A Third Cup Of Coffee At The Salon Seyasi

It’s been three weeks since I started attending the World Affairs Council meetings, and it’s safe to say I’ve grown a bit attached to the place. The first meet saw the discussion of the Annapolis summit, while the second was about domestic energy. This week was probably everyone’s favorite topic these days: the elections. So here’s a rundown of the mental notes I took while people were speaking.

An argument was made that many of those running have no political or even social record. This of course is true. A parliament seat has meant that many people get to massage their egos, be in the public eye, get a car, a driver, a nice salary and retirement. I think the last factor was very interesting since parliamentarians in the past didn’t used to get retirement plans such as those today, and in an expensive country where everyone’s future is uncertain, so this may be a bigger motivational force that has lead to the current surge of candidates running than we think.

There was a great deal of focus on the current electoral law that stipulates a one-man one-vote voting system as well as the general geographical misrepresentation that can be safely defined as gerrymandering at its best. The question of changing the law and reforming the system, to make it a fair distribution, would lead to an Islamist surge was also brought up. Some argued (correctly in my opinion) that should the system be reformed and everything made equal, the IAF would not win more than 30 seats in the Parliament. Moreover, the government has had a recent history of demonizing the IAF in an attempt to inspire fear in the electorate, but in fact they are just making them out to be something bigger than they really are. The idea here is that if this anti-IAF campaign continues, it will lead to a split in the country and the better solution is for the government to bring the party in to the political fold.

From there, the discussion lead to arguments concerning political parties in the country. Briefly, as most already know, the country has suffered from a lack of development when it comes to political parties.

Now here is where some interesting points came about and these are some of the odd ones:

– The government should give 2 million JDs to political parties, funding them and strengthening them, helping them campaign, etc. I personally found the suggestion of a government funding political parties to be a bit unconventional and frankly a little bit absurd. I think it was Laurice Hlass who rightly pointed out that a government funding a political party means the party is in the pockets of the government. Even in the best case scenario where that isn’t true, there is still that social perception.

– Governments never last long enough to do anything positive. Moreover, Ministers are bogged down with paper work and ceremonial processions that have them avoiding getting any real work done. Thus the suggestion was made that a King-appointed council be created to carry out the National Agenda while the governments that come and go merely tend to the ceremonies. This person also argued that Bakhit was one of the best Prime Ministers in Jordan and previously argued that Rice was the best Secretary of State since Baker. Nuff said? No? Well suffice to say, I don’t think a parallel political system has ever functioned well in human history and I think many would agree with that.

– The last point was one of the things I found to be most interesting about this session. One of the reasons political parties are not functioning well is because the youth are not interested in politics. They are not interested in joining political parties. They have been warned by their parents from an early age that politics should be avoided as should political parties. There is also the fear that the government’s encouragement of the youth to join these parties is a trap; a way for the government to get all the members in one room and then whisk them off to the big house.

These statements were said in a way that suggested such beliefs were silly and thus they instantaneously elicited everyone in the room to laugh.

But to me, I found it to be absolutely true and a serious concern when considering the future.

These perceptions are well alive in our youth. Most of them ARE interested in politics but they have been socially constructed to fear politics on a public stage or in a public context. As for the government’s encouragement being a trap. Based on the stories our fathers tell us from their own experiences, and based on Jordan’s history, such an assumption is not far fetched at all. How much has really changed in the past half century in the way the government approaches politics? In its context, many things have improved and there are undoubtedly more freedoms comparatively. But the state is still very controlling and political dissidents are still jailed, and parties and their members are still targets. So to someone in their 20’s that’s been raised to believe politics will get you into trouble, where’s the incentive to join a political party?

How does this person, who has his or her whole life in front of them, guarantee their personal safety? Where is the track record? Where is the precedent? Whose to say 20 years from now when I’m in my 40’s, what I said or believed years ago, what beliefs I voiced at a party rally won’t be held against me?

