It seems that the intellectuals and the opposition elites both in Jordan and the Arab world did not comprehend the lessons of the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions. That failure points up the huge gap separating between those elites and the very “people” they’ve always celebrated.
For one, those elites never presented and elaborated revolutionary theories or provided any intellectual ammunition or real analysis as a basis for stoking and guiding a popular revolution, as was the case in the French revolution (1789) or the Russian revolution (1917).
The elites also failed to form any organizational levers that succeeded in moving the people’s state of silent protest and inner rage to the state of an open total explosion: In Tunisia and Egypt, the transformation from silence to explosion was to a large extent subjective and ‘spontaneous,’ while the levers were completely subjective (1).
Those elites even failed in predicting or even analyzing the people’s potential, mechanisms of movement, limits of tolerance, flashpoint of explosion, and the factors driving it to the point of no return, giving rise to martyrs in the struggle under the state’s vicious clampdown.
No one predicted the events of Tunis. When Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself on the 17th of December 2010, triggering the Sidi Bouzid protests, not even the most optimistic analysis expected things to develop in this accelerating and dramatic pattern. Events snowballed, leading to the flight of the dictator president and the fall of the regime on January 14th 2011, in less than a month. The same applies to Egypt’s progression from the January 25th protests to the full-blown revolution starting January 28th, cascading into the toppling of the Egyptian regime on February 11th, also in less than a month.
The main propeller that some elites in Tunisia and Egypt provided was raising the voice for the necessity of a complete and total change achieved by the removal of the ruling regimes, a voice that considered those regimes (with all their figures, pillars, institutions and products) illegitimate. Therefore, in both countries, there was a banned internal opposition, and an opposition in exile. While the officially approved opposition was talking about bourgeois “reform,” this radical opposition insisted on “changing the regime and ousting the tyrant.” This insistence is what may have formed a prelude for people to shed their fears and transform at some critical point into a mass ready to openly oppose the entire pyramid of the regime, from its head (president/head of state) to the base (ruling party/ influential camarilla/ governmental institutions).
Yaseen Al Khaleel, Syria
The lessons of Tunisia and Egypt can be summarized in the following nine points:
1- The Arab people are not “dead” as was previously thought, burdened under the weight of many centuries that witnessed no large popular revolutions. A long heritage of submission has been broken by the massive civil uprisings. This also dispelled the supposed curse of an Arab history devoid of popular revolts.
2- The people, even in the absence of a preceding establishing intellectual driving force, can overthrow an entire ruling regime when the situation reaches a certain breaking point.
3- The people are way ahead of, and far more politically progressive, than the intellectuals and both the official and “alternative” (more radical) oppositions.
4- The people are not a political reservoir for anyone, especially those who claim they “represent the people.”
5- The widening of class divisions between the ruling class and its business allies on one side, and the mass of the population on the other, with all the injustice, oppression, poverty, unemployment, corruption, and violation of rights springing from this, are the main engine for revolution.
6- A revolutionary discourse is in total contradiction with a reformist one. This basic fact is almost always ignored by the intellectual and opposition elites. When there is reform, there will be no revolution, because reform is designed to deflate social anger and open discontent. It is engineered to plug up the holes left by corruption, exploitation and subordination. Any attempt to accomplish a social settlement through “reforms” and “participation in government” means prolonging the lifespan of corrupt regimes, and maintaining their status quo. The absence of the influence of major reformist currents (like the Muslim Brotherhood) from the Tunisian street may have played a major role in the maturation of the protests driving it to rapid culmination. This also applies to the Egyptian revolution, which started and progressed in spaces well removed from the Muslim Brotherhood and their influence.
7- Thus far, the Arab cultural spheres have proved incapable of producing theories that can predict, catalyze or analyze the movement of the people, and Arab intellectuals have so far been able only to follow the movement of the people and analyze it post factum, after it begins and acts. Arab intellectuals are scandalously dependent on the regimes. They are required to change sides.
8- Successful massive revolutionary movements do not arise from divisionary precursors (religious, ethnic, regional, or sectarian), but spring from a matrix revolving around demands that unite and supersede all divisions.
9- The main role of the intellectuals and the opposition elites is to break the barriers of fear, openly expose corruption, tyranny and subordination, and side with the options that ultimately amplify class divides.
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In Jordan, no one seems to have learned from the lessons of Tunisia and Egypt. The official opposition (the legalized opposition parties and the professional associations) still seek weak reformist choices that constitute a continuation of its collapsing course that started in 1989 (the year marking the end of martial law in Jordan and the onset of the so-called “democratic era”). This opposition (which resembles all the official oppositions around the Arab world) has been subjected to substantial and incisive criticism over the past two decades and there is no need to expand here on this issue.
