Jordan: Regional Relativity And The Lowest Common Denominator

One of things that is perhaps the most difficult thing to explain to a non-Jordanian about Jordan, is regional relativity. To the average Jordanian, relativity is engrained in us. From birth, from parents, from relatives, from friends, from peers, from the government, from our leaders, from school books, and so on and so forth. From the moment someone is born in this country their political mind is shaped by regional relativity. They are constantly told that Jordan is the best country in the Middle East because it isn’t plagued with the same unstable elements that are found throughout the Middle East. We are told to count our blessings that we are not Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, and as of late, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and Libya have all been added to that list. This regional relativity is indeed important context to understanding Jordan, but here, it is elevated to whole other level. A level where the population is brought up to be satisfied with the status quo, and, worst of all, to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

This thinking is so well entrenched in the minds of so many that it dominates the way they see the country, and determines the role they play as inactive citizens. And this is for the most part what the state has spent so much time nurturing, especially in recent years: inactive citizens. The inactive can range from the apathetic to the non-threatening. For it is a population divided between those who do not care, and those who do nothing to threaten the status quo; who do nothing to raise the bar that has been set, who operate strictly within the beltway manufactured by the status quo. And it is one of the reasons we keep running around in circles and wonder why we’re not getting anywhere.

It dominates the way people think, and it is evident in how they speak; how they counter arguments and end discussions.

“At least we’re not Iraq,” they’ll scoff.

What is perhaps most nonsensical about all this is the belief that Jordan is somehow protected by a vast impenetrable shield. As if Jordan, along with any other nation in this region, does not have the ability to be incredibly unstable in the blink of an eye. As if Jordan is not constantly destabilized by default every few years whenever a refugee crisis occurs. We’ve put up this shield, this massive comfort zone that allows us, as a nation, to believe we are not only protected, but, simply put, better than everyone else. And the folly behind this kind of thinking is self-evident. How many years have we heard that we have the best education system in the Middle East? Now, here we are, still saying this, while our educational system has been crumbling for well over a decade, and while the Gulf states are taking the lead leaving us far, far behind.

It is this kind of thinking that has allowed us to accept even the slightest improvement as massive progress, when it is anything but. It is the personification of throwing a starving dog a bone, and this has become all the more relevant in a time when reform is on the mind of the nation. Even the most simple act by the government is deemed to be a positive step, and to me this is mind-blowing. It is unmistakeably mind-blowing because for the first time in a long time, our regional relativity actually demands that we be making leaps and bounds. That we implement a blue print for a better country. That we set our sights a bit higher than ludicrous comparisons. That we have better security than Iraq or better education than Sudan or more political stability than Lebanon. Etc.

Instead, we are a nation that is by and large cowering in the corner and thanking the powers-that-be that we are not like those who are worse than us. And if regional relativity has taught us anything is that while we all sink in to the sand at different paces and in different ways, we are all, at the end of the day, sinking.

The cynical and self-defeated among us will say Jordan cannot compare itself to those who are better. That with little resources and wealth, it would be impossible for Jordan to stand next to Japan, or Sweden, or Denmark. To those who make such faulty claims, they should know that this country is home to some great minds who need only the right environment to operate in, in order to accomplish great things. And the worst part about this is that those who offer nothing but weak contrasts are those who do so in a so-called defense of the country. As if it were some sort of twisted sense of patriotic duty driving them to paint the country as being better simply because it’s not worse than those who are currently experiencing turmoil. It is a mindset thrust upon us by those who have been brought up to believe the status quo is where the bar should remain. Those who were brought up not to stir the pot and not to be “daring” – to use a word the King himself has used recently in demand of the new cabinet. It is thrust upon us by those who also benefit from the status quo and live relatively sound socioeconomic lifestyles that inhibit their ability to connect with and comprehend the majority of this country that is not doing so well. It is a mindset thrust upon us by people who have no interest in seeing this country progress and advance, at least not at their expense.

