Friday, July 28, 2006

It’s our fault, as usual

It seems that the Lebanese wounded are refusing treatment at the field hospitals set up by the Jordanian military for them. Apparently, they are blaming Jordan for not doing enough to stop the Israeli attack against them.

Now, King Abdullah has called repeatedly for stopping the aggression against Lebanon (a strong term that caught the attention of Israeli and western media). I am not sure what is required, but I do understand the attitude.

Arabs have a fixation for blaming Jordan for all their problems. The Sunnis in Iraq blame us for supporting the current government; the Shiites blame us for supporting Saddam (and for Zarqawi being Jordanian). The Kuwaitis blame us for supporting Saddam and the Syrians and the Palestinians blame us for a host of ills ranging from losing the 1967 war (which the Syrians and the Egyptians lost too, by the way) through to making peace with Israel, along with dozens of perceived wrongs that are mostly illogical and self contradictory.

But the Lebanese? Why would they be mad at us? We didn’t set up and support militias during the civil war there as the Israelis, Syrians, Iraqis and the Iranians did. According to the report, the Lebanese asked said that "They cannot give the green light for this strike against us and then show up to treat us. We don't want their sweetness or their bitterness." We gave the green light? Is this about the joint statement where King Abdullah and President Mubarak blamed Hezbollah (not by name) for the adventurism that led to this situation?

Well, I know that this might sound cold, but they were right. The Lebanese government failed miserably at controlling the situation in the south and in extending their control over the area. There are many adventurers who would like nothing better than to drag Jordan through the same ordeal that Lebanon is going through. The Jordanian government paid a heavy political price to stop militant activities in Jordan. The Lebanese government refused to pay such a price. This is their fault, not ours.

So, Arabs can blame us for all their problems if they like. It is probably comforting to have a universal, all purpose bad guy on which you can pin all your failures. Unfortunately, this silly blame game will actually do nothing to solve real problems created by superstition, adventurism, sloganeering, and poor planning and management. When they get their act together, then Jordan's role as a whipping boy might end.

In the mean time, since the Lebanese don’t want our medical services, we should bring the medical teams back and extend the resources to our own sick people. Jordan University hospital is being threatened to have its supply of pharmaceuticals cut off because they haven’t been able to pay their bills. There are plenty of patients here who could use the help.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Torture in Jordan

Amnesty international is again accusing Jordan of torturing political and security prisoners as well as taking the contract to do it for the Americans, who are too hypocritical to do it for themselves. Our government spokesman (Nasser Joudeh) denies that we have the contract, and says that the allegations in the report will be “examined”. I guess that we will need to contract the Israelis to do the examination, after they are finished with their own report on how they shelled a UN outpost 14 times by mistake. After their impartial, comprehensive report is issued, they will have time to complete this comprehensive examination.

In the mean time, we will have to do with circumstantial evidence. Of course, all terrorists claim that their confessions were extracted by torture, just as all inmates in jail are innocent. What about innocent citizens? Are they subject to torture in Jordan?

I for one would like to announce that I am constantly being tortured. The technique that is used involves prolonged cognative insult. This involves a never ending series of events revolving around the concept of reform. In Jordan, we need to reform our political and economic life. I don’t know why. But after five years of media bombardment, I and most Jordanians are convinced that we MUST have reform.

So, we NEED reform. Now, after we agree on that, we move to the next logical step, which is to decide what needs to be fixed. I mean, something must be wrong. MUST FIX SOMETHING WRONG (zombie intonation). We need modern election, parties and economic laws. These laws were all updated in the last 10 years, but they are not modern enough, apparently. They are not as modern as the election laws written hundreds of years ago in the UK or in the US, so we MUST rewrite them. Again.

Now the hard part has been to agree what exactly to fix. Last year, we went through a prolonged melodrama called the writing of the National Agenda. 27 unelected folks spent a year deciding what should be done to fix the country. The results were delayed for over three months, in the mean time, the government tried to enact what they thought were the most important recommendations in an unconstitutional ploy. These were four laws that were subsequently rejected by parliament.

Anyway, in an apparent attempt to salvage what can be salvaged, we are being subjected to a new process called “we are Jordan”. Basically, 700 unelected folks will try to determine what are the greatest priorities in the National Agenda and determine how to implement them (the National Agenda DOES have implementation mechanisms. No matter). Any way, Ayman Safadi thinks that THIS TIME, something tangible should come out of it.

