Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A good night for the National Democratic Front

The National Democratic Front is a coalition of four leftist and Arabist parties. They fielded a few candidates for mayoral and city council seats. Thus far, they have won the mayoral seats in Karak (a major coup) and Ain al Basha. They have also won seats on city councils in Amman, Karak, Zerqa and Kufranja. A number of the mayoral and city council seats have yet to be decided. Even if things stop here, they have done well.

UPDATE: Their mayoral candidate in Burma (Jarash) also won.


Lady victory

Rana Hajaya has been elected as mayor of the dusty little town of Al Hassa. Al Hasa’s claim to fame is that it is the location of a major phosphate mine. The town’s residents are tribal and working class people.

Al Hajaya previously served as mayor of this town, which doesn’t seem to need a quota system to chose a lady who they believe is best fit for the job.

Good for them


IAF withdraws from the municipal elections

As it has suggested, the IAF has announced that it is withdrawing from the elections. I have never heard of anybody withdrawing from elections during the voting process. Maybe they were hoping things would go their way, despite all the previous indications to the contrary. The government says that the withdrawal is illegal, and would continue the voting and counting process as scheduled.

The IAF statement cited voting by military personnel as the reason for withdrawing. The statement says that the personnel voted by saying the candidate’s name openly. This mechanism is available for people who are illiterate, but is sometimes abused by people who sell their votes. Later, the IAF head, Zaki Bani Irshaid changed this claim, saying that the military personnel showed up with pre-filled ballot cards. They had months to get their story straight, and they still blew it.

Other claims by Bani Irshaid include allowing multiple votes for specific candidates, shooting and fights at some voting places, and throwing out of IAF representatives out of “some” voting stations.

Candidates are allowed representatives at each box, where they can keep track of who has voted, and object to multiple voting. In most districts, there are more than two candidates. So such abuses would be expected to have been objected to not only by IAF candidates, but by the candidates who are not getting this supposed government patronage. Voters for Irbid Mayoral candidate Abdelnasser Bani Hani (not IAF) are openly concerned that the government is throwing its weight behind Abdelraouf Tell. It will be interesting if Bani Hani and Nabil Kofahi (the IAF candidate) converge on a similar story.

More later.


Municipal elections today

Country wide elections are being held today in accordance with the recently passed municipalities’ law. The government insists that it will be impartial, while many observers are worried about government interference. Specifically, two issues are cited. The first is that registration committees allowed for large scale vote transfers for specific candidates. Aggrieved candidates had a chance to object to any voter transfer, but few did because they were all involved in transferring voter registrations, and nobody wanted to rock the boat.

The second issue is the decision to allow military personnel to vote. There is concern that the soldiers will be ordered to vote for specific candidates. It is not obvious how this order can be enforced. Anyway, the IAF is complaining about it, as per the usual whining. They are threatening to withdraw from the elections today. Presumably they will withdraw if they lose. What courage!

Some people are complaining about the lack of substance in the campaigning, and the dominance of personal and tribal considerations rather than any programs. It is a subtle reference to the weakness of participation of political parties. The political parties blame the one vote election law. In reality, few political parties are interested in the details of local government or the day to day problems of people. They are more interested in liberating Palestine and Iraq, and not picking up garbage, building parks or paving streets.

There is a lot of interest by women in this election. The 20% quota has energized women’s organizations, and I think that a fair number will win outside the quota system.

More later.


Monday, July 30, 2007


Al Arab Al Yawm reports that the prime minister has accused unidentified members of his cabinet of leaking news to this newspaper. According to the report, these accusations were made based on (presumably recorded) conversations made between cabinet members and journalists. He also accused ministers of initiating rumors about the government and their colleagues.

It is funny that Al Arab Al Yawm found this out. It seems that the PM wasn’t able to intimidate the source of the leak. What is more worrying is the admission that spying on cabinet members is taking place. More level headed people would refrain from making such a confession.

Is somebody losing his cool?

Ministers fired

The ministers of water and heath today were forced to resign in the aftermath of the latest water problems in the Manshieh area of Mafraq. A number of senior bureaucrats were fired as well.

While it is not obvious why the minister of heath was shown the door, I have had my reservations about the minister of water for a while. Unlike the assertion of Fahed Fanek that ministers don’t have to be “brilliant”, it is clear that the ministry of water and irrigation needs to have competence and vision.