The “alternative” opposition that has presented itself as the option capable of filling the political void is not much better: (1) It has an “eastern-Jordanian” isolationist character; (2) it bases itself on a post-colonial identity that does not enjoy an internal consensus; (3) it resonates with the political authority’s identity propaganda (“Jordan First” and “We are all Jordan”, both regime-sponsored PR campaigns for the building of a “Jordanian national identity”).
Significant is that this “alternative opposition” has close ties to the “old guard,” one of the two competing “wings” of the Jordanian regime that has been partially marginalized when the young King Abdullah II ascended to the crown and introduced a “wing” in the ruling class comprised of young businesspersons (locally dubbed “the neoliberals”). The “old guard” are no less “neoliberal,” for it was them who started the implementation of IMF reforms, the privatization drive, and the withdrawal of the state from its social roles.
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Influenced by the protests in Tunisia which were at their peak, the first “Day of Rage” in Jordan (called for by the “alternative opposition”) was launched on Friday January 14, 2011, with a modest gathering of some 500 people. The official opposition boycotted participation in this event, but as the Tunisian revolution surged to success, they turned out in massive numbers the following Friday, January 21, 2011, raising the count to 10,000. On the third Friday (Jan. 28), the number of people turning out decreased. By the fourth Friday (Feb. 4), the demonstration divided into two separate parts: One held at the usual place downtown, the other miles away at the offices of the Prime Minister. The divisions will probably increase because of the presence of the “isolationist” element within the opposition forces, and the concentration of this element in the primary reformist demand presented by the “alternative opposition” (and later on adopted by the official opposition): Removal of the Prime Minister Sameer al-Rifa’i (who was sacked later as expected) and the formation of a “national unity” government.
What are the constituents of this “alternative opposition”?
Its main elements are: the Jordanian Social Left Movement, the Jordanian National Initiative, the National Progressive Current, the National Committee of Military Veterans, the Jordanian Writers Association, the Nationalist Progressive Current, in addition to very small groups such as the Democratic Youth Union, the Philosophy Society, the Socialist Thought Forum, the Assembly of Circassean Youth, and the Association Against Zionism and Racism.
All those groups (except the National Progressive Current, the National Committee of Military Veterans, and the Nationalist Progressive Current) form the so-called “Movement of the Jordanian People.” And all those groups (without exception) form “The Jordanian Campaign for Change – Jayeen,” and are closely allied politically and on the level of coordination.
A brief review of some remarks on these groups will give us a clearer idea of what they actually represent: Nahed Hatter, the current leader of the National Progressive Current, the previous leader of the Jordanian Social Left Movement, and one of the main figures of the “alternative opposition,” wrote an article in which he revealed he had had several “long brainstorming meetings” with the Director of the General Intelligence Department (5). He also wrote an article in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar defending this director after he left his position, considering him in both articles “one of the symbols of the Jordanian National Movement” (6). Omar Shaheen, a current leader in the Jordanian Social Left Movement, wrote saying that those meetings came about with the consent and blessing of the movement (7). Moreover, Hattar and the Jordian Social Left Movement were among the first who promoted the isolationist post-colonial identity on a theoretical basis as being legitimate, and one on which a national liberation movement can be based (8).
This vision is shared by the Jordanian National Initiative (9), which calls in its published literature (10) for the crystallizing of a “Jordanian identity full and complete,” and calls to form a Jordanian national movement that is separate from a Palestinian one. This is constructed to deal with “Jordanian society” and “Palestinian society” as separate isolated entities that share common interests. The first version on the Jordanian National Initiative’s website was decorated with the “Jordan First” and “We are all Jordan” symbols.
The Jordanian Writers Association is one of the biggest receivers of governmental funding through the Ministry of Culture and the Municipality of Amman, with most of its leaders and prominent figures being either employed in the government’s cultural and media apparatus or receiving an array of diverse benefits from it.
The leader of the Nationalist Progressive Current participated in the recent widely boycotted parliamentary elections which were considered a continuation of the fragmentation of the Jordanian social fabric into clans, families and regions. The elections and the elections law were also regarded as constituting a knock-out blow to any possibility of genuine reform (11).
Another important aspect is that many of those groups are different addresses for the same group of people. It can be safely said that the Jordanian National Initiative, the Jordanian Writers Association, the Socialist Thought Forum, the Philosophy Society and the Assembly of Circassean Youth are different faces of the same group of individuals basically organized in the Jordanian National Initiative, closely followed by the Democratic Youth Union and the Jordanian Social Left Movement.