Please make them stop! I’ll sign ANYTHING!

Saturday, July 22, 2006


All Jordan’s news these days seems to revolve around the issue of demonstrations. We have had demonstrations every Friday for a while now. Yesterday there were at least four (in Amman, Irbid, Ajloun and the Beqa’a refugee camp). Leftists are complaining that the government allowed for the MB to stage demonstrations, but couldn’t spare a couple of guys to monitor their own outpouring.

So the Arab street is rumbling! Look out. We are MAD now!

Maybe it is important to “let off steam”, as many commentators describe these events. The Jordanian constitution allows for freedom of assembly in paragraph 1 of article 16, which states that:

“Jordanians shall have the right to hold meetings within the limits of the law”.

Of course, the limits of the law are the rub. The public meetings law gives wide discretion to the governor to approve or reject public meetings, with no obligations to explain his decision. As might be imagined, most meetings are in fact rejected, and Yasser Abu Hillaleh rightly rips into this law that effectively drains that constitutional provision of its meaning.

The rationale is that demonstrations can get out of control, and riots at the beginning of the second intifada resulted in large scale vandalism in the Beqa’a refugee camp and in the affluent Abdoun neighborhood.

Today Omar Kullab at Al Anbat pointed out how disciplined the demonstrations have been, suggesting that the government should start treating people like grown ups. It seems obvious that if people are to riot, they will not wait for an approval from the governor. Hell, if I was in charge, I would force the parties to have demonstrations every day.

I wonder what happened to freedom square.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Statement fallout

The communiqué issued following the meeting between the leadership of the Islamist movement and the prime minister seems to be causing tension in the movement. As I speculated in my post on the subject at the time, the content of the statement doesn’t seem to elicit a ringing endorsement in the Muslim Brotherhood. Press reports suggest that up to 18 of the 40 members of the MB consultative committee are intending to resign in protest over the statement.

The reason for the turmoil stems from what the protesters call capitulation of the leadership of the party with no commitment by the government to close unresolved issues of the jailed deputies and the ICCS. The state security court has announced that the three remaining jailed deputies will go on trial next Sunday. They have been moved from the remote Al Jafr prison to Qafqafa in the north, which is much more accessible. The main defendant, Mohammed Abu Fares, who is 77 years old, seems to be in poor health. He underwent heart catheterization yesterday, and was subsequently deemed healthy enough to go back to jail with his two colleagues. The ICCS has been entrusted to a temporary administrative committee until the prosecutor general decides whether to send the case to court or not.

So, the government has not changed it’s posture on the deputies and the ICCS. But I am interested in what has been called capitulation. Which of the seven points in the statement would be deemed to be controversial or would be considered backing down? Loyalty to the country? Placing Jordan’s interests first? Rejecting terrorism? Which exactly seems to require soul searching to be agreed to? Also, is the anger caused by the fact that the government has not changed it’s position, because not all of the members of the consultative committee were consulted or simply rejection of the content of the statement?

Some writers are wringing their hands over the possibility of a major split in the Islamist movement. Fahd Khitan is worried that such a spit could mean moving the more extreme elements of the movement into an even more radical direction. I would argue the opposite. By insisting that radicals such as Mohammad Abu Fares being considered within the mainstream, the establishment gives legitimacy to his views. This legitimacy allows for the propagation of extremism and even the mainstreaming of radicalism. Why would that be useful? In the final analysis, it is the Islamist movement that should make the decision as to whether they represent moderation or radicalism. The old game of putting a moderate veneer on a radical substance has been exposed.

But really, what do the radical elements of the MB really object to in the statement?


Monday, July 17, 2006

Learning lessons

The continuing Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza have been causing a severe identity crisis for me. I have always believed that Jordan’s priorities for development and prosperity were honorable goals that should not constitute a source of tension between us and our Arab brothers. In fact, the ideal situation would be for all of us to look inward and try to fix the monumental challenges that we as Arabs and Muslims face. Strong individual Arab countries should ultimately translate to a strong Arab nation.

While I still believe this, what is new is the question of what our role should be when other Arab countries are faced with external challenges, such as the current state of affairs. Many people are demanding that something be done to stop the death and destruction being meted out by Israel. The current response by Arab leaderships is totally inadequate, as most people see it.

