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28 thoughts on “The Cost Of Jordanian Silence (Adjusted For Inflation)

  1. Nas, allow me to dwell upon this subject from a perspective that may or may not put me in the ranks of yet another cynical government spokesmen for merely blaming the average Jordanian for being ever so rigid over the things that are non-welfare related.

    To start with, the 4 wireless operators, along the fixed incumbent operator, along the slew of 12 or so ISPs made a cool 1.2 Billion Dinars in revenues last year, growing from 800 Million JDs the year before, in a country with a GDP of somewhere around 11 Billion dinars, that’s allot… think of the 20~80 ratio, it still doesn’t cut it, 180 Million dinnars to be spent by the majority of the poor population over “طق حنك” and coordinating Jahaat is too much for my mind.

    When you know that subsided energy saving light bulbs were a flop, and even if not subsided, they were still VIEWED by the average Jordanian as an expensive option and hence they were never bought, although the average Jordanian with a 120sqm household could easily recover the cost of converting his light bulbs (gradually) into energy saving ones in a mere 4 bill cycles… that’s allot.

    When the gov’t gradually lift its subsidy over petrol (which i sort of endorse in a very very cautious way) and open the door for petrol-sipping scooters to be licensed two years ago, and 60 something dealers open up and end up bankrupt because the average Jordanian is engulfed with (not one but many) misconceptions and cultural issues with the scooters despite the gap of two generations that couldn’t possibly maintain any mainstream perception about them!!! be it dangerous, uncool, low-class, low-grade, terrain unsuitability, diriving conditions on the road… all but the rigidness of mr. average jordanian not willing to condition him/herself with the current climate.

    I can gusitmate with a strong heart that there are thousands of Hummers, Escalades, Caynnes and other petrol-thirty vehicles on the streets of Jordan, against 3~4 thousand scooters collectively since lifting the ban back in 2006… that’s some twisted Jordanian reality brother!

    We can long for and blame he government for the lack of a public transportation system as we like, dance on it all night if you fancy so, the average Jordanian HAVE the option to grab himself one of them scooters and take things to his own hand and commute around efficiently!

    When the average Jordanian doesn’t change his/her eating habbits, and still insist on buying goods with prices manipulated not by the forces of supply and demand but rather the greediness of market whales… then the average jordanian is to be blamed.

    Yes, i can’t possibly deny my utter envy of the Egyptian masses or the bread uprising in the south in the early 2000s, but this is ONE of the solutions, for i firmly believe that the government won’t change policies over night, it won’t erdicate corruption and have a surplus to keep inflation in check and definitely it shouldn’t be in the business of feeding the poor directly… but there is allot that the average Jordanian can do take things into his own hands.

    He can opt for a 600km/20 Litter scooter to sort out his daily commute issues (keep your fraking car for God’s sake… use it for your dear family ventures) while the last of the 6 scooter dealers remain in business.

    He can boycott products with manipulated prices, and not get dragged into the Ramadan shopping frenzy… he can be sensible and prices will be forced down no matter what! “سياسة الاستغناء” must be consensual in order to be effective not as result of not being able to afford things anymore.

    There are areas where the government must take action, there is no doubt about that, but if the masses are irresponsible, why should the government be otherwise! I currently work for a high-profile local NGO, and wallahi no matter how confident i was that i’m aware of the poverty in our dear country, however i’m still living a perpetual shock of the cases that pass by me everyday, but what shocks me even more is the poor average Jordanian perception of welfare-priorities and how picky one can be when in need over the jobs available… my mind stalls

  2. Ten years ago I was only a silly American girl with no particular designs on Jordan, so I don’t have a firsthand sense of why 1996 isn’t happening again with the rise in food prices. Here are two ideas, though:

    1. After 1994 (i.e. the peace treaty), and again 2001, state security has been significantly expanded.

    2. Even though inflation is hurting the average Jordanian, and public goods like consumer subsidies are being removed, the regime’s base has been secured through pay increases and special benefits related to civil and military service.