When all is said and done, the example should be set by the leader. By the King. No one else in this country has the credibility or ability to change mindsets than the Monarch. That’s just the way it is. Overcoming this regional relativity will hang on bold and courageous moves; daring even, if you’ll allow. Irrefutable evidence that this is a country set on progressing despite regional relativity, rather than using it as an excuse for its regression. Evidence provided through actions rather than words; through a sense of leadership not reliant on speeches and public rallies.

What we need is a public resolution made right from the top that declares us a nation that will no longer appeal to the lowest common denominator. To declare us as a nation that seeks to raise it instead.


  • Interesting analysis as usual, though it reminds me of the “then the King spoke” text and the comments on the pessimistic tone, not wholly warranted since you did point out the need for and belief in changes from below. Calling upon the King to speak out as you suggest is one way of going about calling for change, but the King does not rule alone. The analysis above in combination with the need for reform from below begs the question of what to do now, apart from calling on the King. Nissreen suggested that there are quite some voices calling for change and trying to raise the standard. These don’t seem to get much of a platform in traditional Jordanian media (though my Arabic is still too weak to be sure), maybe they have other online platforms, if not, might be interesting to give them a voice.

  • Sounds to me like non-jordaninan arabs should go “at least we are not jordaninan (inactive citizens)”

    We compare our selves with the LCD but the reality is, we ARE the LCD in this Arab Spring

  • You are very right. Although you are forgetting a very important point. You could’ve said “It is possible to raise even in this geographical area – just look at our neighbor Israel, the regional silicon valley and the home of innovation!” But maybe that would’ve been unpopular with your readers… 😉

    Greetings and blessings from Israel

  • great article nas and again ” status quo ” emerges as the answer ØŒ ironic, no ?

    the moment we stop fooling our selves is the moment actual change can start !

    TOP TO BOTTOM From The King to us not the other way around it’s easier to change the mindset of a few officials and the monarchy instead of the whole country !


  • Relativity or not, living at peace is one of our pillars and that should not be challenged whether the general atmosphere is against the status quo whatever that is or not. It is good to challenge ourselves and raise our expectations and demands higher and yes it may not be wise to stick to relativity in comparing ourselves with our neighbors but that is something natural and very logical to do when the state of the world shows how much each country is affected by its neighbors. For instance, when we talk about the scandinavian countries we see almost the same level of development across the whole region.. same applies to the European countries, to the african and east asia.. etc… still there is always a room to lead and to move faster than the flock around you.. and that formula can only be achieved with a stable state.. one where citizens feel safe and secure and free enough to innovate and create..

    It is good to question the status quo.. but it is good to keep faith in piece and stability as a solid platform to any form of change…

  • Nas, this is an interesting post and a very relevant point. The education example is an excellent one. I fail to understand how people can still think that Jordan has the “best educational system” in the region. Jordan’s educational system (beginning at the earliest grades) needs a rethink. Remaining relevant in a world that is running will be impossible if you’re standing about watching others rush… It reminds me of growing up in the American South, my home state – Alabama – is typically 48 on any negative list in the US. As a child, I would always say, well at least we aren’t Mississippi or Louisiana. As an adult, though, I demand more. What can we do to beat the states in the Northeast. Because being better than the worst, in that example, should not be good enough. I should want to be better than the best!