Starting from a simple premise, it seems clear that all Arab leaderships are looking out for their own interests (as leaders or as states). This has always been the case, as most shows of Arab solidarity, such as the Arab summits, are viewed as farces, or at best avenues to shape individual interests in an Arab context. The sad truth is that Arab leaderships trust outside allies more than they trust other Arabs. This has opened the door for Israel, the US, the Europeans and Iran to meddle heavily in our affairs, to the point that we have little say as to what goes on in the Arab world.

Lebanon is a prime example of this. It is quite clear that neither the Lebanese nor the Arabs will have much to say as to how this situation will be resolved. One can be sure that the resolution will not have the welfare of Lebanon as a primary objective, no matter what anybody says.

So, the first question that should be asked is if Arabs allying themselves with foreign powers will guarantee their long-term stability. Certainly the former Iraqi regime didn’t benefit from not having any strong foreign patrons, with disastrous consequences. On the other hand, the pro-western Lebanese leadership has little to show for it’s alliance with the US and France, as these countries are more interested in the welfare of Israel than that of Lebanon.

Will the Arabs do better to ally themselves with Iran? The Iranians have clear territorial and strategic ambitions in the gulf and in Levant, as well as in Iraq. Moreover, the question of siding with the losing team pops up. Some Arab countries siding with the old Soviet Union (such as Iraq and Libya) ended up in bad shape after allying themselves with what was seen as the world’s second super power. Iran is not a super power, and is looking for American approval to expand it's influence in the region.

Arabs have long extolled the idea of the now defunct joint Arab defense pact. Of course, this pact only existed in the archives of the Arab League, and meant nothing. Should it be revived?

I believe that the Arabs should soon reach the conclusion that nobody can do anything for them except themselves. Waiting for the UN, the US, the quartet or whoever to swoop in and fix our problems is a sign of what a pathetic state we are now in.

What can Arabs do? Right now, close to nothing. We are destined to sit by and watch in horror. The only good thing that can come out of this is if we learn a lesson we should have learnt a long time ago.

In theory, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia can pick up the phone and call Bush. He only needs to say that he won’t be able to sustain current oil production levels for very long. Of course, because the Saudis are so dependent for their security on the US, this will not happen. The first step would be to convince the Saudi leadership not to count on US support if things get tough. The second would be to provide the Saudis with a viable defense alternative to the Americans. This would mean bolstering their own military and that of Jordan, Yemen and Egypt. The Saudis have enough money to implement such a strategy, and Egypt, Yemen and Jordan have the manpower. Of course, current thinking in the Gulf would be that the poor Arabs are looking for a new way to take their money. If they think they are safe now, I would submit to them that their American allies are not as sincere as they might seem (Dubai Ports?).

Such an ambitious project would mean creating a Saudi sphere of influence to counter that of the US and Iran. If the Saudis are willing to pay, then a real Arab center of gravity can be created to counter the helplessness we are now in. As individual countries, we will not be able to do much. To try would be suicide.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Punishing moderation, rewarding extremism

The recent trouble between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Hezbollah is fueled by the desire to release prisoners held by Israel. While Israel has hundreds if not thousands of prisoners held in its jails, it seems quite more indignant than would seem reasonable about less than a handful of its own solders being held by the other side. Asymmetry at its best.

Of course, what encourages both the Palestinians and Lebanese to try and capture Israeli soldiers is the fact that prisoner exchanges have been organized between the various parties in the past. In 2004, hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners were exchanged for one Israeli agent captured by Hezbollah and the remains of three Israeli soldiers.

While the violent reaction by Israel to the capture of its solders is predictable (with the logic that this is the only language Arabs understand), so is the gradual realization that eventually, negotiations will be made and deals with be struck (proving to Arabs that militarism is the only language that Israel understands). In reality, there is no other mechanism available for Palestinians and Lebanese to free their prisoners, who can be picked up at will by the Israeli army.

One must only look at the case of Jordanian prisoners in Israel to conclude that peaceful relationship with Israel is of little significance when trying to free these prisoners. About thirty Jordanian citizens are currently being held in Israeli jails (the supporters of the detainees have 36 photos on their web site), and Jordan is still seeking information about soldiers lost since the 1967 war. Relatives of the detainees have been pressuring the government to work to release them. The Jordanian government, in turn, has been pressuring Israeli to release these prisoners since the 2004 exchange with Hezbollah, in which many Jordanians feel that the government asked Israel not to release the prisoners, even after Hezbollah was negotiating to release them. The reasoning was that the Jordanian government didn’t want to give credit to Hezbollah for their release. Instead, Israel negotiated with Jordan for over a year and then released about nine of the prisoners. This was widely (and rightly) viewed as an insult by Israel to the Jordanian government, and many Jordanians reached the obvious conclusion that the militant approach of Hezbollah is more effective than the peaceful negotiation path advocated by the Jordanian government.

