Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Student council

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.

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At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Islamists have boycotted the elections before for the same reason. The following year they ran for election. I remember the day when I came to UJ to find flyers everywhere from "لجان المقاطعة"; the joke was that "lajjan al ma3atqa" will win the elections based on the campaign he ran.

My point is, in the atmosphere that followed 9/11 Islamists know they their popularity dwindled. When they lack a platform and a wide popular base, they tend to boycott elections to appear as victims as you said. I do not condone the administration's decision taken several years ago but I find it amusing how Islamists as inconsistent with their boycott.

At 11:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

those who vote tribal over islamists do so because tribalism trumps religion. in fact in jordan it's the only thing that does. i'm talking about parliamentary elections here but as you said, campus politics is a reflection of domestic politics, or the future of it.

i do agree that stronger parties need to emerge. we have no opposition, no other voice than that of well organized islamists. and truth be told, they're really not all that organized to begin with, just more politically seasoned.

At 11:58 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Jameed: I agree.

Nas: You may be right. However, the fact that tribalism does trump religion, as you say, means that the discourse of Islamists isn't particularly compelling to most people. I think that more people vote against the Islamists than for independent candidates. Either way, the absence of strong political alternatives lets the Islamists set the agenda.

At 1:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree one of the reasons people vote for them is because of the absence of alternatives no doubt. But on the whole, as a country we have to keep in mind that parliamentary seats are not distributed correctly. So more people will vote in Kerak and down there we vote for our tribes. Islamists most power comes from the more northern regions like Amman and Zarqa. One of the reasons is their connection to Palestine and the resistance movement. There are of course many other reasons but without a strong opposition we'll never really get a balancing out of parties and we'll never understand why people vote for who they vote for.

At 4:01 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I do not think that we will ever have a centrist party, Khalaf. The reason why is becasue you need an agenda or philosophy to create a party. The lslamists have religion to wrap arround and the leftist have the Pan Arabism slogn. And since tribalism is the remanining factor that Jordanians strongly consider when voting, then you will end up with at least ten cetnrist parties each represent one of the biggest tribes.

May be you should start a party, Khalaf. You have a national agenda that is based on small government, low taxes and open market economic strategy. Unforutnately, you might need twenty years to raise awarness to these important issues. In the mean time, you might need to focus on your garden man before they cut the water again:-)

At 6:12 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Nas: I agree that without real parties it is difficult to guage what people feel. I would add that the independants that are elected have similar outlooks: they are conservative, nationalistic, believe in the patronage system (although it works for very few people) and are moderate in their social outlook. Their concept of how economics work are weak (the same goes for the IAF). The 16-20% numbers I use are based on national results of elections and polls, and are really not related to the distribution of parliamentary seats.

Issam: Inclusive Nationalism is a good slogan. Most people are moderate and fair minded, and are interested in the welfare of the country. I see that as a basis for a political party that would interest me.

The garden is doing well. Yesterday was the first time I water this year. I am not even sure if the trees really needed watering, because they look quite healthy. Of course, I am not going to wait for them to wilt to start watering.

At 6:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf: cant you see the irony in what you are calling for? You are calling for the artificial creation of a political party that will subsequently represent the people. Artificial because the decision will not be springing from the grass-roots, rather from a decree or a decision someone high up will take.

The process you are calling for runs contrary to the very idea of democracy - the will of the grass-root to be represented as it decides to, not as someone decrees so.

Now the problem with creating artificial parties as decor in the house is that they will remain where you place them and will not grow. Contrastingly, a plant that starts from the corner of the room will soon fill the walls and become an organic part of the house.

You do fall into the problem that any person with a half-hearted intention to promote democracy does - promote it as long as it serves the status quo or improves it in the direction I will.

Like it or not, Islamists are an organic part of the society, and they have no less rights to the post of Prime Minister than you or Bakheet does. I am not an Islamist, but if they come through the ballot box I will not hesitate to make the experiment work.

You can say it is naivity because those parties will usurp power and insist on retaining the seat. If they do that through the ballot box then it is your failure (or their opponent's failure) to provide a better alternative, and a proof that the Islamists agenda worked.

If the Islamists usurp power forcefully then they will be no worse than all the Arab governments who did the same the past half century. Why do you think it is right to protest against Islamists usurping power forcefully and not about the current regimes? You do not seem to be questioning the status quo enough.

Further, by saying that Islamists will usurp power forcefully we are prejudging their intentions. So far Hamas and Urdogan have shown every intention to rotate power and have avoided behaving like the 'baltaji' that our governments act like.

Also, as you are talking about Hamas and terrorism (again), I point you to two links that will show you how ridiculous the government here looks to the outside world:



At 6:51 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Rami: There is the first post on the subject back in October, 2005. In it I said that "Successive Jordanian governments have actively worked at weakening any organized centrist movement in Jordan, in a short sighted view that a strong moderate party would be a threat to the existing order. So, while the IAF states that it in fact does want to change the existing order, it is an acceptable part of the political order in Jordan, various centrist parties that are loyal to the monarchy and to Jordan are considered to be a threat. Democracy in Jordan will not be complete without a strong centrist party." I think that the point is clear. I simply want an even playing field.

Islamists are a threat to democracy. I don't care what form of Taqiah they use to cover it, they still have a problem even acknowledging democracy as a legitimate form of government, and insist on the word shura to mask their intentions. You can check my post on their "reform" document to see what I mean.

Who says that I think that the government handled the issue correctly? I wrote about that too.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Rami: Not everybody at Al Sharq al Awsat believe that the Hamas story is fake. Of course, you can pick and choose whatever fits your agenda.

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Artifically created. All parties are artificially created. There is no party that was created by God. A party is created when a group of people believe in a certain philosophy and have certain agenda that they think represent their interests and values. Coming up with an agenda is an artifical way that need to be done before any party is created artificially.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf: I hoped you'd get what I'm getting at by quoting someone from Asharq Al-Awsat. This newspaper is rarely honest with itself and is composed of "establishment journalists" like Qallab, Al-Rashed, Hameed (although some writers take exception at being establishment writers, but that is the exception and not the norm). Those writers are usually sympathetics to their respective governments and portray the official story, and writers from different countries rarely transgress on the business of other writers, meaning that Egyptian writers in this newspaper rarely writer about a very internal issue like Jordanian-Palestinian topics. Similarly, Syrian writers never write about Kuwaiti internal affairs. The fact that this writer is Egyptian writing about this topic caught my attention.

A second reason is that this particular writer from my impressions rarely criticisez a government openly and choses to be more diplomatic. The fact that he has gone to length to ridicule the governments means he really sees a tragicomedy unfolding and can't hold it back anymore.

With this explanation at hand, I am not at surprised if other writers in this newspaper do agree with the Jordanian government, particular Al-Rashed (who by the way succeeded Qallab as Al-Arabiya Executive Manager, tells you a lot about his establishment links, be it Jordanian or Saudi)

In short, I was not picking what suits my taste, rather I was surprised this piece slipped through and came from this particular person. I thought you might be familiar with this particular newspaper's editorial policy and writers, but I hope I made my point clearer.

At 11:49 PM, Blogger Blogger said...

I only wish if these "students" just put in more time and power into their studying rather this farce.

Political life is non-existent in Jordan. Heck even the Islamists don't have any ideology or thought other than "Vote for us, we are opposition, we'll build more Mussallah, more rallies, and call for girls to wear hijab".

So till we have real political parties that have clear and national agendas, then this farce will continues. We have not matured enough to realize what politics and citizenship is all about. When Hamas got in power, they didn't work for the Palestinians they worked for Hamas

Islamists could gain support because of the marginalization of a large chunk of the Jordanian population that has been going on for a while.

Anyways, at the end of the day, Jordanians are really concerned about the ECONOMY, stuff like gas prices,food, housing,health care.

The sad truth is, those guys fighting on campus are your very own (unless you are planning not on voting) PM you see fighting on TV and not doing their homework( presenting development strategies to his Highness).
Anyways handpicking people is not limited to universities.

PS: You have not seen the Lebanese students elections ;) (these people are nuts)

At 12:00 AM, Blogger Blogger said...

Sorry I meant his Majesty.


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