Articles
Baptism site and unemployment
October 26, 2019 - Fares Braizat

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.

Teachers’ strike: A reality check
Fares Braizat - September 28, 2019

Teachers have produced a compelling “justice narrative” to frame their strike campaign. At the level of the Jordan Teachers Association (JTA), the adherence of teachers to the strike and its message reflects an extremely disciplined, well-organised and committed body of JTA members. At the national level, it is this narrative that makes nearly three quarters of those who support the strike attribute their support to “teachers’ difficult economic conditions”, according to a two-wave nationally representative tracking poll of 2,516 adult Jordanians published last week by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions that covered the strike between September 9 and 19. 

Since the early 1990s, the conventional social contract has been changing and inequalities have been increasing despite the growth of the nation’s GDP to the highest levels since the inception of the Kingdom. These inequalities are practically symbolised by the teachers’ strike today. 

In 1999, when Jordanians were asked in polls about the extent to which justice exists in Jordan on a four-point scale (to a great extent, to a medium extent, to a little extent, or justice does not exist at all), 8 per cent said “justice doesn’t exist at all in Jordan”. This increased to 23 per cent in 2018. Over the same period of time the percentage of people saying “justice exists to a great extent in Jordan” has decreased from 30 per cent to 10 per cent. This may partially explain why 41 per cent of Jordanians support the strike despite its “impact on students and their families”. The latter is the most important reason for those who oppose the strike, as 60 per cent of them cited this reason.

Changes in support and opposition to the teachers’ pay raise and strike, don’t change the fact that socio-economic inequalities are increasing, especially when comparing governorates. Although 56 per cent, on average, oppose the strike. The poll shows that opposition has increased from 55 per cent on September 9, to 69 per cent on Thursday, September 19 while support has decreased from 42 per cent to 29 per cent over the same period. 

Support for the teachers’ pay raise and the strike is highest in the poor south which is made up of the governorates of Karak, Tafileh, Maan and Aqaba. As a region, the south has been showing all signs of distress over the past three decades. Similar signs are present in Madaba which is counted as part of the centre (Amman, Zarqa and Balqa) although its indicators are close to or worse than the south. The latest such indicator is Department of Statistics data from Madaba registering the highest unemployment rate among Jordan’s governorates. 

According to a recent report by the UNDP, “The overall inequality measure remains little affected by the urban/rural divide, but differences between governorates account for 8 per cent of total inequality. Income inequality is higher when measured with income than with consumption. Furthermore, social transfers buffer income inequality by bringing down income inequality measures by four percentage points.”   

This mix of data may either upset or please the JTA and GoJ. But it shows that there is a societal split in Jordan over the issue, as 60 per cent support teachers’ pay raise, but as the strike goes on, GoJ loses more credibility and teachers lose more support. Ultimately, we are all losing because our public policies have not been “good enough” to address our growing socio-economic injustices and inequalities which are gradually depleting state credibility as over two decades of accumulative polling data on evaluation of government performance clearly demonstrates.

From political egalitarianism to competitive politics
Fares Braizat - July 28, 2019

The current system of political parties’ funding ensured, by design, a very low level of incentivised political competition among political parties. It was premeditated to “offer”, rather than “reward”, parties financial aid on an “egalitarian basis” in a similar way to social welfare support. The system is egalitarian in the sense that each party is eligible for an equal sum of money by virtue of being legally registered. Hence it is legitimate to name it “political social welfare”.

The system, which has been in operation since 2013 and amended in 2016, proved to be ineffective in promoting multi-party competitive politics, building parties’ capacity, encouraging citizens to engage in parties and to increase party-driven political participation.

While the official political discourse has grown rich on the necessity for more effective political participation, parties were cruising on autopilot, fuelled by fixed equal public funding for each party.

In an attempt to change the current reality, the new draft of parties’ funding regulations presents a good opportunity to create a more competitive political environment by rewarding measurable parties’ achievements as opposed to the existing one-size-fits-all funding scheme currently in operation.

Recent polling by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions on the performance of political parties suggests that an overwhelming majority of Jordanians believes political parties are ineffective. Even name recognition of parties is at very low levels. Their electability is even worse. It is expected that the newly drafted regulations of political parties’ funding are going to be rewarding in terms of parties’ effectiveness, increasing political participation, parliamentary efficacy, democratisation and democracy solidification. The proposed changes are steps in the right direction in terms of rewarding political competition and expanding youth and women involvement in a multi-party polity.

The new draft regulations present a good opportunity for all political actors in the political process, including political parties and government, to move democratisation forward towards parliamentary government. In line with good international practice of political parties funding, these regulations give parties a chance to demonstrate their seriousness and to do away with the previous system of “political social welfare”.

 

 

How to achieve meaningful political reform?
Fares Braizat - July 23, 2019

The main goal of political reform is to achieve a parliamentary government. Practically it means the leader of the largest parliamentary bloc should form the government. In light of not having achieved this goal since 1989, the logical question is why has a democratic reform that entails a parliamentary government not occurred since then? And what are the consequences for state-society? Since 2000, the topic of parliamentary government has appeared over a dozen times in His Majesty’s vision and has been more explicitly spelled out since 2012 in the King’s Discussion Papers. The ultimate goal of political reform is achieving a parliamentary government based on political parties who compete in general, periodic, free and fair elections. This leads to the rotation of power through the ballot box. 

Generally, Jordanian public opinion is positive towards democracy. However, the culture of political democracy  needs to be rooted through institutional mechanisms and behaviour. A recent representative study of Jordan’s population that surveyed 3,020 respondents, conducted by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, found that 84 per cent of Jordanians believe that it is important (64 per cent very important, 20 per cent important) for them to live in a country that is governed democratically. Jordanians assess the level of democracy in Jordan to be 5.62 out of 10, while they asses the level of democracy in Turkey and the US at about 7.5 out of 10. Jordanians assess the democratic development in Jordan with mixed views: 12 per cent believe that democracy in Jordan is developing rapidly, 52 per cent believe that it is developing slowly, 19 per cent believe that it is stagnant and 16 per cent believe that it is regressing. 

In light of the aforementioned, three-quarters of Jordanians believe that Jordan is governed in the interest of a few and a quarter believe that it is governed in the interest of the majority of people. Only 22 per cent of those whose age ranges between 25 and 34 believe that the country is governed in the interest of the majority. This percentage is the lowest among all age groups. Whereas 77 per cent of that age range believe that the country is governed in the interest of a few, the highest among all age groups. The situation differs slightly percentage-wise for the age group of 65+, where 37 per cent of them believe that it is governed in the interest of the majority, compared with 60 per cent believing that it is governed in the interest of a few. 

The percentage of those who believe that Jordan is governed in the interest of a few increases with the increase in the level of education. Citizens living in governorates are the least believing that Jordan is governed in the interest of the majority. The governorates of Maan, Karak, Tafileh, Madaba, Ajloun, Irbid and Balqa’s average was lower than the national average (27 per cent). Amman, Zarqa, Aqaba, Mafraq and Jerash on the other hand are above the national average.

In light of this empirical evidence, the state started various constructive initiatives addressing governance dynamics, but that is not enough to achieve the vision laid out repeatedly by the King. The work by the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs on reforming political parties’ funding system is a step in the right direction. 

Rationalising protest action
Fares Braizat - May 20, 2019

Back in February 2011, nearly three-quarters of adult Jordanians and 80 per cent of the elites’ sample supported protests that were taking place in the Arab world demanding political and economic reforms. At the same time, support for the protests in Jordan was around 47 per cent among the public, and 63 per cent among the elites’ sample. Reported participation rates were 7 per cent among the public, and 21 per cent among the elites’ sample. Obviously, the social desirability effect was evident, as people were associating with a very positive atmosphere in early to mid-February 2011, when this poll was carried out by the Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS).

Support percentages, as well as reported participation rates in protest activities, dropped significantly after the Arab Spring turned bloody in Tunisia, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Lower levels of support for, and participation in, protests throughout 2011 and 2012 were also a function of state responsiveness. The state started a process of national dialogue, engaging relevant political forces, whether organised, such as Islamic Action Front Party, or loosely organised Hirak activists. This process led to constitutional and structural changes that moved the country forward in a peaceful manner.

Since 2011 and until now, many factors have changed locally and regionally. Internal weak economic performance, coupled with regional realignments and global competition in and over the region, produced a complex web of intersections that Jordan must deal with proactively. One of these complex issues is managing state-society relations under economic stress and government inapt polices. While the government is not producing satisfactory results for the public — the lowest performing ministerial team since 1996, according to CSS and NAMA polls — the public is becoming increasingly edgy. Recent polls show that support for protest action has grown from around 15 per cent in 2012 to 63 per cent in April 2019.

The question is whether this change of attitudes is going to mean more protest action in the streets. Judging by previous attitudinal and behavioural data trends, it is unlikely to see mass protests across the country, despite the growth of dissatisfaction with government performance. However, the current pockets of protesters will remain active, and it does not necessarily mean significant sustainable growth for a few rational reasons:

First, there are 1.3 million subscribers to the Social Security Fund. This affects the lives of 6 million Jordanians who have direct interest in preserving the “certainty they know” over the “uncertainty they do not know” despite the fact that a majority of them are not satisfied with government performance.

Second, Jordanians trust the military and security institutions. This trust extends to a deeply-held belief that these institutions will keep the interests of Jordanians at heart despite sluggish civil institutions performance.

Third, the perceived and actual costs of protest action are relatively high compared with the benefits that participants may expect as a result of their action. In addition to monetary cost, there are social and political costs associated with the participation in and promotion of unconventional political action that discourage people.

Fourth, preserving stability is very important to the overwhelming majority of Jordanians. Even peaceful protest discourages people from coming to Jordan and those in the country from going around the Kingdom; it exerts pressure on tourism, transportation and incoming patients and students. Tourists’ numbers show how inconsequential protests have been.

Disruptive politics: Investors, protesters and government performance
Fares Braizat - April 29, 2019

Government performance and investor confidence are at historic low levels. The recent survey published by Jordan Strategy Forum shows a few shocking numbers, such as 65 per cent of the 580 surveyed investors saying “the country is going in the wrong direction”, up from 46 per cent back in September 2017. Today, nearly two-thirds of the public and the investors agree that the country is going in the wrong direction. Going back to the Centre for Strategic Studies’ January survey and NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions’ April survey, the trend is confirmed.

Government performance follows similar trends. Today, according to NAMA’s April survey, of 3,020 Jordanians aged 18 and more, only 30 per cent said the ministerial team was doing a good job; 70 per cent have an opposite view. Although the prime minister is doing a little better than his team, he remains among the lowest performing PMs since 1996. Only 43 per cent said he was doing well, according to NAMA’s survey.

Against this backdrop, there is also an informal aggressive grassroots campaign mobilising people to take to the streets in Ramadan. This effort is led by many Hirak activists, and supported by new groups and individuals for a range of reasons that may look contradictory on many levels; however, they all share discontent and have the Fourth Circle in sight. This build-up is evolving in an environment of dissatisfaction with the economy, public policies and public sector leadership.

It is not unexpected that political disruption may become the name of the game in an environment of new waves of protest in the Arab world and higher levels of support for collective protest action. Adaptive strategies by the government and state institutions ought to avoid denial and face issues of public leadership at government level head-on. When only 2 per cent of Jordanians say government policies have a “very positive impact on their life”, and 17 per cent “positive impact”, while 80 per cent say either no impact,  negative or very negative impact on their life, according to NAMA’s April survey, the time for a serious revision of public conduct has gracefully arrived. Such a revision becomes all the more pressing considering figures that show that 77 per cent of investors, according to JSF and NAMA investor confidence index survey, say the investment environment in the country is not encouraging, up from 56 per cent in March 2017.

Today, the government seems fragmented at a crossroads. The combined power of investors’ anger, protesters’ determination and perceived lack of government responsiveness could send shock waves across all public and private institutions.

Jordan, Qatar and GCC: Realignment within Arab cold war?
Fares Braizat - April 21, 2019

Jordan has very little interest, if any, in being part of any inter-Arab cold war, or wars. The current irrational and unjustifiable cold wars and their active theatres have caused significant economic and financial troubles for Jordan, and will threaten the stability of the region for a long time to come. Jordan will continue to pay a hefty price for it. Since 2011, Jordan neither needed, nor wanted, to be part of reckless adventures around the region, such as the thoughtless Syrian and Yemeni civil wars. Despite intense pressures, Jordan kept a reasonable distance but was besieged by the conflicts and their premeditated and consequential harmful politics.

Now, more than ever before, we need to break free of this despondent state of affairs and build a safe future for our children and be part of human progress and development, capitalising on the strength of the existing institutions we have built so far. To improve our institutions and address our failings with unemployment, poverty and investment attraction, we need to reprioritise our foreign policy to align it with internal growth. This requires a balance of interests with our regional partners. It is not advisable to be singularly ideological in foreign policy design and conduct, especially in a turbulent region like the Middle East where realism and idealism may work together as much as against each other.

In principle, we should invest in peace and stability rather than war and destruction, and we should work for a “democratic”, not “authoritarian”, just peace. Hundreds of billions of dollars were wasted on wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq. The outcome is more killing and destruction and much less respect for all parties involved among their own people and globally. The region does not need, and cannot afford, more bloodshed or blind negative competition. If a few billion were spent on development in Yemen instead of war, the Yemenis will remember those who built their country as allies for long time to come. The same applies to Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon and Libya.

All countries in the region should have, by now, learned their lessons. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) internal strife is harming the GCC family and their cousins in the neighbourhood. It is not wise for the cousins to take sides in a family contention. Cousins and neighbours should help resolve the issues, not magnify them. They should play a positive and constructive role for the benefit of all.

Hence, the recent rapprochement between Jordan and Qatar attracts special attention. Last week’s visit by the diplomatically-seasoned and politically-dignified Qatari Minister of Defence Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah to Jordan with a delegation of senior security sector officials and diplomats, and his meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah, the prime minister and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff points to a serious Qatari interest in collaborating with Jordan’s security sector. If the political will was not there on both sides, this visit would not have happened and agreements would have not been reached. 

Such cooperation builds upon nearly 4,000 filled jobs out of the promised 10,000 for Jordanians in Qatar, and $500 million of investment in projects in Jordan. Two hundred million worth of projects have been already identified and more is to come soon. The Qataris are very interested in working with and in Jordan. The two countries need one another, and they should cooperate more and reinstate ambassadors to contribute to the reduction of tension in the region and be constructive rather than destructive.

Although Jordanian public opinion is not where it should be, with regards to perceptions of relations with Qatar, both parties are invited to do more. In 2018, only 0.3 per cent of adult Jordanians named Qatar as “the closest ally of Jordan”, compared with 41 per cent who named the US, 22 per cent who named Saudi Arabia and 5 per cent who named the UAE, according to a nationally-representative survey by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. When asked which country Jordan should cooperate with more, 1.3 per cent named Qatar, compared with 19 per cent for the US, 20 per cent for Saudi Arabia and 8 per cent for the UAE. Among the Jordanian elites, the position is less promising. Only 0.2 named Qatar as a “closest ally of Jordan”, compared with 50 per cent who named the US, 5 per cent who named Saudi Arabia and 2 per cent who named the UAE. When elites were asked about which country Jordan should coordinate with more in the future, Qatar was named by 0.3 per cent of elites, compared with 20 per cent who named the US, 8 per cent for Saudi Arabia and 1 per cent for the UAE.

Jordanian public opinion and the elite may have been influenced, partly though, by the fact that Qatar did not pay its contribution of $1.25 billion as part of the GCC support package for Jordan a few years ago, while Saudi Arabic, the UAE and Kuwait paid their contributions and more. It is never too late, especially when Jordan is going through a major economic crisis. Jordan stepped in when Qatar needed help since the 1970s until recently in theatres where Qatar was involved. It is hoped that ambassadors are to be reinstated soon and both countries are building more cooperation bridges

Jordan on the brink again, really?
Fares Braizat - April 13, 2019
Since the 1940s, with each wave of instability in the region, we hear voices talking about the imminent “collapse of Jordan”, with titles such as “Jordan on the brink”, now add “again”, then add: “How did Jordan manage through?” Each wave is associated with a set of strong external and internal reasons that support the “collapse theory”, which has become a heavily used grand theory. The said theory has provided an easy way out for those who do not want to dig deeper to understand the centrality of Jordan’s geopolitical importance and its implications for internal and external political actors, whether they are rational or not.

External reasons would include fluctuating and unstable international and regional alliances. Today, some of these voices point to a changing role of Jordan vis-a-vis Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Jordan has been through far more drastic changes in the past 70 years and it proved resilient. Though challenged these days, its resilience is very likely to endure the stormy winds of the current high regional and international tides. One indicator of this possible endurance is the global and local recognition of His Majesty King Abdullah’s role.

Fuelled by the recent events in Algeria and Sudan, dubbed Arab Spring 2.0 (AS 2.0), and the unprecedented levels of discontent with consecutive governments, the current government’s ministerial team in particular, and perceived lack of accountability as compared to responsibility, some observers of Jordan and its politics expect a mass protest to take place in the next few weeks, especially during Ramadan. Is this going to really happen? And if it happens, is it really going to be consequential?