None, is the answer. As I’ve argued before, the government has simply “pushed” for the youth to participate, and has remained bumfuzzled as to why they haven’t. No moves have been made, no measures have been taken, no precedent has been set, no indicators are on the ground that suggest to our youth, to me, to us, that this is a process worth engaging in and will come at no personal cost as it did with our fathers and/or grandfathers.

And that, was another cup of coffee at the salon il-seyasi.


  • thats a good cup, 9a7ten o 3afyih.

    i also want to add, its not only fear of having political participation on epense of personal costs that prevents young people, and even old people (i would say that hardly anyone in jordan is involved actively politicaly in parties)from joining the political process, but its also, the faith that no party, elections, democratic process available now that can lead to any actual on-the-ground changes. or effect the country policies and political direction.

    so its two major point in my opinion, lak of evidence that participation will make any change at all, and lak of evidence that participation wont come with personal expenses (jail, “black mark in your record”, all the things people fear would effect their present and future).

    thank you for writing about this.

  • The idea about the government funding political parties is an interesting one. Amb. Hlass’s point that government financing might make parties pander to the regime is a good one. Beyond that, I think four questions are important here:

    1. How is “political party” defined? From what I understand, apart from the IAf political parties in Jordan are generally built up around small groups of individuals looking to bring back goodies to their relatives. It seems like anybody can form their own political party.

    a. How could the government ensure that these funds are being used legitimately (i.e. to finance political party activities)? If funds are not monitored and anybody can create their own party…well… it would be a great way to make some spare cash!

    2. Would government financing of parties encourage more people to get involved? Here I am inclined to say no. Parties are weak in Jordan because people obtain the services/goods/policies they want from the government through other means, namely personal connections.

    3. Who would financing benefit the most? I am inclined to think that it would benefit parties who followers have fewer resources to devote towards campaign donations and such. Like the IAF, for example.

    We have federal financing of individual presidential candidates for the general election, but it’s a small chunk of change, a surface counterargument to the common claim that US elections are dominated by big money and big business, which disproportionately benefits the Republican Party. Point is: if people think that partisan activity will get them the policies they want, they will donate and organize on their own, no government funds necessary.

  • Change and transformation is an attitude before anything else, then it’s hard work.

    On funding:
    It’s crazy to even consider gov funding. Totally out of whack. If a party wants money from the gov, then they may as well just apply to become gov employees. What’s the point?? The myopic whining of ‘give us money… from anywhere’ is tiring. There is private money in this country so we really do not need the gov to fund political parties – nor should we allow ourselves to consider it. It’s crazy. The challenge (i.e. real work) is to define a strong agenda, engage active party members, maintain enthusiasm and dedication, work on practical ideas towards making life in Jordan better. Once established correctly, with the engaged active members, fundraising becomes second nature. Enough with the begging! Do the work and do it well, the money will come.

    On Ministers not sticking around long enough to deliver and being bogged down with ceremonies:
    Why not redefine their job descriptions! Distribute the ‘social’ responsibilities across all departments, so that heads of departments in ministries are empowered to integrate and lead. This way if a minister does serve a short term, at least there are people on staff who can ensure continuity and are empowered to ‘own’ certain areas of their job. So rather than seek the convoluted approach of a parallel political system, ministers and their ministries need serious HR, operational & attitudinal restructuring to help run an operation successfully and effectively. We should also try to embrace the culture of passing the baton rather than starting from scratch every time a new person comes into office.

    On youth participation:
    Our political parties law of 1992 (http://www.kinghussein.gov.jo/pol-parties.html) puts an over 25 age minimum. If kids are not aware, active and engaged while in high school, re-engaging them at 25 is a huge challenge with little impact. Human beings are born creative, brave, passionate, enlightened and curious, among other amazing traits. These are some of the qualities that drive us to action. If not nurtured and given space to grow and become a catalyst for engagement, by 25 a kid is jaded, uninspired, apathetic and fearful. If kids are engaged at an early age, they can transform their societies eventually and overcome their parents’ fears and complexes.

