On Violence In Jordan Lately

We are in a state of volatility. This seems to be the general mood on the street lately. Everyone feels it. Everyone sees it. Everyone hears or reads about it. Fights here, campus violence there, city lock-downs over there. There seems to be an endless stream of sporadic violence within the Kingdom lately, and by lately, I mean the past year or so. I would do good here to place some emphasis on the word “sporadic”, for the sake of not wanting to paint a picture of a country in chaos and in the throes of widespread violence. Far from it. But, nevertheless, it is significant enough to highlight; significant enough to warrant a discussion.

So what’s happening? Why the general upset?

The reasons people give seem to be endless. In Amman, a growing socioeconomic bubble with no end in sight, violence seems to be something that happens beyond its borders and is due, with an almost assertive absolutism, to tribalism. Within the confines of this bubble, violence is externalized; it is something carried out in the jungles of tribalism that exist beyond its borders, despite the fundamental demographic realities that prove these perception wrong. For those residing outside Amman, the state is, in one way or another, largely to blame for their discontent. Violence is the last resort of the incompetent, but it is also the first resort for the disconnected. If you’re voice isn’t being heard then your fists become your weapon of choice.

To some extent, the cases of violence are strange enough and with some lacking precedence. While it is not entirely unusual for a group of people to seek out revenge for the killing of a family member, it is somewhat unusual that their level of violence result in widespread chaos, and the subsequent lock-down of an entire city. Watching the videos of the campus violence that erupted at the University of Jordan recently, I noticed how jaded the students were. They were simply throwing things around, others were running, and others walked around like they owned the place. It was a pure expression of idleness. As if this was a group of people with no real beliefs, and no real convictions – just a lot of time on their hands.

There is always the inclination to dig deeper. To host some sort of anthropological excavation of the soul, just to understand this kind of violence. But in the end, the main reason may be just as simple as that. Idleness. A sense of people, waiting. With no expectation of something good to happen. A group of people left with a lot of time on their hands to express frustrations in the most violent of ways.

They have nothing to lose. Absolutely nothing. Many of the kids can barely get through university on a financial level, and when they do, they don’t typically have jobs waiting for them. And they know this. So you have at least a decade of transition where it is incredibly easy to get lost in the void, in the space. To be absolutely consumed with that idleness. The kind that is so despairing, the kind that manifests and grows in a status quo that nurtures it, an economy that fuels it – that the only possible product to emerge is someone who has nothing to lose, and nothing to fear. And that’s a dangerous person. A group consisting of such people can yield a dangerous movement. And one can only wonder and gauge the similarities between Jordan and Tunisia at the moment.

But we will always have those anthropological excavations – we will always wonder whether these people are the product of a society that almost champions, or, at the very least, does not necessarily disapprove of their violent measures. From parents, to family, to neighbors, to, yes, even a state where the systems of security and justice are not always consistently reactive to this kind of violence. It is the kind of situation that creates a certain kind of perception or belief that a person can get away with certain acts. That they are not bound by the same rule of law that governs everyone, that they are somehow an exception. And while this definitely plays a role to some extent, I would argue that that extent is limited to the few. I would argue that the majority are aware of the rule of law, and that they will likely be subject to it. In other words, to use an extreme, a person can grow up being told by their parents and peers that murder is okay, but at the end of the day, they know they’ll go to jail for it.

It is this idleness that worries me the most. The missed opportunities that create it. Whether it is the education system or the bad economy, the lack of general prospects or what have you – what’s produced in this crucible is a group of people with nothing to lose, and a lot of time on their hands to violently express what they do not see fit to express in any other form, whether they are conscious of that expression or not. To protest the status quo, whether they are conscious of that protest or not. Whether they are aware of that manifestation or not. And like it or not, they are a product of a system that has taught them no other way to peacefully disapprove and express their voices of discontent. And like it or not, if their goal is to be heard, suffice to say, violence is the way to go. Violence makes headlines. Sending a letter to your “elected” member of parliament doesn’t. Violence is a collective action showcasing an assertive group who are members of a disgruntled majority.

