Normally, the election of a student council at any university any where in the world doesn't elicit much attention. In Jordan, the issue is different, as it is used as a yardstick to measure present and future trends of the Jordanian state.
This week, the students at the University of Jordan will elect half of their student council. The funny part is that the university administration will choose the other half. This strange arrangement was put in place five years ago, ostensibly to limit the influence of Islamists in the council. This year, the Islamists are feeling especially feisty, and have decided to boycott the elections to protest the rule that only allows the election of half the council seats. As usual, the pan Arabists and leftists are taking their cues from the Islamists, and are boycotting as well.
Many observers, such as Ali Mahafza, have drawn a link between student violence and the lack of an avenue for political expression. Moreover, Mahafza has suggested that the state has encouraged the growth of the Islamic movement as well as narrow tribal loyalties as a way to curtail the growth of Pan Arabist and leftist movements. Khadder Kenaan has a detailed narrative which conforms to this story, and admonishes leftist students to beware of conforming too closely to the Islamist agenda.
Batir Wardam suggests that the growth of tribalism on campuses is a result of a conscious effort to stem the growth of the Islamic movement. Given the marginal importance of the leftists and Pan Arabists, there is really little variety that students can choose from. It is clear that a decision to depoliticize the student body has been made. It seems that officials are still gun shy of students 20 years after the Yarmouk University riots, which led to the death of four students. The problem of parties from outside the university manipulating the student movement is also a consideration. In the final analysis, given the narrow choices available, no wonder there is so much apathy towards politics in the student body.
To me, the end result is a shame. The best context in which to teach young people the workings of democracy is on campus. My feeling is that the much maligned tribalism and apathy in the student body reflects a rejection of the Islamist agenda. Despite the Islamist bogeyman that is commonly overemphasized, parliamentary elections consistently show that less than 20% of people vote for Islamists. The deeper story is that the 80%+ of the people who vote based on tribal and other bases are consciously choosing not to vote for Islamists. It is interesting to note that at Yarmouk University, where all the student council members are elected, the Islamists consistently do poorly. Thus, the argument that the appointment of half the student council members protects against Islamists taking over the council doesn't stand up. If anything, it allows them to portray themselves as victims. This is just another example of results being different than the portrayed objective. A trend?
The problem is the lack of any viable political party that can actually articulate a progressive inclusive nationalistic agenda. I have argued before that the lack of such a party leaves us exposed and vulnerable to outside interference.
The latest events related to the Hamas terror cell have shown how politically weak we really are. The MB/IAF took over the political discourse, with no political party to argue for the sanctity of Jordan's sovereignty and security. A strong non government affiliated centrist party would have made us look less like a dictatorship and more like a mature democracy protecting its interests. It would have organized various events to reject interference in our affairs and the endangerment of our security and national unity. Alas, all of that was missing.
Lina narrated an interesting story about student reaction to the terror events of November 9. Despite attempts to manipulate students' feelings at the time, these students showed a mature and reasoned sense of center.
Let them elect their entire council.
The water's coming. I'm going to water my garden.