Amman: City of Circles gets a Square?

Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit yesterday said his government was planning to establish a â??freedom squareâ? to allow citizens to express their views freely.

Most observers said the idea reminded them of the celebrated Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park.

â??The square will provide a neutral space for people to express themselves in a civilised manner,â? Bakhit told parliamentarians in his policy statement.

Details on the mechanisms for the establishment of the â??squareâ? were not immediately clear, as officials told The Jordan Times that the initiative was in its preliminary stages.

â??We still need to articulate the proposal, but the concept is there,â? said Minister of Political Development and Parliamentary Affairs Sabri Rbeihat. He said the government wanted to â??offer an alternative to the prototype of all political actions coming from one side.â? [article]

Iâ??ve been told this is â??old newsâ? but it is brand spanking news to me because I am literally blown away. I was smiling very proudly before thoughts of skepticism returned to plague me and they were shared with others as I continued reading the articleâ?¦

Most deputies received the proposal with a benevolent smile, while others were sceptical. Deputy Mamdouh Abbadi (Amman 3rd District) welcomed the idea, but said its success depended on how the initiative would be implemented.

â??It is mainly a publicity stunt… we have to wait and see how it is done,â? he told The Jordan Times….

Deputy Thaher Fawaz, (Northern Bedouins) branded the project â??unfeasible.â?

â??This is an unrealistic idea, due to the political climate in the country.â?

and finally…

Azzam Huneidi (Amman 1st District) dismissed the government’s plan outright.

â??Opening the media to true democratic debate and guaranteeing freedom of the press is more important than establishing a public freedom square,â? he said.

So a chill ran down my spine. Is this square entrapment? Where people will come to preach what’s on their mind only to be surrounded by men dressed in black to take them away for a “talking to”?

This is the same fear that caused as much skepticism in Jordan when people were encouraged to participate in political parties, particularly the country’s university students.

The last quote is very interesting to consider: what comes first in a politically impotent nation, freedom of press or freedom of the public?

On the one hand if you have freedom of the press and no public freedom, journalists will feel inclined to echo the “thoughts of the everyman” in their duty to cater to the imprisoned public. This of course would not go over well with the government. On the other hand if you have public freedom then the press may not be so inclined to take an aggressively oppositional stance on everything as the people are now allowed to voice their own concerns. The press settles down into the common domain of simply reporting and in this scenario there would actually be something to report.

Though this last quote does reinforce my level of skepticism as it begs the question: how can you offer the public freedom if the press doesn’t have it? It’s like learning to run before you walk; which of course leads me to the most fundamental thought…

Is this all just a ploy, another illusion of political freedom?

Because if it is, the government is taking a big risk here. It is one thing to promise a hungry animal a carrot and produce none and it is another thing to tease them with it using a live prop. The latter usually comes with some fatalities.

Amman is a city of circles so a square is a very irregular shape to introduce into the Socio-political climate indeed. My sense of optimism (which is buried somewhere deep in the inner confines of my mind) is still alive and hoping this plan will not be another abandoned project that makes our country run in circles once again.


  • Jameed, in the past 2 years or so there have been sit downs (at least according to what ive read in newspapers) between the government and either university boards or organizations to encourage political participation.

  • Remember a while back when I suggested that the Hashemite Courtyard become the place where the people should assemble to vent their frustration and state their views toward the government.

    May be the Hashemite yard is shaped rectangularly rather than square, but I guess it is close enough for the purpose intended.

    May be my dream is turning into reality.

  • Hmmm, quite contradicting to the goverments policies

    I think this will turn out to be a square where people will be paid to speak. About what? I’ll leave it to you to guess

  • baaaaaad idea, if this ‘plan’ is implemented i bet soon enough it will loose any political value and just turn into something like a few deranged old men shouting out against il fajirat wal mutabarrijat will in7alal al akhlaki and the same old bull….

    No thanks, give us the square, we really need more pedestrian public spaces in Amman, but for freedom of speech… in this case i’ll tell the government to keep it for themselves.

  • Brilliant ideas: Get all those who want to make their voices heard in one place so we can know them all. I can’t imagine the number of intelligence men who will work around this square. Or worse, lets have a place where completely-staged demonstrations can take place!

  • Big K, is it a big space 😛

    I doubt the completly-staged demonstrations, but sometimes I think its not such a bad idea to desginate geographical locations for demonstrations. Many of them in the past take on the form of riots and things and bones end up getting broken.

  • Nas… responding to your response to Jameed, yes there have been sit-downs between universities and government officials, but there are no signs of any fruits of that! There was an interview in Al-Ghad a couple of months ago with the president of the univerity of Jordan and he said that it is very dangerous to allow political party affiliations on campus!! I don’t know what the political development they’re preaching about is, when the unwrittem rule for appointing students to the student council (remember, half the members of UJ’s student council are appointed by the administration despite all pressures to go back back to full elections) is that they are not affiliated with any political party!!!

    When there’s a demonstration on campus (other than the anti-terror demonstrations), officials from the Student Affairs Administrations send out people to collect names… Students generally feel that Student Affairs are run by the mukhabarat, and some serious steps need to be taken to change this view and establish some trust in all the promises and talks about political development!

    That said, the optimist inside me is still alive and well… but is very thirsty for some tangible results 😉

  • Lina, despite what a lot of people think there is actually friction between the university’s administration and the government, particularly the king. However this aside I was not really looking at the fruits of this labour but merely it’s presence, which although hardly there…is still there.

  • I heard they have narrowd down the location of freedom square to two locations 1) Sahab 2) Jwaideh…for those who don’t know the former is a graveyard the latter is a notorious prison 🙂

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