  • Hey, we always say: What,you think you are in Switzerland?????? So we are international in our relativness

    مفكرلي حالك بسويسرا، فتحلي موقع نقد بناء وسوالف و قصص
    بس مشكلتك بتكتب بالانجليزي، عشان هيك لسا ما أكلتلك كم دبشة على كف على شلوط من الاجهزة

    شغلني بمؤسسة غير ربحية او تبعت قصص الأمم المتحدة و اليو أس إيد، شرط يكون كلها بنات صح

  • Look, there are some aspcets I agree with you on and others that I dont think you capture correctly, it is important for us to aknowledge the fact that yes in many fields we have done far better for ourselves than have our neighbours, why is it important ? Because these achievements have not been the product of the state alone, when we speak of security and the stability we have for example , the level we have is not only an indication of good police and mokhabarat work, credit has to go to us as a society as a nation,

    Today debates are raging throughout the kingdom and many issues are being discussed and with a lot of heat and passion, yet with all these discussions and demonstrations and sitiin ( 1900 in tthe past year) we have heard of one incident of death. As sad as that was, the matter of the fact is that we as a nation have reached a level were we can talk freely together without violence, this is not about the king or the mokhabarat or the police or the ministries, this happens because most Jordanian do realize that what they have achieved ,considering their conditions , vis-a-vis the security situation is indeed something to be proud of.

    take religious tolenrance, one could point to the moderate nature of the regime and credit it for this. however if you dig deeper into our history you will learn of the history of men like Rashed Al-khazaai, who was awarded one of the highest medals from the Pope for the protection of Christian minorities in Lebanon and Syria, in 1887! so our religious tolerance heritage is not a product of the last few decades alone but stretches back centuries . As we shape our future state, we should be mindfull of this heritage no matter how hard the state and others try to dismiss it , when we dismiss it and start thinking of ourselves and our culture and counrty as nothing ,we relegate ourselves to how others insist on seeing us, a bunch of uneducated beduins and refugees.

    The disaster also known as the education system in jordan is at an alarming rate , make no mistake about it, but by the same token Jordan also has the human potential to fix it , these minds are also the product of the educational system in Jordan, and there are private and public schools ( both liberal and conservative) in Amman , Irbid, Zarqa and Karak ,who have for decades produced some top graduates.

    Knocking down our achievements as a people is counter prodcutive , its like all the blood , sweat and tears that has gone into building this country means nothing to us , its leads to a culture of self hate and doubt that is very prevalent in some Jordanian minds, the ones present in the MB, making statements about death and Martydom , self hate and doubt are the only explaination as to why you would see your fellow citizen as a kaffir .

    there are also elements who ,when dismissing the Jordanians as a people and as a society, do so in a manner where they place all the ills of society on the ” other” whether thats the regime , governement , the rich or whomever , washing away their own responsibilty in the failures.

    reform begins by us rising up and taking responsibilty for our mistakes. and if we want to have a clear understanding of our past and present , in order to build a better future , we have to aknowledge the good and the bad, because there is good in this country and a lot of the credit has to go the people, if they take no pride in themsleves ,then they will never have the confidence nor the know how to fix this country.

    have we done well considering? i think so, are we anywhere close to where we can be? hell no.

  • The “best medical system” is another one that amuses me. We don’t have the best medical system, let’s be clear.

  • Although there is certainly some truth to your observations, excuse me by saying that it is a little simplistic of your analysis to just cast it aside as basic”regional relativity”. You are absolutely right that we should not just smother reform in Jordan simply by maintaining that we are “better off than our neighbours.” That should not be an excuse. We remain well behind in terms of economic progression and as for political maturity, that is a whole other kettle of fish.

    However, Jordan has been subject to the ebb and flow of regional politics for decades. It has remained thankfully stable. People do fear instability, as is their right and the psychological impact of that should not be underestimated. News beaming in at them for all around the borders depicting violence will automatically put them on guard. It is vital that we continue to demand change an progress and act upon it but we should not dismiss real fears of average Jordanians as well.

  • To the so called Arab observer

    يا عربي أبزرفر، الشعب والافراد الذين يخافون من التغير لا يستحقوا لا الأمان ولا حتى الدمقراطية. People who fear change do not deserve safety nor democracy

  • Jordanians were not born with this mentality that everything is great in Jordan and and we’d better not seek any change. A lot of Jordanians have seeked changes including in the Monarchy system itself, aided by other countries and parties, that made Jordan unstable for quite some time. They felt that changing whoever is on the top of the pyramid will change the people themselves.

