Jordan has always seemed to be a country taking one step forward and two steps back. For every “good” thing that happens, there seems to always be a slew of negatives lurking around the corner, and things seem to be no different with the recent announcement of a national dialog committee. The 52-member “task force” is supposed to be an attempt to hold a “national dialog” with various members in the country to talk about steps for reform. In theory, the idea is sound. A national dialog is needed to discuss reform. It is a step towards greater public inclusion, mixed in with a little transparency. I do not know how these dialogs will unfold or whether they will yield anything different from what is already widely available in the National Agenda, but in theory, its a sound idea. There’s nothing wrong with hosting a national conversation.
But then comes the part where the Jordanian state has almost always failed: implementation.
The 52-member committee is comprised of people who are from a somewhat diverse background, but none of which are truly representative of the people. Again, effective and genuine representation has never been the Jordanian state’s forte. People tend to almost always be hand-picked. Already, the Islamists have chosen to boycott the dialog (not a great move on their part) and five leftist parties (why do we have so many of those) have called for the committee to be re-formed to be more representatives. It seems some parties were asked to suggest names for their members to represent them in the committee, but in some cases those lists were thrown out.
In explaining how the members were chosen, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications and Government Spokesperson Taher Odwan said: “some of the 52 members were consulted, but [odwan] acknowledged that others were simply picked “on the basis of their experience in moderating dialogue”.
But here’s the kicker. Amongst the 52-member list of PhD holders, the country’s biggest constituency is completely missing. Nearly 60% of this nation’s population is under the age of 30 and none of them are represented in these national dialogs. Which begs the question of how can you have a national dialog without the nation’s biggest constituency? To say nothing of the fact that most reforms deal with issues that concern the youth population the most, such as poverty, unemployment and education. The election law is at the top of the list of issues to be discussed, and yet no youth voice will be present at these meetings, which will make any government calls for greater youth participation in the next elections obsolete at best, and hypocritical at worst.
To me, the decision to exclude this constituency, which in my opinion should make up 30% of this committee at the very least, sends a clear message to the public and to the world: we just don’t get it. It says to me, and many others, that the state is completely out of touch with what is happening all around it. It is a state that has always used regional turmoil as a scapegoat and yet it has chosen to ignore the fact that millions of young Arabs have taken to the streets in the past 10 weeks, from Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, to Bahrain, Yemen and Palestine. They are young, they are angry, and they are overthrowing regimes that have been present long before the day this generation of youth was born. They are the biggest constituency and they are the most important piece of the puzzle. Indeed, as has been proven in these past 10 weeks, they are the entire ballgame. The battle is won or lost on their turf and not that of a dying system struggling to be relevant in the 21st century.
So here we are with a national dialog with the biggest constituency snubbed. Left to beg at the heels of a generation charged with leading a national conversation. And that may be the most hilarious part in this entire equation; this assumption that youth are not already having their own conversations. This failure to learn from fellow Arab nations crumbling all around us; nations that once had states who refused the youth voice until their dying breath. Nations that tried to host their own “conversations” with the assumption that it gave them power to control it. What they failed to understand was that controlling the conversation is an illusion in the information age. Youth have managed to jump the sinking ship and swim to the shore. They are having their own conversation, and it is large, it is representative and it is void of any state presence for the most part. During Mubarak’s final speech we saw this in action, when only a few minutes in to his paper reading we saw on the other side of the split screen an entire generation voicing their reaction. While he continued to read, the youth were already planning their next steps. By the time he had finished, the youth had already begun to move. On one side of the screen was a politician having his own conversation, and on the other, was a constituency having a completely different conversation. A constituency that has long been pushed down to beg at the gates of policymakers to grant them permission to be part of a conversation, have abandoned hope in these policymakers. They left to have their own conversation and will only come back to those gates to tare them down. These past three months have proved nothing short of this new reality; a reality where the largest segment of society is the architect. Where the voice of silent majority is no longer biting its tongue and parsing words as it was taught to by its governments, its environment, its education system and its own parents.
However, do not be misled in thinking my voice of frustration stems from the lack of youth inclusion. It stems purely from the fact that the state is continuing to think in the same archaic ways. Here we are on the brink of history, a time when hope is defined by great expectations, and all we get is more of the same nodes of thinking. The same approach to public conversations and public inclusion. We, Jordan, should be running towards this conversation, not crawling cautiously and hesitantly out of fear from waking a semi-awake giant. So I care not for inclusion; like I said, the youth are already having their own conversation. The state can continue to tip toe around them for as long as it likes.
Furthermore, youth should not be treated like some special subset to be catered to or ignored. When you represent 60% of a population you are the population.
On a final note, of the 52 people on the committee, only two or three names are women.
One step forward.
Two steps back.