    So people who are “out of the loop” might be afraid to protest even though the rising prices are really hurting them, and those who are “in the loop” don’t have a whole lot to complain about.

  3. I read Basem’s comment with interest and while the scooter idea is a good one, we must remember a couple of points (I am only looking at practicalities here, rather than the over inflated Jordanian ego, not to mention the harassment women will face if they travel around on a scooter):
    – Amman is hilly, to put it mildly.
    – Jordanian drivers are crazy and aggressive and will no doubt see people on scooters as targets to be knocked over
    – Scooters are dangerous enough when the roads are beautifully paved and well maintained. Amman’s roads a certainly not well maintained – I have no idea what things are like in other cities, but I cannot believe the situation is any better
    – Scooters are a nice romantic idea when the sun is shining and the sky is that lovely pale summer blue we all love. Come wintertime, I am not sure the idea holds water

    Finally, I have a problem with the comments main thrust. It basically boils down to “There is nothing that can be done to make things better, so there is no point in trying. Let’s just live with things the way they are and hope they don’t get worse”. This is the attitude which keeps our despots in their gilded palaces while people starve. This is the attitude that the producer of some of the best agricultural products in the region cannot feed itself. “Siyasat alistighna2” is fine, but there comes a point once you give up meat, vegetables, bread, tea, coffee and milk, when you have nothing left to give up. So you just give up.

  4. When an entire generation-plus exists in an environment that has been yelling out ‘ikhras’ – in society, in school, in media, on the street, in the store, in the clinic, in the workplace, at home, in the playground… you get muted souls. The deafening silence.

    Basem is very right in asking every citizen to stand up and deliver. And Jordanians have every right to turn to their government and demand a better way forward. The cost, Nas, is life – a meaningless life.

    This silence has developed into a disease. Wherever the silence is, there is infection. Under-served public. Intellectually-raped schools. Culturally-famished streets. In-tolerant houses of faith. Fear-full media. Con-fused sectors. All breathing suffocating entitlement.

    The antidote is simple, cheap and immediate: Abandon the sense of entitlement, and shed the grandiose burden of representation.

    So many people are waiting for answers. To feel the change. From where? Who from? (PS: this one can’t arrive in a donor package, and won’t be showing up in the form of aid – we’ve enjoyed these luxuries, but this they can’t deliver – not at all.)

    Spectators must become performers. Small roles, big roles, any roles. Stop watching and start doing.

    Once we each get up with every sunrise and say, ‘ah, another day, another contribution’ and put our best foot forward, everything will change for us. And individuals can choose whatever actions they wish to take, just do something. And keep doing. Change your mind. Just don’t stop. But allow good intentions to drive. Make mistakes. But be willing to try hard again. Be in the company of common sense. Keep going.

    As frustrating as the right now seems, the shift is starting. Possibility is a conversation away, is it not?

    I hear some chatter.

  5. I agree with you on everything you said, but to say the truth it is common knowledge that the jordainian population doesn’t protest on anything, remember when they tried to organize a half day strike when the inflation first started to be “Unbearable” the guys were arrested a day before, although authorities declined that this happened but even a peaceful strike to declare objection, is answered upon with imprisonment.

    so no one dares to raise his voice or say anything it is simple.

  6. @ Elia G. Haj Elias – Maybe these voices need a bit more than just objection.
    Maybe there needs to be an appendix to the protest plan that contributes to solutions, or at least attempts towards solutions.

    It’s easy to complain. But maybe not very useful on it’s own. It’s probably more effective to imagine a better alternative, come up with plans and actions and propose them with sincere commitment, and with the same drive that pushes one to want to stand outside in the sweltering heat, doing absolutely nothing, puffing on cigarettes, consuming mobile credits under a misspelled banner.

    You need a game play, hard work, proof. Once you do, you can not only raise your voice, but you can roar.