When it comes to the role of tribalism, one cannot deny their contribution. But I have never really seen it as a first step, but rather a stepping stone. In other words, it is something that comes in to play as a secondary element. A typical fight in a high school, for instance, consists of a conflict that emerges between two people or two small groups of people. The source of this conflict is some times about a female, and it is sometimes strictly about the pride and ego of a specific person. Thus, what unfolds is a display of testosterone driven mayhem. In order to drive that mayhem, backup is required. A typical fight consists of each party calling in reinforcements, and a typical fight might have upwards of 50 people being involved, who will scatter at the first sign of an authority figure. Sounds silly enough, but that’s just the reality of the situation, and perhaps a good sample of what takes place on a larger scale down the line.

Outside Amman, typical reinforcements are likely to be members of one’s tribe, especially in a country where entire towns are often made up of only two or three tribes. We are not talking about old men with canes joining the battle ground – it is young and idle 20-something year old youths who, again, have nothing to lose. In some cases, many of them are disparaged by the status quo that surrounds them, and spend their days as disgruntled citizens, relishing an opportunity to voice their discontent and frustrations in the most unconscious of manners.

But let’s not kid ourselves in to believing that all violence is tribal-driven. On the contrary, it is simply people-driven. Tribes are but one secondary element a person has to rely on, but they are not always the primary reason for a conflict to take place. And to label violence as strictly tribal is to have an incredibly narrow view of history. Worse yet, to label it as the sole problem is to ignore all the elements that come in to play, which create the sources of conflict to begin with. I would go further in saying that tribalism today is a weaker support system than it was 10 or 20 years ago. It may inflict similar damage but people are getting away with less based on their tribal connections.

At the heart of this all, we are looking at someone who has absolutely nothing to lose by going down to the street and burning public buildings, or a student destroying a campus office, that is the kind of person fueled by something that extends beyond the realms of tribalism. What drives them to this act is not tribalism but a heightened sense of idleness – an open void that offers an ideal platform for the average person to express their frustrations violently without a lingering fear of repercussions.

For those who would look to misinterpret my thoughts as a written defense of tribalism, I would encourage you to dig a bit deeper and see past the family name stereotypes. This is about what I personally believe drives people; the sources of their discontent. That’s where the discussion should be if our goal is to find solutions to this problem.


  • Interesting post.

    It looks like there are two problems: unemployment, so that students have no jobs to go to after getting their degrees, and poor quality courses which leave students bored and frustrated.

    How easy is it to start a small business in Jordan? A common cause of unemployment is a lack of small businesses to employ people, and this is often caused by a need to fill in lots of paperwork and pay bribes before you can trade. In a healthy economy, anyone can just start up without asking any permission from any authorities.

    However, another cause is demographics. There may simply be too high a proportion of young and inexperienced people in the population.

  • Nas, you ignored one defining attribute of the entire phenomenon and that it is represented by only one section of society and not the other. Idleness impacts both sides, but only one of them feels that they are above the law and act in such a manner, and i think it is a telling contrast imaging how the law enforcement agencies will deal if this behavior was carried on by the other section.
    Now I wouldn’t blame tribalism solely for their behavior but it shoulders a good chunk of the blame. in the past 20 years people have been depending more and more on the tribe for their livelihood, and they became more and more traditional and conservative in their behaviors and believes.
    It is this aspect that help foster the development of the tribal mind in those youth, and fueled the resurgence of the concepts of 3ird and sharaf to the forefront of that society.
    It’s not idleness that allows a brat to explode and stab a guy because he’s seen him with a relative of him, and it’s idleness that causes a student to attack his fellow student with everything and kitchen sink because he looked at him in the “wrong” way!
    This resurgence of the tribal mind is the cause for such a behavior and the fact that they believe that they can get away with it only encourages them…
    What’s really interesting is that if you switch the word “majority” in your post with one section of society and “minority” with the other section of society you will gain a good deal of insight into the situation.

  • @Don: what you point to is a small part of the bigger picture. starting up businesses is one thing, surviving is another. overcoming a culture of dependency on the state (and others) is also another. capacity building and establishing a culture of self-determination embedded within the general education system is another. there are many elements that create the status quo, but the general outcome is a disparaging environment filled with limited prospects all around.

