Pondering Jordan’s 63rd Independence

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.


  • And certainly there is no freedom of religion for those who would like to leave Islam for another religion or no religion at all.

    When one looks at other regions of the MENA, on finds that freedoms have been lost at the price of independence. Egypt under the UK had real freedom of the press. It became independent, and that freedom perished.

  • Great post. I’ve been waiting for someone to say something about the glaring irony of this day. I mean, understandably, since the US is the great world power,it is entitled to celebrate its Independence Day with such glory and pride.

    But we’d be fools for celebrating our own without reflecting on the issues you have raised.

  • Lots to think about here, Nas.

    Independence is such a subjective concept, isn’t it? I think part of the reason why people all over the world tend to mark it with little scrutiny has a lot to do with our love of ritual. Ritual represents order, a respite from the chaotic minutiae of daily life.

  • Great to have you back writing about topics like this.

    Freedom of assembly and association for evangelical Christians in Jordan took a nose-dive in the last year. Not only are we not allowed to have womens’ seminars, Mother’s Day or Christmas brunches in any local hotels, we have not been told that we may not even use our own conference and retreat centers for such.

    Marriages are now not considered valid unless a leader in the Episcopalian church signs a marriage certificate. (Than God the two churches are on good terms) Imagine not being able to marry the person you choose because a leader in a different church who doesn’t even know you refused?

  • Here’s a thought for you: imagine Jordan had a true democracy. What happens if a largely “islamic” majority gets control? (quotations used because it would be based on their interpretation of Islam). If they do get a majority and they decide to implement strict Sharia in Jordan? Let’s see your women’s rights get better in such case. Thanks, but no thanks. I’m a Muslim but I’m a strong believer in the seperation of religion and politics.

    Now I know the brotherhood didn’t do great in the last election, but with increased poverty, corruption, Westernisation of the culture, the lack a strong (but probably mypoic) military stance against Israel and so many other reasons I can see the rise of the brotherhood’s popularity (think Hamas).

    So in conclusion, I’m all for your ideals. But that’s what they are: ideals. I’m for the status quo over risking to create a vacuum of power. Even if that costs me my “right” to elect. Democracy doesn’t work in our part of the world. We are loyal to no one. Think Iraq. Power vacuum translates into blood.

    Too cyinical, I know. But it is what it is, unfortunately. Would love to hear what you think.

  • I know one thing changed from my last visit.. The police is starting to show more respect to people 😀

  • “all animals are equal. but some are more equal than others!”

    i think a look at what freedom means, outside of the UN declaration and other “universal” documents would be useful. cultural relativism is an important concept and to think that a certain group of people (white, middle age, European men) invented a system of universal beliefs for all to accept, all the while claiming that these principals were secular. it sure demystifies those ‘holy’ documents when you think about it that way. where were the women and indigenous peoples voices when crafting these documents to ‘protect’ women/brownpeople and other oppressed groups.

    second, freedom is define in a very liberal sense (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism), which again, comes out of the enlightenment period. basically, it holds sacred the individual right above all. this is a dangerous concept, one that came out of a very specific time period. looking around jordan, i think we see a much more collective sense of the world freedom.

    finally, one reason i love the “underdeveloped” or ‘third world’ is because of the sense of community. people take care of each other. my individual rights are sometimes compromised for the good of the collective. no need for nursing homes in Jordan because children ‘sacrifice’ some time to take care of their parents.

    in conclusion, i think the entire idea of ‘freedom’ is one to take issue with and define very carefully. i think freedoms are critical part of healthy and organic societies, but I take serious issue with the way freedoms play out, are defined, and enforced unequally.

    Were the Danish newspapers right to use their freedom of the press to publish those cartoons?

    @kinzi maybe the problem isn’t the rules/freedom/unfreedom, but the patronizing and proselytizing nature of evangelical Christians? someday i hope that we will respect each other as humans, not because we believe in the same/different God(s).

  • @JD

    what does the separation of politics and religion mean? what sacred ideas do you think the law in the US is based on? What holy book do you think the universal declaration of whatever came from? I’ll give you a hint, all the men who wrote those documents they were all Christians, Jews and Muslims! Yes, religious men!

    The division, to me, between secular and religious is a false divide. our values and beliefs are one, and we build our legal systems based on that. don’t let americans fool you into thinking they invented a completely separate legal system without any influence of Christian documents.

  • @JD: “What happens if a largely “islamic” majority gets control?”

    I disagree with the premise of your conclusion. It is an assumption, and nothing more, that having a democracy would lead to an Islamic-majority-controlled state. Moreover, I also disagree with the further assumption that having democratic elections would be a one-time event in Jordan.

    I not only disagree with these assumption because they are assumptions that are not based on the immediate realities of this country or the new realities that could emerge given a healthy democratic environment, but I disagree with this underlying premise that seems to dominate this part of the world, that says this part of the world is unable or “not ready” to practice democracy.

    And in any case, the overwhelming of ideals outlined in the post are not based on their being free democratic elections in Jordan tomorrow. It’s not something I support.

    I believe in political, economic and societal reform. I believe in democratic ideals being alive and fueled at the citizenry level well before the free-for-all. And in order for that to exist a set of essential values and rights need to be guaranteed, and those rights are exactly what I attempted to outline here.

  • rumzi – you missed my point which i admit maybe i didn’t present very clearly. I agree that legal systems are typically influenced by religion and probably to a large degree.

    My point was less regarding the legal system and more regarding the social impact of a religious government.

    And let’s say I take your point regarding the religious influence on the legal system. Imagine we get a religious government elected and they decide that we should move closer to Saudi Arabia’s laws. No women on the road. No women outside without a mo7ram. etc etc…. I think this is an extreme example and thank God i think Jordan has a much more progressive and tolarent society, but I hope you see my point. Having a religious government would be a disaster.

  • Thanks I think this actually clarifies your view quite a bit. I admire your bottom-up approach re democracy (“fueled by citizenary”) and you definitely set the example for others. Keep up the good work.

  • @ Rumzi, well said, and I am sure that is a part of it especially with local internecine conflict. The traditional church gave up evangelizing as a means to keep the peace in this region. Yet, it was the last command of Christ on earth to go and make disciples, not just a side issue. Without the faithful practicing that command, the church doesn’t grow. Neither are disciples made from within, stagnating the church. This stagnation is what led so many Orthodox Christians into evangelicalism, upsetting the balance.

    Freedom does upset the balance of power. There is ‘peace’ in uniformity and conformity for the majority. I agree that the collective sense of ‘freedom’ is a good thing here. I very much value the community I find here. Even in our ex-pat community, we have taken on some of the Jordanian models of interdependence and sacrificial commitment. But how much more empowered that model is, when it is a choice to give up the freedom for the common good rather than being forced to.

    But to be fair, I have never been more patronizingly proselytized as I have in Jordan. Being called a kaffer, people assuming to be Christian means being immoral, that if I would just read the Quran I would be enlightened, it is hardly respectful. Not to mention offers of payment to convert. I, like you, look forward to the time when we can respect one another well .

  • JD says “Here’s a thought for you: imagine Jordan had a true democracy. What happens if a largely “islamic” majority gets control? ”

    And before the Islamists threat excuse, you used the Communist threat as an excuse. And before it was the Baathists. And if it’s not the Islamist or the communists or the Baathists threat it’s the Palestinian “demographic threat” in Jordan. Fact is, every degenerate and corrupt Arab ruling class and their beneficiaries, along with Israel, has one sort of excuse or another to subvert Arab democracy and progress. The sad part is that most of those backward and degenerate types are Western-educated too. It goes to show a Western education does guarantee civilized behavior.

  • I’ll give you a hint, all the men who wrote those documents they were all Christians, Jews and Muslims! Yes, religious men!

    Not in the United States. The Founding Fathers were a lot of things, but they weren’t hardcore Christians. They were closer to Enlightenment values, if anything. Various religious leaders in the States continuously try to re-write history in this regard, but that doesn’t change the facts.

    And I would agree with what Kinzi has said here about respect. It makes me sad because Christianity originated in the Middle East.

    I wouldn’t mind so much if people brought up the ruthless proselytizing tactics of various Churches, like you do – because to me, that is a legitimate concern and a major destabilizing factor in both international and community relations. But what I get instead is the assumption that I’m “fair game” – a little bit of crumpet to have on the side before the young, upstanding Muslim man marries a virgin of his parents’ choice.

    It becomes a “chicken or the egg” type argument, though, because I honestly don’t know what it would take for people to drop this sort of thing on various sides. You speak here about cohesion and community over the individual, and how that can be a positive force (I’m a ruthless, saber-toothed individualist in most things, but even I can see some value in that), but I don’t know if I see it as much on a macro level. Perhaps the real question is how you define community – is community defined in terms of what you exclude, or what you embrace? Maybe if it’s defined more by the latter, the idea of freedom would be more than just a hollow concept for so many people.

  • @Tameem: define “progress” and give me the first 3 things you would do to acheive that assuming you could do whatever you want.

  • @JD

    so what happens if under a real democracy and real democratic elections Islamists got control of the country?

    i tell you what happens: it would mean that this is the will of the people and you should respect the results of the democracy.

    oh wait, how dumb of me, i forgot that democracy is only fine when it puts YOUR power/point of view in power, how sad.


    “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”

    and also, 11% of income going to Israeli economy, correct me if the number is not accurate.

    Thank you for the great post Nas.

  • @khalid jarrar

    answer this then, please: how many of the goals or issues raised by Nas would be achieved /dealt with properly under an ‘islamic’ government?

    It’s sad to say but I guess I dont think we know what’s best for us if we vote based on who’s related to us and who will give us wasta once they’re in power.

    Again, I’m not against the ideals of democracy, but I’m a sceptic when it comes to free-for-all democracy in jordan..

  • progress is:

    – truly representative constitutional democracy
    – world-class public education all the way to college education with focus on technological R&D
    – viable and affordable public transportation
    – world class cultural production
    – affordable and livable public housing
    – affordable quality health care
    – promotional social cohesion and abandoning divide-and-conquer politics.
    – China-like anti-corruption measures.
    – end of all forms of repression including torture and brutality of security personnel
    – end of security cooperation with enemies of Arabs

    all of the above are possible if we shift fund from military/security/buying loyalties to real development and if we end official corruption.

  • Khalid, that’s a very fair and salient point, but what some call Will of the People, others call Tyranny of the Majority. Maybe coalition governments are the only things that can actually work in these times – when we consider competing interests.

    I agree with JD that sometimes people really don’t know what on earth is good for them. I would look no further than the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 to support my point. The immature political system that ensured W’s win was the very same thing that kept walloping his supporters. It was their sons and daughters being killed needlessly in Iraq. It was their tax-dollars going to mis-managed fiascoes such as the bail-out of AIG (I know Obama gets blamed for that today, but the entire deal was negotiated while W was still in office).

    Look at the Iranian Revolution. Women, who played no small part in it, suddenly found their rights curtailed. Now granted there are those who are all about enforced jilbab, and we can furthermore compliment the Iranian system for at least getting women in the work-force in large numbers, but I still can’t deny the irony there.

    Look at post-Soviet democracies: economic feudalism, corruption, greed, journalists get shot in the street, and millions of men, women and children sold and trafficked while the various “governments” were busy sticking fingers in their ears and going “lalalalala.”

    This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in basic democratic ideals, but, to borrow the most over-quoted line from Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility.” I don’t see an Islamist majority being an exceptionally responsible force. Now, perhaps if the U.S. ceased its incessant meddling in this region, a mature political framework could develop and render JD’s concerns null and void, but until then, you work with what you’ve got. Right now, it isn’t much.

  • Natalia,

    I suppose you are a foriegner in Jordan.
    If you had some muslim people calling on you to convert, it doesn’t represent muslim view.. the typical argument of before judging, diffrenciate between a practice and a person.

    All religions aim peace and human dignity, if any religion puts other values ahead of those then it simply falls into other category as a school of thought.

    As muslims we are bound to respect other religions and as a majority we are obliged religously to assure their equal treatment with muslims.

    As for feeling sad that christianity originated in the middle east, as you said; nothing can change facts. You better feel good about it because religions and spirituality always originated in the east while the west always was imperial and disrespectful. I wonder how muslims are being respected in the north western part of the world. Needless to say how many religious aspirations cover-ups were behind the latest wars in the region.

    In Jordan as in many other areas in the arab region we grew together as muslims and christians, many times not even knowing who is what or even giving thoughts about it.

    As for parents choosing brides for their sons, its more of a conservative ethical value than religious. As many muslims marry by their total independant choices, and some christians marry by their parents choices. Its something related to social concepts more than religious, while both religions define pre-marriage sex as sinful 🙂

  • Between the twitty post below and the exposure of the double sided coin that is Jordans independence you’ve earned a new reader. Congrats.

    As for my two piasters: I vote along with JD, justice is always true in the affairs of another, that is the hummus seems so much creamer across the border. A truly democratic nation my not be what the people need, perhaps it’s a truly democratic people that the nation needs.

