Jordan was made almost 100 years ago, now we need to make Jordanians

17/10/2013

“The Jordanian Spring in the continuation of Jordan’s founding story (or why doesn’t Jordan’s status as a “modern country”, translate into proper urban and town living for its citizens, better-serviced cities and a generally better lifestyle for all of us?)”

What is all of this about?

Below is a translation from Arabic that I attempted of Ibrahim Gharaibeh’s latest article in the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat.

Gharaibeh is one of my favorite Jordanian writers. I follow his writings as a frequent columnist in the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad. He mainly writes about Jordan’s urbanization, civic values, the meaning of reform, the need for communities to be productive and independent/self sustaining (as opposed as dependent on the state).

He is a unique voice in Jordan, expressing deep thinking on our urban, productive and national reality. For a long time he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he ended up leaving and writing a long critique of in a recent autobiographical novel.

I somehow felt compelled to translate this latest article by Gharaibeh into English. I don’t know why. Maybe because I wanted to share it with my non-Arabic speaking friends, or maybe even to reach audiences in Jordan who prefer to read in English.

Many of us criticize the way we live in Amman (and Jordan): Problems with our educational system. Inequality. The trash on the streets and our natural landscapes. The urban sprawl. the lack of public transport and parks, the lack of a vibrant civic life, the disconnect of people from nature, the sad state of most of our towns and villages, the sense of apathy and helplessness that prevails. The list goes on..

In this article Gharaibeh describes Jordan as basically a modern state but without the sense of citizenship/civic life. This echoes my own thoughts. I feel Jordan is a country that “punches below its weight” and I always think that, by now, we should be a more democratic more productive country with better opportunities and a better quality of life for everyone.

Gharaibeh attempts to explain why things are as they are.

In a previous article he said that Jordan’s founding story as a state was one based on the promise of “modernization and effectiveness”. That’s why we were regional pioneers in the fields of education, health and effective administration. He said that the deterioration of our ability to administer effectively and the destruction/corruption of educational and other institutions is basically a coup against our founding national values.

Yet in the article below he argues that Jordan’s modernization ignored the existing communities and their fabric in towns and villages. He also portrays a tragic coinciding of elitist modernization and a prevailing sense of temporary stay by many Jordanians (mainly those who where displaced from Palestine/the West Bank).

It is important to note that Gharaibeh isn’t simply lamenting the past or assigning blame or just recounting pieces of history. His article is essentially a call to all Jordanians to embrace their urban reality and to organize themselves based on their actual life-needs and priorities in their cities and towns.

This is what makes Gharaibeh unique in my opinion. His voice is essentially one of hope in joint civic action for a better future, unlike many voices that seek to dismember Jordanian society based on origins and geography or simply speak in negative and destructive terms.

Mind you, I am not a professional translator. I attempted to explain some of Gharaibeh’s sentences (or at least my understanding of what he meant) by adding some text between parenthesis to certain passages.

The original article in Arabic can be found here.

The Jordanian Spring in the continuation of Jordan’s founding story

Ibrahim Gharaibeh

Al-Hayat Newspaper, 16 October 2013

“Italy has been made; now it remains to make Italians” — Massimo d’Azeglio, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia (1798 – 1866)

(Gharaibeh’s original article misattributes this quote to a “Ferdinand Martino. I corrected it above).

Jordan seems today, after 90 years of the establishment of its modern state (1921) to be a stable, solid country, whose entire population is included in the networks of education, electricity, communication, internet and roads. It is a country with no nomadism or illiteracy, with relatively good institutions of education, security, military, universities, hospitals, ministries and public and private establishments. Three quarters of Jordan’s population can be considered middle class. The only thing Jordan needs to become a modern, progressive country is “Jordanians”.

The Jordanians already had representatives in the Ottoman house of representatives in the mid 19th century (such as Rfeifan Al-Majali and Abdelqader Al-Tall). They had elected town councils (Irbid 1881, Al-Salt 1882, Al-Zarqaa 1904, Madaba 1904, Amman 1909) as well as social and political elites, poets and intellectuals who had a reasonably well-formed vision for the place and its people’s dreams and aspirations, like Arar, Mustafa Wahbi Al-Tall and Uqail Abu Al-Sha’er. Yet today Jordanians, despite their advanced state of elementary, college and professional education, seem like lost human masses, as if they exist in random/chaotic and empty/pointless cities. They have no political parties, effective pressure groups, real civil organizations, or a real cultural and art scene that channels people’s imagination, taking it towards a better life. The reason for this is that the modernization of Jordan was one that ignored communities and cities, simply attaching/subordinating them to the incoming elites and the new capital (Amman).

The founding elite did not truly see/recognize Jordanians, and many members of this elite didn’t truly understand and see themselves beyond what they were expected to be by others or within the confines of a pre-made consciousnesses. This elitist attitude coincided with a popular mood of escape, uprootedness and.. “temporariness”! But it is a “temporariness” that has lasted more than 90 years.

In this absence of civic belonging, which was always offset by the discourse of “return”, “liberation” (of Palestine), and the “application of (islamic) shari’a law”, communities and classes where led away from their true interests, priorities and supposed aspirations. Elites and professional associations, labour organizations and political Islam conspired to distract people away from their goals, and turned the large middle class into a body without figures of leadership or elites that can express and carry its interest and needs. Maybe only in Jordan can we find professional and labour associations and organizations that are subordinate to employers, which ultimately are of no use to communities and their development, busy instead with “healing using the Qur’an” and celebrating Salahiddin’s liberation of Jerusalem (in the Middle ages).

In the name of liberating Al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem), reform and professional/labour progress where crippled, communities, cities and markets were destroyed.. And all of that did not benefit Al-Aqsa mosque a bit! And in the name of resisting the settlement of Palestinians in Jordan (which in fact happened 60 years ago) corruption was imposed on Jordanians by empowering corrupt, inept elites on the national and local levels.

And in the name of liberating Palestine, a sense of disconnect from reality, negativism and nonchalance toward reform was instituted, half of Jordanians were neutralized (from participation in public affairs), religious extremism was deepened and social leaderships who are disconnected from reform were produced.

Parliamentary, municipal and union elections have thus been transformed into regional/geographic and tribal disputes that end up dictating the allocation of official jobs and titles, marginalizing cities and communities, destroying education, health and social security institutions and dictating public spending policies that are biased against the needs of the poor and middle classes.

Today, Jordanians must face what they have been escaping from or have been barred from, namely to organize themselves in their cities and towns to take control of energy, water, education, health, services, social and urban planning, culture, art, sports and places of worship. To simply be citizens, acting out their civic life, brought together by the issues and priorities that bring together all cities on this planet. To disagree or come together in organizations based on competing visions, programs and opinions that spring from the need to regulate the relationship between people and their resources and priorities as well their relationship with the state and markets. To create political parties, social groupings, organizations, societies, companies, markets, schools, universities, parks, libraries, and media financed by the citizens themselves or at least co-financed and co-owned by them. Naturally this means that citizens govern their own affairs and choices based on their own ideas and imagination.

This is the awaited and expected Jordanian Spring.

One Comment

  1. tudor says:

    thanks so much for this Ahmad. . . Brenda and I will be back in Jordan for at least six months in January, after four years in the vibrant city of Amsterdam . . . it would be good to explore if there’s anything in our recent experience that might be useful here. . . . also i think you and Ibrahim are a bit tough on Jordanians. . . i’ve found quite a lot of energy and social action around and many of the young are wonderful

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