    I really don’t think that the king is as influential in changing people’s mentality as we think he can. He’s the most powerful man in Jordan no doubt, but it stops there.

  • التغير قادم لا محالة، الدعاية الهدامة وأبواق النظام لن يستطيعو تغير مسار الشعوب، والحتمية التاريخية مهما طال الزمن،أصبحت الآن بيد الشعوب العربية التواقة للحرية والحكم الرشيد ØŒ الدعاية المفبركة التي أستخدمت في غسيل عقول الشعوب العربية لن تنفعهم لا بل ستكون احدى العوامل التي سوف تزيد من سذاجة وتفاهة هذه الانظمة المهترئة والمترهلة، أي نظام سياسي لا يستطيع تغير نفسه سيكون مستقبله مزابل التاريخ والانقراظ، الملك هوا المسؤول والأخير لما يحصل لهذا البلد ØŒ الفساد يجب يبداء وينتهي في الديوان الملكي وكل الشعب يدرك ذالك

  • I agree with what Hareega said.. the cultural and ideas spreading is very strong in this country.. even rumors and false perceptions.. seeking stability is not contrary to change.. a pressure is always needed to push oneself forward but should be applied wisely…

    The Free Jordanian
    من أنت لتحكم على ما يستحقه و لا يستحقه الأفراد؟ لا أحد يخاف التغير إن كان آمنا. و العقل يجب أن يقود مسارنا. الخطابات الرنانة و اللعب على المشاعر و القيم الفضفاضة لن يقوضنا سوى إلى الهاوية!

  • أنا أريد أن أفتتح محل بوظة وايس كريم بلكي صرت أفهم بسياسة

  • خلص بعناه محل الايس كريم.. ما ظيط معانا… مبسوط؟ البركة في اللي بفهموا!

  • الهاوية وما أدرك ما الهاوية ØŒ نحن الآن في قاع الهاوية، فلا تخف من الهاوية، فلهاوية ليست أخر المطاف وأنما بداية فتح الانفاق والدوروب الى مستقبل مشرف حيث الشعب هوا الذي سيحفر ويشق طريقه الى مستقبل باهر بعيداَ عن الاصنام البشرية التي لا تفقه شيئ سوى نهب مقدرات وثروات الشعب الكادح والمسلوب من أبسط حقوقه الانسانية ØŒ نحن من سيحفر ويصنع المستقبل وليست الاصنام الكرتونية التي قبلت الهوان والمذلة وستقوت على شعوبها بلوكالة من المستعمر الغاصب..
    وكما قال المثل العربي الشهير، أسد علي ّ وفي الحروب نعامة فتخاء تهرب من صفير الصافر

  • يا زلمة روح كلك حبة بوظة أو لوح شوكولاته، أو احكيلك روح اسمعلك اغنية بركن غيرت مزاجك.. الرياضة منيحة، سجلك في نادي رياضي، بتغير نفسيتك Ùˆ بتحسن صحتك.. Ùˆ بعدين شو سرعة الانترنت عندك؟ ماشالله عليك.. والله حلوة هالهاوية اللي كل شي متوفر حوالينا…

    ما بدنا لا حرب Ùˆ لا مشاكل… بدنا سلام Ùˆ نعيش Ùˆ نبني مستقبلنا.. خلص بكفي تخبيص Ùˆ لعب على مشاعر العالم.. من جد وجد Ùˆ البلد مليانة فرص.. روح اضويلك شمعة.. بدل كل هالسلبية..

  • يا حيف على هيك عقول ØŒ دعني أبشرك ØŒ لن تحصل على سلام ولا على آمان في ضل نظام رهن نفسه للغرب

  • أسد علي Ù‘ وفي الحروب نعامة فتخاء تهرب من صفير الصافر

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