Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The losers (part II)

Hattar offers some examples of indicators that his premises are correct. These are found in chapter 3 of the first part of his book. Some are compelling and deserve consideration, and others are less so. I will list them all in the order that he gives them and relate my feelings about his arguments.

1- Training of Iraqi police. Hattar believes this is a prime example of the abuse of the reputation of the country to the benefit of the private sector, and to the disadvantage of the long term interests of Jordan. Training of Iraqi police was contacted to a company in Jordan, but only 3% of the value of the contract will go to the treasury. Hattar argues that this training is detrimental to Jordan because it helps legitimize American occupation of Iraq and any puppet government that will emerge from this occupation. Moreover, it will alienate the nationalists and the Sunnis, without gaining allies in other segments of Iraqi society. The basic argument is that tactical motives outweighed the strategic interests of the country's.

In my opinion, the Jordanian government didn't want to repeat the disastrous mistake it made in 1990-1991, when the pressure of popular opinion led to the taking a neutral stand in the Iraq-Kuwait conflict. This stance led to loss in economic aid from the Gulf, the expulsion of 300,000 expatriates from Kuwait and the other Gulf countries and a five year blockade of Aqaba. Honest differences of opinion might emerge as to whether we took the correct stance, but to claim the Jordanian position was taken simply to benefit a local commercial group is a stretch.

As for why the contract was not given to the Jordanian military, I suppose that the party that awarded that contract is responsible for this decision, and not the Jordanian government.

2- Freedom of speech and the lack of responsiveness. Here Hattar highlights the fact that decisions such as the allowing of training of Iraqi police in Jordan and the delegation of the Abdali area to the late Rafiq Hariri have been subject to questioning and criticism. These questions and critiques have been allowed, but no effort has been made to explain the circumstances and details of these deals (as Hattar says "say you want, and we will do what we want"). Here Hattar raises an important point, which is repeated throughout the book. The point is that the desire for economic liberalization has led to the use of undemocratic approaches. Here I must agree that any government committed to political reform (which is clearly different than economic reform) should be more forthcoming about such questions, especially when the questions are of a financial nature. The lack to transparency about these and other questions and the government's ability and desire to cover them up cast a shadow about the true intentions of "reformers". I have written before about such shadowy reform behind closed doors, and so I must agree that this is an important point that merits consideration.

3- Leaking of the Tawjihi questions. In 2004, leaking questions from the general high school examination board to private schools made headlines in Jordan. This examination literally determines the academic future of a high school graduate in Jordan. The questions were stolen and sold to private schools. These schools are interested in having their students get good grades, as it makes them more competitive and allow them to charge higher tuitions. Hattar blames this event on "Privatization, the mentality of privatization and the ethics of privatization". The argument is that since education has become a business, then it is logical that everybody involved wants to make money off of it.

I find the argument disingenuous. At one point, he defends the government bureaucracy as an alternative to the corruption and greed of the private sector. Here, he concedes that it is government employees who stole the questions, but it is not their fault. The bad old compradors made them do it.

4- Freedom in the University of Jordan. Here Hattar highlights student fights in the university. He claims that these are the manifestations of political repression of students, which forces them into adopting regional and tribal values rather than nationalist ones. The point is that students who are involved in such fights are not responsible for their actions and thus should not be punished.

The lack of a refined political culture in the university is largely due to the administration's desire to fight the Islamist movement, not by engaging them in intelligent discourse, but by using sectarian divisions between the Islamists (who are largely of Palestinian origin) and the tribalists (who are mostly East Jordanian). Ali Mahaftha believes that the blame can be spread over both Palestinian and Jordanian politicians. Moreover, Hattar blames the disinterest of university faculty in engaging and polishing the ideas of their students through constructive activities is also a factor in this issue.

I believe that Islamists should be engaged and debated, instead of using crude sectarianism to isolate them. Thus, I would agree with the second premise of Hattar. However, in the final analysis people should be held responsible for their actions, and should be punished as a disincentive for other people to behave in violent and destructive ways.

5- Trade in contaminated scrap iron from Iraq. Here Hattar tells the story of scrap metal imported from Iraq which was apparently contaminated with depleted uranium. The metal was imported and stored in Muwaqar (east of Amman) and later shipped through Aqaba out of the country. The government has not been forthcoming about this, and the Jordan Atomic Energy agency has a credibility problem. Since this is a technical issue, I would say that in the absence of real data it is hard to make a judgment about how serious this event was. Clearly, more transparency by the government would be helpful in such cases.

There is more. Stay tuned.



At 7:03 PM, Blogger Ziad said...

Just a point about the government not receiving much $ for training the Iraqi police:

Jordan got $100 milion in 2005 for this purpose (not publicised; but you can find the info in the 2005 Iraq supplemental funding resolution passed by the U.S. congress).

At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now ZIad when you say "Jordan" do you mean "the treasury of the HKJ" or "a Jordanian"?

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Ziad said...

It says "the government of Jordan" but I think it goes to the budget of the armed forces as "military assistance" (I might be wrong, but I don't think that the military part of foreign aid shows up in Jordan's regular budget).

Here, I took screen shot of two relevant parts of the 2005 supplemental bill (you can get the complete pdf file through the congressional web sites):



These are in addition to the regular yearly assistance of $450 mil civil/military

At 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh cool! That means economic stability, prosperity and social welfare are coming to Jordan soon; within 4-6 weeks I would say.


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