First, let us differentiate between research, advisory, advocacy, lobbying and activism among “observers” expecting such a wave. Policy advisory research, whether shallow or deep, is not blind advocacy, although it might be used for advocacy. Some have argued privately and publicly that a mass protest supported by the middle class and the elites seems to be in the making, repeating last year’s protest that toppled Hani Mulki’s government. These arguments are put forward by activists with wishful thinking, advisers with cautious minds and rigorous calculations and “lobbyists” who have competing interests.

Although, theoretically, protest possibility is exacerbated by an increasing belief among economically marginalised segments, particularly the 388,000 unemployed people and the youth among them, weak belief in the state’s seriousness to fight corruption and a significant increase in the percentage of Jordanians believing inequalities and injustices are widespread, the translation rate from theoretical attitude and even anger to action remains very small. As small as it may be, it should not be discounted. After all, not all Algerians took into the streets in AS 2.0.

Although the sense of inequalities and injustices may have increased after the unemployed marched to Amman, and some untimely government appointments of the past few weeks, coupled with its inability to respond convincingly to public criticism, it remains unclear yet whether these developments are going to mobilise more “automised people” to move from “idle observers” to “active participants” in a potential protest. A possibility that cannot, and should not, be ruled out.

Unlike previous waves of protests, the “expected new one” could build on discontent among the unemployed youth and politicise it as its backbone with a significant high moral grounds and familial support of potential participants. If that happens, a new wave of protests is not likely to be contained without major structural changes addressing “deeply seated issues”.

If not politically averted in a preemptive manner, it will become rather difficult for the state to “manage” a headless and unorganised mass movement fuelled by anger, disappointment, hopelessness and a legitimate demand: jobs. The likelihood of mobilising the unemployed alone as the backbone of the movement is serious and can lead to a mass protest that may take the country to an uncharted journey.

Moreover, there is a significant build up among activists of various backgrounds to prepare for another “Ramadan Fourth Circle” episode. The solution to such a new wave of protest is economic and cannot be a via a security approach. Since the economic solution requires time, a preemptive political solution ought to be seriously considered as soon as possible.

Today, more than ever before, people are observing how the state and the King are going to rebuild public trust in state-society relations by leading a “white revolution” from the top to avoid a potentially protracted political crisis. This starts with a serious association between responsibility and accountability from top to bottom. All those who are making decisions and /or spending public funds affecting peoples’ lives must be held accountable to their policies and spending. Jordan will pass this time too at some cost, as ever, and the “brink” will be put, once again, farther away.

Ramifications of Trump’s deal
Fares Braizat - April 6, 2019

f the leaks of US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” turn out to be true, or somewhat true, a few countries across the region will have to face hard choices. One of those countries is Israel. Will Israel accept being a bi-national state for both Palestinians and Israeli Jews?

With the practical death of the two-state solution, which nearly a third of Israelis now support, Israel will have to make choices that will not only affect its internal make-up and external relations, but will have serious ramifications for neighbouring countries and international law.

With the unprecedented blatant support from the Trump administration and the implementation of practical steps in favour of Israel, including recognising Jerusalem as its capital, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, recognising the annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights and, now, introducing the language of annexing the West Bank, or parts of it, especially Area C that constitutes the majority of the West Bank, the “deal” is coming together gradually whether we like it or not. It will be imposed either forcefully, seductively or both.

According to the latest Haaretz poll, 42 per cent of Israelis “back” the annexation of the West Bank, while only 28 per cent oppose it. The backers differ on the conditions of the annexation, but it is important to know that only 11 per cent support annexation with full political rights for the Palestinians. Only 15 per cent support annexing Area C. Twenty per cent of Israeli Arabs support the annexation of the West Bank with political rights, as opposed to 9 per cent among Israeli Jews.

Despite its staunch position on all illegal annexations, Jordan will be most affected, whether by choice or design. The leaks indicate that there is pressure on Jordan to “officially naturalise Palestinian refugees”. This means turning a blind eye to, and possibly facilitating, the continuous loss of the “refugee” status of Palestinians in Jordan, whether citizens or not. This helps Israel and Trump’s team solve Israel’s problem at the expense of Jordan and the Palestinians. Such pressure puts Jordan, Palestinians and Palestinian refugees in Jordan and elsewhere in a very precarious position, facing very hard choices.

A response to this impasse cannot, and should not, be left to Jordan alone. It has to be arranged with all other partners who care about international law and the ethical values of justice, fairness and humanity. Jordanians of all walks of life must have a say too. It is their future after all and they should not be surprised neither by force, nor by seduction.

Jordanian political parties: Time for carrot-and-stick approach
Mohammad Abu Dalhoum - April 4, 2019

Since the 2012 demonstrations, Jordan has implemented a number of constitutional reforms in its efforts to expedite the process of democratisation. The Royal committee for constitutional reform, along with the government and Parliament, have debated and worked on reforming the Constitution, with the electoral law at the core of these reforms. Parliament at that time debated the electoral law and introduced multiple ideas.

As such, the 2013 parliamentary elections introduced a mixed electoral system, comprising of both a single-member district system to elect 123 MPs and a proportional representation (PR) system to elect the remaining 27 reserved seats. This system was introduced to further institutionalise political parties in Parliament. However, given the absence of a threshold criterion and the number of reserved seats, the outcome was a mosaic of 23 different political parties/ blocs occupying the 27 seats, four of which had two MPs or more.

As the 2013 electoral system was inefficient to foster the development of political parties, the 2016 elections abandoned the one-person-one-vote system altogether and introduced block voting for all seats while lowering the number of MPs to 130 instead of 150. The new law stipulated that eligible votes would elect 115 members from 23 electoral districts using open-list PR, with 15 seats reserved for women and nine for Christians, Chechens and Circassians. Fifteen political parties participated and won 42 seats, compared with 61 national lists that participated in 2013, competing over the 27 seats.

This brief background shows that progress has, in fact, been made. While only 18 per cent of the 2013 Parliament were representatives of national lists and political parties, the 2016 Parliament has about one-third of its members representing political parties. There are currently 47 registered political parties with the Ministry of Political and Parliamentary Affairs, 15 of which participated in the last elections, while the remaining abstained. According to the 2012 Political Parties Law, each existing licensed political party receives an amount of JD50,000 annually as a contribution from the state.

We should not let the progress made stop us from doing a better job in the next elections. It is imperative for a threshold to be represented in the next parliamentary elections: Political parties need to perform better and state funding should not be given as a mere contribution without accountability. As such, it is time for a carrot-and-stick approach. Political parties that win representation in Parliament should be incentivised, while those who do not should not be given full funding. This is expected to incentivise them to run developed campaigns discussing core policy issues, and with time, we may finally see them develop more advanced ideological stances, which will enrich plurality within the political scene

Unknown knights: Countering terrorism with conviction
Fares Braizat - March 23, 2019

In 2018 alone, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) and its renowned counterterrorism squad thwarted 62 terrorist operations abroad and 32 internally. This is a conviction-based global service. One can only imagine the mayhem that could have ensued, globally and locally, if a few of these operations were to be carried out. The above mentioned pieces of evidence demonstrate that the threat of terrorism has not faded away and will not fade away anytime soon. Terrorism is rooted in prejudice, grievances and xenophobic ideologies. Terrorists are intolerant exclusionary individuals and they will continue to be out there no matter what governments do globally and locally.

Therefore, the fight against terrorism goes beyond covert attritional operations and this requires a deeply seated conviction not only among those fighting terrorism, but also their political, social and operational environments. At the political level, George Tenet, in his book, co-written by Bill Harlow, “At the Centre of the Storm”, offers a respectable insight about political quibbling; politicians never allocated all requested funds when asked for by his agency in the years leading to September 11. Had resources been allocated satisfactorily with less risk-averse politicians, the September 11 attacks could have probably been foiled too. In the resource-poor Jordan, known successes far outweigh its allocations compared with similar agencies.

Jordan’s political counterterrorism environment is rooted in “conviction” as opposed to a service to other countries, as a global public good. The global service Jordan is delivering stems out of deeply a held historical anti-terrorism conviction. Terrorism hit Jordan since the 1950s, with the assassination of King Abdullah I, premiers Hazza Majali and Wasfi Tal, diplomats, hijacking of planes, seizures of buildings, bombs in public buildings, targeting security installations and personnel, attacking hotels and killing civilians indiscriminately. David Ignatius’ novel “Body of Lies”, although a fictional book based on actual events, offers a good insight about Jordan’s GID fight with terror and how Jordan dismantled a complicated terrorist organisation.

Nearly 70 years in the fight made Jordan a pioneer, innovator of strategic and tactical methods and an experienced data hub. Preventing terrorism and countering it, along with its incubating environment of radicalisation, not only requires a global effort, but most importantly necessitates turning data into information and timely actionable intelligence.

Allies of Jordan in the fight against terrorism, as a well as adversaries, know very well how generous and efficient Jordanians have been. They should also know that Jordan is committed to the global public good of fighting terrorism as a conviction of strategic importance, not a tactically-ridden wave of convenience. It would be useful to know how many operations were foiled by other intelligence agencies to build better awareness of what is done behind the scenes so that we can live while they work for peoples’ safety and peace of mind. After all, people here refer to security agents as the “wakeful eye”. Civilian agencies need to step up to match the efficiency of the security establishment. Otherwise, the cost is going to be high for all.

Reinstating Jordan’s social capital: An Italian lesson
Fares Braizat - March 16, 2019

The issue of concern to us today is that Jordan’s social capital indicators have declined significantly to an alarming low edge. Only 16 per cent of adult Jordanians reported that “most people can be trusted” by the end of 2018, according to the World Values Survey (WVS) 7th wave carried out in Jordan by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions.

In previous waves of the WVS in 2001 and 2007, the percentage of “trusting” Jordanians hovered around 30 per cent. The drop from 30 per cent in 2007 to 13 per cent in 2014 and 16 per cent in 2018 cannot go unnoticed. Denial is not an option for strategists, public-policy planners, makers and implementers. 

This decline has implications for all Jordanians, their friends and allies both regionally and globally. Social capital is not just the presence of institutions which fortify a society; it is the glue that holds institutions and people together as a political society through mutually reinforced interpersonal trust among citizens and a two-way trust between state institutions and citizens. 

Interpersonal trust is an essential building block for cooperative and associational life, business transactions, belonging, hope and citizenship-based patriotism. As such, social capital signifies the quality and quantity of a society’s interactions that solidify cohesion and sustainable development. Both are demanded in our society today as economic pressure is encroaching on and damaging the social fabric.

Given this decline in interpersonal trust and public trust in civilian institutions, especially in the current government, which has recorded unprecedented low levels of public confidence according to Centre for Strategic Studies polls, there is a need to reinstate social capital through specific action plans that depend partly on revitalising cooperative culture, organisations, training and accessible cooperative funding.

Cooperatives have been the essence of northern Italy’s economic development and sustainability since 1800s as the recent history of “Cooperazione Trentina” clearly demonstrates. Cooperative culture, organisation and work from production to shelf have made Trentino one of the richest and sustainable provinces in Italy. 

This culture was noted by the authoritative political scientist Robert Putnam of Harvard in his widely cited work “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy”, in which he studied Italy’s regional governments and concluded that associational life in northern Italy led to its prosperity and democracy compared to less associational parts of Italy especially in the agrarian south.

In Jordan, there are nearly 1,600 cooperatives, of which nearly 1,200 are active and cover various sectors from agribusiness to multipurpose, with a total membership of nearly 145,000, which constitutes nearly 1.5 per cent of Jordanians. Many of them are nominal, not productive, members. In Trentino, by contrast, well over 50 per cent of the population are active, producing members of cooperatives. These socioeconomic networks facilitate the growth and reinforcement of interpersonal trust which leads to more value-based transactions, which in turn leads to sustainable economic development and the evolution of civic norms. The Jordanian cooperative sector needs a major reform to yield sustainable development and social cohesion.

The King goes to Washington, again
Fares Braizat - March 9, 2019

Persuasive engagement with power brokers in Washington is vital to Jordan’s interests, stability and survival. Washington is not the only capital that is important to Jordan, but it is the most important capital. This importance justifies the few visits His Majesty makes every year to engage politicians in Congress and beyond. 

Not a single other country has demonstrated the type of support the United States extended to Jordan over the past 10 years. This week’s visit to Congress is paramount for many reasons. The midterm elections of November last year produced 93 new members to the House of Representatives and nine new senators to Senate. Engaging those newcomers is very important to ensure continued support for Jordan in the next few years. The power of Congress in the American decision-making process cannot be discounted. 

As the first Arab leader to meet congressional members and committees after the midterm elections, the agenda will be expansive and will cover the strategic partnership between Jordan and the United States and the ways to take it forward in light of the existing and emerging challenges to security and stability in the region. Chief among those is the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. Jordan’s position has always been of firm and unwavering commitment to this fight and paid its dues in blood and treasure. This commitment will be reaffirmed to old and new members of Congress.  

Jordan’s lobby in Washington is largely dependent on the King’s network and ability to influence the process and its main actors. The King’s effort does not go unchallenged. There are many in Washington, and for different and sometimes contradictory reasons, who would like to see a weaker Jordan in Washington. 

Jordan’s pathway in this environment is charted by its interests and ability to manoeuvre the rough waters of politics on four levels; American internal politics and rivalries, regional competition and its extensions to Washington, Israel’s influence and its impact on the peace process, and finally, the internal dynamics in Jordan.  

As complex as these dynamics are, Jordan has managed so far, with consistent efforts, to have a relatively decent level of influence that can be demonstrated through the continuous flow of aid packages and enhanced military and security cooperation. 

With presence of the Israeli prime minister in Washington at the same time for different motivations and purposes and the intensely-gated ghost negotiations of the “deal of the century”, Jordan’s vigilance ought to be at its highest. Leaks of “the deal” do not reassure Jordan, Palestinians, Arabs and peace-seeking people globally. 

Leaks are indicating an “imposed” take or leave deal. If that comes to be, Jordan’s friends in Washington will have to be prepared and informed of Jordan’s limits. Jordan has a lot of balancing to do between economic hardship, internal political strife, regional political sand dunes and relations with stakeholders in peace in the region. Not every initiative for peace in the Middle East can lead to peace. “The deal” is no exception if it is not properly negotiated and justice is delivered.

London’s transformative economics
Fares Braizat - March 2, 2019

The messages of the London conference, “Jordan: Growth and Opportunities”, ought to reach “all” ordinary Jordanians in their towns and villages, and must not remain largely a “globalised elite” affair. The newly developed narrative presented by His Majesty King Abdullah at the London conference as a step in a process of transformative economic growth is inspiring and builds hope. Inspiration and hope are the two things ordinary Jordanians need the most these days.

The Royal narrative is inspiring because it is built on sound economic thinking of building “projects pipeline” that should prepare projects with bankable legal and financial structuring to be presented to investors. This is a major step forward, upon which one can build hope that strategic infrastructure projects can be presented to potential investors and get implemented without the usual hurdles of unpreparedness and unnecessary obstruction. The investors, whether “impact investors”, “private funds” or international organisations, I talked to before, during and after the conference, are looking for transparency, reliability and the continuity of policies.

The British government and British Ambassador to Jordan Edward Oakden went out of their way to make this conference come to the successful conclusion it has achieved. In partnership with Jordan, they have managed to ensure the presence of vital partners, who have shown in words and deeds a great deal of political, diplomatic and economic support to Jordan. The World Bank’s representative started her speech by saying “Jordan is open for business,” a phrase that was echoed by many high-profile participants. The UN, the UNDP, which champions the Sustainable Development Goals, the International Monetary Fund, the International Finance Corporation, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Islamic Development Fund and many private investment funds were there and showed eagerness to invest in Jordan’s future.

They were reassured by two major factors. The first is the presence and commitment of strong international and regional partners of Jordan, such as the US, France, the EU, the UK, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and Turkey, among many others. The second is the energy of Jordanians, including the vision His Majesty has put forward, the alignment of actors and the driven youth who energised the audience in the hall with their achievements and potential.

As the conference concluded, it was clear to all that Jordan has many wholeheartedly committed global advocates who see a great value for global security in its role and stability. Jordan’s resilience is a testament to the patience and endurance of Jordanians of all walks of life. 

Jordan’s new narrative extends beyond economic transformation to address radicalisation and terrorism. Once again, His Majesty, who was described by the White House a few days ago as “one of our most capable and effective partners in developing credible, alternative narratives... to advance our collective terrorism prevention efforts”, initiated and led the Aqaba process with innovative approaches to ensure global security. Economic prosperity is one of the best ways to give people vulnerable to terrorism a chance to have a good, peaceful alternative.

With all these partners and their relentless support that not only “we can count on each other whatever the weather” in security and economic hardships, but also sew the nexus with education. Jordan’s partners have shown serious support to Her Majesty Queen Rania’s education initiatives, which have turned out to be of great value, especially in the area of professional qualification of teachers. We have an opportunity to expand these programmes to realise long-term economic transformation and growth, achieve security and prevent radicalisation and terrorism.

Contextual economic liberalism
Fares Braizat - February 23, 2019

As the “debate” on what constitutes a liberal or a conservative in the Jordanian context continues, it is essential to engage their stands on the economy, whether real or imagined. On the economy, as conventional wisdom has it, a liberal would support the position that says “government regulation of business is necessary to protect public interest” while a conservative would support the position that says “regulation of business does more harm than good”. These positions largely apply in established democracies, such as the US and Western Europe, despite some notable overlaps.