  7. Basem – I think you make some valid points, however, you also underestimate those of us who do try. I am one citizen who is not only willing to use public transport, I actually want to…. And I have tried … I have looked for bus routes on the internet (and couldn’t find any), and when I have seen what looks like a bus stop, I went down to check for a map and times etc and found none either (just more advertising). There are no bus stops near where I live, and none of the people I know use public transport. I want to break the cycle and start … but I don’t know where or how.

  8. very interesting comments so far…

    Basem: what you’re refering to is social development which I agree, there needs to be a lot more of. However, how can social development take place if the platforms and environments are unavailable. If the smallest thing people are calling for is the right to speak out about their own frustrations, then why can’t they have that forum? How can we expect people to change if culture and social habits are all bottled up within this vacuum that everyone is avoiding to air out? Social change and development is just as receptive the platforms and environements available to it as other types of reform: be they political or economic. This type of environment, one that is conducive to social change, must come from the top-down; it requires policy-makers to provide the first flicking of the domino.

    And your categorizations are a bit general. Yes, scooters are looked down on, but they’ve only been around for 2 years and already people are starting to pick them up, slowly. I didn’t expect to be a sudden surge in their demand. Yes, there are thousands of gas-guzzling cars, but in the context of Jordan they are limited to those who can afford them (although that expense is carried out on to the rest of us eventually).

    Moreover, people shouldn’t have to rely entirely on spending money to buy a scooter to solve their own transportation problems. Again, public transportation is a right, not a privilege. It’s not something that government’s do out of the kindness of their hearts. It is essential. And efficient transportation system creates a more efficient mobile workforce. The ability for the average citizen to move from one area or another in order to work, to access education or even shop, is essential to economic activity and growth, no doubt about it. This is not an area that the government can take a back seat on, for lack of a better metaphor. Public transportation, or lack there of, is just as important as our other problems, including energy and water.

    AMP: the regime’s base has been secured through pay increases and special benefits related to civil and military service.

    You make a valid point, but let’s keep in mind that not everything may have sinister intents. It is common, as you know, for developing countries to raise the salaries of their public sector workforce who are usually hit hardest due to comparatively lower wages, while also encouraging the private sector to follow suit.

    While the security apparatus has expanded naturally, I’m not sure how more effective their role is in making sure no one complains. Has that also expanded? Are they any better at it today than a decade ago? In the minds of the average Jordanian who is willing to protest, the size of the security apparatus has not differed in the past decade. It is still perceived to be a Goliath, and perception is what counts.

    ArabianMonkey: As frustrating as the right now seems, the shift is starting. Possibility is a conversation away, is it not?

    I agree with that, and the general notions of your comment, which are akin to Basem’s social development and social reform argument. My argument is: we need that conversation to take place. Without it, there is no direction.

    Elia: this perception, or as you phrased it “common knowledge”, is only recent. There is a history of protesting in this country. It may not be as grand as Egypt’s legacy (numbers count), but it is nevertheless there. Or at least, has been.

  9. Nas, At what cost indeed… Setting the idea of scooters aside (see, that’s what you get when you buy a gas guzzling truck, teehee) as impractical for families, there really aren’t viable options except moving close to schools and the office. But with land and apartment prices being what they are these days, forget that one too.

    I’m afraid that the true cost of silence is more silence. Silence of the heart, the soul, and the will to thrive. It reminds me of a study that was done many years ago. In this study, orphans were studied in orphanages. They found that when a baby cried and someone responded, the baby grew and thrived. However, if the crying baby was ignored, it would turn over and die. Lessons for all of us?

    Oh, and to the students at the Universities, they are paying for this education. I think I’d be tempted to vote with my feet… One thing I will say is that students need to decide what keeping prices stable is worth to them. Is it worth losing the best teachers because their salaries remain static but the costs of their rent, food, and gas are increasing? Is it worth it to have no heating in the winter? As protest has ceased to be an option, perhaps the time has come for creative problem slving with student and Administration working together? Just a thought from an impractical Mom… 🙂

  10. The picture from my perspective is extremely confusing. Here are some fragments:

    * On Tawjihi graduation night I sat in a area overlooking the eastern hills of Amman. For hours I could see at least 2 fireworks over Amman. Non stop. Sometime 5 at the same time.

