Saturday, September 13, 2008

How can I quit?

After reading something like this, it is just too difficult. So Al Shahed reported last week that former prime minister Ali Abu Ragheb took 600,000 dinars from the treasury in the final hours before he left office. Not missing a beat, deputy Ali Dala’in sent an inquiry to the government to ask if this was true and what the money was for. Abu Ragheb refused to comment, saying that it was the job of the current PM to answer.

So, the official answer was that the money was actually withdrawn from the treasury. According to the government response, the money was to “pay those who ensured the oil supply”. The article accompanying the answer implied that the money was distributed to government employees who were charged with this task.


I use the term implied on purpose because the answer itself could mean that the money was used to bribe somebody. Anyway, you choose the image: either Abu Ragheb on a park bench with dark glasses and a newspaper over his face and a briefcase on his side, waiting for somebody to tell him that the “merchandise” has been delivered or an image of Abu Ragheb distributing fat plain brown envelopes to happy high level employees who had taken their valuable time to go to Iraq or Saudi Arabia. Presumably, this was a difficult task because, hey, 600,000 dinars is a lot of money.

Anyway, neither image conjures up a scene where Abu Ragheb asks for a receipt. This makes a third scene of Abu Ragheb opening a safe in his house to deposit bundles of cash just as likely.

And this, just as the government was convincing everybody that they are serious about fighting corruption. The government has been really tough. For example, the PM rescinded a tender which had been awarded by the ministry of public works for the “honorable housing” project. The award had been given to a company with ties to the minister, Sahel bin Abdulhadi Majali. The PM also rescinded a tender awarded by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone that had been awarded to the wife of the chief commissioner, Husni Abu Ghaida. Apparently, it is illegal to award yourself a government contract. Who knew? Both men are lucky in that they have clout, and so they still have their jobs. Same goes to Basem Awadallah, who may or may not be involved in human trafficking.

Unlucky is the president of Balqa Applied University Omar Rimawi and his deputies, who were taken handcuffed from their offices after being accused of unspecified administrative and financial improprieties. Either Rimawi is much more corrupt than Abu Ragheb, Majali, Abu Ghaida et al, or he is simply the whipping boy needed to atone for all of their sins اجت الدقه فيه!.

So, I had to get that off of my chest. I still might be away for a while, and I have not made any final decisions. To be truthful, the comments I received from you were deeply moving for me, and I appreciate them very much. I will probably be back, but I can’t say when or with what frequency.

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Good bye

Well, it has been three years since I have started this blog. Much has happened since then. Although I have enjoyed relating Jordanian politics through my perspective, I feel that this project has run its course.

My postings have become sporadic, and I really don’t have the excitement anymore to follow up on the minutiae of what is going on. Events change, jockeying techniques change but the basic dynamics and trends are the same. The politicians are the same, their techniques and ambitions are the same, the corruption and mismanagement waxes and wanes, freedoms diminish and peoples’ focus is fixated on their own problems.

I frankly have lost interest. I am afraid that this is affecting the quality of what I post. If I can’t contribute something fresh or interesting, I would rather not continue. In case of something extraordinary happening, I might have something to say. However, these will be the exception and not the rule.

Thank you all for your interest, comments and support over the last three years. I will continue to follow up on what my fellow bloggers are up to. I wish you all the best.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Human trafficking

The story of the Nepalese worker who is suing KBR and a Jordanian partner, Dawood and Co., is making waves here. The story is that KBR allegedly recruited 13 Nepalese workers to come to Amman and work in local hotels, but on arrival they were forced to go to Iraq and their passports were confiscated here.

The interesting part is that Dawood and Co. apparently is partially owned by Bassem Awadallah, our controversial but beloved head of the Royal Court. The record of the company has mysteriously been expunged from the Companies Control Department website.

Anyway, one would imagine that only people of influence could get restrained, passport-less workers across the border to Iraq.

The parliament is relishing this. Nariman Rousan (who recently compared Awadallah to Elie Cohen) wants a committee of which she is a member to investigate, even though it is outside the mandate of the committee. Who cares about mandate when you are playing politics?

Mohammad Abu Rumman has a more sober assessment. In his article he ignores the Awadallah connection, but emphasizes the seriousness of the suit, and how it will reflect on the country. This is the most important point.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Transferred prisoners to be released

Finally, the government has announced that Sultan Ajlouni, Amin Sani’ and Salem and Khaled Abu Ghalyoun are set to be released on August 20, and the Israeli authorities have been notified of this decision.

Previously, the government has hinted that they might not be released, citing objections from Israel and a desire not to jeopardize talks over release of other prisoners from Israeli jails.

But the Israelis failed to show any public interest in the issue. I have not heard nor read any official statements expressing any position at all, leaving the Jordanian government with a skeptical public to assert that Israel does, in fact, give a rat’s ass whether they are released or not. In the end, they decided to do the right thing, after trying their best not to.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Don't spend it all in one place

Jordanians have become commodities experts, carefully following the daily fluctuations in oil prices. So, over the past month, as oil prices have fallen precipitously, they have been waiting to see whether the government was honest about letting prices at the pump follow the oil price trends. Of course, the government has rigorously followed the world prices as they rose.

The poor souls actually believed that the government was good for its word. Humorist Ahmad Hassan Zoubi suggested a grand celebration to announce the lowering of prices, following the model of the New 7 wonders of the world. He also suggested that they invite Jennifer Lopez to sing at the ceremony, because “we have good luck with her”. He was of course referring to Petra winning in the New 7 wonders contest.

So now, the moment of truth has arrived. After world oil prices have fallen around 16% since the first week of July, this has translated to a 5% drop in prices at the pump. Yippee.

It is no secret that this whole thing is a scam. The government gets the oil at deep discounts and charges the consumer full price, plus taxes, pocketing the difference. They refuse to let competitors enter the market, because they are making too much money on this. Free economy be dammed.

But not to worry. Mullah Nader promises that if world prices stay the same, prices will be dropped again next month as well. The reason, we are told, is that prices are calculated based on daily averages. We are led to assume that importers buy commodities on a daily basis, without shopping around.

So, we will go through another round of complaining, and as usual the government will profess its total honesty on the issue. There may be some posturing by the opposition, followed by the government accusing them of “having no alternatives”. Of course, if the government was totally honest it would get out of the oil business and let the private sector do the job.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

A giant step back

Back in the old days (pre 1989), political parties were banned and leftists and nationalist activists were jailed and prevented from employment. Free to organize and act were the members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who colluded with the state to make it look like we had some semblance of pluralism. Since 1999, when the Hamas leadership was expelled from Jordan, and more since 2005, in the aftermath of the hotel bombings, there has been a weakened relationship between the Islamists and the state.

But it looks like we are seeing a change. The Islamists and the government are playing footsie again, with the head of the Mukhabarat (mullah Nader's brother) meeting with both the heads of the IAF and Hamas. Islamists can't hide their glee at getting in the good graces of the government again.

So, now the government is free to arrest and persecute leftist activists again. They recently arrested Saleh Abu Tawileh in Ma'an, demanding that he desist from "political criticism".

Or as Yoggi Berra said, what we have is "Déjà vu all over again".

Labels: ,

Monday, July 28, 2008

Be careful what you wish for

Last year the government reached an agreement with Israel to release four Jordanian prisoners to their custody. This agreement stipulated that the men will remain in Jordanian jails for a maximum of 18 months, and could be released earlier if “Israel freed prisoners who have committed similar crimes”.

So, when Israel released Samir Qintar, families and supporters of the prisoners called for their release on that basis. A sensible request. What happened next?

Well, first the follow up committee of the prisoners’ families reported that the prisoners were told by the minister of foreign affairs and the Jordanian ambassador in Israel that they will not be released now or at the 18 month deadline initially announced. Later, the government spokesman, Nasser Joudeh, denied that the foreign minister and ambassador to Israel had met with the prisoners. He claimed that the ministry of foreign affairs had contacted Al Arab Al Yawm (the newspaper that had carried the initial report) and had asked for the paper to publish a recantation. In turn, Fahed Khitan, the editorial head of the paper said that they had tried to call the ministry and could not reach anybody in charge. He did say that the paper received a call from the ministry that “carried nothing but inappropriate language that did not rise to professional levels or journalistic or media standards”. Ouch.

Anyway, Joudeh is now implying that the government is delaying the release of the prisoners because it does not want to jeopardize talks with Israel about releasing 19 more prisoners.

Khitan today wrote an article suggesting that the original terms for the release of the prisoners may not have been written down or they require further consultations with Israel.

This does not seem to make any sense. First, Israel did nothing to correct the record when it was announced that the maximum time the prisoners will be incarcerated in Jordan will be 18 months. Second, I find the idea that the agreement was not properly documented to be laughable. Third, with regard to the negotiations over the other 19 prisoners, I don’t see what difference it makes to Israel whether the prisoners are released today or next December. As long as Jordan is abiding by the original agreement, then why would negotiations over the other 19 be compromised?

My feeling is that these prisoners are more of a problem for the Jordanian government than they are for Israel. One of them in particular, Sultan Ajlouni, seems to be particularly problematic. He is charismatic and seems to have a political career in his future. And he is east Jordanian. Of course, the more the government drags its heels on releasing him, the larger the stature he will gain. I’d like to see the government spokesman contort words to escape that reality.