The behavior of successive Israeli governments on this issue seems to be specifically designed to encourage militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and to humiliate moderate forces such as the Jordanian government. What would have happened if Israeli had released prisoners as a gesture of good will to Jordan, the Lebanese government and the previous Fateh government before Hamas won the election? It would have been magnanimous, and would have strengthened moderation. Israeli governments don’t respect moderation. For anybody looking to understand why people sympathize with extremism, this would be a good place to start.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tactical or strategic reversal?

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood and a group of Islamist leaders met yesterday with Prime Minister Marouf al Bakhit, the head for the General Intelligence Department and other government officials.

After what seems to have been a “frank discussion”, the MB issued a statement pretty much telling everybody what they want to hear. The seven point communiqué included pledges to respect the constitution, laws and principles of democracy and plurality, a pledge to place Jordan’s national interests above all others (apparently refusing to mention the relationship to Hamas directly), a pledge of loyalty to God, country and king, a condemnation of all forms of terrorism, rejection of apostatizing (takfir), a pledge to restrict issuing fatwas (religious edicts) to qualified individuals, and a clear rejection of any statements injurious to the victims of the Amman terror attacks, which was seen as a implicit apology for Mohammad Abu Fares’ famous statements. The statement ends with the hope that the government will close the “hanging issues”.

Elaph has characterized the statement as a “harsh defeat” for the Islamists, citing the continued detention of three of the four deputies and government pledges to try them as well as the formation of a government appointed committee to run the Islamic Center Charity Society. Other press reports are more tempered. Al Ghad reports that the relationship between the Islamist movement and Hamas was raised strongly during the meeting, and report that Islamists attending the meeting describing it as “a responsible national meeting”.

The issue of the hanging issues is also noteworthy. Presumably they are referring to the ICCS and the jailed deputies. This is surprising, since the MB actually welcomed referring the issue to the courts, although they were unhappy with dissolving the administrative committee of the society. Today, Ibrahim Gharaibeh goes so far as to say that the MB has little to do with the society, and that the administration has been hijacked by a clique that refuses outsiders. He even claims that the MB only managed to get Saadedin Zumaili elected chair of the administrative committee, but failed to elect other committee members sympathetic to his reform attempts. Given this signal, it is not obvious what the MB wants. They either control the society and want to retain that control (accepting responsibility for the corruption), or they don’t control it and thus should not complain if the government has retained control. Gharaibeh’s article is at once enlightening and confusing.

As for the deputies, I would find it hard to see the government retrieving the case from the court system. I guess they don’t like article 150 after all.

Anyway, this is certainly a reversal. It is not obvious if the entire Islamist movement is on board. The head of the MB, Salem Falahat, attended the meeting, but the head of the IAF, Zaki Bani Irshaid, did not. The problem with the Islamists is really not their official public statements as much as the sincerity of these statements, and contradicions between the official and unofficial statements. A particularly weak point in their organization is a severe lack of internal discipline, and the constant sending of mixed messages. While the statement is a good step, many people will remain skeptical until their actions start matching their words.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Terrorism Survey

The Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan has published a new survey on the attitudes of Jordanians towards terrorism. Between the continuing Israeli attack on Gaza and news of US troops raping and murdering an Iraqi girl and her family in Iraq, it seems that the timing of the survey was designed to catch Jordanians in a bad mood. And it did.

Abu Aardvark has a review of this survey on his blog. According to him, most noteworthy result in the survey seems to be a trend towards the rehabilitation of Zarqawi’s image. According to the survey, 54% of respondents viewed Zarqawi as a terrorist; as opposed to 72% who viewed his organization as a terrorist organization back in January. While Abu Aardvark suggests that the results are a mixture of fading memories and reaction towards the government’s “aggressive campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood since the arrest of the Islamist MPs over their Zarqawi comments (also suggesting that the numbers might be higher were it not for the “inhibiting effect on what respondents might tell a pollster”). I am confused. Either the response is an attempt to poke the government in the eye or it is a result of government intimidation. Which is it, if either?