    * Middle class parents still insist on huge hotel weddings with big open buffets for hundreds of people.

    * In my company, we’ve been looking for project coordinators (this is a job that pays JD 600 and above) for months. We still couldn’t find anyone. I cannot tell you how many people apologized on the day of the interview because they accepted another offer or were happy were they are.

    * For the first time in a decade we are finding it difficult to hire and retain a receptionist/admin assistant. Many were simply too lazy and didn’t want to continue or got jobs elsewhere.

    * Young graphic designers in ad agencies have salaries which easily go above 1000 JDs for people under 30 (or even younger)

    * Young programmers (who have above average skill levels) are extremely hard to keep and get paid amazing salaries. I sometime wish I am a programmer!

    * Young architects seem to be doing extremely well. Almost no one can be found out of work.

    * I am seeing more and more asian waiters in restaurants.

    * The traffic jams in front of shopping malls over the weekend are unbearable.

    * I see a lot of new shops opening on high streets wherever a new commercial building is finished.

    and so on..

    Yes.. everyone is feeling the pinch of higher prices.. But our response as consumers, job seekers, students is pretty lame. We are still mentally dependent on daddy-government to make it all good for us.

    It’s sometimes hard to even imagine how the poorest cope. But what is confusing to me is how the middle class responds to the new economic challenges. I agree with Basem on most of his points.

    I meet a lot of young graduates and early career people. I rarely see hunger to learn or succeed.

    I talk to middle or lower middle class students. They are going to university. They have a PC and internet. But they are waiting for their teachers to teach them critical software skills.

    I am not making excuses for the government, which definitely has failed in many areas to manage the economy and channel people’s energies. But I think the Quranic verse “God does not change the situation of a people, until they change what’s in their inner selves” largely applies here. The change can be individual or collective. I am not seeing much of that in Amman..

  11. Basem,
    It is not right to ask the people-who by the way pay taxes- to squeeze the hell out of their pockets while the state and it’s entities are living a lavish life and are enjoying trips abroad! You can’t ask people to drive scooters while the poilce are riding fuel guzzlers, and the government officials are riding Trialblazers and Mercedes 600! Ever heard of the term leading by example?

    By the way, are any of you aware that in 2008 jordan recieved over 800 million JDs in aid, yet there is deficit in the budget? Also, what is up with the new 10,000 government jobs to be created in 2009?

    I simply don’t get the people who blame us the people for the problems! Every human being has the right to spend HIS OWN money the way he/she likes!

    Naseem, the funny thing is that Philadelphia university is headed by the Adnan Badran the new head of the National center for human rights, HAHAHA…. Jordan is more like the reality version of the show Maraya.

  12. Although as noted, there is no concrete answer to this preplexing issue, I think the explanation is twofold
    1. Referring back to earlier statistics about media, governance, and freedoms, Jordanians, in general, seems to be pretty happy with the status quo. (At least according to these surveys).

    2. Likewise, the media has a larger role to play today than it had back in 1996. In my opinion, I think that the government, the King, as well as national and international media have done a pretty good job of feeding societal knowledge about the world food crisis, the world economic recession, etc etc… Hence, it is a worldwide problem, not a national one, but why did the Egyptians, Venezuelans, Canadians, Brazilians, etc etc protest, and we did not… is it the quest for stability in the Middle East curse? could be.

    The question you ask “what is this silence costing us?” plays out quite differently to protesters-to-be, who instead will ask “what will speaking out cost us?”…. inevitably, we weight out options, look around, and realize that apathy has taken its toll on Jordanians

    As for the half day stay-at-home, therefore get to sleep-in protest, I think protesters could be a bit more creative and influential.