    We need to close our eyes and imagine a better world for this Jordan. We need to imagine it in detail, color and sound. And when we open our eyes, we need get up, roll up our sleeves and get to work. This means losing at times. This means taking risks. This means making voices heard. This means saying no even when being coerced to say yes. This means build aggressively and assertively on the good. This means real collaboration rather than personal alliances.

    But most importantly I think, this means driving with our hearts and intellect rather than the fear that infiltrates our air and soul!

  • I remember having a discussion a few weeks ago with Jamil Nimri about government funding. He is a supporter of the concept which is being implemented in many European countries. Parties are given funding that is proportional to what percentage of seats they have in elections. In our case this will only lead to funding for the IAF!
    The new law for political parties no 19 for 2007 specifies 18 to be the age of membership and 21 as the minimum age of founders which brings more chances for youth. Article 19 of the law states that a special financial mechanism will be set up to provide funding for parties from the treasury. This should be developed in a separate bylaw.
    In my own opinion one major factor that stands against the full participation of youth in political parties is the dictatorship and central management mentality of parties leaderships. In most parties there is very little presence of youth in the decision-making process. Youth are able now to find other ways of expressing themselves and certainly do not need aging politicians who think with the mentality of the 60s and 70s to guide them.

  • So you are now sipping coffee with the big sharks?
    Abu El Abed’s coffee@Abdoun’s waste land is still the best damn coffee in town! And my Abbadi dude knows more %#@! about %#@! than these old geezers you’re hanging out with.(You do realize these guys need to retire and spare us their wisdom that has lead us to this lovely situation today? Ok I’ve gone too far?)

    Yeah, the youth and politics…in radical countries such as Iran, students elect their rep. freely (where in Jor. half of the council is hand picked), and in Iran students get to meet,shout,argue with their leaders on a weekly basis. What a radical,backwards country.

    You’ve changed man,you used to be cool!

    PS:Ok, between you and me, you go there because you’re hitting on someone’s daughter and you are trying to impress? Unless you are planning on being Jordan’s next political miracle that would come up with amazing solutions like sub. the TOYOTA coasters for minibuses?

    PS2:You know I’m joking, right? 😀

  • *holding my nose*
    so yes i guess political funding is something they will push for, poor folks don’t have enough income venues.

    The reason that there is no political participation is because honestly there is no way of achieving any credible experience or access without joining the path of those who already have such status … kinda like what some are already doing …

    but that will eventually corrupt since its the easier path, to the rest of the youth they could care less not because of persecution (its not like that has been an anomaly in neither our history or world history and it never stopped anyone) it is just they haven’t been pushed beyond their comfort zone to actually give a damn or they are over burdened with day to day life that they can’t care… slavery through “democracy”

    I guess looking through the pigeon hole can be taken as opening the space for debate and progress. while on the other hand i think batir got it right, more on more that mentality is taking over the youth but in really very small dosages and total lack of organization.

  • batir “one major factor that stands against the full participation of youth in political parties is the dictatorship and central management mentality of parties leaderships”

    Dictatorship of the party? is this the only dictatorship that you see creating a problem in jordan? what a funny guy Batir. I like to read your analysis because they are funny. what’s next, will you be blaming the the dictatorship of the people in jordan? move away, i want to throw up.

  • Far3on to throw up or not is based on health conditions and you are entitled to it. AS you may have seen, we are discussing political parties here and not governmental actions so my point was about parties. Parties have dictatorship which is indicated by the fact that a secretary general of a perty may remain for 20 plus years until he dies. The executive committees of parties are composed of 60 something men with ideas that date back to the 60s and they refuse any new blood. I have been there and seen it. Maybe the IAF is the least closed of political parties. Youth will never have a chance to progress in party leadership with the current conditions.
    Shall I bring you a napkin now?

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