In our context as it has evolved in the past three decades, some “establishment conservatives”, hand in hand with some “parachuted in” free marketeers and “fonctionnaires”, also known as liberals, “liberalised” the market in an ad hoc fashion. While some established conservatives were not thrilled with the liberalisation, allies of free marketeers won the day and, in the process, markets were opened up prematurely. Price controls were largely lifted without the maturity of anti-trust laws or their implementation. The conditions of the market were not prepared for total, free competition. This has led to monopolies in a few essential sectors, such as energy and some foodstuffs. These monopolies harmed the consumers and we are feeling the heat of overpricing today, more than ever before.

The Jordanian public opinion is not uniform on the issue of private versus public ownership of business. Since 2001, more Jordanians supported private ownership than they did public ownership of business, according to the World Values Survey data collected periodically in 2001, 2007, 2014 and 2018 by the Centre for Strategic Studies and NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. Today, 54 per cent of Jordanian adults would support the statement that says “private ownership of business should be increased”, while 43 per cent support the statement that “government ownership of business should be increased”. In times of volatility and uncertainty, these positions change. For example, in 2014 in the heat of the Arab Spring, two-thirds of Jordanians supported government ownership of business as opposed to one-third that supported private ownership. In 2007, when economic growth was more than 5 per cent, it was evident that more Jordanians supported private ownership.

Therefore, one can safely conclude that there is a third of Jordanians who are solid believers in the private ownership of business, even in times of uncertainty. A third fluctuates in uncertain times, otherwise pro-private, and a third is pro-government ownership. Consequently, more regional stability, and probably stronger implementation of competitiveness frameworks and anti-trust laws, will increase public support for more private ownership of business.

When examining attitudes on the profit of business in established free markets, a liberal would say “businesses make too much profit”, while a conservative on the other end would say “businesses make a reasonable amount of profit”. In our context, it is rather inverted. The vaguely-defined conservatives would adopt the position of western liberals, and the vaguely defined liberals would adopt the position of western conservatives, more specifically neo-conservatives.

On personal success, a liberal would be more of the view that “being successful is based upon which family you were born into and where”, while for a conservative “being successful is based upon individual effort”. In our context, the government has been, since its inception, the “liberal” force pushing education and health to compensate for unequal development, while the private sector is a profit-driven “conservative” service provider. The interdependency, interchangeability overlap between label and context’s components, among many other factors, makes the easily thrown labels of liberals and conservatives in Jordan not only impractical, but rather absurd.

One more example that makes the point clearer on the big picture: on the size of government in an established democracy and free-market economy, a liberal would argue “government is efficient and effective”, while a conservative would say “government is wasteful and inefficient”. I wonder what this means in our context. Also, on government’s role, a liberal would say that government aid should go to those who need it most first, and then to others. A check of both camps’ positions in Jordan on the National Aid Fund would reveal whether there is a real meaningful policy difference among them.

Liberal-conservative political labels
Fares Braizat - February 16, 2019

Deceitful labels of liberal and conservative in Jordan seem to be misleading everyone, including those self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives. As a contribution to the debate, this is an attempt to help both “parties” better self-define through a checklist of values and positions that define how liberal or a conservative an individual is on political issues. In the coming weeks, I will also address economic and social values associated with the two camps.

On the King’s power, a conservative, also called a Royalist, would argue that the King should keep his current powers or even have more powers. A liberal would argue that the King has too much power and his power should be reduced. Ironically, it is not the liberal camp that called for fewer Royal powers throughout the recent history of Jordan. On the contrary, it is the Islamists, who cannot be defined as “liberal”, who called for that. When liberals were appointed by the King and held power disproportionately larger than their presence in society, some of the conservatives were calling for less Royal powers. In this context, the liberals were not elected through the existing universal suffrage of voting rights in public elections, and most those of them who ran in parliamentary elections failed to win seats, with miserably low votes.

The King defines himself as left-wing, leaning on health and education, and right-wing, leaning on foreign policy and military. He is a “realist” on both accounts because he wants to ensure the macro safety and security of the country and would like to see good universal healthcare and education. We will return to these in the coming weeks.

Politically, a conservative would generally support military force and strength. In our current situation, a conservative is likely to argue that force is the best way to deal with terrorism. A liberal would advocate addressing the “root causes” of terrorism, such as economic disparity, injustice and inequality, and argue that military force breeds hatred, which leads to more terrorism. In Jordan’s context, it is hard to find any significant difference between the two camps on this issue. On a larger macro level, conservatives would support the position that says the best way for Jordan to remain safe is through increased military strength, while a liberal would argue more democracy and better diplomacy.

Although foreign policy is not a flagrantly clear divisive issue, it does not seem to be a contested issue between conservatives and liberals, such as in the US. In a comparative context, hypothetically, a conservative would be more of the view that Jordan should concentrate on internal issues, while a liberal would argue that Jordan should play an active role in the politics of the region. Probably a more accurate description of Jordan’s foreign policy would be “realist”. It means Jordan acts in ways consistent with its national interests. A more complex issue is the involvement of the US in Jordan: Is the US involvement in Jordan bad or good? Does the position differ among self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives? Liberals advocated stronger relations with totally illiberal neighbours, and were strongly against relations with socially liberal, politically illiberal neighbours! It seems there is little room for manoeuvring and disagreements between both camps on foreign policy issues.

In regard to the position on refugees, the assumption is that a conservative would argue that a growing refugee population is damaging Jordan, while a liberal would argue it is helping Jordan. Can we define the majority of Jordanians who reject receiving more refugees, around three-quarters, or those supporting their return, 87 per cent of Jordanians and two-thirds of Syrian refugees in Jordan, according to NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, as “conservatives”, even when the main reason for that position is hard economic conditions and not stemming from exclusionary or primordially-defined xenophobic attitudes? Furthermore, for those who support receiving more refugees, the main reason is either religious or Arab-nationalistic brotherly motivation, rather than a deeply rooted egalitarian civic value system resembling that of the Swedish/Nordic refugee welcoming, rights-based culture.

While a liberal would argue that the government should loosen the control of the media, a conservative would argue for maintaining that control. Liberals and conservatives alike called for more legal accountability of media, and some self-proclaimed liberals, in particular, attacked their political opponents in mob-fashion personal attacks and blocked people on social media for differences of opinion. It is too early to delineate clear lines between liberals and conservatives in Jordan over political and foreign policy issues.

In practical terms, if liberals are pro-peace with Israel, how can they justify normalisation with continuing Israeli occupation, which asphyxiates basic liberal values of freedom? Moreover, establishment conservatives share similar positions with liberals on relations with Israel. Both have a realist, rather than an ideological approach. These examples of political issues suggest that the labels of liberal and conservative in the internal and external Jordanian political contexts are impractical categories for political identities, and their blanket usage adds ambiguity more than clarity. Both camps are invited to crystallise their political and foreign policy positions so that voters and constituencies can know where they stand.

National revival plan
Fares Braizat - February 10, 2019

Since His Majesty King Abdullah ascended to the throne in 1999, Jordan’s GDP has grown from less than $10 billion to around $40 billion today. This growth has come about despite all regional troubles Jordan had to endure, especially since the financial crisis and later the eventful Arab Spring. This growth has come with a cost of nearly as much national debt. Today, the country is gripped by slow growth, nearly 19 per cent unemployment, pockets of geographic economic marginalisation and a changing generational undercurrent, coupled with deep public disbelief in the government’s ability to deliver the goods.

Against this background, I propose an action plan that may contribute to national revival. It is made up of four pillars: economic with eight national projects; political with two game-changing projects, administrative with one project to merge ministries on a sectoral basis and educational with two projects. 

On the economy, build growth-generating mega projects through heavily-incentivised foreign direct investment. This can be achieved through the following projects:

The first projects is the national rail network connecting Syria to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, as well as cities, towns and villages along the way from Ramtha to Aqaba. Second, 10 logistic hubs should be built along the rail to serve industrial and development zones; Al Hassan Industrial Zone in Irbid, Mafraq Development Zone, Dhlail, Muwaqqar, Sahab, Qastal, Queen Alia International Airport, Qatranah, Hasa, Maan Development Zone and Aqaba. Rail and/or bus hubs linking to all cities around the rail line should also be built.

Third, a medical and an entertainment city should be built by the airport to reduce traffic in Amman and cater for regional markets, especially Arab Gulf family tourism in summer. In addition, three residential/commercial cities should be built in Ruwayshid for strategic and security reasons, Madounah/Muwaqqar for the purposes of reducing prices in Amman and Zarqa, where over 60 per cent of the population lives and is stressed by the staggeringly high cost of owning a home and in Qatranah to develop the south.

Fourth, with the production cost of solar power production becoming $0.024 per kilowatt hour (kWh) and storage technology is getting more efficient, the energy sector must be revamped to reduce the cost to $0.14 per kWh for all consumers and subsidise the poor not the electricity. This will revive the economy, as the cost of energy is driving the cost production to an uncompetitive level and the outcome is that investors flee the country, which becomes unable to attract new investors.

Fifth, water desalination, including the Red Sea and brackish water in the Jordan Valley, is now within reach to overcome water shortages because the cost of energy, which is the most important component of water desalination, has come down and there is no reason not to capitalise on this opportunity to make life easier for people and businesses. Also, building a new carrier from Aqaba to Amman via Wadi Araba to utilise the water in power generation benefitting from gravity (Wadi Araba to Dead Dea).

Sixth, the mining industry has been overlooked and underinvested. Jordan falls within the Arabian Nubian shield, which is loaded with minerals. Since it is not properly explored, exploration companies ought to be invited to explore.

Seventh, the Baptism Site should be revived as a Christian pilgrimage destination to receive at least 1 million Christian pilgrims annually by building infrastructure and nurturing the global marketing for it, especially from new emerging markets such as China.

On political reform, building a completive political process and fixing the national identity issue via two steps: First, reforming the regulations of political parties’ financial support to be built around a reward, rather than welfare, system that is based on key performance indicators. This system would reward parties in linear manner; the more a party scores on participation in elections, number of members, including women and youth, geographic representation, seats in elected bodies, coalition building, outreach and recruitment activities, the more public, and possibly private, funding it will get. This model will encourage parties to merge or dissolve as the environment becomes more competitive. Second, reaching an agreement with the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) to grant all Palestinians in Jordan a Palestinian nationality, excluding Jordanians of Palestinian origin, where they should have a choice over this. This will help Jordan and the PNA internally and in dealing with Israel’s transfer plans.

On administrative reform: Reorganising the government on a sectoral basis can be achieved via the following five measures: Firstly, creating one body for national economy to include trade, industry and investment. Hence, central planning no longer exists, the function of international cooperation should be annexed to the Ministry of Finance and dissolve the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. Second, merging the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Labour into a new body, “development and labor”, to focus on poverty alleviation through job creation, not poverty perpetuation through handouts. Third, creating one body for education with schools, higher education and youth under one umbrella. Fourth, creating one body for culture, archeology and tourism to unify and integrate cultural events (i.e. Jerash festival with tourism). Fifth, creating one body for local governance and environment to include municipalities, decentralisation and environment to reduce unproductive competition and focus on delivery of local services efficiently.

On education, it is imperative to create IT oriented education, and this can be achieved in the following two measures: Firstly, introducing compulsory KG in all government schools with IT, English and Chinese introduced at KG-1 and in all higher grades, should resources allow preferably all at once, to catch up with the rest of the competitive world. Schools in less developed and resource-deprived areas, especially in the south, should be focused on nurturing a technology-driven generation from preschool to high school.  Second, building on the initial success achieved by the Queen Rania Teacher Academy to expand teachers’ education and bring teachers’ skills up to date with global trends to overcome the deterioration we have accumulated over the past few years in international indices.

Limbo of threats and responses
Fares Braizat - February 2, 2019

Israel and Iran pose serious threats to regional security from the Arab public opinion’s perspective. While the second spot used to be occupied by the US, it has now been replaced by Iran. However, competing threats to regional security are not limited to Israeli and Iranian policies and actions. Turkey is a competing force with these two players and it will not sit idle if, and when, its interests are threatened. Global actors, such as the US, Russia, China, the EU and India are also competing for more influence in the region, and this is not going to go down without troubles to mark territorial influence. Some powers are going to be pushed aside and they will have to defend their positions. The new serious comers are Russia, China and Germany. They have to carve out spaces from, or in collaboration with, the US, the UK and France.

This global play is being manifested in the Israel-Iran rivalry. Iran differs from Israel in that it does not have a solid international patron equivalent to the support the US lends to Israel. The EU initiative to secure exchange with Iran without going through international financial systems remains too weak compared with Israel’s global access. Therefore, Iran has to juggle many balls simultaneously and this brings its ability to achieve its priorities to daunting challenges. Though Israel can rely on systemic and systematic solid American and European support, while continuing to illegally occupy and demoralise Palestinians, Iran has to cling to its asymmetrical tools of influence of sub-state actors, sectarian policies and illegal interventions in neighbouring countries.

The power play is imbalanced. Iran acts as a spoiler without reliable international backing, while Israel spoils without serious international challenge. Israel’s approach to confronting Iran was built on the rise of Iran’s threat perception among Arabs, and now Arab Gulf states find themselves in an alliance of convenience with their, otherwise, historical arch enemy. This alliance of convenience is being promoted by the US and influential NATO members as a new regional order. Its chances of success are not without serious challenges, especially with the majority of Arabs rejecting the recognition of Israel. This can be understood also as a rejection of its involvement in an “Arab alliance”.

The approaches of Russia and China to relations with Iran are not solid enough to the point of reliance, where Iran can act with strong backing from international patrons. India’s relationship with all global and regional powers, who have some sort of interest and possibly influence on Iran’s regional politics, is stronger than India’s relationship with Iran. For example, India has more interests with the US and Israel than with Iran, measured by trade volume.

The Warsaw conference, to be held in a few days about the Middle East, is essentially about cornering Iran. Diplomatic language indicates that the US is on the march to reassert its role and rule as the conductor of global and regional orders. This endeavour will not go without serious challenges, especially for Arab states. Jordan’s diplomacy, while engaging rival forces tactfully, will do its best to preserve its interests in this limbo of power rivalries.

Good and bad news for government
Fares Braizat - January 26, 2019

The good news: The Jordanian public opinion continuously proves its rationality over emotional hype. Since the mid-1990s, when the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS) began documenting public opinion by conducting periodic surveys on various topics, “rational public choice” emerged as a fundamental pillar among Jordanians. Many members of the elite did not believe in the rationality, realism and positions Jordanians were expressing through polls. The latest poll on Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s government performance after 200 days in office and a number of other topics, released by CSS last week, adds another solid piece of evidence that demonstrates Jordanians’ rationality and realism, and defies some orientalists’ and occidentalists’ views that are largely distant from our reality.

Evidence of Jordanians’ rationality is found in the level of support among the public and the elites for appointing a Jordanian ambassador to Syria by 81 per cent and 90 per cent respectively, and similar levels of support to appointing a Syrian ambassador to Jordan. Hit by economic hardships, partly because of the border closure with Syria and Iraq and the loss of routes to important markets, Jordanians would like to turn a new page and focus on their economic well-being. This position is the result of a set of conditions; the pie is getting smaller and competition is increasing over scarce resources, and with it, higher propensity towards emigration is growing, especially among the young and educated. Jordanians recognise the economic, and other, potentials of Syria.

The bad news is that Jordanians evaluate government performance at an all-time low, especially its economic performance. Worse is the belief among the majority of Jordanians, 50 per cent of the public and the elites, that the government is not serious about fighting corruption. In the details, the percentage of those who believe that the government is “not serious at all” about fighting corruption is nearly a third among both groups, and it is double for those who believe the government is “very serious” about fighting corruption. This public position is rooted in a deeply-held belief that corruption is widespread in Jordan, as over 90 per cent of the public and the elites reporting that corruption is either “very” or “somewhat” common. What is new, however, is that the percentage of those saying it is “very spread” is at an unprecedented level. This piece of information must not go unnoticed by all concerned authorities.

Research on the correlation between corruption and economic well-being suggests that when the economy is doing poorly, people tend to report higher levels of corruption in their country. Therefore, in addition to confronting corrupt practices and individuals, all implicated individuals with no exceptions, the government should be bold with large-scale economic plans that can reinvigorate the economy to reduce the unprecedented levels of dissatisfaction and distrust, which further fuel and deepen the perception of corruption. Strategic communication tactics neither reduce disenchantment, nor freeze it at its current level. As far as the perception of corruption is concerned, the government’s strategic communication effort leaves a lot of space unfulfilled.

Two new beginnings
Fares Braizat - January 12, 2019

Recent shuttle diplomacy by American envoys in the region aims at solidifying a new regional order to confront Iran’s influence and expansionist policies. This new regional order, known as Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), rises from the ashes of “the age of self-inflicted American shame”, which US Secretary of State Pompeo declared as “over” at his speech to the American University in Cairo (AUC) on Thursday. The speech was a scathing rebuttal of president Barack Obama’s speech on June 4, 2009. Obama’s speech was more reconciliation-oriented, while Pompeo’s was more contemptuous and confrontational, especially in reference to Iran.

Owing to his ideological background as an evangelical Christian and a military and intelligence official, Pompeo wants to reinvigorate American power projection. He conveyed that America cannot walk out of the region with unfinished business left behind. Hence, Obama’s new beginning, military withdrawal, was blamed for the rise of Daesh and the expansion of Iran’s influence in Iraq, Yemen and Syria. Pompeo’s new order is meant to rectify Obama’s approach, by reinstating America’s power projection. Caught between the two approaches, the region continues to pay the price through active wars. Now, there is a build up for what looks like a new war with Iran, if pressure does not deliver a denuclearisation.