  13. Nas,

    Very interesting post. While I agree with the general idea regarding why Jordanians don’t protest, I want to point out that inflation is simply a bigger problem than Jordan. In a country where our currency is pegged to a diving Dollar but a region that is experiencing unprecedented growth, there can only be one result – inflation. As long as the Dollar suffers and our economy is doing better (supposedly) we will continue to experience higher and higher prices. I don’t think there’s a lot the government can do on this one. The only thing that worries me is the fact that this significant growth and economic boom the country is experiencing is not translating into a trickle down theory. In general, the average Jordanian is not seeing any benefit. I think this has to do with the fact that investment is really not creating wealth but rather wealthy people. Consider the person who baught a piece of land for 1,000 JDs 20 years ago and now sold it for 1,000,000 JDs. What is he doing with that money? He’s either buying another piece of land, exporting his new found wealth, or putting it in a savings account. So this money coming from the gulf is not going into building industry and commerce. It is frustrating from that perspective because it is not translating into new jobs or higher pay.

    Peace

  14. A while back, I read this Buying Viagra With Paypal addressing inflation and what can citizens as consumers do about it, starting a consumer watch for essential commodities and eventually make high prices retailers known, it can’t be a one person’s input too.

    Public Transportation routes in Jordan can only be known from asking people in the streets, drivers, and through trial and error unfortunately, this is one of the things that are taken for granted as well..

  15. I don’t care how you look at it, it all boils down to supply and demand.

    Take the oil as an example, it went up the roof because of rising demands supposedly from China and India, and of course the USA.

    As soon the big auto makers in the US announced that they are going to stop manufacturing the big gas guzzling autos, followed by genuine statistics showing that demand for gas usage in the US is dwindling, the price of oil started going down and it is going to continue going down until it hits $100 or less, watch and see my prediction.

    So yeah whatever it is in Jordan that you want to get cheaper you have got to convince enough people to stop buying it or at least reduce the usage of it.

    Just watch the realestate in Jordan, it is going to start going down.Why? because the demand is going down.

  16. On what grounds do you expel a student for expressing concerns over the rising price of education?!!!

    Its so sad to think of what these deans are teaching students about the rights to education, to free expression, or to political involvement.

    Inflation is a global phenomenon, and people around the world have been expressing their concerns over rising prices, and increasing costs of living. Why can’t, or why aren’t we?

    I am not for govt subsidies, but i’m not for oppression either.

    IT IS THE DEANS WHO SHOULD BE EXPELLED!!!

  17. The decision to raise prices for a private university should be regarded differently that another one taken by the Jordanian government. At least in the priavte institution the owbers of the place think a million times to make this decision won’t affect students joinign their school in the future, and they usually give a good reason why the fees have gone up that much. that’s not always the case with the government.

    I’m not defending private univerisities, they’re owned by a bunch of businessmen who care about money and ONLY money and do not care about education. If they do it’s only to have an excuse to raise fees and attract students from wealthy families.

  18. madame S, in theory the dean should be expelled, true, but it doesn’t work this way here, its the other way around, the president gives an ok for a protest and normally its not a protest, its an activity after it gets approved from the deanship of affairs and people involved get verified. don’t you think that its weird that i need an approval from the dean to protest and say hey i disagree with you?! think who is under pressure here. the dean? :/

    when you go through the peaceful route of proposals to ask for changes, if it didn’t suit the mood or the vision or gave a little bit of authority to students, i will end up scheduling appointments and postponed for a semester or two till i give the whole idea up or get rejected for no valid reasons.

  19. @Deena on public transport: according to GAM, Amman just took over the routes from Central Govt – so the bad news is that there is no proper/usable map available, and routes are being changed by GAM. But the good news is that they’re on it and a map will be produced, including an online one with routes.

  20. Everyone, please, from personal daily experience, trust me about scooters as a money saver:

    They get about 120-140 miles to the gallon, so they’re very fuel efficient, BUT;

    – A ditch in the road can be fatal. The heaviest scooter is still too light to hold its balance on any roads that are not 95% clean-surfaced. Jordan is FULL of ditches.