    @bambam: the “tribal mind” is being given credence due to the existence and persistence of this very idleness. when you are someone who is on the fast track, in terms of education, career pursuits, establishing a family, etc., that idleness if filled. if you don’t have those things as primary prospects, it is a source of frustration, and you fill your time with other things.

    i would also point out that the violent crime rate in Amman and Zarqa are one of the highest in the country if I remember correctly. we should also be careful to note the dramatic increase in gang and gang-related violence in east amman, which is fairly unreported by both the local communities, the authorities and, subsequently, the mainstream media. that “other section of society” has found its own manifestation of violent inclinations.

    this is to say nothing of campus violence, which is all-inclusive and encompassing in greater context of these cases.

  • Yet another excellent topic! How can we get you your own TV show?? Or newspaper colum?? Or another form of exposure. If only more people would be engaged in this kind of discussion. I generally agree with your ideas. While I want to put more blame on tribalism, I feel that if it was eliminated today, its void would be filled with somthing else, and the problem would still persist, rather than dissapear.

    As for idleness, i think its high time to once and forall abandon our hopes that the state will congure up the cure and start looking elsewhere. National successful enterprize needs to understand that giving back will eventually increase their bottom line, youth need to be pushed towards volunterrism so we can tackle the growing social class division. That type of interaction can lead to new ideas and tear down social prejudice. The question is how?

  • If we really concern about finding a solution to violence whether in Jordan or else where, we must identify who are the greatest purveyor of violence and why the “State” always exclusively use violence as a tool of control , can we start with state and it’s security apparatus, can we start with the lack of due process , can we start we the people in the upper echelon and in the highest office who has ordered and exercised all kind of violence with impunity , in other word can we start with the State that for long time, got away virtually with murders and blood on it’s hand, the pity violence that you are talking about has no comperson to the long and violent behavior of the state that has used violence as an exclusive right to prevent people to make meaningful change toward equitable society

  • @Muwatin: thank you and I appreciate your comment. i agree with your conclusion and echo your question of “how?” – it’s always the first step.

    @TheFreeJordanian: while the use of force by the state exists, your exaggeration of it is useless and futile. what you refer to as “pity” (or “petty”) cases of violence in society are much more apparent than the occasional use of force (be it warranted or not) by the state. moreover, the security forces, whether one likes them or not, do manage to retain some sense of stability with a comparatively lesser use of force. it is irresponsible to paint them all with one color, as it is with the general society, from which they emerge from.

    @Lina: thanks for the pdf!

    @Jamal: unfortunately, i think you have a rather craven way of looking at things.

  • “dramatic increase in gang and gang-related violence in east amman”

    Are the gangs based on tribal connections?

  • @Don: not necessarily. some come from large families, or run as family units (cousins) so you could consider that a tribe for what it’s worth considering that “tribe” in this context pertains to a group of people from a common family unit.

  • Nas don’t be mixing apples and oranges, while organized crime might rely on familial ties and crime families but its a completely different monster that is born out of urban living and has no relationship to tribalism which is an over reaching mode of thinking that remains consistent across geographic and social areas whether its urban or not… and saying that the highest rates of violent crimes are in the most populated cities of the kingdom is as informative as telling us that dogs have four legs.
    If you actually look at the pdf that lina linked to, their top 3 reasons deal with the fact that legal systems have been been contested by tribal customs in laying down the law and to stop that there should be a drive to place consequence on that.

  • its common that when it comes to one’s ownership of a situation and dealing with personal issues, following the laws and regulations are ” not how it works ” and ” is not fruitful ”

    if a student fought with another, its unlikely that a victim will go to the student council, but would rather get some supporters with sharp toys and deal with it on his own.

    now, if you follow mainly “his” chain of thought, making a fight (INSIDE) university is not problematic in the first place, because its just another place similar to a street or a neighborhood.

    what is it that people value at this point?

  • At the time i didn’t read or listen to much news or analysis about what was happening else where in Tunisia and Algeria but now that i caught up a bit I get where you got your idea about idleness being the cause of it… While i might understand it to some extent when it comes to Algeria i certainly don’t think its wise to draw a parallel with the situation in Jordan.

