The day after 25 March

26 03 2011

It is hard to avoid the sense of confusion and disappointment of what happened on Friday 25 March 2011 at  Jamal Abd Al Naser roundabout or Al Dakhlieh Circle: Pro-reform protesters were provided with minimum protection by police officers while being attacked and insulted by armed anti-reformers. There are several reports and testimonies that underline the truth of this scenario, even though government officials, adding insult to injury, tried to shift blame on both groups and play down their responsibility.

A myriad of questions keep popping in my head along with some conclusions.

1- Who sponsored the 25 March ‘Nida2 al Watan’ protest advertisements? If it is the state, using our tax money to do so, how could they not foresee that such clashes with 24 March protesters were imminent and why did they not take all necessary steps to prevent the situation from escalating despite the fact that stones were thrown at Al Dakhlieh protesters the night before and a number of them were injured? Sadly, i witnessed on Friday young boys with sticks and screwdrivers walking before the sight of police officers who allowed a majority of them to enter the Al Dakhlieh square with their weapons. It was obvious that they have come to hurt and some actually did; however they have walked with no accountability or penalization of their behavior.  It was ironic that initially only six of the anti-reformers who used violence were arrested, although the number of those who took part in the attack was far more. In  a press conference on Saturday 26 March, Al Srour reported that the number of those being arrested for their involvement in Friday’s attacks amounted to 21. Still this remains a modest number and why were they only arrested a day after the attack and not during?

2- Why did the PM in addition to anti-reform protesters point their finger at the Islamists in regard to the violent outcome of the protest? Why is the government trying to promote that the Islamists are the sole players of the 24 March protests, while in reality they were minor contributors. Various youth groups such as Jayeen, 1952 Constitution and other independent and political parties’ actors called for and organized the sit-in. Firstly, this classical accusation of the Muslim Brotherhood which has been used by numerous Arab leaders and governments as a scarecrow against adopting true democratic changes has proved to be baseless. Secondly, even if the Islamists were the only ones behind Friday’s protest, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly should be upheld for all and no one should be assaulted while PEACEFULLY exercising their rights, whether by police or armed citizens. On a different note, how come the anti-reform protesters have a view identical to that of the government in relation to the Islamists? Is this a mere coincidence or is there any collusion between these actors?

3- The previous brings me to my third question, although there are many more, the level of sheer ignorance displayed on Friday by anti-reformers makes me wonder about what the heck the Ministry of Political Development has been doing all of this time? Nothing at all it seems! All of the fears about Jordan being a divided society on many levels came rushing like a freight train. For years King Abdullah has been calling for political reforms, but the level of prejudice that surfaced on 25 March tells of how little has been done to engage and educate Jordanians from different governorates about what these reforms mean for a more democratic Jordan and volatilize all fears from the ‘other’. If we look at from the perspective of who benefits from all of these divisions, it is hard not to be drawn to the conclusion that it is the system. This frail balance of the Jordanian society gives a sense of false stability that can explode if questions of identity and loyalty to the King and the country are left ignored.

As for the conclusions:

1- People who are seeking true and sincere reform that will bring better days to Jordan should not lose hope. It is hard to keep believing that positive change can be realized after this incident as it crushed the very little or maybe big hopes that many of us had. But what happened on 25 March signifies the shortcomings and realities we face. This is not the time to despair.

2- For my self, i have been talking in closed circles for too long. Talking to like-minded people and thinking that i am getting somewhere. We should be more inclusive and involve people with different views and from different areas for Jordan in the debate for change.


Back to the Future

24 02 2011

Watching “Back to the Future” a few years ago, i can still remember how shocked i was that the “bad guys” in the movie turned out to be Libyans. As a child i never made the connection, which finally dawned on me later, that in Hollywood Arabs are quintessentially terrorists or idiots. Screw that! The many times i had to argue against this objectifying and vilifying image, well today is not the day for that. The winds of change are rewriting everything we are and what we stand for.

That tainted image left generations of Arabs trapped in the glories of their past and verses of written poetry that are indecipherable to many young Arabs-me being one of them- who chose to or had to set aside their culture and language  simply because it’s globalization time and 2001 just changed everything! It’s 2011 now, and i am here to witness the unfolding of history, which might have come too late for those who held true that our generation was the one who made the final kill. But a new reality has arrived and somewhere i am afraid that it will be re-stolen from us.

Away from romanticizing this moment and conspiracy theories, i am eternally thankful to those in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt who made it possible for me to reclaim my sense of identity and most importantly our future. In Jordan, i see people talking about what government they want, what parliament they imagine and things they are not willing to accept anymore. Many subjects that were once taboo are being debated! All of this would have taken more precious time had it not been for the courage of those who ripped that somewhat endless page of history and started a new one.

For us not lose this opportunity we need to stop dreaming and start working for valid, constructive and inclusive alternatives. Fear of our systems or the future should not leave us encaged. This is what I keep reminding myself…we are back to the future.

Street Talk: Aqaba Protests

2 08 2009

Going back in time to 2002,  me and some friends attended a peaceful and silent candle vigil in Sahet Al-Hashmi downtown Amman to protest against the Israeli massacre in Jenin. Soon after a policeman requested ending the vigil and dispersing as any public gathering with more than 8 people was illegal he explained. We left with disappointment after various attempts to express that we did not aim to stir public disorder. However, till now i wonder on what basis were we denied to practice our constitutional right to peaceful assembly and how can a statute override it?

After a year of being abroad studying human rights law, i came back to Jordan to the news that during July 2009 two protests have ended up in clashes between the demonstrators and Gendarmerie Forces; the latest is a protest organized by the employees of Jordan Ports Corporation (JPC) on the 30 July 2009 in Aqaba. Among the protestors’ demands is the equal distribution of funds generated by the government’s sale of a plot of land in Aqaba port and worker’s compensation for risk. On the second day of the sit-in the police authorities dispersed the crowd using tear gas and batons.

What is surprising is the excessive use of force by the Gendarmerie which left a Jordanian citizen, Ahid Al Alawneh, hospitalized with a severe concussion and internal bleeding resulting from being beaten on the head by batons and 30 other employees injured. Moreover, more than 65 protesters were arrested, among which are six of the sit-in organizers who were released on Saturday 1 August 2009. Mean while the Governor of Aqaba’s reply was that the sit-in was illegal and the protest “began to violate the public safety and stability” in addition to the authorities getting complaints about phone threats being received by some of the protestors’ colleagues who were not taking part in the sit-in.

Does the illegality of a peaceful sit-in serve as a justification for the excessive use of force by state officials-especially when issuing permits for holding demonstrations are often refused? Jordan’s international obligations allow for the use of force as a last resort and to a minimum degree in dispersing unlawful but non-violent assemblies. Article 13 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials states:

‘In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.’

As for investigating the events of the protest, till now there has been no official response to the demands of the protesters and Ahid Al-Alawneh’s family regarding carrying out an investigation about the actions of the security forces.

What has dispersing the demonstrators forcefully accomplish other than spreading a culture of fear among the protesters themselves and others who see the street as the most genuine public outlet to voice one’s demands and the essence of a true democracy. At a time when Jordan is trying to promote the political participation and active involvement of its citizens in the policies which affect them such acts trample its efforts.