Identity is a central element of elections. This is ever so present in Jordan, and with over 50% of our population coming from Palestinian backgrounds, the Palestinian issue is a dominant one in Jordanian politics. The fact that a lot of candidates chose to run on heavily oriented Palestinian issues is a reflection on how many Jordanians feel about their role in society. These candidates and their supporters are second and third generation Jordanians, they were born here, they went to school, work, marry and breed here. So what does it mean when this segment of society speaks of itself as “the homeless” in election banners? The aspiration to return to a homeland different from the one where the voters and candidates live and practice their political rights is not problematic, for it to be the focal point on the platform of candidates is.
For these types of feelings and sentiments to prevail so powerfully is a worrying and troubling aspect. These candidates seem to seriously imply that such issues are in the control of the Jordanian Parliament. Which would more or less mean that the candidate believes he has a chance to become a member of the most powerful political entity in the world. Also alarming is the fact that most of the supporters come from lower income part of the capital where issues of poverty, sanitation, health and unemployment public services are very serious, yet the electoral platform is built on the promise of a better tomorrow, in a different country. This, I think , speaks volumes about the levels of uncertainty and despair felt by significant segments of society about their future in the country.
The appeal of the Palestinian cause and the increased religiousness of certain segments of society have also been utilized heavily by the Islamists. Officially, the Muslim Brotherhood announced their boycott of the elections; however, this led to internal strife within their ranks and subsequently a lot of members resigned and ran either under other Islamic parties or as independents. While some nationalists tried to utilize the appeal of a better tomorrow in a different homeland, the Islamists focused instead on the appeal of time travel, as was illustrated by the apocalyptic themed and named political support rally, the Big Crawl.
The Big Crawl, al sahf al kabeer in Arabic, was held in support of a candidate of the Islamic Middle Party. It attracted a considerable crowd of 5000 people, including less than 100 women who were quarantined in a separate section of the venue in adherence to what the organizers think is Islamic customs that go back 1500 years. Beards were long and untidy also in accordance to what these supporters believe early Muslims practiced.
There are some serious problems in society that lead to this sort of thinking and application. Newspapers, TV stations, magazine and online websites have failed miserably to scrutinize candidates and their platforms. At the Islamists event, I did not see a single photographer or a journalist. If there were any, I seriously doubt they covered the event with the sort of critical eye needed to fully relay to the voter what their candidates are all about. The incitement of hate and segregation in Jordan is forbidden by the constitution and the media has a huge role to put pressure on the government to adhere to its own laws.
Tribal Jordanians ran on platforms that almost entirely rely on the appeal of tribe loyalty, with no clear political, social or economic agendas expect the promise of serving the tribe, this approach is most certainly not an inclusive one nor one that puts the interest of society before one’s tribe. That is not to say that certain tribal members who won are actually good candidates, but because they chose to run on tribal lines they have very little appeal and support from outside the tribe.
Candidates who ran on some real life agendas have managed to get considerable support that transcends tribal and religious boundaries . Candidates and platforms like this, ones that offer inclusiveness and focus on every day problem faced by all Jordanians, is the only way we as a society can achieve any sort of reform, the burden is on civil society and the government to nurture and promote such agendas. Otherwise, the mass appeal of Islamists, tribal leaders and ultra nationalists will continue to grow and capture the minds and imagination of the masses.
For three Fridays before the election, I spent my afternoons with a young group of guys that hail from the lower income areas of the capital. They had launched an initiative on Facebook that entailed them cleaning up a different part of the city each Friday. Most of them are also of Palestinian background. Their group on Facebook has more than 75,000 members, which is a telling number when many candidates won by garnering only 3000 and 4000 votes. These guys are socially active, have a decent command of English and social media tools and a decent level of education. The median age in Jordan is 23 and most of these guys were in that age group. Not a single one of them voted in this last election, mainly because they don’t feel that they’re any candidates that address their problems, concerns and aspirations. When I asked one of them what he thought of the Palestine First and Islamists agenda he replied “This is all B.S, before we even think of Palestine we need to fix this place up”.