    – Fuel efficiency decreases and the engine breaks on steep uphill riding. The most powerful grade of scooter is still a first-grade amateur motorcycle in terms of horsepower. Any of the 7 hills in Amman WILL make your engine give out.

    – Maintenance for scooters is easy but does require an abundancy of parts. Being an imported commodity of no popular use in Jordan, all I can say is GOOD LUCK if you need a new engine.

    That’s my advice as a rider. Do with it what you wish.

    As for money/registration fee hikes etc…

    This is not news. Even overseas, I knew since last year that the academic system is planning a hike in tuition and fees to deal with rising operating costs.

    The problem is not with your school. They need to run too. They have your same electricity, water, and shopping to do. Times 500.

    So feel their pain and direct your yells to the government that’s increasing prices while freezing income.

  21. people are not silent..they are exercising patience and wisdom..

    A long history of stunting the maturing of democractic practices has meant that the population at large is not familiar with modes of protest that dont spiral into national unrest and play into the hands of the most organised political party in the country. Jordanians, in balancing national stablity against exercising the right to protest almost always weigh more heavily in favour of protecting the status quo because they don’t want Jordan to follow the example of Iran.

    Jordanians also secretely believe that while the government has failed, and yes has been corrupt, the alternative is not better. They also believe that the government is trying but the rising prices are not symptoms of a Jordan-centric epedimic. Therefore a part of their thinking is influenced by the fact that they don’t think anyone else has a better solution to the issue of rising cost of living..

    Nermeen

  22. no seriously im sick of this ‘blogging attitude’ that so many bloggers in jordan embrace. what has been done really? truth of the matter is that your just yet another west ammani boy who thinks its cool and clever to criticize stuff. clearly, your information is not current. so daba7touna, and the yoghurt boycott, the ju demonstrations all you have not heard of? or you disregard them just because they didnt carry nice shiny photoshopped banners in english? or because they didnt wear a purple kuffieyeh while in demonstration?

    you have brownnosed just about every official that wrote on ur blog then you talk about the masses being silent? when did you actually participate in something that had some form of structure (ie a political party or a cultural one). and please lets not get started about your cute little handout (kudos, i think its cool that you found something to keep busy with during your summer vacation, but still it doesnt solve much).

  23. Thank you everyone for the comments, i think the discussion was pretty interesting to read up on and it’s even more interesting to see all the differing views on, and interpretations of, the same topic! I think Ahmad outlines it pretty well: there are rapid changes happening and I think there is a delayed response between the economic mechanisms being adjusted and the people’s reactions. But I honestly don’t have the right answer to this question.

    ——

    bored: hmm. the campaigns you speak of – while legitimate and respectable in their own right – are unfortunately in extremely short supply and concentrated in one market. my point in this post had more to do with the more large-scale venting one might come to expect, especially when we look at some similar countries experiencing similar difficulties. my argument boils down to the lack of a public sphere and the lack of a public space for such an event to take place in Jordan, which in turn, only worsens the situation in my opinion.

    as for the so-called brown-nosing.

    well, everyone has their own opinion of me and i respect that and respect those who don’t agree with me, so I’m not going to argue with you since your mind seems made up, unfortunately. I’m kind of confused as to the “handout” you’re referring to and I haven’t had a summer vacation since 2005 (so that’s a good reminder I suppose!)

    However, when I address officials or citizens or anyone on this blog, it is done with the wholehearted desire to see a discussion; to see a debate. My aim is to see people get engaged, even if its on a small scale on this little blog of mine. This goal is very much entwined with this very post: the need for a public space; the need for a discussion to happen.

    If criticisms don’t aim to have that kind of debate, then they cease to be constructive. They are as useless as comments that attempt to insult people on a personal level rather than engage and grapple with the topic at hand.

    Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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