The survey gives two hints as to the answer. The first hint comes from a question as to why the respondents who were unhappy to hear about the death of Zarqawi (30.3% of the respondents) felt the way that they did. 38.3% of the 30.3% (11.6% of the respondents) said they felt that way because Zarqawi was a Mujahid and a martyr (the description Mohammad Abu Fares gave for the terrorist). 25.4% of the 30.3% (7.7% of the respondents) were unhappy because Zarqawi was fighting the US. Of the respondents who felt neutral about Zarqawi’s death (14.1%), said that they felt that way because he was fighting the Americans or was killed by them. So, about 68% of the respondents either were happy to hear that he was dead, had mixed feelings because of his role in fighting US presence in Iraq or were saddened by the death because of his role in fighting US occupation. Only 12% had negative reaction to his death because of fundamentalist reasons.

The second clue comes from questions about attitudes concerning specific terror events. For example, 61.8% of the respondents see that the events of 9/11 are considered terrorist, and 63.3% felt that way about the London bombings. Zarqawi’s organizations targeting of civilians in Iraq was felt to be terrorism by 74.7% of the respondents (this is similar to the January number saying that Zarqawi’s organization is terrorist). Attacks in Amman (93.4%) and Sharm il Sheikh (79%) were considered terrorist by the respondents. Almost 91% felt that Israeli actions in the occupied territories were terrorism.

So, the way I read it, there is a slight softening in the attitude towards terrorism. This can mostly be attributed to the behavior of the US in Iraq and Israel in the occupied territories. There is little evidence to support the notion that internal Jordanian politics can be blamed for this shift.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

In all frankness

This is the title of a live morning talk show on Radio Fann. Radio Fann has wide listenership outside Amman because it is the only FM station that broadcasts outside the greater Amman area. Bisaraha ma’a il Wakeel has become a staple for many Jordanians during the morning commute to work. It features a gregarious host, Mohammad al Wakeel, who enjoys loud belly laughs, and using an especially heavy Jordanian accent. In fact, the laughs seem designed to lighten up the Jordanians' legendary scowls.

While the show features the usual mix of music (often with Wakeel annoyingly talking over it), news, press headlines and wise cracks, the most intriguing aspect of the show is the call ins. People are invited to call in and air their complaints, in a format similar to the old radio Jordan show “il beth il mubashir (on the air)”. These can include complaints about stray dogs, the water being cut off, busses not adhering to their prescribed routes or people in need of help for costly operations or medical care. After hearing people’s problems, often after asking what the person has done to remedy the issue, al Wakeel calls the government person in charge and tells him about the problem. The typical conversation with the official starts with the usual pleasantries. After that, Wakeel either tells him the problem or plays the taped call back to the official. The official either knows about the problem and explains its details, asks for time to ask about the problem or asks the person with the problem to visit his office. Sometimes Wakeel bluntly interrogates the official about specific details, which is the trademark of the show (that is why they call it bisaraha; in all frankness).

Sometimes officials try to evade his calls. This is a bad mistake, as such behaviors elicits al Wakeel’s scorn, and is worse PR than actually facing the issue.

Many times, the problem is followed up a few days later on the air. In humanitarian cases, many people volunteer to donate the costs of expensive operations or wheel chairs. The other day Al Wakeel mentioned that the rate of success in solving issues through the show is 70%.

If democracy is the ability to hold officials accountable and make government responsive to the needs of the citizens, I would say that such programs are good indications that Jordan is on the right track. It is unfortunate that many people find that the only way to solve their problems with unresponsive officials is by embarrassing them on the air, but it is an avenue that is useful and makes officials feel that some pressure to solve problems before they are aired for the entire country to hear.

Bravo ya Mohammad al Wakeel (please stop talking over the music).


Thursday, July 06, 2006

The end game?

Yesterday the government sent a report on corruption in the Islamic Center Charitable Society to the district attorney. Al Anbat has an article with some details. The 1700 page report contains charges of financial impropriety. These include charges that equipment purchased for the Islamic Hospital kidney and eye units were improper and over priced, as well as improper issuance of loans and hiring of consultants, among other accusations.

The ICCS is an important financial and social arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, with assets reported at 3 billion dinars and over 5000 employees. The society owns hospitals, clinics, schools and community colleges, among others. There have been indications that this issue was coming up, with Ibrahim Gharaibeh recently publishing an article praising the appointment of Sa’adedin Zumaili as head of the executive board of the society. Gharaibeh emphasized the history of Zumaili as a well known philanthropist and praised his cooperation with the government investigation into the alleged improprieties in the society. Later, Zumaili told Al Arab Al Yawm that the society has nothing to hide. He also emphasized that there were no financial links between the society and the MB. Other sources in the society told the newspaper that the investigation has been going on for four months.

Remedies for this situation include the disbanding the executive board of the society and the appointment of a committee of government bureaucrats to run the society. This would be a harsh blow to the Islamist movement, depriving it of a considerable power base. Khadder Kenaan points out that the services provided by the society are of most use to the urban middle class. This is partially true, as poor areas also benefit from free services provided by the society. There is some information on their web site.

Most discussions of the issue see it as an attempt by the government to curtail Islamist influence in the country. Al Anbat says this directly. The investigation began before the Hamas terror cell issue and before the four deputies issue. Did the government know before hand that these issues would come up and that the Islamists would respond to them the way that they did? This foresight would be quite impressive.

I am looking forward to the MB/IAF reaction to this. Since Zumaili insists that the society has no links to the MB, it seems that the Islamists would have little ground to complain. Of course, direct financial links may or may not exist. This is really not the point. The Islamists use the money to leverage political power through the work of the society. Everybody knows this. The question is whether this situation is fair. No other political movement has 3 billion dinars that can be used to influence voters. This linkage seems to fly in the face of balanced political development.

On the other hand, the government didn’t force the executive committee of the society to commit financial or administrative improprieties. Maybe the government is indeed using the issue, but the mere existence of the issue lies with the administration of the society, not the government.

The Islamist movement should be more careful than anybody else about living in a glass house.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Dancing in the dark

Yesterday a group calling itself the “follow up committee for the Jordanian national forum” issued a statement on the targeting and arrest of the MP’s of the Islamist movement. The “Jordanian national forum" is a grouping of Islamist, Arabist, leftist opposition movements. It is ironic that they have decided to use a nationalist cloak, as they have historically dismissed Jordanian nationalism as fake and the Jordanian state as an illegitimate product of western imperialism. Now they have decided to use a nationalist cover. Interesting.

Anyway, I found out about this statement after reading two opinions in Al Rai attacking it and its authors. The original statement was not published in Al Rai (lame) and so I found it on the IAF website.

The statement starts with a political context introduction. It states that in this time of American Zionist conspiracy on the Arab and Islamic nation, in which the tools of globalization and its tools such as the WTO, IMF, the World Bank, stock exchanges, banks and money laundering; and at a time of its [globalization] greatest success in liquidating the ownership of the people and loading the peoples with debt, and linking it with globalized imperialism, confiscation of the peoples will and distorting its consciousness, and destroying its cultural, religious and thought structures, converting the people into consumer markets after depriving them of their humanity, destroying entire nations and imposing materialism over all other spiritual and moral values; and in this time in which Iraq is being destroyed and the Palestinian issue is being liquidated and Sudan is being divided, and insistence on dividing and ripping the limbs of the Arab nation, leading to self destruction as a result of the Amero-Zionist-globalization alliance led by Christian Zionists, controlling the sources of energy, money, weapons, media, and transnational communications technology (I think that you get the picture).

Anyway, because of this nasty situation, the statement says that

  1. The Mujahidin are fighting back state terrorism.
  2. Their success is reviving hope in the nation (ummah)
  3. Arab regimes are trying to save their master (the US) from its dilemma.
  4. The Jordanian government is supporting the American invasion of Iraq and stands against the armed struggle in Palestine (again suggesting that the government fabricated the Hamas weapons case), and placed itself in the front lines in the battle against terrorism.
  5. The Jordanian government is confiscating people’s freedoms (which explains how they can issue this statement without facing repercussions).
  6. The arrest of the four deputies is designed to destroy the “nationalist movement” that is not in line with government subservience to American and Zionist designs.
  7. The government is afraid of the IAF popularity, and its failed policies can only be covered up by targeting the Islamist movement.
  8. Our nation is moderate and not a nation of terrorists.

The statement goes on to demand that Jordan become the staging ground to repulse the invaders (in Iraq and Palestine). More immediate demands are to release the deputies, stop bothering Hamas, abrogate the peace treaty with Israel, try the officials who created this crisis, stop support of the US in Iraq, support liberation movements anywhere in the Arab and creating a “national salvation government”.