This build up is already well under way diplomatically and in terms of negative framing of Iran in international public opinion. Pompeo announced on Friday a global conference which will be held in Poland on  February 13-14 to address the Iran issue. The details he announced in his speech at the AUC about the capabilities of Hizbollah’s missiles remind us all of the type of “information” published prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The proposed conference may result in a list of demands to Iran with timelines. If, and when, Iran does not meet these demands, the attendees may become the nucleus of the new “coalition of the willing” to attack Iran. Recent declarations from Saudi Arabia and Israel clearly demonstrate that there is no lack of enthusiasts to curb Iran and “clip its wings”.

Establishing MESA is another major part of anti-Iran buildup. It is proposed to include Israel, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Cooperation Council partners, including Qatar, which has good working relations with Iran, and Oman, which has mediated between Iran and its declared enemies. Although Iran’s policies are not conducive to more stability in the region, it will be preferable to MESA to have a diplomatic, rather than a military, resolution. Thus, it is expected that Iran will face more pressure, which may push the mullahs to take a harder anti-MESA line, escalating tensions further.

‘The true-state solution’
Fares Braizat - January 5, 2019

This title is not mine. It is by Daniel J. Arbess, who published a piece in the Wall Street Journal on January 2, in which he argued that the two-state solution is dead and that US President Donald Trump’s administration “has offered tantalising clues about its forthcoming ‘deal of the century’ for Mideast peace”. He said that “it could be a bold new concept, replacing the failed ‘two-state solution’ with a Jordan-Israel confederacy, in which Jordan would be recognised as the Palestinian state. Call it the true-state solution”.

He is basing his argument on a few assumptions. One of them is, as he puts it, that “Palestinians have always been the majority in Jordan”. He also advocates that “the true-state solution would enfranchise the Palestinians. Jordan would extend citizenship to, and assume administrative responsibility for, Arabs now living on the West Bank of the Jordan River, including the cities of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho, which would be Israeli territory”.

Although there is a realisation that the two-state solution has been seriously challenged and undermined by colonising Israeli policies, it is not realistic, either, to assume that creating facts on the ground is going to legitimise these de facto colonisation policies. More importantly, the Palestinian national cause remains crystal clear, despite all attempts to derail it: The right to self-determination, in an internationally recognised legitimate state, in line with United Nations Security Council resolutions and subsequent initiatives accepted by the Palestinians. The Palestinians ought to solidify their position by making sure that all Palestinians, or those of Palestinian descent globally, are granted Palestinian nationality, regardless of their other current nationalities. Reasserting their rightful national identity.

As far as Jordan is concerned, Jordan’s strategic position has not changed, and it will not change: Peace means a Palestinian state for all Palestinians. Patriotic Palestinians, and with them all justice and peace seekers, will never accept or allow themselves to facilitate or make Jordan, or any other place for that matter, an alternative homeland for the Palestinians. Despite the relentless efforts by the Israelis, particularly Israeli right-wing ideologues, their supporters globally and allies regionally, to push for a “Jordan-is-Palestine” policy option in many ways and forms, there is a solid position that unifies publics and leaders on rejecting this repetitive and futile attempt. Palestinians and Jordanians of all backgrounds stand unified behind an independent Palestine. They also reject the implicit and explicit transfer of more Palestinians to Jordan. Emptying Palestine of its rightful people serves no one except Israel, and Jordanians will do whatever they can, and should, to support Palestinians.   

Despite some claims that variations of the Jordan option have received some regional support, it is the business of Palestinians first and foremost, then Jordanians, to reject or accept peace proposals, as they have been the most affected since 1948. His Majesty King Abdullah has been the most consistent Arab leader emphasising the Palestinian cause. His unwavering persistence gives him more support internally and among the Palestinians of Palestine. If the to-be-proposed “deal of the century” is going to start from “practical realities” and ignores legitimate rights, it is a non-starter, and Palestine will remain Palestine and Jordan will remain Jordan, with a harmonious patriotic mosaic.

Jordan’s resilience and vulnerabilities
Fares Braizat - December 29, 2018

A country is only as resilient as its people. Despite its internal economic troubles and the sense of disenchantment among a significant number Jordanians with the government and its policies, many observers are perplexed by Jordan’s resilience. 

Explanations of its resilience range from an unwritten yet apparent “international insurance policy” for geopolitical reasons to the agile “adaptation” and “repositioning” abilities of its political leadership. While these explanations hold some truth and credibility in strategy and international policy circles, they remain short of accounting for the internal sociopolitical factors underpinning state-society relations. 

State-society relations in Jordan constitute — despite recent pressures, critique and negative descriptions — the foundations for Jordan’s successful international performance and internal resilience. 

Despite its vulnerabilities since 2011, Jordan’s responses to the latest few crises and, before that, to the Arab Spring protests, demonstrate how state-society relations are proactively and responsively managed. 

During the regionally difficult time of 2011-2014, state polices were reflective of its internal resilience dynamics. Being smartly adaptive with reasonable efficiency, timely-responsive and self-learning, the set of policies deployed to handle protests were based on a thorough understanding of state-society relations that goes beyond momentary hype. 

An understanding of mutual and dignified respect that guides His Majesty King Abdullah’s proactive and responsive policymaking processes. Owing to this understanding, and despite 4,110 demonstrations in the year 2011 alone, where 2,070 were held in Amman in addition to 2,040 others held across other governorates, a fifth of which were in Karak, Jordan emerged a rejuvenated and reform-oriented state, driving a major decentralisation plan aiming to give people more power over the decisions affecting their lives. Despite this assertive drive, and a few rounds of parliamentary and municipal elections, there will always be some vulnerability associated with turnout rates and efficacy of political participation.

Since 2011, at a policy level, the state was responsive to public opinion. A major shift in public opinion took place between 2006 and 2012, prioritising “gradual” over “immediate” reform. This shift was mainly driven, speculatively, by rational people who have calculated in response to the bloodshed and destruction that has engulfed the region since January 2011, partially sponsored by role-seeking and aspiring powers.

In essence, its unspoken motto was living with certainty, while being critical of it, is preferable to living with uncertainty and paying for it not only with peace-of-mind but also physical safety and treasure. This basic logic of public rational choice was evident in crime rates data. Despite the huge number of demonstrations, crime levels decreased during the peak of the Arab Spring. Crime levels were lower in the period of 2011-2013 than they were in the period of 2008-2010, as revealed by Department of Statistics. Confidence in the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) as a symbol of the state did not change in any statistically significant manner since 2001. In a nutshell, 90 per cent reported that they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the JAF, the highest recorded figure in the region. Unlike other countries in the region, confidence in the Public Security Department (PSD), the General Intelligence Directorate (GID) and the General Directorate of Gendarmerie Forces are the highest among 12 Arab countries from which credible survey data are available. 

This confidence in security institutions secures a great deal of safety perception, both at the nation and neighbourhood levels. When people report on the safety of the neighbourhoods, they report an immediate experience of their circumstances. 

Generally speaking, people report more positive results for their satisfaction with safety at the neighbourhood level than they do at the country level. 

In Jordan, however, there is no statistically significant difference between those reporting that they are “very satisfied” with safety in their neighbourhoods (72 per cent) and in the country as a whole (74 per cent). The fact that Jordanians report a 2 per cent points higher level of satisfaction with country safety compared with neighbourhood safety means that their level of trust in the overall security environment is very strong, unlike other comparable Arab societies in the same research project (Arabtrans).

The challenges to Jordan’s resilience are compounded. Despite the fact that it has been a few years since the height of the Arab Spring, the region is in evermore turmoil. 

While the nature of chaos during the Arab Spring movement was symbolised by the striving for more, inter alia, economic opportunity and civil and political rights, the current chaos in the region has rather taken people to basic materialist needs such safety, security and physical peace. Jordan has been concerned with both waves of regional turmoil, especially that they constitute a direct threat to its national security with refugees’ influx, radicalisation, violent instability and unprecedented strain on already meagre resources. Recent surveys conducted in 2017-18 demonstrate that the levels of confidence in security institutions have remained stable at high levels although there has been a steady decline in confidence levels, in other governmental institutions, such as the Cabinet, especially when its performance on unemployment, poverty and fighting corruption is evaluated. 

The challenge is that the security establishment is handling issues that the government should be dealing with first and foremost. When the directors of the PSD and Gendarmerie are in the field, it means the civilian government is not efficient enough. The PSD and the Gendarmerie ought to be last resorts. Pushing them to what is otherwise a political arena has serious implications for state resilience and state-society relations. First, it is an acknowledgment by the government that we cannot handle it. Second, these institutions, along with the JAF and GID, should not be negotiating on behalf of a strong or weak government. Third, relying too much on these institutions to play a civilian role is going to take away from them and their status as highly trusted institutions by the overwhelming majority of people.

Why Jordanians are leaving!
Fares Braizat - December 22, 2018

It is alarming when nearly a third of adult Jordanians express a desire to emigrate, and a quarter of those who want to emigrate have taken action to realise their desire. These figures have doubled since 2011 in the context of growing dissatisfaction with public policies and public institutions’ performance, an increasing level of hopelessness and a sense of alienation. What is more alarming, however, is the make-up of potential emigrants. 

Forty-seven per cent of holders of a university degree or higher educational certificates expressed a willingness to emigrate, according to a recent survey of 1,300 adult Jordanians, by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. The figure drops to 32 per cent among people with secondary education and technical diplomas and to 24 per cent among people with less than secondary educational attainment. 

The empirical pattern uncovered in this study clearly confirms a common sense logic that a propensity towards emigration in harsh economic realities increases linearly as educational attainment increases. 

The youth demographic is dangerously sliding towards emigration, too. The propensity is significantly higher among the 18 to 24-year-old cohort than older cohorts, as 44 per cent of them expressed a desire to emigrate, compared with 37 per cent among the 25 to 30-year-old cohort. The figure stood at 36 per cent among the 31 to 35-year-old cohort, a third among the 41 to 50-year-olds and a quarter among those over 50 years old. Youth, especially the educated, are more likely to desert the homeland in search of better economic opportunities. The main driver for the majority of those educated youth to relocate is bad economic conditions. For some of them, especially the activists of the protest movement, it is not the lack of resources, they argue, that makes it difficult for them to realise their potential. Rather, it is the widespread corruption that is stifling equal opportunity, development and competition. Young people talk about the future because they have no or little past; their talk today is increasingly the language of migration.

Another problem may arise if the male population act on their emigration-positive attitude, as nearly 40 per cent of them would like to emigrate, compared with 24 per cent of females. The problem of late marriage becomes an issue that drives more human capital out of the country. Nearly half of those single reported that they would like to emigrate, compared with 28 per cent among married people. 

Today, empirical evidence suggests that more Jordanians are trapped at the lower half of the bottle and looking, somewhat hopelessly, at a narrowing neck through the promised economic revival plan lens. Given the economic policies and the resultant weak market mobility, it is expected that more Jordanians will be pushed out of the country to follow those who have left and deposited their wealth elsewhere. The conversation should go on.

Jordan’s Syria policy
Fares Braizat - December 15, 2018

The Arab League will be facing a serious challenge in inviting Syria back to the Arab League 30th Summit to be held in Tunis in March 2019. It is likely that the US, the UK and some EU countries will not only resist this attempt, but will exert significant levels of diplomatic and other types of pressure to thwart such a move.

The US, being the largest player in the region, for now, has a wide range of interests and is likely to stifle all attempts to reintegrate Syria back into the Arab League, until it secures its foreign policy objectives and priorities. The US is likely to hold the track of normalisation of Syria’s regional relations captive to all involved parties accepting its military presence in eastern Syria, and to get concessions on the “deal of the century”, reduction of Iranian, Russian, Chinese and Turkish influence in Syria and Iraq in particular. In this mix, Jordan has a chance to fill an existing gap.

Within this climate of “sand dunes diplomacy”, Jordan is trying to continue holding a balanced position on an imbalanced regional scene. Given the internal strife, Jordan’s Syrian policy ought to be responsive to Jordanian public opinion, which represents Jordan’s interests. Despite some critical assessments of Jordan’s policy on the Syrian crisis, the majority of Jordanians and Syrian refugees think Jordan handled it properly. According to a fresh poll by NAMA and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, three quarters of Jordanians and 70 per cent of Syrian refugees said Jordan handled the Syria crisis “very well”, while nearly another quarter of both said “somewhat well”. These popular positions are not necessarily shared by officials on either side.

The Syrian government and its associates delivered some harsh messages, privately and publicly, criticising several Jordanian positions and actions. Since 2011, Jordan’s Syria policy has taken balanced positions and actions to protect the Kingdom’s interests and has resisted substantial pressure from international and regional actors for a deeper involvement in the Syrian civil war. That was not easy, but wise and came at cost. Today, national interests must always be the priority of Jordan’s Syria policy. 

Opening the borders is supported by nearly 90 per cent of Jordanians and a similar percentage of Syrian refugees in Jordan, according to the same poll. The policy must capitalise on this support and do more to ease goods traffic through Syria to elevate economic pressure on Jordan’s agriculture and ease access to EU markets, especially after the new addition to the relaxation of rules of origin for Jordanian products exported to the EU.

Jordan’s Syria policy had to accommodate a complex set of interconnected, and often contradictory, interests of allies and regional influencers. The balancing between those who call for toppling Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and those supporting Assad internally, regionally and internationally, made Jordan walk a tightrope. All of these complexities came to face a new reality in 2018. Assad came out militarily victorious and his supporters are jubilant. Twenty-five per cent of Jordanians describe relations between the Jordanian and Syrian people as “very good” and 59 per cent describe them as “somewhat good”. Meanwhile, 13 per cent of Jordanians described relations between the Jordanian and Syrian governments as very good and 50 per cent described the relations between the two goverments as being “somewhat good”. There is room for improvement on both fronts, despite all of the material and psychological destruction that took place over the past seven years.

Unlike the US, Iran, Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel, whose roles are seen by the majority of Jordanians and Syrian refugees as “destabilising” in Syria, Jordan and Turkey are perceived by them as the only two countries playing a stabilising role in Syria. The same poll indicates that 88 per cent of Jordanians and 85 per cent of Syrian refugees think that Jordan is playing a stabilising role in Syria, while 70 per cent of Jordanians and 64 per cent of Syrian refugees said they think that Turkey also plays a stabilising role.

Despite regional acceptance or rejection of Jordan’s role, there is an opportunity for Jordan’s diplomacy to carve a new role in regional politics to ensure Jordan’s interests in the upcoming arrangements.

Syrian refugees: Returning?
Fares Braizat - December 8, 2018

Jordan and the international community should embrace having to deal with over 50 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan who will not go back. A recent survey conducted by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions in November covering 1,306 Jordanians and 600 Syrian refugees, in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, found that 33 per cent of Syrian refugees said that they “will never go back” and 24 per cent said they “probably will not go back”. The survey, which will be released next week, sheds light on attitudes towards the Syrian crisis, refugees, the role of regional and international players, peace, stability, prospects and the role of the international community, in addition to the impact of the Syrian refugees on Jordan, whether positive or negative. 

Peace and stability in Syria are of strategic interest to Jordan and other countries hosting refugees in western Europe and North America. The influx of refugees to Europe expanded the electoral base of the far-right in all established democracies, including the most refugee-tolerant societies, such as Sweden. What is taking place in Jordan, with regards to the refugee question, has implication for European countries, as well as for the Palestinian refugees, who have been stationed in Jordan for decades and generations. 

Although the majority of Syrians and Jordanians, 66 per cent and 87 per cent respectively, believe that the Syrian refugees should return to Syria, instability constitutes a major obstacle to their return. This is evident in the percentage of Syrian refugees expressing their determination to going back, which is only 14 per cent, and those who said that they “will probably go back” 29 per cent. Moreover, there is a very strong perception that the Syrian conflict is not settled yet, and for Syrian refugees to return and act upon the attitudes they display, a sense of “end of conflict” should be felt by refugees, as well are their host communities. Such a sense remains distant, as three quarters of Jordanians and 86 per cent of Syrians say the Syrian conflict is not settled yet.

There is some thinking amongst European and other countries to link stabilisation and reconstruction of Syria to a political process in Syria. This link, although it makes perfect theoretical sense, has very little practical implications that may encourage more Syrian refugees to go back.

There are many push-and-pull factors for refugees to stay in host countries or go back home. Although Jordan has a very positive standing among refugees, they recognise to some extent that their presence has a negative impact on some aspects of life in Jordan. While 19 per cent of Syrian refugees believe that their presence in Jordan has a negative effect on their lives, two thirds of Jordanians reported a similar position.

There is a deeply-held perception among Jordanians that Syrian refugees have a negative impact on the labour market, infrastructure, education, health, economy and other sectors. Syrian refugees share some of these feelings too. When Syrian refugees were asked the following question: “Taking all things in consideration, which country do you think treats Syrian refugees best?” 78 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan chose Jordan, followed by Canada at 6 per cent, then Turkey at 4 per cent and Germany at 3 per cent. Despite the perceived negative impact of Syrian refugees on some aspects of life in Jordan, the majority of them felt welcomed, as two thirds reported to have been welcomed to a great extent and 31 per cent to a medium extent.

