The Missing Youth: How To Have A National Dialog Without Jordan’s Biggest Constituency

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.

22 thoughts on “The Missing Youth: How To Have A National Dialog Without Jordan’s Biggest Constituency

  1. Frustration aside, who do you think the government should have had approached to to represent that biggest constituency and on what merit? It is not that easy given there is no really representative youth organizations in Jordan. Perhaps, it would be much more constructive on your part to end the post with suggestion on how it should have been done, where they should have been going to? Simply pointing a finger at the obvious and expected solves nothing, unless, of course, the main point was to expose that obvious and expected yet again.

  2. @coffeegirl: thank you for the comment and pointing out the need for one to be constructive. i think the state is stuck in a bubble and the point of this post was to poke it in hopes that it will pop. such moves suggest that they are either unaware or deliberately treading water. both are dangerous in this day and age. if the state was even half genuine about looking for a youth voice is need only to look at the zillion institutions it has that have “access” to youth.

    Kuluna Al Urdun, Higher Youth Council, university student councils, etc etc. all of these institutions are worthless but like i said…even if the state was half genuine they would gone deep in to that territory and handpicked a few “well-mannered” youth who tow the government line, only as a sign of inclusion. but they didnt.

    or how about NGOs working with youth…jordan river foundation…injaz…etc etc.

    in a country where the majority are youth, “finding” representatives isn’t that difficult. even if they represent their own voice (as most members do anyway) they can offer valuable input on how youth are thinking.

    lastly, it is interesting that you are keen on looking for “merit” when it comes to youth – the largest constituency – but hardly ever demand the same credentials of those chosen on our behalf to speak on our behalf.

  3. Nas,

    “lastly, …” was a good point, thanks. I’d say, overlooking credentials for the chosen was purely mechanical on my part because it was more of appointment than invitation for participation, – something that is very typical here, – while thinking of bringing youth in would have required that to be done right. This is where the thought of a merit came from.

  4. Nas. Is there absolutely no one in the State of Jordan who can get people to meet and talk to each other in a constructive manner ? You need not just a good representative group, but also someone who can get them to talk to each other, openly and frankly. A good moderator. An honest broker.

  5. you mean two steps forward one step back…coz that’s how HM sees it..and we all know how he sees things affect us all, so we must see the way he sees..coz otherwise we’re just blind..

  6. One of the most important figures and activists are not invited , Laith Eshbailat and Toujan Al Faisal, this cement my suspicious that “our” king is not serious about anything let alone ” national dialog” .

  7. The so called “dialog” will go down the drain as everything “His” majesty proposed during his last ten years of mismanagement and corruption of the royal court , I can assure all of you nothing what so ever will come out of the this “dialog”, because they are dialogging with the wrong dudes, off course for their own reason ..

  8. It is the mentality that is hard to change. With a state that has done things in a particular way for so long , it is very difficult if not impossible to do it any other way. The events in Egypt and Tunisia have taught us that its not the lack of will to change that matters but the lack of ability and the lack of a good sense of timing. In their dying moments, the regimes in these two countries did their best to change and reform, but their inability to change and reform proved fatal, too little too late. I don’t see the situation for the regime in Jordan as a lost cause, yet. The king must take the same bold step thats been taken by the king of Morocco,and it must be taken now.
    I can safely say that whatever comes out of the ND will not be enough, simply because the appointees represent the king not the youths of this country who are driving the debate on the street but excluded, the old fashion way, from the decision making process.
    Sitting on the fense to maintain the status quo will serve no one’s interests. execuses of reactionary forces blocking reform, is only that..execuses.” The people are not ready for democracy”…rubbish.
    It is in the interest of no one that the youths’ demand for reform to become a zero-sum game.

  9. Another desperate move from another desperate government. They don’t care what the elite think of it they just want to convince the public and make it look like they are trying to do reform.

  10. I do not agree with the “mentality change” thing. this idea failed miserably in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab region. I think if there are to be a National Dialog Committee that is charted with changing the Constitution, then it should be an elected one and definitely more that the proposed number, 52. Please, read and comment on my views on this link: http://jordanianissues.blogspot.com/

  11. لجنة الحوار الوطني مش لازم يكون فيها شباب علشان زي ما انتوا عارفين اكبر منك بيوم افهم منك بسنة يعني معالي د. رجائي المعشر اكبر منك بحوالي 14500 يوم يعني افهم منك بخبرة كذا ديناصور… مثلا
    و النساء ناقصات عقل و دين زي ما قال الحديث الشريف و اكثر اهل النار فوجود اكثر من ثنتين ثلاثة بقلب الموضوع لجنة جهنمية و هذا لا يمثل الوطن المقدس
    بعدين شو مفكر…بدنا نسلم البلد لمولدة همل ما عندهم المؤهلات الجينية الصح؟؟ شو سايبة الامور؟ ليكون مفكر جيناتك رفاعي ولا روابدة ؟

  12. ” five leftist parties (why do we have so many of those)”

    Left wing parties are always quarreling among themselves and splitting up. This is a left-wing tradition that goes back a long way.

  13. يا ناس يا عالم أصحوا على حالكم ، البلد كما قلت في الماضي رايحة الي جهنم أذا لم يتنحى الملك عن السلطة، لقد جربنهم (ال هاشم) من أكثر ٨ عقود – عندما أتى الأمير الهارب عبد الله من نجد والحجاز الي شرق الأردن وأرادا أن يقيم في مدينة السلط ، أهل بلدتي السلطية الشرفاء طردوه مع حاشيته ولم يقبلوا به والتاريخ شاهد علي ما أقوله ، واليوم مرة ثانيه نقول الي أحفاده لا نريدكم أنتم ، والكيل قد طفح ولا
    تلمونا علي ما سيحصل لقد سرقتم الكثير والقليل من هذا البلد ولا يمكن أن نسمح بذالك بعد اليوم ، كفاية نصب وأحتيال على الشعب.

  14. Why not to have 5 leftist parties? That was a rather peculiar comment coming from pro-democracy blogger. Or do you think the number of parties should be tied up to the a) size of population; b) country’ total sq.km area; c) number of youth they attract?

    And though it’s deviation from the subject, I wonder (that’s my second attempt) what do you think about Libya situation? Who do, you think, is Libyan ‘Chalabi/Thaçi’ for it more and more looks like another Camp Bondsteel in the making in the land of the best sweet crude. I understand Egypt was such a breeze to blog about: white was white and black was black, while in Libya black is black but how light is the white…A piaster for your thought?

  15. “When you represent 60% of a population you are the population”- @Nas: very disappointing, and typical of the current and previous situation!

  16. If the king were to go or be under severe attack, civil war would almost certainly be the result. The best thing is to work toward gradual “evolutionary” change. That takes a lot of patience

Your Two Piasters: