Why Omar Maani’s Case Is Of National Concern


image courtesy of tareeq

I’ve always felt that the pillar that tends to hold a country together is it’s justice system. Ours, while better than most, is far from perfect. The independence of the judiciary is constantly being tested by our executive (and legislative) branch, and often, high profile cases are immersed in the blurry gray, rendering it difficult to distinguish between who exactly is giving orders. This distorted relationship has been tested extensively this past year in the context of this ongoing domestic reeling, where combating corruption is at the top of protester demands.

Reading up on the Omar Maani case, both online and offline, I’ve managed to come to a few conclusions that have helped shape my opinion. The first is the fact that this entire conversation about Maani’s jailing has centered on subjective voices. They relate to the man, rather than the issue. Those that deem him innocent are his supporters, and those that deem him guilty are his opponents or even enemies. This subjectivity is to be expected, for the court of public opinion rarely takes in to consideration the broad spectrum of issues, nor their intricate details unless of course the media dictates otherwise. This subjectivity, or focus on the “man” over the issue, is also due to the second reality: a media blackout on the case. Realistically speaking, no one knows anything. We don’t know specifically what this case entails other than the ambiguous charge of “failing to carry out his official duties,” which was leaked to the media. Any details we “hear” from people who are “in the know” are at best, unverifiable, and at worst, rumors.

These two realities alone seem to paint a picture where no one really knows anything, and despite the knowledge gap, most of those vocal about the case are fairly subjective. And in Jordan, subjectivity takes on a whole new meaning, especially when a rally calling for your release is lead chiefly by your tribe. Even online, discussions taking place or groups being formed, are rather subjective.

Like everyone else, I have my own feelings with regards to Maani. I do think he was a relatively good mayor, especially compared to his predecessors. I do believe he did good things for the city, or at least sought to – which, again, is more than one can say about his predecessors. He is also somewhat noted for having “saved” the city from inevitable urban planning doom it was due to face from the influx of foreign investment (aka money laundering in some cases), which would have likely seen menacing towers going up in the middle of dense urban areas. Thanks to Maani and his team, much of Amman now has sidewalks, numbered buildings, clear street names, and bus stops. But I do believe like most Jordanian officials he was a terrible communicator. As many incidents in these past few years have shown, many of the policies undertaking by the Greater Amman Municipality, which impacted local communities in the Capital, tended to shut out those very communities from a public discussion.

However, personal feelings aside, looking at this case I see two things. I see a government that is scrambling to quell the domestic discontent, and the endless call for holding the corrupt accountable, and I see a judicial process influenced by the executive in an effort to meet those demands. In other words, there is a show being put on and we, as citizens, are all audience members. This approach isn’t something novel for the Jordanian state, nor most governments in most countries for that matter. When things get tough and the local discontent rises, people want to see heads roll, and any government interested in remaining in power (which is essentially the goal of any government, anywhere) will always be more than willing to make that happen; to march a sacrificial lamb to the guillotine in an effort to appease the hungry, maddening crowd below. Today, the guillotine is simply the justice system and the courtroom. Even in the US, for instance, we tend to see incumbent mayors, governors or even presidents, sporadically cracking down on crime around election time, in an attempt to gain favor with voters who see crime as a priority. It’s pre-emptive policy making, as opposed to our more domestic variety, which tends to be reactive; a half-measured afterthought.

I do not have a problem with holding people accountable or prosecuting the corrupt. In fact, I would argue that having mechanisms of accountability is at the core of my personal vision for Jordan. But in my mind, accountability comes through instilling a set of practices that ensure citizens, and officials are held accountable for their actions by systematic mechanisms, which are applied to everyone. It is a system based on social justice, where everyone is treated equally before the law, and no one is above it, or falls between its cracks. However, what we are seeing today is a far cry from such a reality. What we are seeing today is an arbitrary sacrifice; a showcasing, as opposed to a genuine pursuit of systems of accountability. And like most shows, it is designed to be crowd-pleasing, grandiose in nature, and more importantly, short-lived. The evidence of this is as clear as day. Accountability and the prosecution of corrupt officials has never been systematic, and if it was we would see a whole lot more of it, and we would likely see it in a more timely fashion rather than several years after the fact. Instead, it’s very, very recent. It’s also very, very rare. Especially when it comes to the more high-profile variety. 

So when it comes to the Maani case, or even the Shahin case, or even the Akram Abu Hamdan’s Mawared case – it is an event. Media blackouts are imposed to keep things interesting, rumor-driven, and subtle. When it comes to having public officials being held accountable, the citizens are never in the know. They are simply fed headlines and outcomes: guilty or not-guilty. The court of public opinion is shaped far from the judiciary, and this alone emphasizes the extent to which we are being offered an entertaining show, as opposed to a genuine national pursuit. It is why the two biggest “opinions” one hears these days with regards to the Maani case is either in the form of “Oh they must have something on him, or else they wouldn’t have thrown him in jail” – or – “He must be innocent. He did so many great things for the city.” Neither opinion is really valid or of relevance, but its simply the kind of opinion that emerges from a case that is more likely designed to serve as public entertainment. It is also why whenever a high profile person is prosecuted, you’ll often hear people say that this specific individual must have either fallen out of favor with the King or is the subject of an old score being settled by a current Prime Minister, or even “elected” members of the legislative branch. Such opinions are a clear acknowledgement by many, that the judiciary is not independent from the influence of the executive or the state, and can easily be influenced by either. In fact, the entire process can be influenced, even from its instigative origins.

And for the sake of the show, rules and rights are often bypassed to ensure that this show goes on, and that it remains entertaining. Investigations are held behind closed doors, decisions are made behind closed doors, charges emerge seemingly out of the blue, and allegations are thrown around arbitrarily, the outcome of which is a figure being held with or without charges, and denied bail and the opportunity to prepare their defense. In short, the policy that is undertaken for the sake of this show is one where everyone is guilty until proven innocent. Instead of the burden of proof being on the state, it is an obligation shifted to the accused, who must fight the premeditated guilty verdict thrust upon them.

When it comes to public officials being charged with corruption and marched to the courtroom, the majority of the public could care less. In authoritarian systems where mechanisms of accountability are either absent or neglected, the public is nothing more than a hungry mob, cheering, and thirsty for a fight. Few honestly care for systems, judicial review, or due process being upheld. This domain is usually left to the minority who care about individual rights and/or have the forethought to fear the precedent being set; to fear that they themselves could fall under the mercy of such a judiciary. For if a public official is deemed guilty until proven innocent, what chance does an average citizen have when faced with the same judiciary? It is only when the majority are faced with that question that they begin to see things in a different light:

If the Maani case has demonstrated anything thus far, it is simply this: a public official is being charged with corruption, and seems to be receiving a different kind of treatment from the court in an effort to uphold an appearance of a state being tough on corruption. In an effort to send a message to the public. In an effort to appease. In an effort to quell discontent. In an effort to entertain.

Whether Maani is eventually found innocent or guilty is, by now, almost entirely besides the point. What is relevant (at least to me) is this ongoing affirmation that the judiciary remains lacking in independence, that people are considered guilty till proven innocent, and that corruption cases remain opportunities for the state to appear serious without having to actually be serious about it. As a citizen who believes that the judiciary should never be a window-dressing platform, the Maani case is a harsh reminder that even in the domain of law and order, both can be rendered unreliable at a moment’s notice.

All of this begs the classical question: who will guard the guards?

34 thoughts on “Why Omar Maani’s Case Is Of National Concern

    1. I think when it comes to such cases, the “government” – in the classical sense of the word – plays a limited role. My reference here is to the state/executive which extends beyond the prime ministry.

  1. Great post.

    “We we are seeing today is an arbitrary sacrifice”, spot on; the keyword is ‘arbitrary’. Perhaps, what contributes to this overall state of arbitrariness is the public being too emotional whether it’s the people who say ‘Omar Maani is great because now we can get to places using street names and building numbers’ or others who are targeting him harshly when he’s only another product of a whole miscast of officials.

    We definitely need to look beyond the ‘Maani’ case, the government act of ‘bad cop’ against corruption, and the public hunger for gossip to get to jurisdiction at large. I don’t know how we can establish and maintain an independent jurisdiction, but the lack of it combined with the convenience of temporary laws and other factors make a recipe for legislative and judicial disasters yet empowering corruption.