No one seriously worked on integrating the Palestinian refugee camps within the initiative of the “days of rage.” The only time one refugee camp participated modestly (al-Baq’a camp in the first “Day of Rage”), it was disregarded in the call to protest issued by the Jordanian National Initiative, mentioning all other locations (12). Some organizations in the Jayeen coalition regard the Palestinians as reservoirs of neoliberalism and place them in class conflict with eastern Jordanians.
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As mentioned above, the main problems of this opposition are largely concentrated in the principal target it presented, and which was subsequently adopted by the official opposition: the removal of Sameer al-Rifa’i government and the formation of a “national unity” government.
It is very well-known in Jordan that ministers there are “executives.” They are not persons empowered to draw up policies and strategies. Demanding a ministerial change will yield nothing on the strategic level and is considered a subtle attempt by those who are demanding the change to replace the people they want to oust. No one discusses the legitimacy of political authority in Jordan. In fact, what happens is the opposite: both the official and the alternative oppositions consider the head of the political authority to be some sort of moderating sage, this despite the fact that constitutionally he is indeed the head of three authorities. Both oppositions call for “a change in policies, not a change in regime”(13): The Muslim Brotherhood stated that: “the Islamists in Jordan call for reform, not a total change. We acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime” (14), while the Jordanian Campaign for Change (Jayeen) that includes all the alternative opposition groups stated that “the King is the only constant in Jordanian politics” and stressed his constitutional immunity (15).
What was expected then happened: the al-Rifa’i government was sacked, and an old guard figure, Ma’rouf al-Bakheet, a former general and a previous ambassador to Israel, was appointed Prime Minister. Also as expected, there was general relief in both opposition circles. The National Committee of the Military Veterans and the leadership of the National Progressive Current clearly welcomed the new PM (16). The spokesman of the Jordanian Campaign for Change (Jayeen) described the assignment as a “step in the right direction” (17), while Mahdi al-Sa’afin (a young leader in both Jayeen and the Jordanian Social Left) stated that “the Jordanian Campaign for Change will give the assigned PM a chance to execute the reform program” (18). On the official opposition front, “the previous slogans for removing the government disappeared” (19), along with the sit-in by the Islamists and other legalized parties, as they opt to give the al-Bakheet government a “trial period” (20).
Do the participants in the Jordanian “days of rage” think that the ousting of a minister or a prime minister, or implementing some sort of governmental change, will be sufficient to make an economic/social/political change in the country? Do they remember the vast campaign against the former Minister of Planning Basem Awadallah, an official seized upon as the sole and primary reason for the economic collapse and corruption in Jordan? Awadallah was fired, but nothing changed, the economic situation continues to worsen, prices continued their skyrocketing climb. Later, Sameer al-Rifa’i, the young newcomer to government from business, was demonized as being the one responsible for decades of corruption. His departure was (like Awadalla’s) played up as the magical solution to everything. It must not be overlooked that these processes of demonization indicate the isolationist tendency of the alternative opposition. Despite the presence of a large array of influential “neoliberals,” the ones selected for demonization are almost always from a Palestinian background and unconnected to large clans or eastern Jordanian families. In an unprecedented recent development, Queen Rania (who is of Palestinian origin) was targeted by clan figures as being a symbol of corruption and was compared to Layla Trabulsi, the wife of the ousted Tunisian dictator Ben Ali (21).
If given the capacity to form a government, does the alternative opposition think that it can transform the country from dependence to sovereignty and independence, despite the fact that Jordan relies heavily on foreign aid, and can be as easily strangled as the Gaza strip?
Within the existing formulas, whoever joins the government based on a local “national” agenda will have only one of two choices ahead: resignation, or “dealing with reality.” The reality of the postcolonial state and its resultant identity is built-in subordination, corruption, and functionality. Forming or joining a government is the first step in joining the political elite whose rules and mechanisms have been established by the political authority, and are impossible to escape.
We should not forget that the political authority during the reign of the late King Hussein had the unique characteristic of absorbing the opposition. It even absorbed those who tried coups against him, transforming them into ministers, ambassadors, and even directors of intelligence. The absorption of the opposition constituted an important pillar that disappeared during the new reign when priorities shifting towards the young business people loyal only to profit and disengaged from any regional or clan anchorage. Accordingly, the political authority in Jordan established a class identity, whereas the opposition is working toward diluting the class divide by trying to join the regime’s structure and push back in the old guard and personalities that once more seek to tie the ruling elite to the traditional constituents of society. This will obscure the emerging class structure and release class tensions, resulting in prolonging the corruption and subordination cycles. The demand for a “national unity” government further reflects the desire of those excluded from the power structure to regain their positions inside it and get their share of the cake. It surely does not reflect a desire in a “total change” that would ferment if they remained outside the power structure.
