The politics of contracting a social contract


By Fares Braizat - July 14, 2018

A social contract is meant to address channels of governance between the governed and the governing. In any polity, the constitution is “the” ultimate social contract that can be supplemented by “a” sub-social contract or a series of them. Government, parliament and judiciary are the mechanisms through which governing-governed or state-society relations are managed. Such relations, manifested through the social contract, entail certain calibre of performance expectation. Given the growing levels of dissatisfaction with the performance of these branches and an increasingly dangerous confidence gap between these branches of governance and citizens, serious action is long overdue. To start late is better than never.

State-society relations before 1989 differ significantly of what has evolved since then. Significant changes have taken place in state-society relations. Changes such as higher inflation, weaker purchasing power and implementation of market rules, where free market conditions are not ripe, led to monopolies and lack of competition, inefficient public sector and partly mismanaged privatisation process, which resulted in weaker governance. The latter surfaced in state’s inability to respond to priorities of Jordanians, which have not changed much since the mid-nineties: Unemployment, poverty, prices and fighting corruption. These priorities are functional reflections of weaker education output, lack of proper public accountability and misappropriation of public funds. On these public policy areas, successive governments proved largely inconsequential.

The outcome was the unintentional creation of a permanent marginalised underclass outside urban centres, which suffers from higher levels of financial debt than urban centres and unequal development in services and infrastructure, rendering it largely uncompetitive in urban settings where opportunities exist. The result is socio-political alienation and a quantitatively qualified sense of disenfranchisement. Evidently, over 60 per cent said they will absolutely not vote if elections are to be held these days, double the figure of previous years, as a recent survey conducted by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions demonstrates. Increasing political disengagement correlates positively with the highest levels of disapproval ratings of Parliament’s performance ever recorded. These are indicative of weaker faith in the existing constitutional channels of communications through which citizens place their demands on the political system. Consequently, leading to self-chosen, as well as systematic socio-political marginalisation.  

Marginalisation has not been acknowledged enough. For the second time since the advance of the Arab Spring, a government acknowledges “marginalisation” in its discourse, when Prime Minister Omar Razzaz referred to “developing marginalised areas”, as part of the new social contract, in his speech to Parliament. The first was in 2012, when then prime minister Awn Khasawneh presented his government’s programme to Parliament. He said “some of our problems are results of feelings of marginalisation and exclusion, while some of them are attributed to a conviction of absence of justice and equality”.

Disentangling the complexity of marginalisation and concentration of economic and political power resources must be put at play now for “the” or “a new” social contract to be meaningful. His Majesty King Abdullah and Razzaz acknowledged and communicated publically that business as usual is no longer an option. Spelling it out a bit more: Incompetence of economic policy planners and makers, indifference to public affairs, denial, arrogance, falsification, abuse of strategic communications, spin doctors’ beautification of ugly economic reality and lack of accountability culminated in May 30th unconventional protest action.

At upper echelons of power, there seems to be different, yet complementary, understandings of “social contract”. In his letter of designation to the PM, His Majesty stated that“… the government must undertake a comprehensive review of the tax system and tax burden, with a view to limiting indirect and regressive consumption taxes that do not differentiate between the rich and the poor; and with the aim of delineating the relationship between citizens and the state through a clear social contract that identifies rights and dutiesî. The King is clearly emphasising redistribution of tax burden. Progressive tax, though enshrined in the constitution article 111, is being resisted on many grounds. One of them is the presence of an alternative and fair proportional flat rate of income, which in effect and despite competing interpretations, is a progressive tax as contribution increases linearly with income.

Referring to the social contract, the PM in his response to the designation letter stated that “… the government will work on deepening state-society relations through participatory approach based on “the social contract” that enhances rights and duties”. This statement came under the PM’s elaborative plan for political reform, which included amending legislations of political relevance and evaluating the decentralisation experiment. Here, the PM has taken a political angel to “the social contract” under the banner of political reform. As important as political reform is for the short and the long terms, the immediate importance ought to be addressing the tall order of real and perceived socio-economic marginalisation. Since it is a tall order, some serious action on corruption cases that the PM is very familiar with through his work on the privatisation evaluation report is logically in order.