So, the behavior of the MP’s is not an issue (no need even to mention Abu Fares’ statement), and Hamas’ smuggling weapons is not a problem (since we should become the staging ground for liberation). We should take upon ourselves a task that richer and more populous Arab countries would never dream of. Why? It seems to stem from a deep rooted hostility to Jordan. I still can’t get over their gall of calling themselves nationalists.

Honestly, I can’t believe that anybody can write such a thing anymore with a straight face. I mean, Zionism, globalization, imperialism, the World Bank, conspiracies, and subservience. How many buzz words can be fit into one document? And who honestly wants to convert Jordan into the staging ground for the liberation of the ummah? Not anybody who could honestly call himself a “nationalist”. Why would somebody calling for bringing harm on his country call himself a nationalist?

The opposition would do well to read opinion polls. People don’t want anymore of this sloganeering drivel.

A Jordanian proverb goes “’Ala bal meen yalli bturgusi bil itmeh”, on whose mind could you be on if you dance in the dark. Nobody cares. Please try to become real nationalists, rather than trying to simply use the nationalist cover.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Meaningless gestures

Sometimes politicians emphasize irrelevant or trivial behavior for political more than practical reasons. Today the press has two examples of this. One is by the parliament and one by the government.

MP's are posturing over the issue of the sale of Umniah. Fifteen deputies have signed a petition asking the government to stop the deal, until the tax exemptions are revoked and the officials who gave the license are punished for squandering the rights of the treasury.

The deputies know more than anybody else that the tax exemptions can not be revoked because they are based on legislation passed by the parliament and on government agreements with the investors. Any attempt to revoke them would be thrown out in court, and would damage government credibility when trying to lure investors into the country in the future. A demand for the stop of such exemptions for future agreements is valid, but retroactive changing of the rules is not. The deputies know this, but are looking for cheap points. They would do better by talking about the government sale of its shares in Jordan Telecom, which they know they can't stop but at least can argue against.

The government, on the other hand, decided to strip a land grant from the Shahin group. In 2001, a previous government granted land in Maan to the group in order to build a Range Rover plant. The deal didn't go through, as the government wouldn't agree to buy a set number of vehicles from the factory (they wanted to sell 1000 per year to the Jordanian army). Anyway, nobody though that the deal was serious at the time, as Maan isn't considered to be a center for heavy industry. A glass factory in the city failed in the past despite the presence of some of the highest quality glass sand in the world nearby. Anyway, the government asserted itself by retrieving the (10's of dunums; a dunum is 1000 square meters) from Shahin. I can't imagine that a dunum in the area is worth more than 2 or 3 thousand dinars, and I am sure that Shahin wouldn't lose any sleep over the loss. However, the headline makes the council of ministers look tough.

I doubt that either the MP's or the government are fooling anybody. Please somebody tell them that people are not idiots.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Umniah sale

The political fallout from the sale of Umniah to Batelco is ongoing. Umniah was granted a license to establish a third GSM cell phone network two years ago, and the network started working a little over a year ago. The scale of the sale (415 million US$) has raised eyebrows.

At the time that the license was issued, the existing cell phone operators (Fastlink and Mobilecom) offered the government 80 million dinars in exchange for not issuing a new license (thus maintaining their duopoly). Instead, the government insisted on issuing the new license, collecting 6 million US$ (Michael Dagher, Umniah CEO says that they spent 11 million dinars in government fees). At the time, the debate was between the politicians who suggested that it would be better for the treasury to collect 80 million dinars instead of 4 million, and the government, which felt that a more competitive telecommunications market was worth the sacrifice.

This debate is now being revived, as critics (including former finance and trade ministers) are saying that the license fee collected was too low, as is clear by the enormous profit made by the investors who set up Umniah. The profits made are tax free, which is one of the incentives offered to lure new investors into the market. MP’s are suggesting that an investigation should be launched into the affair.

Today the ministry of telecommunications issued a statement detailing the history of the issue and explains the rationale behind the decisions made. The company is expected to make 240 million dinars for the treasury over the 15 year lifetime of the license.

While the amount collected from Umniah as license fees may or may have not been too low (depending on who you ask), it is clearly better for the economy and for the consumer to have more competition. Costs of cell phone use have fallen noticeably since Umniah entered the market. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that, although I do have reservations about exempting the sales windfall from taxes. Such an exemption, if it is indeed needed, should only apply to operating profits, and not to profits accruing from the sale of the company. This is the issue that should be looked into, and not the licensing fees.