Q: What happens when you mix academia, democracy and tribalism?
A: A uniquely Jordanian concoction, that is difficult to describe. Here is the story. In Jordan, the formula for developing a local community has come to mean establishing a state university somewhere. These universities are not viewed as a source of community development because they are beacons of knowledge, learning, research or innovation. No. They are simply an excuse to hire janitors, gardeners, secretaries and drivers. And, oh yes, faculty members. So the government, under pressure from local MP’s and community leaders, has established a number of universities in areas where unemployment is high. One such university is Tafileh Technical University. In order to keep up the pretence that such universities are supposed to be real universities, respected academicians are appointed to head them. In the case of Tafileh Tech, Sultan Abu Orabi, a prominent chemist was appointed to head the institution. Of course, this is a problem. Not because he is a bad scientist or administrator. Not because he is bad in dealing with people. The problem is that he is from Salt, not Tafileh. The people of Tafileh view the university as being “theirs”, and it is taken from them by “the other”. Tafileh notables who lobbied to establish this university make no effort at understanding or explaining that the university is a nationally funded institution; that reason and decency require that the best people should be hired there, irrespective of their origin, and that their sons and daughters studying at the university will be better served with competent staff holding responsibility. Now the problems start. The local community, especially their notables, views the university as being a source of benefits for them and their constituents. Thus, they try to interfere with the hiring policy of the university and even interfere in the academic affairs of the institutions. The president, under the false impression that he should uphold academic standards and fiscal responsibility tries to control the tide of requests. Almost all succumb to the pressure, and all universities are overstaffed with administrative employees who have nothing to do. But at some point, the president decides he has to say no, raising the fury of the deputies and local leaders. Apparently, Abu Orabi fired a driver at the university (obviously for a good reason). So, the driver with a group of his relatives crashes the graduation ceremony at the university, assaulting the president and the deputy governor. The police intervene with tear gas, and a large number of people (including Abu Orabi) end up in the hospital. The police take the fired driver into custody, and under pressure from local MP’s and dignitaries, he is released on bail the same night. Insaf Khawaldeh, a deputy from Tafileh demanded that Abu Orabi should be fired. Here, many people conclude that the driver and his gang didn’t act alone. He wouldn’t dare unless prominent people promised to protect him, which is what happened. Next, members of the Adwan tribe, to which Abu Orabi belongs, stage an attack on the home of a former Tafileh deputy named Abdallah Akaileh, who they believed was an instigator of the attack on Abu Orabi. They fired about 70 rounds at Akaileh’s house, damaging windows and roof tiles. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. On the other hand, Tafilis in Amman are also rioting over the incident. It is not clear how this story will end. If it is interesting enough, I will keep you posted.So, there you have it. The witches brew of academia, tribalism and democracy in a stinky concoction that only Jordanians can manage to put together. Hold your nose and drink up.
Labels: Democracy, Modernization, universities