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.

Rail tracks for regional peace?
Publication and Articles

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Those in Sweden’s league are fully democratic.

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


 

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

 

 

 

 


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January 09, 2022- Jordan News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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January 16, 2022- Jordan News

While we celebrate successful Jordanian youth entrepreneurs, like Zeid Y. Al Husban and Sahar Barqawi, a substantial segment of our youth is still facing multiple layers of alienation and exclusion from public as well as social life. The alienated youth, just like their successful peers, seek an opportunity for more active inclusion in the economy and the political process. Moreover, their alienation is not the only serious problem we should be addressing in the political reform efforts under way. There are other important issues.

An equally important and related issue is the mass exodus, across all age groups, out of the electoral process. Empirical evidence from the 2016 and 2020 parliamentary elections demonstrates that the older a voter is, the more likely he/she is to abandon the electoral process. This mass departure causes structural deficiencies ranging from institutional imperfections to dysfunctional representation of socio-economic interests. Furthermore, such distortions often lead to unhealthy polarization over dominance of competing narratives; one outside the electoral process, often tinted with apathy, and one, inside it, overwhelmed with frustration with parliament performance and dissatisfaction with outcomes that go beyond parliament.

Here is the empirical set of evidence. With the exception of the age group 17-25, who had a higher voter turnout in 2020, namely 38.2 percent, than in the 2016 elections (37.4 percent), participation rates of all older age groups declined by an average of: -5.5 percent for 26-30 years old; -7.1 percent for 31-40 years old; -8.8 percent for 41-50 years old; -9.5 percent for 51-60 years old; and -12.1 percent for 60 + years old. This means that the national decline average from the 2016 to the 2020 parliamentary elections stood at -6.2 percent. These rates were recorded notwithstanding the impact of COVID-19, which was the cause for abstention of roughly 325,293 voters, according to a post elections survey by NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions.

The number of actual voters in the 2020 elections was 1,387,711 out of 4,640,643 eligible voters. This means 3,252,932 did not vote for various reasons. Those who cited COVID-19 as a reason for not voting were 10 percent of the non-voters. When added to the actual voters, the figure comes to 1,713,004, which 36.9 percent of eligible voters. The increase over the 2016 voting rate would be 0.8 percent, which comes from the increase in the number of voters in the age group 17–25.

The absence of youth from the electoral process is a very important issue. Although the 17–25 years old were the highest participating group in the 2020 elections, at 38.2 percent, the participations rate of the next age group, 26–30, declines significantly to 25.1 percent, i.e., a decline of 13.1 percentage points. This decline is double that of the 2016 elections when these two age groups recorded 37.4 percent and 30.6 percent participation rates, respectively.

This is a clear sign that the excitement of first-time voters quickly fades away, at an alarmingly high rate as well, and that is attributed partially to the Parliament’s inability to maintain their confidence, let alone the fact that the only social groups that do accept them – those associated with universities and local neighborhoods – celebrate electoral boycott.

The other significant issue is young female participation. Females in the 17–25-year-old age group are less likely to participate than males by some -10.5 percent, -6.3 percent for the 26–30 age group, -4.4 percent for 31–40 age groups, -5.8 percent for 41-50 age group, -7.8 percent for 51–60 age group, and -12.4 percent for the 60+ age group. Overall, women are less likely to vote by -8.0 percent nationally.

The issues we must address are: (a) a substantial portion of youth is migrating out of the political system; (b) youth integration in the economic system has been insufficient; and (c) they continue to be socially alienated, bullied at times, suppressed at others, and ignored.

The implications are severe, and range from widening the breeding ground for all sorts of radicalization, to indifference to public affairs, and possible withdrawal from ordinary life to other manner of living, with all the ills of such pathways. It is important to assert that those who choose alienation are not necessarily making a choice, but are most likely being pushed to do so since the economic system is not being responsive enough to their needs, thus leading to withdrawal and alienation.

While surgical economic interventions to expand the private sector to accommodate the demand on jobs cannot wait any longer, we ought to design pathways for alienated youth to feel a “sense of ownership” in the political system. Reducing the candidacy age for parliamentary elections from 30 to 25 is a small progressive step, given the severity of youth absence from the electoral process, but we should work to reduce it to 18, with serious incentives, especially for young women, to engage politically, and that includes offering financial incentives in the form of reducing candidacy fees and required bonds. Since they are not too young to vote, carry weapons, have a family, guard the borders, drive cars, pilot planes, they are certainly not too young to run for elections when they are 18.

 

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

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January 23, 2022- Jordan News

Why was the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System (RCMPS) established, and is it going to be different from the 13 previous attempts since the early 1990s in terms of outcome?

These are the two main questions that have been surfacing since June 2021 and that this piece attempts to provide preliminary answers to.

Since 1989 when parliamentary elections were resumed after over three decades of regional political turbulence, we have witnessed the creation of over 13 committees to address emerging issues. These include the National Charter, 1991, Jordan First, 2002, The National Agenda, 2005, All Jordan, 2006, Royal Commission for Regions, 2008, National Dialogue Committee, 2011, Privatization Review Committee, 2013, Committee for Integrity and Anti-Corruption, 2013­–2014, Jordan Vision 2025, launched in 2014, National Human Resources Development Commission, 2015, Royal Commission for the Development Judiciary and Strengthening the Rule of Law, 2017, RCMPS, 2021 and the Public Sector reform committees, 2021–2022.

The number of initiatives indicates a realization that there are “issues” and they ought to be addressed. The above attempts varied from political to economic to governance issues, but the Jordanian public got fatigued, and as time passed, more Jordanians gradually lost interest in public affairs.