The most recent update on the discourse of social contract was in the PMís introduction of government manifesto to Parliament, he mentioned ìsocial contractî four times out of 3,708 word-long speech. He referred to a constitution-dependent ìnewî social contract with clearly defined ìrights and responsibilitiesî, ìcitizen-government relationsî, and ìcitizensí role in sustainable developmentî. According to the PM, the ìnewî social contract is ìtheî vehicle towards ìnational renaissance. The latter would include, inter alia, citizenship-based rights and duties, government partnership with Parliament, civil society and private sector to deliver education and training that would help the youth to be ìproductive citizensî and provide health services, public transportation and ìdeveloping marginalised areasî. Here, the PM talks about a sub-constitutional formula to do with government plans to engineer ìnational renaissanceî. 

Despite apparent differences and prioritisation, in effect, the outcome would be similar since government spending is continuing, while services are deteriorating. Economic reform goes hand in hand with political reform, conventional wisdom has it. It is not expected that the government would introduce dramatic changes neither in the political nor the economic structures of state and society. However, it can make a huge impact with little things that make a big difference by improving the efficiency and quality of public service delivery. Tax payers would like to see their tax money turning streets into cleaner spaces not filled with littler and government SUVs roaming day and night aimlessly. They would also require schools prioritising reliable quality education over quantity, health centres becoming healthy professional places, transportation evolving into a useable system, civil service becoming in fact a “service” not a costly burden and proper public policy planning reducing the cost of production (cost of energy and bureaucracy) to create “productive citizens”. These are the basic pillars of “a” or “the new” social contract whether under political or economic banners.

The politics of contracting a social contract
Publication and Articles

The raging “debate” in and about Jordan over the political reform process, in general, and the constitutional amendments, in particular, reflects a set of competing narratives that are rooted in deeply seated competing value systems among Jordanian masses and elites alike. These value systems are “survival values” and “self-expression values”. The former is characterized by emphasis on materialistic values, such as economic and physical security, resistance to change, traditional conservative viewpoints, more religious, less choice-based primitive associational life, and a sense of primordial pride.

 

The self-expression values are characterized by emphasis on participation in decision making in economic and political life, less religious, aspiring to change, protecting the environment, tolerance and acceptance of “others”, and gender equality.

 

Survival values are generally associated more with authoritarian predispositions, while self-expression values are associated with liberal democratic leanings.

 

Jordan’s cultural map produced based on the World Values Survey data set suggests that Jordan’s society is more like the societies with a survival-traditional value system than self-expression secular values. Jordan is in the league of Islamic and African societies — with various degrees of distance — along with Egypt, Libya, Yamen, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Iran and Turkey.

 

The most advanced on these scales are Sweden and, to a lesser degree, the countries in its league: Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland.    

 

Given these deeply rooted value systems, we have to travel a very long distance to a fully democratic and functional political system. The reforms proposed by the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System are only road signs on a road to be paved.

 

None of the societies in Jordan’s cultural league – named above – are fully democratic, and most are fully autocratic, totalitarian, while maintaining a semi-capitalist economy. Some of these countries have a competitive electoral process, such as Turkey and Iran, but not necessarily democratic.

 

Those in Sweden’s league are fully democratic.

 

These value systems constitute the social origins of political orders. Therefore, they are consequential and relevant to the questions that are being asked today in Jordan and the region, such as to which one of the competing governance models should Jordan belong, to the authoritarian or the democratic ones? Or should it belong to a subtype of these two? And should Jordan have a choice to choose or to belong to one or another? Or, should it carve a governance model of its own? And if so, can it construct a reformed model that works for Jordanians to solve their chronic economic problems and be consistent with observed international standards?

Jordan’s reform process lives with the “new cold war” between competing models of governance which is raging globally, and societies are looking for “governance models” to address their many protracted economic problems.

 

When Jordanians and other Arab societies look around, they see two types of models: authoritarian with a mixed bag of economic success and failure; and democratic with more economic success than failure. Unfortunately, none of the Arab societies belong to the category of democratic and economically successful societies.

 

All economically successful countries are established democracies, while authoritarian countries tend to be more failing than succeeding economically.

 

Arab countries with authoritarian political regimes are either failing or failed states, like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia. These states are either already disintegrated or disintegrating along many fault lines that include sectarian, religious, ethnic, linguistic, geographic and socioeconomic stratification.

 

Another type of Arab state is the “assertive authoritarian”, which is represented by the United Arab Emirates-Dubai model, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. These are registering economic growth through top-down emphatic governance model, which is very attractive for “want-to-be-migrants” from other Arab countries, be they individuals or investors.

 

Assertive states are pushing economic modernization and, with it, various degrees of cultural modernity. The outcome of this model is yet to be seen. Is it going to look like democratic South Korea or like authoritarian China?

 

Although countries like Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan and Kuwait run periodic, quite free and fair, competitive parliamentary elections, they produce parliaments with various degrees of political efficacy. Elections in Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia have not delivered a successful economic outcome as employment rates continue to climb and economic growth is meager. Therefore, it is essential for these countries to liberalize their economies fundamentally and end all monopolies to set free enterprise truly free.

 

Free markets tend to increase competitive economics, which in turn, increases socioeconomic mobility and individuals’ autonomy. These are among the many essential ingredients to drive a change in value systems from traditional to legal-rational and from survival to self-expression. These value systems are indispensable for the evolution of competitive political systems. A country’s commitment to democratic reforms can be read clearly in its ability to execute serious economic reforms that will propel all other reforms.

 

Given these realities, it is not surprising to see resistance to the Royal Committee’s proposals, for very different reasons. While the self-expression segment of society wants more structural reforms, the survival segment wants some measure of reform but without much change. The tactful ingenuity is to drive these reforms and their consequential outcomes while managing competing interests and value systems, maintaining stability, delivering services, and, above all, preserving the national interests in a very volatile environment marred by suspicion, distrust and perceived uncertainty.


 

The writer is the chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, H.E Dr. Fares Braizat.

 

 

 

 


For the original news source, click here

January 09, 2022- Jordan News

Although China does not appear on the “top of the mind list” of Jordanians when asked open-ended questions about which country is the largest economic supporter or the closest ally of Jordan, interestingly, 38 percent of Jordanians describe political relations between the Jordanian and the Chinese governments as “very good” and 54 percent as “somewhat good”, according to the foreign relations survey conducted jointly by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions and KAS last fall.

Moreover, 61 percent would like to strengthen these relations and 29 percent would like to keep them as they are. Those who would like to “limit” these relations constituted 8 percent of those surveyed. This means Jordanians, largely, have a positive predisposition toward China. What will happen to it in the in future, depends on how that “shared future” may turn out to be.

Consequently, when asked which country they would like Jordan to cooperate with more in the future, only 5 percent of the Jordanians surveyed mentioned China, improving from 1 percent in the 2018 survey. When asked which non-Arab country Jordan shares most foreign policy interests with, only 2 percent, mentioned China, while 63 percent mentioned the US, followed by Turkey, 9 percent, and the UK, 8 percent. Although China is climbing, it has a very long way to go when compared to traditional “allies” and “frienemies” of Jordan.

Despite the perception of 37 percent of Jordanians that China’s policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict is “pro-Israel”, of 9 percent that it is pro-Palestinians and of 45 percent who believe it is either balanced or indifferent, over half of adult Jordanians, 54 percent, would like China to play “a much larger” role, and 25 percent “a somewhat larger” role in the region.

There are reasons for such preference for a larger role for China in the region. In the most recent wave of the Arab Barometer Surveys (AB) 2018-9, 70 percent of Jordanians expressed a preference for “closer economic ties with China” and 73 percent want “more foreign aid” from China.

Most positions expressed on China by Jordanians are driven by economic reasons, which are of significant importance for them.

Although there is not much of a “shared past” between the Arabs and China, there might be plenty of a “shared future”. But reaching there will not be a smooth ride. China is moving aggressively on the economic front globally through many projects, and the “one belt one road” is only one of them; the region is not an exception to this global Chinese momentum.

Illustratively, despite the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) historical strategic relations with the US and the West broadly, China is building strategic partnerships with all GCC countries and their neighbors. To that effect, China’s 25-year strategic partnership with Iran, which is said to be worth $400 billion to be invested in Iran’s oil, petrochemicals, gas, infrastructure, business, services, telecoms, and technology transfer, is a case in point.

Iraq, Egypt and Algeria are building similar partnerships although their publics are less excited than Jordanians and Tunisians about closer economic ties with China, according to the AB surveys.

These developments make the region a more contested ground for spheres of influence. While regional and international players are blamed by Jordanian public opinion for instability in the region, namely Israel 54 percent, US 19 percent, and Iran 6 percent, China is not even mentioned. It is expected that the showdown is going to intensify over the next five years as China increases its economic presence and strategic partnerships in competition with the US and/or at its expense.

China has not yet weighed in politically, but its economic ties will dictate such an eventuality. When asked “which of the following non-Arab actors will have the strongest influence in the Middle East in 10 years”, the US came on top, at 42 percent (no change from 2019), but China came in second, at 13 percent, up from 8 percent in 2019.

So what does China want in the region? It is likely that China wants to: a) promote its model of assertive-authoritarianism by deals with governments, not peoples of the region; b) open and expand markets, c) ensures energy supply. In such a formula, China will appeal to like-minded governments in the region and if its economic projects deliver solutions to the chronic unemployment problems, it will appeal more to the peoples of the region. Its arch rival, the US, ought to reexamine its policies on governance, conflict and peace, and strategic alignments.

Perhaps a new regional security order has never been more relevant than now.

The writer is the chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, H.E Dr. Fares Braizat.

for the original news source, click here

January 16, 2022- Jordan News

When the country’s official unemployment rate is 19 per cent, and much higher among the educated youth, with nearly half of them planning on leaving the country, it becomes really hard for any well-balanced person with a little bit of touch with reality and people’s economic marginalisation to understand or accept from a national interest perspective why an enormous national economic treasure, such as the baptism site, is not utilised enough to realise its enormous economic potential. It must be important to a great number of the 2.5 billion Christians living in the world!

Investing in the baptism site will turn it into a bee-nest of employment opportunities for our emigrating youth. It serves the national interest of the country by reducing the sense of economic marginalisation, which will in turn lessen political socio-frustration stemming from a loss of faith in the government’s ability to enable the economy to create jobs for the ever-increasing hundreds of thousands of unemployed Jordanian youth. Polling data gathered by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions clearly demonstrates a less-than-satisfactory evaluation of public policies on unemployment, poverty, cleanliness, education and health.

When these issues are combined with a significant increase in the percentage of Jordanian households reporting that their household income is “insufficient and does not meet their needs” from nearly 40 per cent in 2011 to two-thirds in 2019, one cannot possibly ignore these indicators and brush them under the carpet in a blatant state of denial. Responsible people will definitely make the link between these realties and developing the baptism site to help solve them.

Therefore, an expeditious action to turn the baptism site from its unsatisfying and economically semi-idle current state to an economically vibrant Christian pilgrimage site is in order. Along with its sister sites — Mukawer, Nebo, Mar Elias, Um Al Jmal, Um Al Rasas and Jesus cave — it will generate wealth and contribute to the reduction of the many socio-economic and socio-political ills. These ills have been accumulating over the years due to a weak sense of responsibility and the accountability of public policymakers. The time has come to utilise the untapped potential that awaits reasonability and a sense of responsibility towards unemployed and impoverished fellow Jordanians.

When comparing to the western side of the River Jordan, which received nearly three quarters of a million visitors in 2018, the Jordanian site, which is recognised by the Vatican and Christian denominations, received only 143,011 in 2018. It becomes even harder to understand logically and sanely why the baptism site is not on a par with the other side, which is not officially recognised by Christian churches as the baptism site.

Is it not embarrassing to all those in charge of public policy that nearly over a third of our adult people are considering emigrating, a figure that has doubled since 2011? And that half of our youth are willing to leave the country after we invested in their education in search for jobs and better economic opportunities while we have, inter alia, the treasure of the baptism site?

All this comes in a direly alarming context of a perceived increasing sense of injustice and inequality in the country. In 1999, only 8 per cent of adult Jordanians reported that “justice does not exist at all in Jordan”, and thanks to the appalling inadequacy of public policymakers, it reached 23 per cent in 2018. Similarly, the percentage of those who believe that “equality does not exist at all in Jordan” increased from 13 per cent to 30 per cent over the same period.

These alarm bells should make policymakers more conscious of public interest and less focused on personal narrow interests. Denial and business as usual is not an option in these unusual times. Jordans’ dignity is an extension of Jordanians’ dignity.

October 26, 2019 - Fares Braizat
This Survey was conducted in partnership with Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung in Jordan. For the complete study and findings please click here.
October 2021, NAMA, Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung

Despite the fact that 83 per cent of Jordanians are “very unsatisfied” with the way in which the USA handles the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, an overwhelming majority described political relations with US as very good (68 per cent) and somewhat good (26 per cent). Moreover, when asked in an open-ended question who is the closest ally of Jordan, the US topped the list and when asked which country should Jordan cooperate with more in the future, the US shared the top spot with the Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, when asked which non-Arab country Jordan shares the most foreign policy interests with, 63 per cent named the US, followed by Turkey at 9 per cent. These numbers are a testimony of the complexity of a multifaceted interplay between rationality, interests and identity. 

In the emerging multi-polar global order and the ever-changing political sand dunes of the Middle East, it is always essential to tune into the “collective choice” of the people to stay the course of a meaningful policy. Today, the hegemony of the US in the Middle East region is challenged by international actors, such as Russia and China, and regional players, such as Iran and Turkey. Traditional allies of the US, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and the EU, also diverge on a variety of issues. Cases in point are: Turkey’s air defence missile deal with Russia and the contentious issue of Israeli-Chinese relations. The rise of Japanese and Australian sea power, exemplified by their aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines deals respectively, along with the bolstering of other allies, such as India and South Korea, are attempts to “extend” the life of an ailing unipolar system guided by the United States. 

While the US and NATO are trying to maintain a unipolar global order, China is making inroads globally, and soon the least of which will be the one belt one road initiative. Within this international context and its regional extensions appear a new dynamic further integrating Israel into the region with American blessings. Examples of this integration include: new normalisation agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, as well as ideas pertaining to large-scale energy and water projects between Jordan and Israel. These continue to be crafted and negotiated. Although a majority of Jordanian public opinion (80 per cent) opposes these new agreements and older ones, there is a desire to improve relations with the US, the main backer of past and present agreements. Furthermore, in the rivalry between the US and either China or Russia, Jordanians who would like Jordan to take a position, say they would support the US; majority prefer neutrality.

Although Jordan’s relations with all parties involved in these dynamics are relatively smooth, of course to varying degrees, with the exception of Israel and Iran, a position that is also reflected by Jordanian public opinion, some observers have questioned the plausibility of having two opposing approaches to relations with the US. It boils down to interests. The US is by far the largest donor to Jordan in the past 10 years with $7,959 billion, followed by the EU and its member states $6,081 billion. Trade data (2010-2020) also suggests a similar pattern, with the EU topping the list as the largest trading partner to Jordan with $47,946 billion. This is followed by Saudi Arabia with $46,554 billion, and the US at $30,891 billion. Grants and trade are essential to understand how and why Jordanian public opinion views relations with the US and other countries in such a way interlinking interests ( the US) with identity (Saudi Arabia and Turkey) and rationality (separating US policy on Palestine-Israel from US-Jordan relations).

The writer is the chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, H.E Dr. Fares Braizat.

For the original news source:http://www.jordantimes.com/opinion/fares-braizat/revisiting-us-jordan-relations

Nov 21,2021- Jordan Times