I am sure that now, they have now learnt their lesson, and somebody will be chosen who has a proven track record technically and administratively. No more appointments based on geographic origin or sponsorship from big politicians. No more appointing ministers because their father was a minister. Yes sir. They must have learnt their lesson THIS TIME!


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Irbid water crisis

The water situation in Irbid this year has been bad from the beginning. I suspect that a large part of the problem is that Syria has not allowed any significant volume of water to flow into the Yarmouk River. Of course, as long as Syria broadcasts a complimentary TV program on the occasion of Jordan’s Independence Day, who cares if 400,000 people have to get by with no water?

Added to this, the water fiasco over the last two weeks in Mafraq has meant that absolutely no water has been pumped to large swaths of the city for the past two weeks. Tanker drivers selling water are making a killing, selling the water to the highest bidders. The cost of three cubic meters of water is now selling for over 25 dinars. This volume of water is barely enough for a small family for a week.

This is another crisis brewing. Notice that the government will not take any action until it is too late. This time is fast approaching.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Another mass infection (yawn)

According to official sources, over 600 people have thus far been infected by a mysterious virus in the Mafraq governorate. This story has been developing for about a week, with initial suspicions that the water supply to the area has been compromised. These suspicions have now been confirmed. The minister of health blames the outbreak on chlorine resistant parasites (I wonder if they are on the government payroll). Everybody will be fine if they would just boil the water before drinking it. Thanks, government! What would people do without you? Earlier reports said that it was a virus.

Initially, there were reports that the minister of water would resign over this issue. These reports seem to have been premature, and it looks like nobody is to blame. This is just like the numerous screw ups in the past. Our illustrious officials are happy enough to enjoy the privileges of their positions, without bearing any responsibility. The water distribution system in the country is losing water as fast as water can be pumped into it, and so breaches in the system can easily cause large scale contamination. Luckily for the minister, this didn’t happen in Amman. People in Mafraq will absorb their losses and move on as if nothing happened.

Until next time.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Just for the record...

Despite my misgivings, I am happy that Petra has been listed with the new seven wonders. I would add that Petra’s inclusion is more of a validation of the New Seven Wonders project than the project is a validation of the greatness of Petra.

I really am not a killjoy!

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The new seven wonders

Finally, today we will find out if Petra has been chosen to be one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Jordanians have been inundated with bill boards, print adds, songs, internet and radio advertisements appealing to their nationalism to vote for Petra for the last few months. Will is work? More importantly, does it matter?

We will find out if it works soon enough. The question of whether it will matter is another story. It depends on how much the media will react with the list and how long this new list will be considered credible. I am more inclined to believe that this whole story is a flash in a pan, and will not be in the news for more than three days. Tourism promoters might use it for a longer time, so there might be some benefit in that.

The New Seven Wonders program has been disavowed by the UNESCO, who faults its objectives and methodology. The seemingly democratic vote really is not methodologically sound. Of the millions of people who voted, I would hazard a guess to say that fewer than 100 have actually seen all 21 candidate sites. And even if one has been to all of these sites, what criteria can be used to choose the top seven? How can one compare a 20th century building like the Sidney Opera House with a stone aged site like Stonehenge? How can these be compared with giant statues like Christ the Redeemer or the Statue of Liberty. These comparisons are beyond apples and oranges.

Absent any criteria, we are invited to vote based on nationalistic sentiment. I find that appealing to nationalism to compile a list of sites that are of world wide value somewhat ironic. But this is the reality. How can a country like Jordan, which is the home of about 0.1% of the world's population, compete with China or India?

So, you wanted to vote. There were two ways to do it. You could either have filled out an online form and voted for free, or you could have used SMS phone massages and paid 10 piasters per vote. The free option is more democratic, but you could only vote once. Moreover, you needed to choose seven sites. This presented a problem if you are only interested in one site. Playing game theory, you needed to decide how the other sites affected Petra. So, this means choosing candidates that were obviously going to win anyway, or weak candidates that you think that had no chance of competing. Thus, you needed to try and eliminate the mid tier candidates for this one vote.

Using SMS messages eliminated this hassle by being able to vote for one candidate many times. Companies and institutions were donating the cost of hundreds of thousands of votes. The New Seven Wonders organizers didn’t seem to object to this subverting of the supposed democratic process.

So, at the end of the day, I can tell you who will be the biggest winner of this contest.

Mr. Bernard Weber.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Prisoners back home

After years of deliberations, negotiations and pressure, Israel has released into Jordanian custody four prisoners who had been in their jails since before the signing of the peace treaty in 1994. They will continue to serve time in Jordanian jails.

Last summer, I mentioned this issue during the Lebanon war. Israel’s willingness to exchange prisoners with Hezbollah, but not to release Jordanian prisoners to the Jordanian government had the effect of creating a credibility gap, and sent a bad message. It is good that this deal was not conducted in relationship with any prisoner deal with Hamas or Hezbollah.

The deal will allow for the Jordanian government to release the prisoners after 18 months. Of course, this will look bad for the Jordanian government, who will be accused imprisoning its own citizens on behalf of Israel. What is worse is that they have been imprisoned for attacking Israeli soldiers before the peace treaty was signed. These men are viewed as heroes to many people. Accusations of the government being an Israeli tool are already being made. It is too bad that making political points are more important to our opposition than alleviation of the suffering of the prisoners and their families.

While this deal will have dubious political benefits for the Jordanian government, it is great humanitarian step for the prisoners and their families. During their many years in prison, only two visits were allowed for their families. They will now be able to visit them on a regular basis. The 18 months in jail will be a picnic compared to the 99 years they were supposed to serve out in Israeli jails. The foreign minister said that they will be treated as “special cases”, presumably receiving preferential treatment. Jamil Nimri mentions that they may be released earlier if a deal allowing the release of Palestinian prisoners with similar sentences is made.

It is interesting that the foreign ministry says that there are 11 prisoners left in Israeli jails. Earlier numbers has suggested that there were around 30. Hopefully, accommodations will be made to release the rest and to put this source of tension behind us.

I would like to agree with Ibrahim Gharaibeh and say “good job”.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Is London the new Kabul?

Years back, security experts and ordinary people were worried about the return of young mujahideen from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under US watch and patronage, Osama Bin Laden and many other young Arab and Muslim youth were indoctrinated and trained to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan, using heavy doses of religious dogma to increase their zeal.

After paying dearly for this short sighted policy on September 11, 2001, the US was supposed to have learnt its lesson. However, their close allies, the British, continued to try to exploit and appease Islamic extremists, even after a group of them bombed the London subway system on July 7, 2005, killing 52 people. London continues to be the home for the most extreme religious fanatics, operating in total freedom.

So, when a brilliant young doctor and his wife left Jordan two years ago, it might not have been too far fetched that he may become a target for the preachers of hate and violence who call London home (as suggested by Firas). The man and wife had clean security records, and were focused on academic and professional achievement rather than mischief. It has not been established yet in court whether they were really involved in the terror plots or to what extent. However, they do seem to have been mixing with a bad crowd.

Personally, I take little stock in the propaganda that tries to blame such conversions to fanaticism on the freedom which is enjoyed in the west. The descendants of the British Empire on which the sun never set can not be so impotent when dealing with a few loud mouthed welfare abusing fanatics. The country that did not hesitate to destroy Iraq and throw it’s population into massive turmoil in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions have been displaced can not be so sensitive to the supposed civil rights of a few trouble makers who can be dealt with in a legal and civilized manner. The government that railroaded Abdelbaset Megrahi for the sole purpose of extorting the Libyan government is not so sensitive to due process or justice. The “freedom” argument for such blatant harboring of inciters of terror rings quite hollow.

It is not difficult to conclude that British authorities harbor and tolerate these people because they serve a purpose. I might add that this purpose is not benign. The end result is that terror emanating from the preachers of hate serves to marginalize the Muslim community in Britain, and fosters xenophobia with the British public. Abroad, this tolerance legitimizes extremism, and is a source of pressure on Arab and Muslim countries to act in a similar way with their own extremists. Only a lunatic or a traitor would try to emulate this behavior.

So, while we are worried about fanatics returning from Iraq, Pakistan or Afghanistan, it might be worth while to remember that Britain is the only country that offers preachers of death residency, welfare and legal protection.