The most recent proof is that only 7 percent knew about the most recent public sector reform committee established and led by the prime minister. Recently published polls by CSS and NAMA show that nearly two-thirds of adult Jordanians are not following political issues and those who follow barely know about the content of currently debated issues, including constitutional amendments.

Detachment from public life is caused by a series of trend-full fluctuations since the early 1990s. It is precisely the same set of reasons that led to the establishment of the committee.

First, the identity of the economy is no longer the familiar “semi-rentier”, with its implications for state-society relations. It has been moving to a capitalist economy, albeit an immature one. This created disorientation. Foreign aid makes up 9 percent of government expenditure and 11 percent of domestic revenue. Thus, the economy is largely self-dependent.

Second, declining confidence in civilian public institutions, especially representative institutions like parliament, in which confidence declined from over 50 percent before 2011 to a third now.

Third, trust in successive governments declined from as high as 83 percent in the late 1990s to the lowest point ever since then, 34 percent now; the current prime minister is seen as the lowest-performing since polling government performance started in 1996.

Fourth, there has been a significant increase in the percentage of Jordanians saying “justice does not exist in Jordan”: from 8 percent in 1999 to 37 percent in 2021.

Fifth, unemployment increased by 10 points compared to 2011, and reached 50 percent among youths in 2021. Sixth, social capital has declined significantly from nearly a third in 2007 to nearly 15 percent in 2018. Seventh, a significant increase in the percentage of adult Jordanians who expressed their intention to emigrate, from 18 percent in 2011 to nearly a third in 2021.

Jordan has also suffered in international indicators such as the Freedom House index of civil liberties and political rights, where Jordan was described as “not free” in 2021. A similar result is also to be found in the respectable Transformation Index BTI, where Jordan was described as “moderate autocracy”.

For all these significant changes in state-society relations, the RCMPS was created to present some solutions. The political solutions presented by the RCMPS are not enough to address all issues mentioned above. There is need for economic and administrative committees to chart the way forward. This is critical because when people become indifferent to public affairs, they give way to “a few” to control public life while the majority’s discontent, detachment, and disenchantment are growing exponentially. Such a track is not only unsustainable, it is also dangerous.

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

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February 13,2022-Jordan News

NAMA’s Polling Center “SAWTI” – NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions conducted a survey on climate change gauging Jordanians’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior in relation to its causes and effects on the Kingdom. The survey was conducted on a multistage probability systematic random sample, which was drawn through a clustered stratified design of 1,827 respondents from Jordan’s 12 governorates, interviewed face-to-face between February 17-27, 2022.


An overwhelming majority, 87.6 per cent, of Jordanians stated they feel a change in the pattern of the weather, yet 52 per cent of Jordanians indicated their familiarity with the term “climate change”. High awareness levels of climate change were especially prevalent among respondents with higher education levels, as indicated by 70 per cent of those who have completed university education, 49 per cent among those who completed secondary education, and 36 per cent among those who have not completed secondary education.


When asked about what they knew about climate change, 54 per cent, of those who were aware of climate change, linked it with the change in weather and seasons; 20 per cent associated it with global warming, pollution, and rising temperature levels; 10 per cent indicated less water and deforestation; and 7 per cent referred to ozone depletion.


Over half, 54.4 per cent of Jordanians, who are aware of climate change, indicated that climate change is “very important” or “somewhat important” to them personally. When analyzed in terms of Jordan’s three regions, 49 per cent of respondents in the south region view climate change as a “very important” issue to them personally, compared to 36 per cent among the respondents in the center region and 33 per cent among those in the north region.


Further, 51 per cent of Jordanians – among those who have heard of climate change, believe that it affects, or will affect, them personally. Of those, 56 per cent reported that climate change may cause health issues while 12 per cent referred to economic implications.


When it comes to its causes, 46 per cent of Jordanians who have heard of climate change stated that “air pollution” was its main contributor, compared to 19 per cent for deforestation and 8 per cent for consumerism, as 3 per cent believe that climate change occurs naturally.


The survey findings reveal a pessimist attitude, especially that 58 per cent of those who are aware of climate change believe that there is nothing to be done to combat this challenge. On the other hand, 28 per cent argued that it could be tackled through reforestation, compared to 22 per cent who referred to increasing regulations on factories to better consider the environment, 21 per cent for using environmentally friendly products, 11 per cent for raising awareness, and 7 per cent for using electric cars and providing more public transportation options, as only 4 per cent indicated switching to renewable energy can contribute to reducing the implications of climate change.


When asked about who should tackle climate change, of those who are aware of climate change, 77 per cent said that the government, international organizations, and environmental organizations hold the most responsibility for tackling the implications of climate change. In contrast, only 6 per cent asserted that the responsibility falls on the individual. This small percentage may also explain why only 5.6 per cent of those who heard of climate change stated that they have taken, or regularly take, action out of concern for climate change. They clarified that they preserve the environment, plant trees, and use alternative energy sources, among other actions.


The survey also concluded that 64 per cent of Jordanians, who have heard about climate change, receive their information about climate change from social media platforms, compared to 26 per cent from television channels, and 7 per cent from other sources, including radio stations and newspapers, among others. When asked where they would prefer to get their climate change information from, 51 per cent – of those who are aware of climate change” indicated subject matter experts, 23 per cent referred to environmental activists and organizations, and 18 per cent indicated the government. It is worth noting that 57 per cent of respondents with university education prefer to obtain information on climate change from subject matter experts. The survey results also show that Jordanians are more concerned about the water crisis than climate change. In fact, 72 per cent of Jordanians reported that they are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about water scarcity in Jordan in the next 25 years.


For the full study, please click here

For the infographics of the study, please click here

 
Jordanians’ knowledge, attitudes, and behavior on climate change