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To conclude: the “alternative opposition” lacks the basic requirement of being independent from the political authority; and it has adopted an isolationist discourse on the level of identity and on the level of the scope of liberation. That transforms this discourse into one that dilutes any real attempt for the maturation of a class conflict.
However, the lessons of Tunisia and Egypt did fall on open ears: namely those of the political authority! It reintroduced subsidies for basic commodities previously desubsidised (22); it announced an increase in the monthly wages of public-sector workers (23); it hosted opposition figures in the state-owned television station (24). Moreover, it did not ban the “Day of Rage” demonstrations nor did it request permission for it to go ahead (25). There was no police presence during those demonstrations; in fact, some policemen distributed juice and water to the demonstrators (26).
The regime in Jordan has grasped the lessons from Tunisia and Egypt. The opposition has not!
(1) Subjective here means that the “maturation conditions” were internal (within the masses of the people), not external (produced by the intellectual elites).
(2) The Jordanian social mass is composed of two large segments: half of the population (3 million) is of Palestinian origin. A divide has been carefully drawn by political authority to separate “east Jordanians” (those from a Jordanian origin) from “Palestinians” (those of Palestinian origin). On the plane of popular sports, there are two football teams in the primary league representing this official division.
(3) The territorial division of “Bilad al-Sham” (now Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan) was carried out by the French-British colonialist powers. Before this division, the region was a united socioeconomic space. The resulting “states” and corresponding “national identities” are designed to be free from any liberation potential and devoid of any true independence. See: Hisham Bustani, The Deleted Memory: ‘Inventing’ Palestine and ‘Discovering’ Lebanon, http://www.nodo50.org/csca/agenda05/misc/bustani_2-09-05.html, and Joseph Massad, Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
(5) Nahed Hattar, Farwell to al-Thahabi: A Strategic Mind that Leads the Intelligence and Changes its Picture (in Arabic), www.allofjo.net, 29/12/2008. Archived by the writer (this article has been removed from the website).
(6) Nahed Hattar, A Jordanian Phenomenon: The Director of Intelligence as a Citizen and a Political Activist (in Arabic), al-Akhbar (Lebanon), 3/2/2009.
(7) Omar Shaheen, What Brought Nahed Hattar and the Director of the Intelligence Together (in Arabic), www.joleft.net, 31/12/2008, Archived by the writer (this article has been removed from the website).
(9) A distinction must be made here for the foreign reader between the term “National” (in Arabic ‘watani’) related to the national identities of the colonially-manufactured current Arab states, and the term “Nationalist” (in Arabic ‘qawmi’) related to a pre-colonial pan-Arab identity.
(10) The Jordanian National Initiative, Theoretical Basis: Studies and Articles (in Arabic), Amman, 2009.
(13) Oaraib al-Rintawi, Change and the Three Stratas of the Regime (in Arabic), ad-Dustour newspaper (Jordan), 2/2/2011.
(14) Hadeel Ghabboun, Islamists Call for a Change of Government (in Arabic), al-Ghad newspaper (Jordan), 1/2/2011.
(15) Ruba Karasneh, ‘Jayeen’ holds Marches Next Friday in Amman (in Arabic), al-Arab al-Yawm newspaper, 2/2/2011.
(18) Hadeel Gabboun, Marches Demand Total Reform (in Arabic), al-Ghad newspaper (Jordan), 5/2/2011.
(20) Majed Toubeh, The Royal Meeting with the Leaders of the Islamic Movement Marks a Period of Political Openness that Increases the Opposition’s Optimism (in Arabic), al-Ghad newspaper (Jordan), 7/2/2011.
(22) Jumana Gneimat, Playing in Extra Time (in Arabic), al-Ghad newspaper (Jordan), 23/1/2011.
(23) Mahmud Tarawneh, Twenty Dinar Raise by the End of this Month (in Arabic), al-Ghad newspaper, 23/1/2011.
(24) Ahmad abu-Khalil, On the Appearance of the Minister and the Sheikh (in Arabic), al-Arab al-Yawm newspaper (Jordan), 22/1/2011.
(25) Jumana Gneimat, ibid.
(26) Al-Ghad newspaper (Jordan) 17/1/2011 and 29/1/2011, al-Arab al-Yawm newspaper (Jordan) 22/1/2011.