x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Jordan's troubles mount up

A deficit, strident protests and a refugee flood are making life difficult for Jordan's government, an Arabic-language editorial notes. Other topics: cultural stagnation and the damage done by fundamentalists.

Refugees, budget crisis and street protests combine to put Jordan in an awkward situation

"Jordan is standing at an intricate crossroads these days," the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi stated editorially yesterday.

"Trouble in neighbouring Syria is coming at a critical security and social cost, with thousands of refugees pouring across the border. At the same time, street protests for political reform are escalating in Jordan, with Islamists getting involved more strongly and some of the kingdom's top political figures being denounced in public sit-ins."

King Abdullah II may have taken the edge off wide popular discontent when he scrapped a recent government decision to raise fuel prices, but street tension is still there, according to the paper.

Tafila, a small town in southern Jordan, has recently seen "loud protests" by "hundreds" of demonstrators. "According to some, the number was even higher than that, but the extraordinary thing about those demonstrations is that they featured calls for the overthrow of the regime," the newspaper said.

The protesters condemned corruption while calling out Jordan's "big fish" by name, and that has led the state security court to order the arrest of six protesters in the city for two weeks on charges of "provoking political turmoil" and "incitement against the system and the king in person", the paper said.

"Jordanian authorities are in an awkward position, having to act on several fronts at the same time, without being successful on any, especially not on the political reform front," Al Quds Al Arabi observed.

After King Abdullah blocked the decision to raise fuel prices, observers expected him to dissolve the government of Prime Minister Fayez Al Tarawneh.

"Many thought [the king] would also scrap increases in other basic commodities in response to a no-confidence petition signed by 80 members of parliament. But, for reasons that remain unclear, the no-confidence motion did not go through."

The dire state of Jordan's economy compounds the situation, shrinking the government's margin of manoeuvre and blunting its ability to take sensible, if tough, decisions on pressing issues. Note that reversing the price increases is not exactly the best solution in the long term.

"Scrapping fuel price increases will result in a huge gap in the state budget, which may well affect the government's ability to disburse salaries," the paper noted. "Economists are saying the government needs at least $4 billion to pay bills, including payroll and subsidies on basic goods."

In 1989, when protests over a fuel crisis in the southern provinces rocked the country, the late King Hussein visited community leaders and took a raft of bold decisions, including dissolving parliament and calling elections.

"We hope his successor will learn something from his father's wisdom," the paper concluded.

Going backwards in the name of liberty

Looking at the Arab world today, who would believe that in the 1960s cities like Cairo and Baghdad were cultural hubs, columnist Abdul Rahman Al Rashed asked in the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat.

"We are shocked to hear about battles in Tunis or the unexpected legal pursuits of artists in Cairo. Worse still was what happened in Alexandria last Friday, when bulldozers ploughed through the old book market."

All people look ahead and hope for the best, but we in the Arab world seem to be heading backwards, the paper said.

Culturally, Egypt is the largest and probably the last beacon of creativity and arts in the region. President Mohammed Morsi's recent efforts to stop the vindictive war between artists and extremists, which erupted as a side effect of the Islamists' ascent to power, may have appeased critics momentarily. But will he be able to challenge the Islamist group that brought him to power?

"The issue here is that those groups believe that a political victory must mean the victory of one culture over all other cultures," the writer added.

When social or religious conservatives in any society start hailing civil rights or participating in democratic activities, a society matures.

Unfortunately, this is not the case in most Arab Spring societies where the overriding culture at present is that of senseless reprisal.

Intellectual stagnation engulfs the Arab world

In the second decade of the 21st century, it does not take much effort to notice the striking stagnation of the Arab world's intellectual landscape, wrote Ghassan Ismail in an opinion piece in the Jordanian newspaper Addustour.

"Keep track and analyse the … hundreds of publications, conferences and lectures [in the Arab world in recent times, and] we will be taken aback by the fact that the main people behind such activities are a handful of retired academics, technocrats, bureaucrats and politicians," he observed.

These people have tardily elected to tackle the crises engulfing the Arab countries. They offer only "a statement of accounts, or a tardy apology for the theoretical and practical mistakes they have made or were responsible for in some way", the writer went on.

The thoughts of a handful of intellectuals of all viewpoints are merely being reproduced by hundreds of imitators and analysts. The outcome is "historically insignificant discourse".

True, the great Arab renaissance projects that ended in the mid-1950s were characterised by a great deal of utopian thinking, but at least they managed to stimulate people and create large-scale debates, in a fashion reminiscent of Europe's enlightenment era.

 

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk

translation@thenational.ae