This body of evidence suggests that the priority should be given to the security, stability and reconstruction of Syria to build stronger pull factors to encourage refugees to go back from Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Europe, to reduce the radicalisation and polarisation of European politics towards the far-right and to reduce tensions in resource-poor neighbouring countries to Syria.

Collective action and cognitive dissonance
Fares Braizat - December 1, 2018

A total of 43,000 Facebook users engaged digitally in the call for the November 30 collective action protest. During the few days after the call was announced, 10,000 users clicked the button “going” and 33,000 others expressed an “interest” in the event near the Fourth Circle, where the office of Prime Minister Omar Razzaz is located, to send a few messages to the government. Despite the fact that 4,800 digital activists shared the event on Facebook and called others to join, the turnout was only a few hundred. They protested for a few hours then left peacefully, under the protection of security forces. Before their departure, they invited attendees to come back on the afternoon of Saturday, December 1, to resume protest action.

How can the gap between digital and real protest be explained and what does it mean? Attitudes do not always translate into behavioural actions. Behaviour is a function of a few factors: cost-benefit, police tactics, past experience, role models, willingness to take action, attitudes towards behaviour, values and intentions. 

The perceived cost and risk reduce participation. Many potential protestors remain passive for rational calculation, although they are saturated with expressible grievances. The actual cost, monetary and time, associated with a “click” varies significantly from the cost of physically going to the protest site. Perceived political cost and government reprisal constitutes a barrier as “protest-pushers” are not seen positively by the authorities, despite lip-service statements to the contrary. For some, risk and cost create an opportunity. While many senior members of government would frame protesters as “trouble makers” or “unhelpful”, they find it perfectly proper to hire them to sell “trouble making” policies. This applies to at least four current ministers, who have taken part in anti-government protests and then were hired to sell the very policies they protested, displaying alarming degrees of cognitive dissonance: behaving inconsistently with one’s publicly shared beliefs. Those are often referred to as role models of lip-service democrats.

Past experiences of protest and protesters send contradictory and very confusing messages to activists. Most protests vanished to no avail. Some protestors ended up in prison, while others ended up endorsing and legitimising the putting of their comrades behind bars. Which one is the role model for protestors when protest demands are not addressed sufficiently, especially when it comes to the eradication of administrative corruption, which is crippling the economy and with it the national psyche. This process is contributing to the accumulation of frustration at the mass level and opportunism at the elite level. These models of grievance management and cognitive dissonance are heading to a dead-end.

Protest escalation is partly a function of police tactics. Evidence demonstrates that police brutality correlates in a linear manner with protest escalation. Since 2011, the police have not used brutal force to defuse protests. On the contrary, the norm is peaceful engagement with protesters and organisers. Hence, it is not expected that protests will be violent, but protest persistence may create a ripe environment for violence, which can take all current protests and grievance management models to a new litmus test.

Finally, why do Jordanians protest when there is explicit and implicit lobbying to advance interests through parliament, media outlets, social media, private networks of influence, political parties, professional associations, trade unions and civil society organisations? Why do they choose protest action to send their messages? What messages are they sending? And to whom? 

Simply, citizens protest when they feel that the existing channels of communications are insufficient to deliver their demands and messages to the concerned addresses in the political system. They do so to alert and remind institutions to be responsive to these demands and messages. Protest action is not a mainstream conventional political participation channel, but it remains an unconventional form of political action that people resort to when their level of frustration with public policies reaches a point of hopelessness. Their despair expresses itself outside institutional frameworks in an attempt to draw attention to their causes.

Those people chose protest because less than a third of citizens have confidence in the Lower House and political parties, according to recent polls by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. Furthermore, professional associations which led the May-June protests and toppled Hani Mulki’s government, have made their deals with Razzaz’s government behind closed doors to get their consent on the tax law. Contrary to what is to be expected from workers’ unions, they have been rather passive throughout the process. Civil society organisations have not been effective in swaying government policies on taxes because their attempts were inconclusive, sporadic and not donor-funded, as most donors favour the current income tax law. 

All polls show increasing levels of public frustration with institutional performance, which is contributing to lower levels of respect for authority, lower levels of social capital, interpersonal trust and a growing distance in state-society relations. Once more, business as usual is rather unusual.

The legacy must continue — King Abdullah and the Templeton Prize
Mohammad Abu Dalhoum - November 26, 2018

It was not surprising that His Majesty King Abdullah was the first head of state to be awarded the Templeton Prize, the prestigious award granted on the basis of exceptional efforts to facilitating life’s spiritual dimension and religious harmony. His Majesty has worked tirelessly to not only set an example to the world in what it means to be a true Muslim, but also to deter Islam from the khawarij and radical liars. Such efforts are by no means new. In fact, for almost two decades, His Majesty has taken it upon himself to be a custodian of moderate true Islam, religious harmony and peace. 

The Amman Message was a baseline for further exceptional initiatives seeking to shed a light on a faith being hijacked by extremist radicals with devious political agenda. This milestone Message was immediately followed by an initiative known as “A Common Word between Us and You”, amongst others. With such initiatives, His Majesty revitalised the rhetoric, narrative and discourse in which interfaith harmony and moderate Islam should be manifested, with an emphasis on the core importance of respect, openness and critical thinking. In fact, King’s Academy, founded by His Majesty, celebrates respect and global citizenship as two of its five main guiding principles, and requires of its students to take a world religions course; a class in which students are taught the true values of five of the main religions in the world. 

Such efforts, coupled with the numerous pieces, speeches and interviews, are not only a testament to His Majesty’s role as a custodian of interfaith harmony, but they are also a true testament to His Majesty’s scholarship. In essence, if one were to take a deeper analysis of the narrative, one finds tremendous scholarly values, perhaps the most prominent of its kind in this field nowadays. 

In the midst of politically motivated extremist and radical hijack of Islam, King Abdullah utilises a rich scholarly approach into deterring such deceitful efforts. The language speaks to all, it comes from a position of strength and it stems from deep, scholarly and analytical research supported by various types of evidence. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that he is motivated by respect of all faiths, responsibility of facilitating religious harmony and a noble obligation of cleaning Islam’s image and protecting its 1.8 billion moderate believers around the world from a life of discrimination and harassment. Let alone doing such through analytical scholarship, an approach powered by critical thinking. 

The Templeton Prize celebrates and acknowledges King Abdullah’s constant pioneering efforts. But where to go from here? It is safe to argue that His Majesty’s scholarly mechanisms devised throughout his efforts and teachings cannot be forgotten, thanks to the tremendous milestones he sets time and time again. Thus, it is rather imperative that more light is shed on the scholarly and analytical approach he uses throughout his moderate narrative. Ultimately, it is important that more research is conducted in the field, analysing and exploring King Abdullah’s contribution to the field, involving His Majesty himself, to cement his legacy as not only a custodian of moderate Islam and religious harmony, but also as a prominent scholar in these two interrelated fields.

The politics of renaissance
Fares Braizat - November 24, 2018

More than one-third of adult Jordanians expressed their intention and desire to emigrate in 2018, up from 16 per cent in 2011, according the Arab Opinion Index. It is within this context that the government announced last week its two-year plan of priorities, which was received differently by three camps. The supportive camp, which is a very small group of people who either have a deep belief in government promises, a positive attitude of “building a brick” when there is a chance or an understanding that there are no other credible alternatives. There are also the “ideological institutionalists”, who are made up of two sub-groups: a supportive “populist group” that offers blind support, even if this runs against its interests and the short-term “rational choice calculators”. The latter is made up of current public sector civil servants, who make a living from executing ordained public policy as prescribed by the chain of command.

The social extensions of these supportive groups make up the main bulk of dissatisfied citizens with public services, such as education, health, transportation, municipal services and sanitation. The social roots of dissatisfaction lead to the accumulation of “worry” about the future, as this bulk of the population is increasingly concerned about securing good education, health, housing and jobs for their children. A good measure of the government plan is to look at these indicators to establish whether social extensions of supportive groups are becoming less or more worried about their future and that of their children.

Meanwhile, the rejectionist camp, which is larger than the supportive one, rejects whatever the government puts forward due to a deep distrust of the government and a loss of hope in its promises and obligations. Members of this group believe in a utopian theory of change that is largely unrealistic. Some of them are public political nihilists and private economic opportunists, while others advocate for solutions which start with the adoption of Sharia, pan-Arab unity or ideal socialism. While this heterogeneous group remains largely inconsequential in terms of effective sociopolitical mobilisation, it can deploy its rhetoric to shore up the nuanced critical group.

The third camp is the “nuanced critical”, which is made up of people who had pinned high hopes on Prime Minister Omar Razzaz to advance a set of grandiose public policies and were disappointed in various degrees and ways. This group is made of intellectually-sophisticated, middle-class “critical” citizens, who were convinced that Razzaz is capable of planning a long-term renaissance project. Following their productions in the media and discussing the plan of priorities with some of them revealed the following observations: The government’s plan is way below their expectations in terms of framing and content, does not address major issues, such as a national rail and revamping of national education, is vague and incomprehensive compared with the very well-documented priorities and needs of Jordanians.

As the percentage of Jordanians who have intentions to emigrate increased by twofold in the past seven years, government plans and policies are ought to be more genuine, innovative and comprehensive to give Jordanians a sense of hope instead of despondency. Business as usual is not an option when the symptoms of social unrest are repressed rather than addressed.

Iraq bowling alone?
Fares Braizat - November 17, 2018

Unfortunate as it may be, at the masses-level only 0.8 per cent of Jordanians named Iraq as “the closest ally” of Jordan in a recent survey by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. Moreover, when those surveyed were asked to name the country that they would like Jordan to cooperate with more in the future, only 0.8 per cent named Iraq. On the elites’ level, 0.7 per cent named Iraq as the closest ally of Jordan, but when asked about what country Jordan should cooperate with more in the future, 2.3 per cent of elites named Iraq. These numbers, though reflecting more elite willingness to work with Iraq, put the neighbouring country at a very disadvantageous position among Jordanian public opinion compared to other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, the US, the UAE, Egypt, the UK, France, Turkey, Germany, Palestine and even Israel.

For the sake of Jordan and Iraq, economic and security cooperation between the two countries ought to get a significant upgrade beyond normal relations between two neighboring countries for many internal and external reasons. Today, Jordan and Iraq face similar types of threats that require more than ordinary protocols. Both countries are suffocating and need one another to breathe and grow. Thursday’s meeting between His Majesty King Abdullah and Iraqi President Barham Saleh adds another building block to an evolving partnership on two major fronts. This partnership has some inherent problems on both ends.

For one, the threat of instability and terrorism has not vanished with the demise of Daesh’s structures in Syria and Iraq. Terrorism and radicalisation have sociopolitical and ideological roots of various depths, not only in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, but rather globally. The post-occupation Iraq is still finding its way through the mayhem of reconstruction around internal and regional geopolitics. In such volatility, Iraq has not only been a breeding ground and a feeder to radical, violent and transnational terrorist movements, it has been a destination for aspiring radicals, opportunists and economic hitmen from all over the world.

On Iraqi soil, regional politics has been fought and the fights go on unrepentantly. Political and strategic accounts of local, regional and global rivals are being settled in Iraq and neighbouring Syria. Economic competition, too, is protected by many sub-state actors, who are plugged elsewhere outside Iraqi borders with rogue states and transnational sub-state actors. All these security threats and their sponsors make Iraq vulnerable. These realities impact Jordan’s resilience severely. When Iraq’s market is open to Jordan’s products and services, the Jordanian economy thrives.

Therefore, security partnership with Iraq is not a luxury that we can do without. It is a strategic need for Jordan as much as it is for Iraq. Iraq ought to, if and when it can, liberate its politics of destructive regional influences that do not have the interests of the Iraqi state and people on their priority agenda. On the contrary, the interests of Iraq are being manipulated and held hostage by destructive regional forces and subversive sub-state actors. Iraq cannot liberate its politics on its own. It needs the help of all constructive partners to offset the impact destructive forces. Jordan has and will continue to play its globally recognised constructive role in regional peace and stability, and who deserves more security and intelligence partnership with Jordan than Iraq. All the great project ideas of economic cooperation, such as the Basrah-Aqaba oil pipeline, electric connectivity through the Arab grid network via Syria, industrial city on the borders, reconstruction of Anbar and opening Iraqi markets for Jordanian products, require a stable and safe environment to operate. If, and when, these projects are realised, Iraq’s numbers as an actual and desired strong ally of Jordan among Jordanian public opinion may improve.

Rail tracks for regional peace?
Fares Braizat - November 10, 2018

Despite the deep sense of pessimism in the region about a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Israelis are proposing the “Tracks for Regional Peace” initiative. The plan is to build a rail line that starts in Haifa, cuts through Jordan, then connects to Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states. Motivated by the recent public diplomatic advances between Israel, Oman and the UAE, as well as the public contacts and high-profile visits with Moroccan, Saudi and Qatari officials, the Israelis are clearly deprioritising a deal with the Palestinians. Contrary to the basic premise of the Saudi-backed Arab Peace Initiative, Israel and its international backers are changing the approach by seeking normalisation with Arab states before a peace deal with the Palestinians is concluded. In accepting such a shift, Saudi Arabia is changing its historical stance.

Supported by the Trump administration, Israel is refocusing its policy on countering the perceived Iranian threat that made it possible for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and Israel to cozy up privately and publicly. While Iran made political advances in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, Israel made its advances to the Gulf. This rivalry in the Arab east came at the expense of the GCC states, especially Saudi Arabia. The latter embraced Israel as a strong ally to counter and contain Iran, not only in the region, but also overseas in Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Brussels.

While Iran and Israel achieved some of their objectives, the Saudis lost ground to both. They lost significant capacity to counter Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Qatar, and lost credibility in Palestine for befriending Israel. Rather than deciding its own regional security order, Saudi Arabia finds itself at the whim of Israeli security decisions, at least for the time being. The possibility of this situation changing depends on factors internal to Saudi Arabia and its global position following the killing of Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The latter’s murder created a global image crisis for Saudi Arabia, which needs the help of the capable pro-Israel lobby to continue to handle the situation and try to sway key positions. This is another factor that may help facilitate the politically driven “Tracks for Regional Peace”, as complexities always generate exploitable opportunities for smart policy planners to identify and diplomats to implement.

Israelis are most concerned with security, according to evidence from a regional survey research project led by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in collaboration with NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. In the survey, when Israelis were asked “Of the following, which is of most concern to you and your family?”, a total of 29 per cent of Israelis chose security, followed by education at 26 per cent, democracy at 15 per cent, healthcare at 14 per cent and unemployment at 11 per cent. Israel’s security will not be achieved if the Palestinians are not granted their legitimate rights in their homeland, despite what appears to be a possible regional settlement. 

The idea that the Palestinians will be intimidated by money and power to accept whatever deal presented to them is rather misguided. Of course, Palestinians are divided and unclear about their national goal. The cost of occupation has become very low, with the reduction of violence to what is referred to in diplomatic language “low intensity conflict” instead of “resistance to occupation”. That being said, a new peaceful and human rights-based “glocal” civic movement adopting the Palestinian cause is growing rapidly. This movement will challenge the “Tracks for Regional Peace” and will pause to mobilise around the morality and legality of the issue.

Managing a crisis constructively
Fares Braizat - November 3, 2018

Managing the aftermath of the tragic incident of October 25 near the Dead Sea points to a few strengths and some structural weaknesses. The strengths were demonstrated in the immediate post-catastrophe response of citizens, civil defence and military. Public sympathy with the victims and their families was exemplary, from His Majesty King Abdullah to ordinary citizens. All were touched and very supportive. 

The weaknesses we have seen before, during and after the tragedy should not go without proper, just and fair accountability. The political and ethical responsibilities must be acknowledged to set the tone for those who are going to carry the torch. Having said that, and despite full acknowledgment of political, ethical, operational and administrative responsibilities, we have to be mindful of the usefulness of the much talked about purge. Some voices are very vocal about a political and administrative purge as if it is going to solve the chronic problems of structural administrative weaknesses. Correcting mistakes of the past two decades in public administration requires deep reform, not ineffective and reactive resignations. Although the latter might be needed for political reasons, we should be prepared to look beyond resignations.

Hence, responsibility must be defined clearly from the top to the bottom of political and administrative hierarchies. Who appoints incompetent people in positions of power that affect people’s lives, whether political or bureaucratic appointees? What is the political and ethical responsibility of those people that is linked to their mandate? Is it enough to sack a midlevel manager for incompetence? And can we go for a criminal indictment of a politician and or a civil servant in relation to this tragedy or other?

Leaving the political side of things aside for now, operationally speaking, neither the resignation of the minister of education nor that of the minister of tourism, for example, are going to solve the extensive problems and inefficiency of the Education Ministry or the unmanaged canyons which are supposed to be overseen by the Tourism Ministry. On the contrary, the canyons’ problem might get worse if outgoing tourism minister Lina Annab’s successor does not know more about this particular strand of tourism. Her role has been extremely vital in resolving the problems associated with the trending adventure tourism in Jordan. She knows the tourism sector very well and knows the adventure, ecological and other experiential subsectors even better. Her resignation is a compounded loss for the sector and particularly for these subsectors. She is one of the very few people in the country who did all types of experiential tourism out of passion and commitment. It does show in her actions and when she speaks.

