Happy Independence Day everyone!
So Jordan celebrates its 63rd Independence Day today, and I know mainstream media will probably effectively cover all of the Kingdom’s achievements over the past several decades, which usually entails copying and pasting information from last year and then throwing in a Jordanian flag sticker with every newspaper copy. So there’s really nothing left to say about it if you know what I mean. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be a killjoy or anything, but independence day is meant to be a retrospective journey isn’t it? Or is it all about the banners, the flags and the fireworks?
Maybe a bit of both.
But this independence day, I find myself wondering what independence truly means for a country like Jordan. Is independence “synonymous” with “freedom”? Because if so, then I’m forced to wonder the extent to which we are truly, truly “free”. What does it even mean to be free?
Does it mean to be part of a free global community?
To ensure citizen freedoms, rights and equality?
To be a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
What does it mean for Jordan to be free?
Free from British rule? Because much of our political sphere, along with the rest of the Arab and developing world, remains dominated, if not at times dictated, by foreign powers.
The two main branches of government, including the Cabinet (executive) and the Senate (legislative), are all appointed by the King, and if you factor in the corruption of elections in the Lower House, you could also reasonably argue that that half of the legislative branch is also “appointed”. In other words, as Jordanians, we still have ways to go before achieving any freedom to choose our own representatives.
Only recently have women in Jordan been granted the freedom of movement, and even that is highly questionable and debatable at the highest levels.
Not everyone born in Jordan or born of a Jordanian mother is entitled to carry the Jordanian nationality, so technically not everyone has an equal right to a nationality. In other words, not everyone is born equal. This has also meant a significant number of kids born to Jordanian mothers, who have to pay fees for public education as foreigners, which many cannot afford. In other words, not everyone has the right to an education.
When it comes to freedom of speech, well according to a recent poll, 94% of mainstream journalists in Jordan practice self-censorship, and that number is an obvious reflection with obvious conclusions.
As for freedom of assembly and association, well a quick look at the number of permits that are denied by the state for any party or group of people looking to hold any sort of public political event should provide some sort of testament to the country’s realities.
What about economic freedom?
With at least half of the country’s 101 municipalities living under the poverty line and at least 20 of them being considered “extremely poor,” it’s safe to say that the majority of Jordanians have yet to gain any freedom from poverty.
Officially, 13% of the country has yet to gain its independence from unemployment. Unofficially (i.e. more accurately) that number is actually 30%.
And by the way, the government’s solution for both these problems has long been to create Qualified Industrial Zones, which is another way of saying tax free areas where sweat shops can enjoy the freedom to exploit the average Jordanian worker, which they’ve been having difficulty in doing considering that the majority of Jordanians are not prepared to give up on their freedom of choice, as limited as that is in the economic sense.
It goes on and on and on, I’m sure…
I’m pondering these questions because days like independence day, whether in Jordan or elsewhere, are glamorized nationalistic events that ironically force us in to a patriotic frenzy that is so far removed from the public sphere we dwell in. The same sphere where these same day-to-day realities live on and persist; unchallenged, unhindered, unleashed.
When it comes to Jordan or any developing nation for that matter, we really have to take a close look at ourselves – critically analyze ourselves, and then question whether we are truly free or not.
And then question whether we are truly independent or not.
Happy Independence Day.