    The justice system needs to be reviewed and reset, so that every case-including ones related to officials-can be viewed solely in quest of justice, without public nor ‘high profile’ influence. Government scapegoating every now and then will obviously please or entertain the public, but it will not solve the key issues.

    Thank you,

  2. Well said.

    Sadly, window dressing is the default tactic of governments throughout the world – from the “Beacon of Democracy” to your standard tinpot dictator. Unfortunately – i don’t think it has ever been different.

  3. Thank you for the timely piece. There are murder cases in the neighborhood and the police and the public want to see them as independent crimes. I say , do we have a serial killer in town hitting at related icons?

  4. A very balanced and good analysis, best I have read so far on Mr Maani’s case. The only way to fight corruption is with INTEGRITY…it is clear that this has been missing. In essence they have corrupted the fight against corruption and it will take a long time to recover from this situation and to regain the integrity and public trust needed to combat this cancer.

  5. Beautifully written and I commend you on breaking down the case against Maani to such detail. On the other hand, I would like to offer a slightly different point of view from your own…

    To me, Mayor Maani did a lot more than implement “sidewalks, numbered buildings, clear street names, and bus stops”.

    Besides the Master Plan that you’ve also referenced, Maani brought Urban Rejuvination to many parts of old Amman that were suffering and left for ruin. Jabal El-Qal3a, Al-Saha Al-Hashimiyeh, 1st circle/Rainbow Street to name a few.

    He was also the first Jordanian public servant to extensively plan and get foreign financing for a holistic new transportation system, the Bus Rapid Transit. A system that was deemed feasible by various experts, consultants, and which unfortunately got sabbotaged by the former administration for no particular reason other than the lack of professionalism and due to their not so hidden agendas.

    Maani was the mayor to open more parks than anyone before, Marj El Hamam Park, Jiza Park, Sahab Park, Prince Hashim Park, King Hussein Park and the list goes on. Between the Master Plan and all these parks you can imagine what Amman would have looked like if he had served for another five years!

    As a lover of this great Amman, Maani was not just a city planner, he was a cultured visionary who showed me what it is to celebrate my city and celebrate my culture. For the first time, Amman had a cultural calendar; food festivals, summer festivals, a symphony orchestra, a marathon a comedy festival and the list goes on and on…..

    I have to commend you on your perspective on the law. I agree completely that our Jordanian Judiciary has proven to be easily influenced and especially during these difficult and turbulent times. And I share your concern that the notion of a Jordanian being guilty until proven innocent is alarming and concerning to us all.

    However I have a further concern as a lover of this city. To me, it is not at all besides the point if Maani is found guilty. If Maani is found guilty of “Mismanagement” (which is very different than the clear corruption cases that you referenced) we as Jordanians are getting the de-motivating message that politicians who work hard and implement bold visions that are entirely necessary for taking this country into the 21st century, that we will be tried and convicted for having the guts to do so. This means a stagnant world with no re-form, no moving forward and no hope for the future generation of inspired youth. And that to me is a bitter end.

  6. Then again, how can a mayor whose decisions are fully approved by his board, and the critical ones approved by the cabinet, but held personally responsible for whatever supposed financial abuse that is being ascribed to him! Majnoon yihki and 3aqel yifham

  7. Your words ring true, I hope they resonate with those who have the power to grant any citizen the freedom to defend him/herself before an objective non-politicized judicial system influenced by the state. Mr. Maani cannot possibly do so under the intimidation of jail. We have the right to know why he is not being granted bail; I am quite confident there is no solid, adequate reasoning for this hideousness.
    Some might agree or disagree with his management approach or techniques; 2 facts are certain (no one will argue) 1- His decisions are made with a city council approval followed by an approval of the cabinet of ministers/Prime Minister 2-His integrity and honesty is beyond any doubt.
    What is happening to this man can happen to anyone in our country; I totally second your notion on this.
    If you want to stay out of jail and live your life without worry do NOT work in public sector, do not serve your country, and certainly do not try to reform or rock the “boat.”

  8. I know for a fact a case where Maani knew about an unlicensed office opening in a residential area and building beyond the height limit for this central Amman neighborhood also no parking spaces for what became two five floor offices and doing nothing about it. This may to some be a minor infraction but it is an infraction nonetheless

  9. Not fair for Maani to be grouped with Abu Hamadan. Maani is an honest and hard working Jordanian, he does not deserve this treatment.

  10. i guess that our government don’t want them ( shaheen , maani , and abu hamdan ) to come out of the jail although that they knows that they didn’t have lot of files but they have a lots of enemy’s in the governments , and if there is any good from our Justice at least they should be out , but they still need an eid sheeps to the ordinary citizens so i hope that the government will look again to their case and send the true guiltily people to the jail .

  11. Amir, open your eyes and be an informed and educated Jordanian citizen. Use your brain. Are you serious with this comment: “Maani knew about an unlicensed office opening in a residential area and building beyond the height limit for this central Amman neighborhood also no parking spaces for what became two five floor offices and doing nothing about it”.

    Are you serious? Wake up! There are people robbing this country right, left and center, and just because they have some big tribes behind them they are getting away with it. Omar being tried for Mismanagement? Are you serious? Your comment is an example of the miseducation of the average Jordanian.

    Open you eyes

  12. Thank you #16. Great contribution though a little harsh.

    I agree completely, the Mayor makes 000’s of decisions a day and is bound to make small mistakes. But being tried for mismanagement and refused bail? This is obviously a political scandal designed to discredit Maani’s hundreds of achievements and thousands of people who’s lives were touched by his work.

    Jordanians will not be fooled? Where is the real corruption? Where are the real cases? You can’t shut the people up with “mismanagement” and definitely not with a man as sincere as Maani.

  13. How come the file of Queen Rania wasn’t send to the court yet. They are capturing the weekest links in Jordan and leaving those people who are protected by Law. I guess if you want to start cleaning corruption you should start with yourself first. So, that at least you may have some credibility to start judging other people in the society.

    What about the evidence that they found about Taking Lands to Yasseen Family. Or, they are just the only people protected by Law.

    I don’t understand your logic?

  14. It seems to me that there is an overt reason and a covert reason for Mr. Maani’s prolonged detention. The overt reason is for public consumption, it consists of a dereliction of duty. If this is what he is being charged with he was already let go from his job as a mayor of Amman and that should suffice as a punishment for his highly touted dereliction of duty charge. But that is not it, there has to be some kind of covert reason that is being kept away from the general public and the media. Otherwise why would they deny him bail for the sixth time on the row and further more they put a lien on all of his fungible and liquid assets. It is true that his contribution to the city are a source of pride and joy for all Ammanis and visitors from outside Amman, but that alone wouldn’t absolve from some potentially wrong doings that he was allegedly involved in. In a way his case is already tainted, he even may have already been convicted in the court of public opinion. Stereotyping and prejudices may end up being a determining factors when everything is said and done on his behalf. I don’t know if Mr. Maani will end up being a living martyr or scapegoat. He is certainly had his epiphany. Will he get a fair trial? I don’t think so. He is already portrayed by some critics as a villain and a pariah and profited from his position as a Mayor. In any event this case will probably serve as a spring board catapulting the war on corruption to a new level and Mr. Maani will be the pioneer (hero) or (victim) of the war on corruption.

  15. ‘I’ve always felt that the pillar that tends to hold a country together is it’s justice system. Ours, while better than most, is far from perfect. The independence of the judiciary is constantly being tested by our executive (and legislative) branch, and often, high profile cases are immersed in the blurry gray, rendering it difficult to distinguish between who exactly is giving orders. This distorted relationship has been tested extensively this past year in the context of this ongoing domestic reeling, where combating corruption is at the top of protester demands.’
    Right off the bat and once again Naseem offers us pure propaganda , for god sake Nassem, don’t you get tired of writing such propaganda on the behalf of defunct regime that has passes it’s time and beyond , Nassem wants us to believe that our justice system is better than most, are you kidding me , are you comparing it with that of Sweden or Denmark or Norway or even Tanzania , who in his or her mind would write such misinformation and propaganda ?
    Then Nassem adds some more of the same, and he describes “our” judicial system is “independent” and constantly being tested by “our” executive , I really don’t comprehend what he is trying to say here , “constantly being tested”? Nassem, your system has not been “tested” , it has been kidnapped ,abused and altered by “our” executive.
    نظام قضائي مخردق ومطبش مند ٦٠ عام

  16. Dear Max, good comment but here are some facts to add:

    -Maani was not “let go from his job as a mayor of Amman”.

    -He left pffice naturally when his 4 year term ended, and that was also the time when his entire council (elected and appointed) was desolved.

    -He LEFT HONORABLY and was NEVER ASKED TO LEAVE. T

    -his is in contrast to the last Mayor Nidal Hadid who was publicly fired from his duties on national Television for several wrongdoings that he is not being tried for. I ask the question why not? Where is he? Lets bring him in!

    Thank you,
    Appointed GAM Council Member

  17. To max robinson (comment #19) on Jan 5th, 2012 said:
    Dear Max, good comment but here are some facts to add:

    -Maani was not “let go from his job as a mayor of Amman”.

    -He left office naturally when his 4 year term ended, and that was also the time when his entire council (elected and appointed) was desolved.

    -He LEFT HONORABLY and was NEVER ASKED TO LEAVE.

    -This is in contrast to the last Mayor Nidal Hadid who was publicly fired from his duties on national Television for several wrongdoings that he is not being tried for. I ask the question why not? Where is he? Lets bring him in!

    Thank you,
    Appointed GAM Council Member

  18. No one in their right mind will serve in public office after this atrocity – they have lost the last true believer/soldier of reform. We are being pulled back into the dark ages while humpty dumpty sits on the wall.

  19. jordan is still living in the stone age and one of th emost corrupt nations in the world. the people need to wake up and fight against it. this mayor may be just a scapegoat or has his hands dirty but the whole system needs to go on trial…..

  20. As I commented in another location ( ):
    Engineer Omar Maani had a vision for Amman. He worked for his city and achieved many things. The Amman Master Plan is an excellent, and badly needed start for the capital city of Jordan. By no means is it perfect –there has never been a perfect city plan anywhere in the world. Planning for a city is, any city, a process and a tough one at that –let alone when planning is for a city that has never been planned before –that is from the point of view of planning as a paradigm and profession.

    Indeed, similar to any planning process anywhere else in the world, there are certain aspects in the implementation of the Amman Master Plan that need to be revisited as I highlight in my recently published paper in the Journal of Planning Theory and Practice: “From Toronto to Amman: the crossnational transfer of planning knowledge” volume 12 (4): pp 525-547.

    Having said that, these aspects that require revisiting in no way warrant the blunder of placing Mr. Al-Maani in prison so as to appease to the squeaky wheels (i.e. the loud yet ignorant voices).

    It is a real shame that the capital city of Jordan, which lacks any energy sources and houses over 2 million inhabitants but nonetheless is still completely auto-dependent; lacks any form of public transit; suffers from a fragmented network of pedestrian sidewalks; is infested by smog; deprived of proper public open spaces… etc.

    Such a decision sends a negative message, unfortunately, to many “clean” individuals, to investors, to expatriates … to anyone who really cares about this country –this negative message confirms that it is utterly futile to even consider to improve anything in Jordan. As another commentator said “dark ages” indeed!

  21. Suppose Ma3ani f***** up on so many counts for five years without anyone to stop him, where the hell are the checks and balances. Off course, the larger the lie, the harder it is to believe it. This man is neither a scapegoat, nor a sacrificial lamb-baaaaaaaaaaa. Maybe, just maybe he stepped unwittingly on the wrong toe.

  22. Thank you Nasseem for taking this sensitive issue to a public space where it can be discussed openly. I like you believe Mr. Maani worked hard on his vision for Amman and would hardly fit in with the Jordanian image of what constitutes a corrupt official in Jordan (even if some mismanagement was proved). The legal system has been hijacked by the politicians as you said. The political narrative has been reduced to “rumours”. The corruption issue has been sidelined and reform has been stunted and turned into settling personal scores. I wish that 2012 had more hope..

  23. Thank you for this article somebody had to question what is happening regarding the Maani case. It seems extremely suspicious the fact that he was denied bail, although what he is charged with is not a criminal act. I cannot help smelling somrthing very fishy in the case itself and the way it is handled. So far what we are able to understand from the media is that he is considered inefficient in conducting the duties of being a mayor. Is there a manual or specific criteria by which he is judged ? If so where is it and who are the people who are knowledgable enough to do so ? I really wonder ?

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