Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit yesterday said his government was planning to establish a Ã¢??freedom squareÃ¢?Â to allow citizens to express their views freely.
Most observers said the idea reminded them of the celebrated Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park.
Ã¢??The square will provide a neutral space for people to express themselves in a civilised manner,Ã¢?Â Bakhit told parliamentarians in his policy statement.
Details on the mechanisms for the establishment of the Ã¢??squareÃ¢?Â were not immediately clear, as officials told The Jordan Times that the initiative was in its preliminary stages.
Ã¢??We still need to articulate the proposal, but the concept is there,Ã¢?Â said Minister of Political Development and Parliamentary Affairs Sabri Rbeihat. He said the government wanted to Ã¢??offer an alternative to the prototype of all political actions coming from one side.Ã¢?Â [article]
IÃ¢??ve been told this is Ã¢??old newsÃ¢?Â but it is brand spanking news to me because I am literally blown away. I was smiling very proudly before thoughts of skepticism returned to plague me and they were shared with others as I continued reading the articleÃ¢?Â¦
Most deputies received the proposal with a benevolent smile, while others were sceptical. Deputy Mamdouh Abbadi (Amman 3rd District) welcomed the idea, but said its success depended on how the initiative would be implemented.
Ã¢??It is mainly a publicity stunt… we have to wait and see how it is done,Ã¢?Â he told The Jordan Times….
Deputy Thaher Fawaz, (Northern Bedouins) branded the project Ã¢??unfeasible.Ã¢?Â
Ã¢??This is an unrealistic idea, due to the political climate in the country.Ã¢?Â
Azzam Huneidi (Amman 1st District) dismissed the government’s plan outright.
Ã¢??Opening the media to true democratic debate and guaranteeing freedom of the press is more important than establishing a public freedom square,Ã¢?Â he said.
So a chill ran down my spine. Is this square entrapment? Where people will come to preach what’s on their mind only to be surrounded by men dressed in black to take them away for a “talking to”?
This is the same fear that caused as much skepticism in Jordan when people were encouraged to participate in political parties, particularly the country’s university students.
The last quote is very interesting to consider: what comes first in a politically impotent nation, freedom of press or freedom of the public?
On the one hand if you have freedom of the press and no public freedom, journalists will feel inclined to echo the “thoughts of the everyman” in their duty to cater to the imprisoned public. This of course would not go over well with the government. On the other hand if you have public freedom then the press may not be so inclined to take an aggressively oppositional stance on everything as the people are now allowed to voice their own concerns. The press settles down into the common domain of simply reporting and in this scenario there would actually be something to report.
Though this last quote does reinforce my level of skepticism as it begs the question: how can you offer the public freedom if the press doesn’t have it? It’s like learning to run before you walk; which of course leads me to the most fundamental thought…
Is this all just a ploy, another illusion of political freedom?
Because if it is, the government is taking a big risk here. It is one thing to promise a hungry animal a carrot and produce none and it is another thing to tease them with it using a live prop. The latter usually comes with some fatalities.
Amman is a city of circles so a square is a very irregular shape to introduce into the Socio-political climate indeed. My sense of optimism (which is buried somewhere deep in the inner confines of my mind) is still alive and hoping this plan will not be another abandoned project that makes our country run in circles once again.