Monday, June 30, 2008

Who needs culture?

When Mullah Nader canceled the Jarash festival, it seemed to me like any other fundamentalist ruse to stifle culture and art, with an added bonus of saving money (even though we just created a new tax specifically to support culture a few months ago. I wonder what that was for). Of course, canceling a festival that has been going on for over 25 years and is well known across the Arab world is somewhat complex. The festival is a money loser, but is also gives people visiting Jordan something to do during the summer. Without the festival, Jordanian nightlife in the summer is more than a tad boring. Tourists don’t come to be bored.

So, the festival was canceled and replaced with the “Jordan Festival”. What followed was quite amazing. I wouldn’t call it a fiasco because it seemed well planned out.

First, word was let out that a French public relations firm called Publicis was organizing the event. It turns out that Publicis organized Israel’s 60th anniversary celebration. The Jordan tourism board has denied that Publices has anything to do with the organization, but not everybody is convinced. Nasim has a good account of what happened next. It looks like the whole thing will be a flop.

Now, this whole thing stinks because the government changed the Jarash festival formula for no obvious financial, artistic or organizational reason that anybody is convinced of. Then they gave it to a foreign company to put together (with the Jordan tourism board as a cover, even though they have no experience in such events). Then, after the stink came out, they stood by and let the whole thing implode. Some reports even suggest that they purposely sat by passively as the controversy raged.

So, as far as I can tell, we are looking at a purposeful sabotage of a successful Jordanian tradition committed by the professional unions and aided and abetted by our own wise government.

Nice job, guys. Maybe now you can sell Jarash.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Solutions for an "effective" media

Fahed Fanek, chief of the government mouthpiece (Al Rai) is wringing his hands over the ineffectiveness of Jordanian media. He complains that people criticize the media without offering an alternative. Charging opponents with not having an alternative is almost a reflex with Fanek.

I understand the dilemma. The government wants a free press without anybody saying anything uncomfortable. This press should also be highly credible. Why is this task so difficult? I don’t know what he means by “effective”? Actually, I do.

Anyway, here is my alternative. Let people say and publish what they want. I know this sounds novel. I have another simple suggestion for the “effectiveness” problem. Let the government tell the truth. It will be difficult at first, but they might get used to it.


Friday, June 06, 2008

A new public meetings law

One refreshing aspect of Mullah Nader’s government is that it has stopped all pretences of being liberal, progressive or enlightened, let alone responsive to public sentiment. Here, we are dealing with imposed reality, unplugged.

So, it was surprising to see that the government sent a new draft law for public meetings to parliament. To my more naïve western readers, yes, there is a public meetings law. For any public gathering you need permission from the governor. Usually, the governor summarily says no. He doesn’t have to say why.

There have been heavy public demands to reform this law, specifically towards simply needing to inform the governor so that he can make security arrangements. However, the new law is very similar to the old one. Cosmetic modifications were introduced; lowering the period of time needed to inform the governor and excluding some non-political gatherings from its provisions.

Of course, opposition activists are unhappy with this new law. Yesterday, they tried to persuade the parliamentary “public freedoms” committee to introduce more liberal changes. According to one member of the committee, Abdelraouf Rawabdeh, he tried to change the committees mind towards the needed changes. However, it seems that the committee didn’t like the activists’ attitude. So, they left the most important provisions the way they are.

Of course, the whole approach of these activists was wrong. Instead of trying to persuade the committee with logic, they should have invited them to a mansaf. Don’t they know how things work in Jordan? Sheesh.

So, because the activists were not nice enough, we will get a new public meetings law that is the same as the old one. It is not because we live in a police state. It is because the activists didn’t say “pretty please with a cherry on top”.