  • Let me add to your thoughts on freedom , religion, and democracy in the context of the United States constitution. Absolute democracy was seen as a problem by the founders of our nation, if not tempered by a constitution based on the values of both a moral religion and the enlightenment. The basic outline of the constitution was set out by James Madison, a minister but a man who also valued scholars and enlightened thinkers. Indeed he was friends with Benjamin Franklin who is noted for editing out parts of his Bible, but who made the great religious statement that, “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.” Madison is considered the master writer of the constitution and he also wrote the Bill of Rights which is considered the gold standard for human rights in America. The final outsome was that we became a republic with a standard which would prevail over any votes that allowed a majority to take away the rights of the minority including human and religious rights. No vote can go against the constituion and our inalieanable rights. As a result, we never had the bloodbath of the French revolution based on secular enligtenment alone. We never had the toture of religous or political dissenters since no vote could countermand the constitution. Freedom of religion was an important value and cannot be separated from the Christian (and I have been given to understand Islam ic teaching) that only free actions without coercion please God.

  • To start with, we should definitely celebrate our independence from the British. No matter how many awful things are taking place in Jordan, it’s always better than having full rights and a great life under the rule of an occupier.

    JD, if Islamists win a fair election, they should be allowed to rule. however we should have a constitution that is well-respected by everyone that gives citizens including women certain rigths that no political movement can take away from them. I don’t think I agree with Islamists in anything, but they wouldn’t have been so much powerful in Jordan and the Arab world if we indeed had a true democracy.

  • As for feeling sad that christianity originated in the middle east, as you said; nothing can change facts.

    I’m not sad *because* Christianity originated in the Middle East, I’m sad that *even though* it originated here, it occupies a tense position in the region.

    You mis-read me.

    As for parents choosing brides for their sons, its more of a conservative ethical value than religious.

    I honestly could care less if someone allows their parents to choose their spouse (as long as there is no coercion, of course) – my point was that women like me are considered to exist for the purposes of the “sowing of wild oats” by a good chunk of Jordan’s population. I would agree that traditional Islamic teaching is enlightened on the subject of choice.

  • Actually, I can see how it was easy to mis-read my original statement – it’s pretty colloquial usage, and I actually used “because.” lol.

  • Notwithstanding the fact that I disagree with JD’s and Perplxintexan’s positions, I think Perplxintexan called a spade a spade, this is the best thing I have heard in a loooong time

    “I think A truly democratic nation my not be what the people need, perhaps it’s a truly democratic people that the nation needs”.

    My prof used to mock those who argue that Islamic democracy cannot exist, what on earth do you think American democracy is? It’s Christian, heart and soul, and to the bone!

    We are undemocratic individuals DESPITE our great religion, and not BECAUSE of it. Sharia and Islamic law are sooooo misunderstood, I don’t even know where to begin with (sigh)

  • عن أي أستقلال تتكلمون؟ نحن دويلات تأسست من قبل الاستعمار القديم الجديد والمتجدد ØŒ دوله أم الاستعمار أنكيلترا ØŒ قد حكمت وتميزت في أبقاء هذا الاستعمار البغيض ،حيثُ جلبت معها سلالات وعائلات توجتها على هذه الشعوب المقهوره لسيطره على موارد المنطقه وخلق فرص لفتح أسواق لبضائعها وأبقاء هذه المنطقه الغنيه تحت سيطرتها ØŒ دعوني أخبركم يا أصدقائي ØŒ نحن الآن أكثر أحتلال وعرضه لسيطره من الماضي حيث يتخيل البعض منكم بأننا مستقلون ولنه الحريه في صنع تاريخنا ومستقبلنا

  • what on earth do you think American democracy is? It’s Christian, heart and soul, and to the bone!

    I would argue otherwise. You can see my point above. I believe that the United States was founded chiefly on Enlightenment principles, and much of that is still at work today (though we have the crazies to thank for spitting on some of the Founding Fathers’ better ideals many times over).

  • I’m blushing. I found a typing error in my blog and feel the the teacher’s need to correct it, especially among some well thought out opinions. The end of the sixth line after the comma should have added, “and Thomas Jefferson.” It was he who is credited with the inclusion of the words that all men are created equal and he was the final editor of the document, not to downplay Madison’s part or the common goals of the assembly. I might comment on free speech which was given in the Bill of Rights. Free speech is not certain to inspire and motivate people to do better things? It is the best we know.

Your Two Piasters: