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New Arab Debates in Jordan

December 12, 2012

(From left) Dr. Hassan Barrari, moderator Tim Sebastian of the BBC and Salaheddine Al Bashir participate in a rare public dialogue between government support and opposition on December 10 at the Landmark Hotel as part of the New Arab Debates in Amman. Photo credit ©Omar Alkalouti

For two consecutive evenings on December 10 and 11, the New Arab Debates came to Jordan for the first time to facilitate rare public discourse on the motion “This House believes Jordan is on the brink of serious political turmoil and unrest.”

The first night of the debates was held in English, where 54 percent of the audience of more the than 150 attendees agreed that Jordan is on the cusp of serious and possibly volatile changes. Moderator Tim Sebastian of the BBC pushed political science professor and newspaper columnist Dr. Hassan Barrari — who was “for” the motion — and former Minister of Justice, Trade and Foreign Affairs Salaheddine Al Bashir — who was “against” — to answer both his questions and those asked by the crowd. The audience was a diverse one, ranging from university students and protestors to high-level diplomats and attachés.

Dr. Barrari cited corruption, cronyism, nepotism, a lack of serious electoral reform and political policies that work against the most vulnerable in Jordan as indicators of the disturbance that is to come to the country.

Dr. Barrari also pointed to the King’s constant changing of political appointments as a major factor in eroding the trust people have in the legitimacy of their vote.

“The King changes governments as fast as he changes his knickers and this is a sign of political instability,” Dr. Barrari said.

Arguing against the motion, Bashir countered Dr. Barrari’s charge of illegitimacy by pointing to the strength of Jordanian institutions, which largely contributes in keeping the country away from “the brink.” Bashir also said that the people in the streets do not represent the desires of Jordanian citizens.

“Jordanians are moving from protests to process,” Bashir said.

Much was debated on the topic of electoral reform as well, which comes a little more than a month before the scheduled January 23 parliamentary elections. While Bashir said change relied on, “me as a citizen,” to exercise the right to vote, many in the crowd didn’t agree. When moderator Sebastian asked the audience who would not be casting a ballot, nearly half of the room put their hands in the air.

One audience member in particular addressed this issue in his question put to the two debaters. The middle-aged Jordanian citizen explained how he brought his parents to vote in the last election, but he has since lost faith in the government and the process.

“I voted three times. In the last election I took my parents and we voted for the parliament that elected the government…This government was fired 45 days later that was elected by the parliament that was supposedly elected free and fair by the public, what do you tell me that this time, for the fourth time, I have to waste two dinar to go to the police station to vote and that this is going to be different,” the man said, continuing with a question for Bashir,”And once the new election is done, and the new parliament comes in, what is the government going to do the next day after the people realize that these are the same faces that are going to be in the same seats talking the same things?”

The consensus at the end of the night didn’t change much from when it started. The audience was still deeply divided and as the survey showed, few changed their minds whether they believed Jordan stands as a country on the edge of change and chaos.

Dr. Barrari said that the January 23 elections are the “end game.” Bashir countered that there is no united pressure by the public in Jordan. It seems, per usual, that the people and the rest of the world must wait a little longer to see what will happen in this country.

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