  • violence is 100% tribal, can the below happen amongst jordanian-palestinians? the answer is No…

    مقتل رئيس قسم الامتحانات ومعلم وإصابة آخر في الطفيلة
    عدد التقييمات 2 :
    1 2 3 4 5 التقييم : متوسط
    هذه الخدمة تمكنك من تقييم المقالات دون الحاجة للتعليق وذلك وفقا للتدرج الاتي:
    : متوسط
    : جيد
    :جيد جدا

    نشر: 13/1/2011 الساعة .GMT+2 ) 00:10 a.m ) |

    فيصل القطامين

    الطفيلة- أسفرت مشاجرة اندلعت بعد ظهر أمس أمام مبنى مديرية تربية الطفيلة عن مقتل رئيس قسم الامتحانات في تربية الطفيلة حمد الحمران (50 عاما) والمعلم حمزة العودات (23 عاما)، فيما أصيب شخص ثالث بجراح خطيرة نقل على إثرها إلى أحد مستشفيات عمان، بحسب مدير شرطة الطفيلة العقيد توفيق الخشاشنة.

    وبين الخشاشنة أن المواطنين قتلا نتيجة استخدام الأسلحة النارية والأدوات الحادة والعصي، مؤكدا أن التحقيقات جارية لمعرفة ملابسات الحادث، فيما سيتم تحويل جثماني القتيلين إلى مركز الطب الشرعي لتشريحهما من أجل الوقوف على أسباب الوفاة.

    وأشار شهود عيان تواجدوا في المكان لحظة وقوع الحادث أن الحادث جاء إثر نشوب خلاف بين المعلم ورئيس قسم الامتحانات تتعلق بالمراقبة، مشيرين إلى أن المعلم وعددا من أقاربه بينهم شقيق له فاجأوا الحمران أمام بوابة مديرية التربية بعد ظهر يوم أمس، وأوسعوه طعنا بأدوات حادة قبل أن يتمكن من إطلاق النار من مسدسه على المعلم المعتدي ما أدى إلى وفاته نتيجة إصابته في منطقة الرأس.

    وأضافوا أن الحمران لجأ إلى باص لمديرية التربية كان يتوقف بالقرب منه، إلا أن شبانا من أقارب المعلم سحبوه من الباص وانهالوا عليه بالأدوات الحادة إلى أن فارق الحياة. وأوضحوا أن مستشفى الأمير زيد بن الحسين في الطفيلة شهد انتشارا أمنيا كثيفا في محيطه وعلى بواباته، فيما تمركزت قوات الدرك بالقرب من منزلي القتيلين

  • I’m extremely surprised that the “more educated” sample of our population fails to see the real reasons behind the violence. What is different now from 20 years ago, or 30, or 40 years ago. Tribes have existed since pre-Islamic times and continued on existing after it. How come tribal members just decided last year we will start fighting and stabbing each other. Is it because some of you internet surfing Ammani’s are predisposed to prejudice against tribes for various reasons. Lets not mix things up, lets not add a bit of stereotype here and there to spice our failure in explaining such an issue.

    As I see it in the last decade, a generation has been born. This generation is the sour fruit of the drastic changes that the Jordanian system has undergone in social, political and economic terms. If we are to accurately point out the problem, we must look at the weakend/weakening Jordanian state rather than its citizens or members. Any state in the world, when it becomes weak and the country is in vacuum even if partially this vacuum is filled, with crime as Nas rightly pointed out, with drugs, violence and yes in Jordan’s case by “tribalism”. Yet not the tribalism that was prevalent in Jordan for so long, which was run by wise elders. A hybrid form of the tribalism, where youths lead and decide their actions. It is this state of affairs combined with unemployment and the lack of opportunity for all sectors including tribal Jordanians that are the main reason behind these events. If some how, some think that Tribal Jordanians have more opportunities in front of them, or more work they are sadly mistaken and I call on them to come with me to visit any “tribal” Jordanian area to show them the poverty and unemployment these people suffer from.

    Liberal economics and a lack of real political reform, have cut down the public sector and reduced Jordanians who usually would have been allied to that nation state to their initial identities and affiliations. Sorry to tell you but tribalism will continue to exist, its part of the Jordanian identity as much as some here, would like to erase it in a draconian Ataturk-ish manner. Tribalism is like Islam, like family ties, like everything Arabic and historical it could be a force for good and it also has a negative side to it. What decides which prevails are usually external factors that are way larger than the tribe itself or the events a few students do.

Your Two Piasters: