I admit to having second thoughts about posting this, but it’s been a much-talked about issue and I feel it needs more of a public discussion. If anyone’s been paying attention recently, Dr. Basem Awadallah, head of the Royal Court and arguably one of the most powerful political figures in power today, has become the proverbial punching-bag in the political sphere lately. While Awadallah has frequently (at least once a year) garnered a great deal of controversy since his rise to power (mostly for economic policies), I have noticed that the perception of him has continued to worsen in the public sphere and this has pretty much emboldened the media and pundits, to – as they say in political circles – take him out for a walk. This is really my interest in the whole controversial mess; the direction of public and media dialog. I have to admit, it’s quite telling.
For those unaware of the issue-at-large, a few weeks back, it was discovered that a company bringing in Nepalese workers was actually sending them to Iraq. Some of these Nepalis were actually executed in Iraq back in 2004, hence a Nepalese-inspired lawsuit, hence this sudden corruption case in Jordan.
The company, Daoud & Partners, according to the media and various Jordanian MPs, is said to be partly owned by Basem Awadallah. This has been denied by Awadallah himself and trade and industry ministry records show that Awadallah, supposedly a cousin of the company’s founder Mohammed Daoud, sold his shares to his brother in 1998.
[Fellow Jordanian blogger Khalaf has a short primer on this with some interesting articles]
Nevertheless, a scathing attack has been launched against Awadallah, especially on satellite news channels, and the charges have descended into a very low level in my opinion. The somewhat popular columnist, Nahed Hattar, even went on Normina TV and attacked Awadallah head-on, accusing him of thievery and even referring to his Palestinian roots in an insulting manner. Hattar also pointed out that Awadallah came to Jordan in 1990 and worked at the Prime Ministry for a salary of 600JDs and is now building a mansion worth 11 million JDs. I don’t know where he got those figures from.
Hattar’s column in Arab Al-Yawm has disappeared (he’s taken a “vacation”) and he has resigned from a high-level position he’s held at the Ahli Bank. The bank is owned by ex-minister, Rajai Muashar (talk about transparency), who also owns Arab Al-Yawm, and so, the attack on Awadallah has been largely seen as Rajai’s orchestration. This attack was preceded by Jordanian MP, Nariman Roussan’s public remarks, who is definitely no fan of Awadallah, calling him a spy and likening him to Israeli spy, Eli Cohen. These types of remarks are somewhat representative of the hard-right wing in Jordan.
According to at least one article, sources close to Awadallah are saying that he is threatening to reveal corruption-related documents on Muasher, regarding his bank ownership. However, I don’t know how accurate that is.
Some context: Awadallah, in the Kingdom’s political circles, has constantly represented the neo-liberal thinking that has somewhat dominated this country in recent years, and taken Jordan in a direction – economically and politically – that many (referred to as the “old guard”) are not too happy with. But the public, directed largely by the media, has no love for Awadallah or the neo-liberal direction of the country, and he has become the symbolic straw man with regards to the economic woes of Jordan – specifically, inflation.
What’s interesting is that although the charges against Awadallah are steep – and with or without his alleged involvement the case remains a very serious one that does damage the country’s image – it’s kind of ironic that with Hattar and Noriman on board as the official talking heads, the case has been somewhat discredited in the public sphere. It is the equivalent of Anne Coulter and Michelle Malkin saying almost anything related to Arabs and Muslims. They have their respective fan bases but generally, most people on the ideological spectrum roll their eyes whenever their names are mentioned out loud.
There remains the bigger problem when it comes to corruption in the country. In some cases there is hard evidence to prove it (and I’ve seen some of it first hand) and in other cases, it’s mostly rumors. That’s one thing I’ve learned from working in the media sector so far: the incredible power of rumors and allegation that lack substantial evidence; a prerequisite to being guilty. And disliking people or their policies or what they do for a living is usually not enough to convict someone of a crime.
This, I think has always been one of the major complexities of corruption in Jordan: lack of evidence coupled with lack of transparency. It is a vicious circle really. Lack of transparency in issues only incite people to suspect corruption (as has been seen with the reaction to various land sales recently) and this, in turn, winds the rumors mills to the point of widespread media coverage. When this happens, it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not; it’s on TV, people are going to think it is. And if it’s on Al-Jazeera, then it moves from truth to gospel.
If politics is all about perceptions then perception emanates from transparency – spearheaded by communication: the ability to be consistently forthright and transparent with the public. And in that, the government and state have consistently failed miserably.
As for this specific case. I think any corruption-related matter in this country, be it in the public or private sector (but in this case the former) – requires a Parliamentary committee with the full mandate to investigate and call any public official to a parliamentary hearing where that official is obliged to answer questions from a parliamentary panel or commission.
And while on the same topic, it should be pointed out that the government has announced a new draft law dealing with human trafficking and today, there seems to be more confusion over businessman, Osama Hindi’s allegations that the Indonesian government was shaking him down for being involved in the human trafficking of Indonesian workers.
As for Awadallah and any public official for that matter, suffice to say, Caesar’s wife must be above reproach. Always. Public service demands it.
Everyone has their opinion on the matter…
But that’s just my two piasters.