Watching this video by Aramram, which came out after the March 25th event, I thought it was interesting to see HM King Abdullah’s words sitting in contrast to those of stick-wielding protesters who, let’s just say, came to Friday’s protests with a special kind of zeal. What these youth say is fairly reflective of how many people in Jordan think and feel, and thus frame the concept of “reform” within the larger picture. Watch it first:
What the young men say is quite fascinating to me, but not surprising as I heard it quite abundantly from his side of the Interior Circle during the event itself. “He [the King] will decide what the reforms are; not us,” says the young man. “It’s not for the people to decide what the reforms are. He is the ruler; he decides what the reforms are. And we are behind him 100%”
I have often believed that one of the biggest impediments to reforms in this country (and there’s a long list) has always been the lack of public inclusion in the process itself. “Reform” has come to mean something that exists on a very omniscient pedestal, far from the reach of mere mortals, and can only be understood by the King. It is beyond the comprehension of the average citizen. And to a large extent, this is partly true. Why? Because the reform process has in fact lacked public inclusion. The people will often see the word in newspaper articles or the King’s speeches, or the Prime Minister’s speeches, or on Jordan Television – but it is a word that exists to describe macro public policy that is rarely understood by the majority of the population. How many are aware of virtual voting districts, the proposed energy mix or the judicial reform of judges?
But aside from the lack of comprehension, the lack of public inclusion has also meant that reform is decided by the King. This may not be true on a micro level, since the King tends to form committees that, in a think tank fashion, come back with proposed ideas that he reviews and approves of. Nevertheless, on a macro level, the entire process is seen as something that is belonging solely within the King’s hands. These reforms are then “given” to the Prime Minister and his government to implement. Thus, what people see and hear and perceive to be true is that the King comes up with reforms and the government is given the task of carrying them out. The government usually fails due to a million and one issues, and it’s back to the drawing board; often manifested in a speech by the King, a letter of designation to a new Prime Minister and/or the formation of another committee. This has largely been the vicious circle of the past few years, and in recent weeks we’ve seen all those things take place: a new government, a pro-reform designation letter, a national dialog committee to discuss specific reforms, a speech about reforms, and another letter to the Prime Minister demanding faster movement on the reform front.
Again, this is the process that the average Jordan sees unfolding before them, and it is what shapes much of their public perceptions regarding reforms. As the young man in the video said: “the King decides what the reforms will be”. Not us. The people.
Indeed, the lack of public inclusion has become a major obstacle for the reform process. No citizen sees themselves having to do with anything related to that process, and thus there is no responsibility, no motivation. When people are part of any process, they have some skin in the game and they feel a sense of responsibility. Their mindset completely changes.
A very simple example of this is the environment. We live in a society that is often keen on littering. They have no sense of social responsibility. And why should they? Rarely are they told by the educational system, their teachers, their peers, their parents and their communities that what they are doing is wrong. In fact, it is often encouraged by all of those entities. The government will be along shortly to clean up after them. After all, it’s a street sweepers job.
Far removed from this reality is a government or a municipality that sees a problem and attempts to do something about it. The public policy process is typically formed by a committee, approved by whoever is in charge, and then carried out only to experience complete failure. All the awareness campaigns, all the logos, leaflets and billboards won’t change the fact that the public wasn’t part of the process and therefore shares no responsibility. It isn’t affected. But take a group of 10 young students out in to their local community and get them to pick up garbage and you’ve started the process of changing 10 minds. Bring those students to a town hall meeting and allow them to retell their experience to a group of 100 community members, and you’ve started another process. Have that town hall meeting reflect its concerns to the mayor regarding the cleanliness of their streets, and you’ve got public input. Incorporate their input and demonstrate the result in a tangible way, and you’ve got a public policy. One that is inclusive. One where the community feels part of the process and feels it is obliged to share in the responsibility of that process’s outcome. Dictate a policy a group of thinkers came up with in a closed room and you’re guaranteed failure.
This may be the approach the King and/or the executive branch may need to take to help strengthen the reform process he/it began. Decentralizing the process so that a sense of public inclusion becomes a key component, and you can, in that process, create responsible citizens that will help carry out those macro reforms in the most micro of manners. In a way they can connect with.
Otherwise, the result is quite visible in that video.
Meanwhile, here’s what some of the residents of Ma’an said about reform when asked by 7iber what their thoughts on the subject were. Most of the replies were personal perspectives, and aside from some of the more angry and frustrated voices, many of the replies, at least to me, are relative to local and personal experiences related to education, unemployment, bad governance by the municipality or getting car insurance, i.e. problems as experienced (rather than analyzed) by the average person. Check it out: