jeremy Sharp gave an overview of bilateral relations between Jordan and the United States, saying the relationship enjoys “broad, bipartisan support” in the United States. Sharp noted that Jordan’s economy functions increasingly on international aid, citing the U.S. aid package of $660 million between 2009 and 2013. Sharp pointed out that Jordan has also been active in Afghanistan, participated in the Libyan no-fly zone, and has diplomatic ties with Israel. Sharp noted that there are still issues in Jordan, including human rights and democracy promotion, but the relationship with the U.S. is strong nonetheless. However, there is a “deep seeded frustration in Jordan” over the Israel/Palestine issue, especially with regard to U.S. involvement. Addressing the current climate, Sharp noted that there is a focus on restraint despite ongoing protests for fear that any real clashes could lead to instability. Sharp encouraged the U.S. to continue sending assistance to Jordan, but cautioned that “a lot of economic growth is concentrated in the capitol, while the rest of Jordan seems to be stagnant.” In conclusion, Sharp said “your solution is investing in your people,” arguing that the international community needs to think more about the idea of human capitol.
During the Q&A, Abu Abas said “Jordan lives on aid,” but there is fear that this aid comes with a hidden agenda. Tarawnah agreed, saying there is a “perception that USAID comes with strings attached.” Additionally, Tarawnah noted that although financial assistance has gone to building infrastructure, there is not enough follow-up to maintain the growth. He said E.U. funding seems to be implemented with a better understanding of the society, and thus is more productive. Addressing the tensions between East and West bankers, Abu Abas argued that the issue is no longer ethnic, but rather economic. The panel agreed that political actors are seen as corrupt, yet there is no one sector or office that has received that label. Sharp did note that the King’s policy of privatization has furthered the divisions between East Bankers and West Bankers.