In what has got to be one of the silliest stories of the new decade thus far – a move to name a street in Al Mazar after former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, has been revoked after a great deal of interference by the Jordanian government, supposedly lead by the Kuwaiti foreign ministry. It is simply amazing that in a time when Iraq has been torn apart for nearly a decade by American occupation, while the West Bank continues to be torn apart by Israeli occupation and while Gaza continues to be caged in by Israeli and now, evidently, Egyptian forces – that two governments in the region have mobilized political efforts on the naming of a street in a little town.
What makes this even more ridiculous is the fact that both the Jordanian and Kuwaiti government are under the impression that they can sweep public perceptions under the rug and pretend the people’s opinion even exists, let alone matters. Like it or not, Saddam still has overwhelming support in Jordan – and before anyone says anything racial I’ll point out that such support emanates from both Jordanians of Palestinian origin and Jordanians of Jordanian origin – whatever that’s supposed to mean to people these days.
Case in point, Al Mazar is a town that is as Jordanian and tribal as it gets. And in response to the government’s beurcratic enforcement, they’ve decided to do something a bit more clever:
As a town in Jordan has shelved a plan to name a street after Iraqi former leader Saddam Hussain in the wake of the political and diplomatic furore it sparked in Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq, a Jordanian tribe has decided to name all the males born this year as Saddam and all its daughters “Raghad”, “Hala” or “Rana” after Saddam’s daughters. [source]
Now if the Jordanian and Kuwaiti government team up again and go all Moses-in-the-reeds on the public by banning the aforementioned names, they will have catapulted this to the top of the silliest-stories-of-the-decade list, and we’re only two weeks in to the new decade.
I understand the foreign policy of the situation. I understand that massive Kuwaiti investments come with the ability to influence and even determine Jordan’s domestic policy much like American foreign aid does. But to the extent of getting involved in a street sign? To the extent of threatening to freeze ties with Jordan? Really? And as for the Jordanian government, if the smallest bread crumb of democratic value that is alive on the Jordanian street comes in the form of the people, vis a vis town councils, being able to choose their own street names – what does it say when that too is so easily devalued? So easily bought?
Moreover, I understand the need for political sensitivities, especially being a citizen of a country that was largely politically and economically cut off from the rest of the Arab world for it’s leader’s views on the first Gulf War; an embargo of sorts that included Kuwaiti participation (to say nothing of treatment to our citizens living in that country).
But the past is the past, right?
I also understand the delicacies of regional diplomatic relations but if it comes at the expense of one’s own people and their will, that should be a deal breaker. Personally, I am not a fan of Saddam but I recognize the fact that the majority of Jordanians loved the man, and who has the right to deny them that? Venture in to the rural parts of the country and you’ll find Saddam’s name spray painted on walls in a show of political graffiti. Again, I may not like it, and some of you reading this might not either, but it is what it is. My concern here has less to do with the beliefs of others and who they choose to admire, and more to do with the idiocy that comes with two governments getting involved with the naming of a street sign and what signals that sends to people who have little rights to begin with. I’d like to emphasize that point before someone argues otherwise.
Naturally, this story is not without its own twisted irony as Al Mazar, which is in Karak for those who don’t know, is actually home to the grave of Jafar Al-Tayyar, and every year Shi’a pilgrims, mostly from Iraq and Iran, flock through there by the hundreds.
Naming a street after their favorite person in the world is anything but subtle.