Her resignation is highly regarded by people who praised her step. Equally, it is regretted by others who have seen her positive contribution to the sector. Outgoing education minister Azmi Mahafzah has been on the job for a few weeks. While one can understand the political reasoning, it remains hard to find an operational justification of his resignation. The responsibility is a collective one for the council of ministers who could have sent a more serious message had they formed an independent fact-finding commission, rather than a cabinet committee of the concerned ministers. Had they done so, they could have saved His Majesty King Abdullah’s intervention to form a new independent commission with members from the victims’ families

Israeli views of peace, King and country
Fares Braizat - October 27, 2018

Nearly a quarter of a century of formal peace between Jordan and Israel and 40 years of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty have resulted in 61 per cent of Israelis; Hebrew, Russians and Arabs, having a favourable view of Jordan and 56 per cent of Egypt, according to a comparative research project carried out in the fall of 2017 in Jordan, Palestine and Israel by the renowned German Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in collaboration with NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. When broken down, this overall view has significant background and linguistic differences are revealed from the overall view.

While Russian and Hebrew speaking Israelis have a favourable view of Jordan at 59 per cent each, 77 per cent of Arabic speaking Israelis have a favourable view of Jordan. Perceptions of Jordanian people among Israelis are also positive; 60 per cent have a favourable view of Jordanians. However, there are significant differences between Hebrew speaking Israelis at 58 per cent, Russian speaking Israelis at 54 per cent and Arabic speaking Israelis at 85 per cent viewing Jordanians favourably. When one breaks down the 56 per cent of Israelis who have a favourable view of Egypt, linguistically 52 per cent of Hebrew speakers, 57 per cent of Russian speakers and 74 per cent of Arabic speakers have favourable view of Egypt.

Despite many deep and temporal political debacles over the years, Israelis have a positive perception of peace treaties. A total of 79 per cent of Israelis believe the 1994 Jordanian-Israeli Peace Treaty has a positive impact on the Middle East, while only 14 per cent think it has a negative impact. The perception of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty follows a similar pattern; 81 per cent of Israelis believe the treaty has a positive impact on the Middle East, while 16 per cent think it has a negative impact.

Although Jordan and Egypt have positively perceived peace treaties with Israel, 34 per cent of Israelis still have unfavourable view of Jordan and 40 per cent of Egypt. These negative views are particularly high among Hebrew and Russian speaking Israelis.

Furthermore, unfavourable views of other Middle Eastern countries are rather high among Israelis. Unfavourable views of Iran expectedly rank the highest at 92 per cent, followed by Turkey at 85 per cent, Palestine at 76 per cent, Qatar at 67 per cent and Saudi Arabia at 57 per cent. Overall, 72 per cent have an unfavourable view of the Arab League. For Saudi Arabia, 67 per cent of Hebrew speaking Israelis and 58 per cent of Russian speaking Israelis have unfavorable views of the kingdom. In contrast, three quarters of Arabic speaking Israelis have a favourable view of Saudi Arabia. As for other international actors, 68 per cent of Israelis have an unfavourable view of the UN, 60 per cent have an unfavourable view of Russia, while Israeli public opinion is split equally over the EU.

Empirical evidence suggests that Israeli public opinion is neither uniform nor unchangeable on war and peace. Three quarters of Israelis think peace between Israelis and Palestinians is important for regional stability and agree that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict prevents deeper Israeli-Jordanians relations. Suggesting a propensity towards building relationships with the potential to foster peace, 70 per cent agree that the Israeli government should do more to improve relations with Jordan. However, these public attitudes do not always prevail in official Israeli policies for a wide range of political and localised reasons.  

Although 51 per cent of Israelis agree that there should be a Palestinian state, little action is taken by Israeli governments to materialise this position. Israel faces a serious challenge, as 44 per cent of Israelis disagree with the idea of establishing a Palestinian state. This divide is perpetuated by an exclusion of Arabic-speaking Israelis from decision making processes, giving a disproportionately strong voice to other strong Israeli groups, such as Hebrew and Russian speakers, a majority of whom is against a Palestinian state. Disagreements over pathways to peace are still deep as 60 per cent disapprove of the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative. Changing these attitudes requires bold leadership and actions to unify the peace camp inside Israel, especially when the majority of Israelis are living a state of denial about Palestinians’ rights.

Despite these peace-challenging attitudes among Israelis, there are examples that give hope for future peace in the region. According to the same survey, two thirds of Israelis agree that His Majesty King Abdullah plays an important role in the region and serves as a stabilising force, a quarter disagree. Moreover, two thirds have a favourable view of King Abdullah and 70 per cent said Israeli-Jordanians relationship is based on common interests. Israelis view King Abdullah more positively than any other leader in the region. However, the most recent action by Jordan to discontinue land rental to Israel in Ghumar and Baqoura may cause Israeli public opinion to describe relations between Jordan and Israel as weaker than they were in the fall of 2017 when 46 per cent described them as strong, while 48 per cent said they are weak. Though different cultural and linguistic groups in Israel disagree over the best pathway to peace, there is hope to be found that the general population agrees over a more peaceful future for the region.

Not too young to run
Fares Braizat - October 20, 2018

There is a need to build a more inclusive participatory democratic process to involve Jordanian citizens more in decisions affecting their lives, especially youth and women. This is a guiding principle His Majesty King Abdullah has been repeating for years. His Royal Highness Crown  Prince Hussein also championed the UNSC 2250 Resolution on youth inclusion. What can be done to materialise these commitments?

In 2016 parliamentary elections, youth in the age range of 18-30 were 1,596,840 out of a total of 4,130,145 eligible voters. Youth in the age range 17-24 years were 978,335 voters, which makes 23.6 per cent of the total eligible voters. In this age group, those actually voted were 370,780 voted making 24.8 per cent of eligible voters in this age group. Youth in the age group 25-30 years were 618,505 eligible voters, constituting 14.9 per cent of the total eligible voters, of those 191,187 voted, making 12.8 per cent of voters in this age group. Over all, youth participation, especially those below 25 years old, was higher the national average. This is a base for further work.

In the the 2017 municipal and decentralisation elections, overall turn out increased from 24.2 per cent in 2013 to 31.7 per cent in 2017, mainly due to the automatic registration of eligible voters and not necessarily the performance of municipal services. Youth involvement in municipal elections in 2017 was lower than parliamentary elections of 2016. Exactly, 37.9 per cent of youth in the age group of 17-24 voted in Parliamentary elections compared to 33.3 per cent of 18-24 participated in 2017 municipal elections, the difference may be explained partially by the age as 17 years olds were allowed to vote in parliamentary elections and for municipal it was 18.  

A frequently cited statement said that 70 per cent of Jordan’s population is under the age of 30. We can establish the argument on the premise that nearly a third of eligible voters do vote. Also, nearly a third of young voters vote. Youth are doing part of their share in voting and should do more.

However, they are not allowed to do more on candidacy as more youth candidates means more political power for the youth and by extension is good for the country’s future.

Constitutionally, there is a condition that a candidate for parliament should be 30 years old. For municipal, the law dictates that candidacy age is 25. The law also dictates that a judge should be at least 30 years old. These are not fixed in stone. They have changed in the past and there is no reason to think that they should not change again for the interest of all.

Despite these restrictions and in order to engage more younger people in the political process we ought to reconsider lowering the age of candidacy to parliamentary and municipal elections. It is a right that has been exercised in many countries and Jordan was the sponsor of UN Security Council Resolution 2250, which calls for “Member states to consider ways to increase inclusive representation of youth in decision-making at all levels in local, national, regional and international institutions”. 

Jordan has also been a strong advocate for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to ‘ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.’ Support of these statements must be accompanied with action. This action should be mainly removing barriers while leaving the right to exercise the right to run for the youth themselves.

Agony of inequal opportunity?
Fares Braizat - October 13, 2018

Hierarchy of competence, just like a sense of equal opportunity, is essential for justice, equality, national pride, sense of individual significance and relevance to homeland. The increasing perception among Jordanians that there is less “equal opportunity” in the country adds to the ever-growing complexity of state-society relations and its existing, yet, challenged social contract. 

In a September 2018 nationwide poll, NAMA asked the following four-point scale question: “To what extent do you think equal opportunity exists in Jordan?” The results were not positive, as 46 per cent said it does not exist at all, up from 40 per cent in June 2018, 29 per cent said it exists to a little extent, down from 32 per cent in June, 19 per cent said it exists to a medium extent, down from 25 per cent in June, and 3 per cent said it exists to a great extent as it was in June.

Nearly half of adult Jordanians believe equal opportunity does not exist in the country. This statistic constitutes one piece of empirical evidence shedding light on a growing public policy challenge. This challenge has arisen in the context of ineffective economic policy, pointing a finger at incompetent 
policymakers for this miserable economic situation. This highlights that in Jordan, the hierarchy of competence is not meritocratic. In this situation in particular, it is rather power-based favouritism which led to hierarchy of incompetence, in which accountability does not go hand in hand with responsibility.   

Perception is not only more important than reality, but it is also more dangerous. Public opinion, government’s source of legitimacy, is shifting away from reporting prevalence of equal opportunity in the country. This should not be denied or brushed under the carpet, especially when the sense of disappointment among taxpayers with Razzaz’s government is linearly correlated with the perception of less equal opportunity. Recent government conduct has been perceived by the public as compromising proper competitive access to public opportunities. Such perceived conduct is not helping to fix the image of incompetent hierarchy.

Two thirds of Jordanians believe the country is going in the wrong direction, according to the most recent polls by the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. This is a similar percentage to that of April 2018, which led to the protest movement that toppled the Mulki government. Moreover, two thirds are reporting that their household economic situation is worse now than it was when compared to 12 months ago, similar to April 2018. Also, expectations of a better household economic state have gone down from 45 per cent in June to 25 per cent today, again similar to that of April 2018. On that note, half are expecting their household economic situation to get worse in the next 12 months, up from 26 per cent in June. Concerningly, for the first time the percentage of people saying their household income does not cover their expenses and they face difficulties has reached 72 per cent, according to NAMA September poll, growing steadily from 42 per cent in July 2011. 

Equal opportunity is not limited to economic realm. That being said, it is practical to expect that when people are under economic stress they will report less prevalence of equal opportunity. Currently, people have more economic reasons to express dissatisfaction than ever before as interest rates increase, taxes increase, energy costs increase and public capital expenditure decrease. Furthermore, nearly half of people are not satisfied with essential services like cleanliness, education and health. The current circumstances are not very different from those of April-May 2018, as little has been done in the past six months to ease this economic hardship. This undesirable reality is the product of incompetent, public-averse, power-hungry and arrogant policymakers who live an unaccountable state of denial.

The combination of decreasing sense of equal opportunity matched with a rise in economic frustration, public disappointment and negative expectations is indicating a similar public mood to that of April-May 2018. This significant attitudinal public support for protest action ought to be concerning to authorities. Passivity and denial do not make the undercurrent go away. Politicians should provide solutions, not niceties, excuses and explanations, to problems created by incompetent and unaccountable appointees. The only way to truly change public opinion is to treat the chronic economic problems that are causing discontent. Message massaging public opinion neither treats its problems nor makes it “feel good” about 18.7 per cent unemployment rate.

In-consequential public opinion?
Fares Braizat - October 7, 2018

Deja Vu 2011? Will people take to the streets to protest the new income tax law? Probably this is the most frequently asked question in Jordan these days and is often complemented by the question where is the country heading? This sense of uncertainty grows in times of despair and lack of clarity, which is made more complicated by a widespread sense of pessimism as two thirds of Jordanians say the country is heading in the wrong direction, according to the most recent poll by University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS).

There are two competing narratives to answer the two questions. One narrative argues that nothing serious will happen and business will continue to run as usual with sporadic and controllable peaceful expressive protests. This narrative is basing its argument on historical experience as Jordan managed through 70 years of troubles, including 10 regional wars of various scales of passive or active involvement and a civil war, in addition to numerous protests since the 1950s, including in 1989, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2011-2014 and 2018. Surviving these troubles is attributed to consensus on the Throne as a guarantor of stability, strength and professionalism of the security establishment, rationality of Jordanians to preserve the state of stability and security, unwritten innate international insurance policy of Jordan for its role in preserving peace and stability and finally the strength of the civil service body despite its problems.

It is expected that these strength factors will aggregate power resources, as in the past, to offset consequential protest action. The weakness of this narrative comes from inability of government institutions to be adequately responsive to people’s priorities and now add concerns.

These concerns come from the following set of evidence of a similar period in 2011. In February 2011, 46 per cent of masses and 63 per cent of elites supported protest demonstrations, according to CSS polls. In May 2011, support for demonstrations went down to 15 per cent among the masses and to 47 per cent among elites after violence wrecked Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq Bahrain and Libya. Fast-forward to September 2018, according to NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions (NAMASIS) polls, two thirds of masses supported new demonstrations to prevent tax increases down from three quarters in June, and in June 2018; hype, over 80 per cent supported demonstrations to topple prime minister Hani Mulki. This means the incubating environment of protest action has grown to similar levels as in 2011 before the Arab Spring turned bloody. Lingering memories of violence may have similar impact to reduce the possibility of translating support to action, but it is not guaranteed.

The second point of concern comes from perceived weak government compared to the government back then. In May 2011, prime minister Marouf Bakhit’s government after 100 days in office had same approval as on its formation, according to CSS May 2011 poll, as compared to Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s today, which dipped significantly by nearly 10 percentage points for the PM, according to NAMASIS and CSS polls, and nearly 20 per cent for the ministerial team among the masses, according to CSS data. Razzaz’s team is seen as much weaker than Bakhit’s among the masses and elites alike with a 55 per cent rate of approval for Bakhit’s team and only 5 points lower than Bakhit, who was followed by prime minister Awn Khasawneh who was perceived more positively by the masses than all his successors. 

The third point of concern is that now we have a league of PMs, Razzaz and Mulki, whose approval rating after 100 days in office is below 50 per cent compared to all other former PMs between 1996 and 2016, including Adnan Badran who managed to pull back after a major reshuffle of his Cabinet.

In February 2011, 7 per cent of masses reported participating in demonstrations, compared to 21 per cent among elites. These percentages decreased as the social desirability effect began to vanish on the drums of war and bloodshed in neighbouring countries. The results were over 7,000 demonstrations with participants numbering over 100,000 throughout 2011. Now pro-protest action have a new set of hard and soft reasons to protest tax increase, bad economy, weak belief in equal opportunity, weak ministerial team with low service delivery, perceived record high levels of corruption and a lingering romantic idea of Fourth Circle political euphoria. Similar to 2011 set reasons. 

As the sense of hope that accompanied PM Razzaz ascension to premiership clearly demonstrates, if provided with a credible sense of hope for a better economic future, Jordanians will come around once more to rally around a project of national hope but not as they did in June. They, or at least significant plurality of them, were disappointed. They may get more disappointment as growth on one hand, and interest rates and taxation on the other are inversely related. 

Is it a messaging failure?
Fares Braizat - September 30, 2018

Why does government messaging on tax law not seem to be working? Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Omar Razzaz and his team embarked upon an outreach campaign to convince Jordanian taxpayers of the newly revisited income tax law. Despite the sincerity and determination of some members of Razzaz’s team, their message fell on deaf ears. 

In his speech at the University of Jordan on September 9, the premier said “the aim of tax is to take from the rich and give to the poor”. This overarching principle is supposed to be popular, especially among poorer households. Well, it turned out to be challenging. In the most recent poll on government performance after 100 days in office, conducted by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, 56 per cent of adult Jordanians supported the premier’s statement, while 40 per cent opposed it. These two positions point to the idea that people will support the tax law because “tax takes from the rich and gives the poor” is not necessarily a valid proposition to mobilise grassroots support for the law.

The poll also revealed that only 3.5 per cent of Jordanians reported that their “household income covers their needs and they can save” (rich), while 22 per cent said “it covers their needs and cannot save” (sufficiency) and a staggering 72 per cent said “it does not cover their needs and they face difficulties” (needy). Support for the premier’s statement among the “rich” is 45 per cent, while opposition is 55 per cent. Among the “sufficiency” and the “needy” categories, support stands at 56 per cent and opposition at 40 per cent. Clearly, the majority of the rich disagrees with “taxing the rich to give to the poor”, while the majority of the “not rich” categories support it. 

Despite this background, there is an overwhelming rejection of the tax law, especially among the poorer categories. Those who oppose passing the law through Parliament were highest among the “needy” category at 78 per cent, followed by the “sufficiency” category at 72 per cent and the least opposing to passing it through Parliament at 63 per cent were among the “rich”. The boldest expressions of this rejection were in the poorest governorates, such as Tafileh, Maan, Ajloun and Zarqa, where ministers were insulted and left ungracefully while trying to explain the law and generate support for it.

Ideally, the percentage of people who support “tax the rich and give to the poor” should support passing the law through Parliament, but this is not the case. Only 17 per cent of the “sufficiency” and “needy” categories support passing it through Parliament. Furthermore, the premier’s inaugural speech of the campaign at the University of Jordan was viewed only by 15 per cent of adult Jordanians despite intense broadcasting, while only 4 per cent listened to it entirely.

Among the latter, 55 per cent had a positive impression, 32 per cent had a negative impression and 13 per cent did not state an opinion.

The failure of messaging can be explained by many factors from within the strategic communication discipline, but the pre-decidedly adopted rejectionist position of the tax law by those who are supposed to benefit from it should ring very loud alarm bills among policy circles to revisit the impact of changing state-society relations on diffuse support for the institutions of the political system.

Constructiveness in a fiasco
Fares Braizat - September 23, 2018

Despite the political fiasco we live in these days, the exit lights are illuminated. While waiting for polling data to gauge the level and intensity of dissatisfaction, one can sense that the avalanche of negativity we have seen over the past couple of weeks has coloured our national psyche with a sense of desperation, a feeling of indifference, apathy and hopelessness. Such sociopolitical installations are not new and can be overcome.

In the past few decades, even worse, Jordan has been written off a few times by its external enemies as well as its internal critics and it has witnessed darker moments and managed through by turning challenges to opportunities. Over the past 70 years, the country moved from one crisis to another stronger and with better knowledge on how to handle the next political or economic crisis, although not always successful, the accumulation of state building is remarkable in comparison to other countries in the region.

The evolution of state institutions varied significantly in terms of maturity, efficiency and outcome. Judging by results, not by processes, two sectors can be highlighted as producing positive outcome: Security and tourism. While Jordanians report high levels of satisfaction with safety in their neighbourhoods and the country at large, they are benefitting from the growth in the tourism sector as it drives economic growth and activates otherwise semi-idle sectors.

In 2017, the tourism sector contributed nearly $2 billion directly to GDP. This generated nearly $7.6 billion as a total contribution to GDP. Projecting for 2018, based on published data from the Ministry of Tourism, these numbers are expected to increase by around 10 per cent or more in 2018. Last year, the sector produced 15 per cent growth in the number of visitors and 18 per cent in revenue compared to 2016. The numbers reported until end of August 2018 project a very promising scenario for tourism growth. The sector’s leadership at the Tourism Ministry and the Jordan Tourism Board (JTB) aims to increase visitors from 4.2 million in 2017 to 7 million in 2020. For this to be achieved, we need to double hotel rooms from nearly 30,000 to 60,000. Currently, room shortage is reported in prime locations, such as Petra, and with new low-cost airlines flying in, the demand is going to increase significantly.

The ministry and JTB have been and can pull as much as their muscles can be flexed, but they need everyone else to roll up their sleeves and extend a hand, professionally. As a successful sector, all other sectors should prioritise easing tourism and respond to its priorities. While the marketing arm of the sector, the JTB, has produced exceptionally good results with meager resources, hats off, tourism growth needs cleaner places and roads, further investment in hospitality skills, tourism logistics and infrastructure.

This is the role of the private sector which should be encouraged, rather than hindered, to eradicate the 18 per cent unemployment, which is very threatening to the two successful sectors; security and tourism, especially in remote and underprivileged areas, where dissatisfaction with government and its services is at unprecedented high levels and propensity towards social unrest is dangerously high. Rationality of the sector’s leadership has produced macro and micro successes. More of that is always welcome to reduce societal fever until surgical interventions are made to fix the chronic economic ills.

Income tax law and protest action
Fares Braizat - September 15, 2018

Desperate people resort to desperate measures. One of those measures is “protest action” outside the established channels of political communication between citizens and state institutions. Popular support for protest action to prevent tax increase in June 2018 stood at 77 per cent, according to a poll which NAMA Strategic Intelligence conducted shortly after the formation of Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s government. At that time, 85 per cent supported the protest that caused the fall of Hani Mulki’s government and 30 per cent supported protest to topple Razzaz’s even before he started formulating policies. The current income tax draft law has renewed calls for further protest action. Protest, this time, is called for by “thorny groups”, such as military and police retirees, as well as the teachers’ union among many others. Can these calls materialise in to a sustained and result-oriented protest action? 

Although the government has deployed ministers to “explain” its tax law and generate support, the legacy of May-June 2018 protests action may render the effort significantly futile. Comparative experiences point to four major explanations of protest movements: Grievances and relative deprivation, political opportunity structure, resource mobilisation and the diffusion effect. Grievances are commonly defined as feelings of dissatisfaction with important aspects of life, such as housing, living standard, income, employment, healthcare, human rights, safety and education. Grievances are dangerous when perceived, not necessarily actual, inequalities are framed in terms of a primordial identity (tribal, religious, ethnic, regional, etc.) and explained by relative deprivation at a collective level. The latter refers to a person or a group sensing a gap between what they felt they were entitled to and what they in fact received. If those grievances are not channelled properly through legitimate representation, they can cause socio-political restlessness. The reason why the majority of discontented people do not join protests is that people are prone to conflict avoidance, short-term-oriented and believe that imminent life difficulties may arise since there is no guarantee that life improvement will result from joining a protest movement.

Activists operate within the political opportunity structure with an environment of constraints and opportunities, determined by the political system and configured by the institutional arrangements and the prevailing patterns of political power. If the political system is open and inclusive, new social and political groups can have an opportunity to advocate their interests through the existing political structure: they are likely to pursue their interests through the conventional channels of communication, (i.e., representative institutions). Inversely, if the political system is exclusive and its institutions are closed to new groups or lack legitimacy, such as our current parliament, municipalities and political parties do, activists would take to the streets, or other spaces, to make their demands on the political system. A fair political system presents opportunities for all to voice their demands through effective representation channels. Both modes of representation present in Jordan; traditional (tribal and regional) and parliamentary are being challenged on the grounds of “how representative they really are”. Groups, regardless of organisational capacities, seek to open new avenues of opportunity to influence the system, if the system is not inclusive enough. State strategies determine whether protest movements are assimilative or confrontational. 

Defining an issue or a number of issues to be pursued by a group of people requires the mobilisation of resources in order to achieve identified objectives. Resources include individuals and their time, money and skills. Individuals pursuing causes are, presumably, rational actors who act in ways consistent with their short and/or long term interests. They act if the calculated benefit outweighs the entailed cost. Activists would create organisations to recruit individuals and mobilise resources. Protest movement organisation then would set its goals and act accordingly. Consequently, prosperity affords the resources necessary for protest movements, whereas the most deprived will be unable to sustain more than transient action unless they turn desperate and protest action becomes a zero sum game where desperate people resort to desperate measures. Given the structure of our society, collective identities can be mobilised if someone is killed and it is more dangerous if combined with grievances. 

Seven years ago the romantic idea of revolution, diffuse effect, that swept the region created an excitement among people in Jordan. Consequential to the violence in Libya, Yemen and Syria, romanticising the idea of revolution has suffered significant setbacks and increased the fear of uncertainty among Jordanians. However, external interference in Jordan cannot be ruled out as the events in Syria and other places have demonstrated over the past eight years. Global, regional and local political actors may find themselves in a peculiar and possibly irrational agreement to support “protest action” in Jordan for discordant reasons.

To make a sound assessment of potential protest action we should, firstly, look at ideas, ideologies and influence in order to determine which ideas are central or fringe to a protest movement through answering questions pertaining to pathways and processes of “idea making”. Then we should establish whether the protest movement has an ideology or not and what influence mechanisms are implemented by protest activists. Secondly, we ought to address recruitment and formation of the protest movement by examining public opinion perceptiveness, factors determining attraction to protest groups, political issues persuading people to join in and the type of messages appealing to people. Thirdly, examine whether there is a structure to the protest movement, its finance and communication strategies. Finally, sustainability of the protest movement ought to be examined by looking at its cohesion, strands of mainstream and extremism. These are the ingredients we ought to flesh out in order to understand what might happen in the next couple of weeks on our streets.

Bringing people into the politics of aid
Fares Braizat - September 8, 2018

Jordan has been a beneficiary of economic and military aid since its inception. Although aid currently constitutes around 10 per cent of its budget, the country has received disproportionate attention because of implicit and explicit conditionality associated with it. As the framing of aid globally has shifted from developmental aid focused on increasing basic economic development and supporting human rights to a foreign investment in preventing violence and protecting donors’ interests, the perception of aid has shifted as well. Despite heated elitist discussions behind closed doors, the question on the political price Jordan is paying in exchange for this aid lingers. Is it really worth it?

Today, the Jordanian people’s level of awareness of aid reveals their judgment of how useful this aid is to Jordan and its citizens. In a recent survey of a nationally representative sample conducted by NAMA in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, awareness on aid ranged from as low as 14 per cent to as high as 81 per cent. When asked whether they had heard of an aid programme from a pre-prepared list of donors, respondents showed that the highest level of awareness among Jordanians was of Saudi aid at 81 per cent, followed by knowledge of aid programmes from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at 73 per cent, the UAE at 67 per cent, Kuwait at 58 per cent, USAID at 57 per cent, EU at 41 per cent, Germany at 23 per cent, Japan at 22 per cent, France at 15 per cent and UK at 14 per cent. 

Although the USAID contributes the highest declared aid to Jordan, nearly $1.3 billion, it did not receive the highest level of awareness. On the other hand, Saudi and Arab aid received more awareness than US and other aid programmes. Although Saudi aid has been flowing intermittently since the 1970s, it is currently lower than that of the USAID in volume for various reasons. This runs parallel to the divergence in Jordanians’ position on who the closest ally to Jordan is; the US comes in top spot. However, when asked which country should Jordan increase its collaboration with, Saudi Arabia came first. Both the US and Saudi Arabia have deep interests in Jordan, especially in the realm of regional security and stability.

Usefulness of aid to Jordan and Jordanians ranked as follows: Japanese aid, despite low levels of awareness on its programmes implemented in Jordan, has topped the list of usefulness to Jordan and Jordanians at 78 per cent. This was followed by the USAID at 73 per cent, GCC 72 per cent, Kuwaiti, Saudi and Emirati aid 70-71 per cent, German aid 69 per cent, French aid 67 per cent, UK aid 66 per cent and EU aid 65 per cent. Clearly, Japanese aid does not come near to USAID and Saudi aid in terms of volume, but its usefulness perception is worth examining. Likely, this positive perception is linked to the fact that Japanese aid is not perceived to be conditional. Instead, it may be seen as well-positioned development aid that goes directly to projects of perceived societal value. Conversely, other aid packages are associated with threatening conditionality that may create controversy, especially when it comes to settling regional problems at Jordan’s expense while disregarding core Jordanian local and regional interests. 

Aid conditionality is controversial and suffers from negative perception among local recipient populations. Understandably, donors as well as recipients seek to maximise their gains. When donors push too hard, it indicates a few things; serious commitment to their own and/or the recipient’s interest, lack of understanding of the recipient’s priorities and core interests or any random mix of the above. Recipients accept this conditionality either because of dire need or proactive willingness to implement the conditionality. The latter is often framed in the language of strategic partnerships, alliances or economic interests. For example, policies on immigration are increasingly being framed in the language of security rather than human rights and development. As such, the framing of aid shifted from “development aid” to preventative aid used to stop a set of “threats” ranging from migration to radicalisation to terrorism. 

Consequently, conscious efforts need to be made to humanise aid and improve its perception as a public good that is beneficial to the human rights of all Jordanian citizens.

Public opinion and Jordan’s allies
Fares Braizat - September 1, 2018

Jordanian public opinion perceives the US as the most influential country in Jordan as 77 per cent of surveyed adult Jordanians reported, followed by Saudi Arabia (KSA) and UK 58 per cent each. This perceived influence is not coming out of the blue. It is informed by strategic partnerships in politics, security and economy. The survey which was conducted recently by NAMA in collaboration with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung also finds that the US is described by Jordanians as the “closest ally of Jordan” by both the masses and elites. 

However, discrepancies between masses and elites show that Jordanians’ preferences are going in different directions. While masses describe the US as the “closest ally of Jordan” at 41 per cent, followed by KSA at 22 per cent, then the UK at 8 per cent, then Turkey at 7 per cent, the UAE at 5 per cent, when asked about which country you would like Jordan to cooperate with more in the future, KSA tops the list with 20 per cent, USA 19 per cent, Turkey 11 per cent, the UAE 8 per cent, the UK and Germany 6 per cent each. This change between “described reality” and “preferred reality” points to a few framing narratives and undercurrents among Jordanians. 

For elites, the closet ally of Jordan is the US at 50 per cent, followed by UK at 11 per cent, KSA 5 per cent, Turkey 4 per cent. When asked which country you would like Jordan to cooperate with more, the US topped the list with 20 per cent, followed by Turkey 12 per cent, KSA 8 per cent, UK 7 per cent, Russia and Germany 7 per cent each.

Among the masses, two Western countries the US and UK account for 50 per cent as the closest ally of Jordan, while Middle Eastern countries (Arab and Muslim) account for 34 per cent. Among the elites, USA and UK account for 61 per cent as “closest ally of Jordan”, and (Arab and Muslim) account only for 9 per cent in the top four countries. 

These described realities change when both masses and elites are asked about their preferred allies of Jordan. Nearly 38 per cent of the masses and 20 per cent of the elites, when asked which country Jordan should cooperate with more in the future named Arab and Muslim countries, compared to 30 per cent of the masses and 41 per cent of elites naming none-Arab/Muslim among the first 6 preferred countries (China was number 7 at 3 per cent ). 

Clearly elites are more supportive of Western cooperation while masses are more supportive of Arab-Muslim cooperation for Jordan’s future. Interestingly, Russia and China do not make it to the top 8 countries list among the preferences of the masses, they; however, occupy advanced positions among the elites with Russia being preferred at the same level as Germany and the UK. Given the complexity of underlying factors that shape these attitudes and preferences, another attempt will be made in the next few weeks to examine whether aid from these countries to Jordan is a “shaping factor” or is it only cultural framing?

Perceptions on the most and least corrupt
Fares Braizat - August 25, 2018

Politicians are perceived to be the most corrupt group in Jordan. In the latest wave of the World Values Survey conducted and coordinated by NAMA in a few Arab countries, 68 per cent of adult Jordanian citizens reported that politicians are corrupt. Nearly 18 per cent of those surveyed believed that “all politicians are corrupt”, while 50 per cent stated that most politicians are corrupt. While politicians occupied the top spot in people’s perception of corruption, business people followed in the next spot at 57 per cent. A total of 45 per cent stated that “most business people” are corrupt and 12 per cent said that “all business people are corrupt”. These two groups constitute the most powerful classes in society and largely determine state-society relations through their work in legislation, policy planning and execution. With these two groups perceived by the majority as “mostly” or “all” corrupt, they, as well as society at large, must be seriously concerned about possible repercussions. Perception is not only more important than reality, it is way more dangerous. The extensive open discussions of corruption since 2010 contributed to the creation of a disconsolate perception of civilian establishment in the country.

The increasing loss of faith in civilian establishment to conduct itself well and to protect the interest of citizens is not limited to politicians and business classes; it extends beyond to local governance institutions, such as municipalities. A majority of 56 per cent stated that municipalities are corrupt, with 13 per cent saying all of them are corrupt and 44 per cent saying that most of them are corrupt. Municipalities are concerned with some of the basic services, such as cleanliness and local licensing procedures. According to another poll conducted by NAMA in the second half of June 2018, only 14 per cent reported that they have a “great deal of confidence” in their municipality, while 31 per cent said they “have no confidence at all”, more than double. Moreover, while 8 per cent reported that the “municipal council” is “very effective”, 26 per cent reported it is “not very effective”. When asked about problems at the local governance level, 40 per cent reported issues of corruption and 20 per cent reported cleanliness. Negative perceptions of these above-mentioned levels of power leave observers of governance institutions puzzled as to why these perceptions have gotten so rooted in Jordanian public opinion.

Public sector employees are perceived as less corrupt than politicians, business people and municipalities. At least, those believing that “all” or “most” public sector employees are corrupt are 45 per cent. Although it is a minority, it is significantly important and cannot be ignored just because it is perceived as less corrupt than other groups. The perceived damage is extensive and calls for action beyond business as usual. 

Journalists and media are perceived as the least corrupt among the five groups. Nearly 37 per cent stated that “all” or “most” of them are corrupt. Nearly 9 per cent said “all” are corrupt and 28 per cent reported that “most” are corrupt. In a nutshell, high levels of perception of corruption are dangerous and contribute to the damage of state-society relations, business environment and public morale. The security establishment cannot be tasked with all responsibilities; civilian establishment ought to step up its performance and regain some public confidence to carry the country forward. Improved accountability is needed more than ever before. Democracy is a self-correcting process and we ought to consider more not less of it for the sake of our children.

What is the national goal of Jordan?
Fares Braizat - August 19, 2018

For decades, the national goal of Jordan was national survival in a turbulent region and an ever changing regional and global order. Approaching a century of state age proved beyond doubt that survival has been established at a considerable political and economic cost. This cost delivered commendable level of national security and stability, and a reasonable level of socioeconomic development. A few more items remain in short supply; efficiency, equity and sustainable economic growth. 

The latter is the essence of national survival. In most countries, the order of national goals is national security, followed by economic prosperity. The country’s dire economic situation led to increasingly dangerous loss of confidence in state institutions’ ability to deliver on people’s priorities. Current public policies do not seem to be positioned to change this trend, although they might slow it temporarily. They are, however, set to do more of the same under the banner of economic reform. National survival and economic prosperity require more.

The national economic goal should be based on megaprojects that have the appeal to rally Jordanians around hope in a better future in order to offset the downward trend of disenchantment, disappointment and the sense of disenfranchisement. While Jordanians rally around state symbols; King, flag and army, especially in times of crisis as we have seen in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in the tranquil town of Fuheis, they need to have, and deserve, an economic rallying cause that takes them to the future. It is evident that Jordanians’ sense of tolerance with phrases such as “we have to tighten belts”, “we have to accept harsh measures” is waning. Moreover, citizens have grown uneasy about the threatening language often used, such as “if we do not take these measures, the economy will collapse” at the same time when their lack of belief in government seriousness to fight corruption is at unprecedented levels. 

Against this backdrop, four “future hope” mega projects must start expeditiously based on build-operate-transfer, none-fund-return models. There is no lack of investors but obviously there has been lack of committed policy planners and makers, otherwise these projects would have been achieved long ago. First, the national rail network connecting Syria to Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Egypt, as well as cities, towns and villages along the way from Ramtha to Aqaba should be built. Along the rail stations, areas ought to be designated to special projects. For example, around the airport, designate a station with a medical city, another with entertainment city, and in Madounah the government should give the land of “the new city” for the rail network builders to develop for residential and commercial purposes as part of their compensation for investment in building the rails. Second, solar power should be generAted in the east to meet the growing demands of the Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese markets. This requires a consortium of political and economic leverage is Third, the Baptism Site should be made to receive a million Christian pilgrims annually by building infrastructure and doing the global marketing for it, especially from new emerging markets such as China. Fourth, schools in less developed and resource-deprived areas, especially in the south, should be focused on nurturing a technology-driven generation from preschool to high school. An information technology city can nurture this generation and utilise its potential. This needs a serious investment in IT and English language education by increasing the number of teachers and class/lab hours in each school and reducing hours of less relevant subjects.

Building human and economic capital by executing these projects has the potential of reversing the tide with positivity and hope instead of fear and hopelessness. Jordanians deserve more respect and better economic prospects.

Incentivising political competition
Fares Braizat - August 12, 2018

Against the backdrop of declining confidence in successive governments’ ability to respond satisfactorily to citizens’ priorities, it is essential to revisit the paths that took us all there in order to design, plan, execute and evaluate new approaches to reverse the trend for the sake of Jordan and its citizens. Although it is understandably complicated and we have a rather long way to go, there are starting points of incremental change that are achievable and can make a difference. Small things add up finally. One of those is to create an incentive-based political party finance system. 

Political parties have largely failed in making a difference in the local political scene. Since the enactment of the Political Parties’ Law in early 1990s, over 50 parties have been established. Many of them disappeared without placing a single member in parliament or other representative bodies. Today, there are nearly 50 parties, active and under process, very few of them have representation in parliament. Consecutive polling data on political parties show that the majority of Jordanians believe political parties have been unsuccessful. The predicament of political parties needs a solution. 

One way to approach a solution to this dilemma is through creating an incentive based system of funding for political parties to replace the existing set of regulations governing parties’ finance. The current system offers JD50,000 for each party in two installments annually, regardless of any political achievement. It is closer to a political party welfare and patronage system than competitive political market place for democracy development.

Democracy inauguration requires competitive polity based on open political competition through regular, fair and transparent elections. Political parties should be the pillars of this system. For those parties to become relevant, the process of financing political parties ought to evolve to create a more competitive political process that offers voters a real and credible alternative choice for public policies. 

Therefore, reforming political parties’ financial support should be built around a reward, rather than welfare, system based on key performance indicators. This system would reward parties in linear manner, the more a party scores on participating in elections, number of members, including women and youth, geographic representation, seats in elected bodies, coalition building, outreach and recruitment activities, the more public, and possibly private, funding it will get.

Crown Prince and tech in unmaking inequalities
By Fares Braizat - July 29, 2018

Inequalities are deeply seated feeders of publically expressed and hidden societal and individual grievances. The growing sense of inequality among citizens of Jordan is alarming. It has increased significantly over the past 20 years. The percentage reporting “equality does not exist in Jordan” increased from 13 per cent in 1999 to 30 per cent in 2018, and the percentage of those reporting “equality exists to a great extent” decreased from 20 per cent in 1999 to 7 per cent in 2018 (CSS Democracy and NAMASIS surveys respectively). The making of these feelings of inequalities has taken decades. Unmaking them will probably take decades too and we ought to be more reasonable in trying to solve the problem using different methods than those used to create it.

The sense of inequality is significantly higher than sense of injustice according to the same empirical sources. However, sense of inequality among citizens in marginalised areas is not only significantly higher than other places but also more alarming: 48 per cent in the south (Karak, Tafileh, Maan and Aqaba), 30 per cent in the north (Irbid, Ajloun Jerash and Mafraq) and 27 per cent in the centre (Amman, Madaba, Balqa, and Zarqa) reported that “equality does not exist” in Jordan. When comparing urban areas to marginalised peripheries, 26 per cent in both Amman and Zarqa say equality does not exist compared to 30 per cent in Irbid and 35 per cent in the 9 remaining governorates. The average of those 9 governorates is similar to that found in Maan in 2003 when 34 per cent said equality does not exist in Jordan. 

If anything, policy planners, makers and implementers should all be concerned about what may lie ahead. These expressions of inequality have been communicated sporadically by protesters since 1989, 1996, 2002-2003 and more frequently but not systematically, since 2010. In Tafileh, Karak, Thiban, Jerash, Mafraq and Maan alike, expressions have surfaced in small number of protests and protesters. Despite their relatively small size and frequency, their message has been consistent: We are suffering and the government is not doing enough. These feelings have been further fueled by the existing narratives of corruption. According to most recent NAMASIS survey, over 80 per cent attribute government inability to deliver services to corruption and government indifference, while a small minority attributes it to lack of resources. It is not farfetched to find these attitudes more prevalent among citizens in marginalised areas.

Given these deeply-rooted inequalities, imbalances in state-society relations may surface in a more frequent and systematic manner whether as protest movement, and/or digital venting or further distance from state institutions. Although Jordanians’ trust in security institutions’ ability to preserve stability is globally recognised and unmatched regionally, long-term stability is in the hands of an enabling state and those citizens, who are able to be good and law abiding citizens. State society relations in this formula ought to guard for a more robust system of checks and balances to preserve trust in institutions and deliver public good. 

The recent corruption scandals and increasing sense of injustice and inequality remind us all of Lord Acton’s famous quote “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. The local version of Neoliberalism and its somewhat society-blind policies have produced hybrid forms of deformed economic policies that produced a variety of economic feudalism and financial monopoly while disregarding economic justice and equality in state-society relations. Neoliberals purposefully reengineered the state to concentrate political and economic power resources in the hands of the few leaving increasingly more people marginalised, disenchanted and disenfranchised. Granted, it is impossible to enforce complete equality. But it is reasonable to equip citizens with the tools necessary to fulfill their potentials. Then it is up to them to take advantage of these opportunities. If and when Jordan realises this goal, the state will not be held either morally or politically accountable for claims of entitlement but will be held to account if it does not sufficiently enable its citizens to access opportunities equally and fairly. 

Obviating further dilapidation of the decades’ long cultivated state-society relationship necessitates perceptive public policy planning and execution. The political and constitutional relationship between the state and society has been mutually-dependent since the inception of the state. It has gone through phases of mutual adaptation to the changing role of the state and state responses to its routine, and predictable challenges as well as existential threats, especially in the period 1967-1973. These adaptation strategies were managed through public spending on security, development of health, education and infrastructure. With coercive increases of the population through refugees and illegal immigration, these services, except security, are no longer paying off as they used to be. Education’s output is producing soaring unemployment and poverty rates, and the public health sector is not in an envious shape. These constitute a legitimate cause of concern. 

Therefore, and in order to create skill-driven economy for the most marginalised in the soft-belly of the south and as part of state-society adaptation strategies, creating a new tech industry through redesigning education there as part of a national plan in the south gearing all students from preschool time towards skills in new technology. Some will be global entrepreneurs, others will be engineers, a third tier will be technicians, and fourth tier provide supportive services turning them from state-dependent to globally competitive and demanded tech specialists. In other words, there is a path toward a peaceful and prosperous future for Jordan, but realising this vision requires meaningful revisions of public polices to promote equality and justice for all individual citizens not for the few. 

His Royal Highness Crown Prince Hussein’s speech in Maan a few weeks ago spoke to the need and the future. Government plans must speak to the action in between.

Razzaz restorative justice and national revival
By Fares Braizat - July 21, 2018

The two incidents which took place on Thursday, July 19th (mothers demanding public amnesty and an attempted suicide under the Dome of the House), to which Prime Minister Omar Razzaz acted humanely and swiftly driven by his well-known decency, humanity and modesty, shed light on a wider problem in recent manifestations of state-society relations. Plainly, injustices have been largely ignored by somewhat unsympathetic and detached power holding elites and public policy planners. Empirical evidence reveals that Jordanians’ sense of injustice has been on the rise. To be precise, the percentage of Jordanians saying “justice does not exist in Jordan” increased from 8 per cent in 1999, according to CSS’s Democracy in Jordan 1999 survey, to 23 per cent in June 2018, according to NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions survey of 1,524 nationally representative sample. Equally, the percentage saying “justice exists to a great extent” decreased from 30 per cent to 10 per cent over the same period.

 

Highlighting these two extremes of a four-point scale is meant to demonstrate the sharp turns Jordanians are going through even after the 
unceremonial dismissal of former prime minister Hani Mulki and his incompetent neoliberal economic team. These turns are subtle messages addressed to government and political protest activists. Jordanians and their messages neither should be ignored nor denied and must be taken seriously by public policymakers. Surely, Hirak protest activists essentially and expectedly are magnifying them as they legitimise their raison d'être. The symptoms of societal fever and disenchanted undercurrents were flamboyantly displayed since 2011 and most recently on the Fourth Circle and the core issues remain. Government responsiveness ought to meet expectations; if it does not, the situation may become rather dangerous.

 

This set of evidence and its foreseeable implications should crystalise the government’s vision to make “restorative justice” an integral part of the national revival goal, aka renaissance, stipulated in the Royal designation letter to the PM. Disparities in development transpire beyond basic social and economic rights to border alienation. A sense of disenfranchisement correlates positively with the intensification of a sense of political distance from the government, which is increasingly seen by the public as not trying to do all what it can to provide services it is entrusted with. To be sure, only 35 per cent nowadays agree that the government does all it can to serve people, compared to 51 per cent in January 2017 and nearly two thirds in 2011.

Increasing sense of injustice coupled with increasing belief in governments’ inability to deliver can be sequentially detrimental in increasingly restless areas of economically disenfranchised hotspots. As far as justice is concerned, empirical evidence shows that 35 per cent of citizens in the south believe “justice does not exist” in Jordan, compared to 23 per cent in the north and 21 per cent in the centre of the country. A deeper look at the centre reveals that 20 per cent of citizens in Amman say “justice does not exist”, compared to 23 per cent in Zarqa, 25 per cent in Balqa and 26 per cent in Madaba. 

At another level of comparison where heavily populated urban centres of Amman, Zarqa and Irbid are compared to the rest of the country, the trend persists: while those saying justice does not exist in Jordan constitute 20 per cent in Amman, 23 per cent in both Irbid and Zarqa, the average is 28 per cent in the remaining nine governorates. The point is that the average percentage in these nine governorates is exactly the same percentage found in Maan in 2003 after the southern governorate had recently erupted in protests. This comparison makes it hard not to draw conclusions about what is likely to happen across the country if business remains as usual.

These proofs are unequivocally pointing to a development gap resulting from ineffective and inefficient public economic policies largely designed and implemented by neoliberals. Therefore, corrective measures defined by better redistributive policies to address the unequal development gap, which is at the roots of the growing sense of injustice, especially in socioeconomically marginalised areas, has never been more paramount than now. No step is too little towards equitable justice. Hence, we ought to work towards a fairer, reasonable and more compassionate distribution of economic development. Promoting a sense of and providing social justice is not only a state-sponsored public good but also a stability formula.

In this context, social justice means the increase of overall quality of life for all. For such a formula, an agreed upon equilibrium must be found to bridge the unequal development gap. Political representation of underdeveloped areas is not delivering what it should deliver of socioeconomic development, thus rendering the much talked about “political representation” ineffective in delivering the goods that may bridge the centre-periphery gap. Moreover, the elitist and largely reductionist, and at times discriminatory, discourse that citizens of these areas are “privileged”, “favoured” and “over-represented”, ought to be more critically examined to understand the facts of underdevelopment, marginalisation and the widespread injustice citizens of these areas suffer before making such declamatory, unsubstantiated and loose statements. 

Identity politics does not do justice to the excluded individuals or groups who happen to have been defined, not necessarily by their own choice, as an excluded group. Identity politics leads to over-privilege for very few, satellite-privilege for a few more, and under-privilege for the overwhelming majority. The latter group is falsely-privileged by association because someone shares his/her surname or other kind of primordial relatedness is well-off. While very few benefit, the overwhelming majority are left out of that formula barely hovering around the poverty line and surely will slip well below it sooner than bubble-contained, self-righteous, reductionist and, at times, orientalising elites realise. 

The time for the end of identity politics has arrived and a time for civic language of development politics has accompanied its demise. In this sense, the state has been seen as a justice maker, i.e. it is a partner and ought to be involved throughout the process of development to ensure equal access to reasonable opportunity.

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.

How Jordanians view ties with US
By Fares Braizat - July 1, 2017

In a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre in March 2017 and published last week, Jordanians were reported to have the highest (82 per cent) unfavourable views of the US, among the 37 nations surveyed across the globe.

When examined further, a rather contrary reality is uncovered because a different tool is designed to measure the operational components of how Jordanians perceive American-Jordanian relations.

Measurements can be misleading if they remain very generic and do not scratch the surface to move beyond face-value generalisations that are not linked to actual issues of reference.

Survey results do have consequential implications, as they influence public debate as well as decision makers in Jordan and the US.

Therefore, it is essential to shed some light on how generic measurements can lead to a much construed view of reality when examined against a more rigorous set of measurements that are specifically designed to help policy makers through a comprehensive examination and to inform the public about their collective choices and views beyond populist clichés.

 
Instead of asking respondents about their favourability ratings of countries generically, which can refer to a wide range of issues, a research team at the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, led by Mustafa Hamarneh, embarked on a project in 2004 to measure, inter alia, how Arabs, generally, and Jordanians, specifically, perceive American-Jordanian 
political relations. 

 

These measurements were consequently repeated to establish the extent of changes that might have taken place between 2004 and 2014. 

Now, as then, the data demonstrated a rather different, and contrary, view of the Pew report mentioned above.

In 2004, a year after US invasion of Iraq, 57 per cent described “political relations” between Jordan and the US as “very good” and 31 per cent as “somewhat good”.

Ten years later, a lot had happened. Post-invasion Iraq had turned bloody; Arab Spring had unleashed a wave of bloodshed across the region resulting in civil wars in Syria, Yemen, Libya, violent instabilities in Tunisia and Egypt and, to lesser extent, social unrest in Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco.

The heat of instability was felt across the globe too, through immigration, refugee waves, radicalisation and terrorism.

The US was not a bystander in this regional turmoil; it was blamed by many for supporting and picking sides, sometimes with firepower as well as soft power mechanisms.

Keeping this in mind, in 2014, 51 per cent described American-Jordanians “political relations” as “very good” and 42 per cent as “somewhat good”, an overwhelming 93 per cent favourable opinion.

When asked, in 2004, what they would like to see happen with American-Jordanian political relations in the future, 50 per cent chose “improving them”, 21 per cent “keeping them as they are” and only 20 per cent chose to “reduce them”.

Ten years later, in late 2014, 72 per cent chose “improve them”, 19 per cent chose “keeping them as they are” and only 5 per cent chose “reduce them”.

Despite all problems, more Jordanians expressed more positive views over time.

In a nutshell, Jordanian public opinion is more rational and realistic about Jordanian-American relations.

However, this does not mean a blanket endorsement of American policies, although it is quite evident that Jordan and the US are considered integral strategic partners.

Jordanians tend to differ, and they express that, too. Their views are complex and not mutually exclusive. 

They value the relation with the US, but also express their dissatisfaction with some policies they care about.

Not only does the Jordanian public perceive the relations highly positively, they also seek to further improve them or keep them as they are.

The core regional issue for Jordan has always been Palestine, which largely colours Jordanians’ generic view of the US.

The survey showed further that Jordanians are not satisfied with the role played by the US in resolving the region’s most prevalent issue.

For instance, when asked how satisfied they were with the US role in the Arab-Israeli conflict in 2004, 5 per cent reported “somewhat unsatisfied” and 86 per cent “very unsatisfied”.

Ten years later, the percentage was 10 per cent “somewhat unsatisfied” and 71 per cent “very unsatisfied”.

Despite this statistically significant drop, a core majority is unsatisfied with the US policy on the Palestinian issue. They also disagreed with the American policy on Iraq and were also critical of it on Syria. These views are distinct and they did not influence Jordanians’ views of American-Jordanian relations.

A more recent study by CSS, published in January 2017, addressing the Trump effect among the public at large, as well as opinion leaders, also revealed that majorities of the two samples considered that the relations will “remain the same” while 29 per cent of the public and 55 per cent of opinion leaders expected an improvement.

Despite these positive views and expectations, there is some apprehensiveness among the public and opinion leaders about the Trump effect, with 33 per cent of the public and 15 per cent of opinion leaders expecting American-Jordanian relations to get worse under Trump’s presidency.

It is important to operationalise concepts for measurements comprehensively.

American-Jordanian relations are not limited only to the political aspect; they also extend to very important economic, military and cultural dimensions, all of which are highly valued by the Jordanian public despite the presence of vocal voices that clearly advocate the opposite for various reasons.

The implications of these surveys for American-Jordanian relations are evident. 

Although Jordanians do not approve some of the US’ efforts in the region, they still perceive the political and economic relations as highly positive and would support improving them or keeping them at the current levels