The news that Jordanian police beat and injured 17 people, including several clearly marked journalists was certainly shocking. The country has been relatively insulated from the Arab Spring – in part because of the national devotion to King Abdullah and in part because the government has (at least symbolically) moved forward on several reforms, placating demonstrators. Yet the clash last week, which occurred when police stepped in to end a fight between pro-reform and pro-regime demonstrators, has led me to believe that Jordan has lost its collective mind.
Of course, protection of journalists and, indeed, the protection of freedom of speech in general are worth standing up for. In the light of Jordan’s stalled reforms and facing the possibility of watching the revolutionary changes of the Arab Spring sweep past their country, Jordan’s protest movement is focusing on last week’s clashes in addition of its economic and political demands. On Saturday, around 400 protesters gathered outside of Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit’s office not over the continued corruption or questionable progress on reforms, but over the violence against journalists. This, in turn, has led regime supporters to accuse the protest movement of being more concerned with overthrowing thee government than making actual progress towards reform.
Naseem Tarawnah writes that the pro-regime/pro-reform dichotomy has allowed the government to foment a deep national distrust that will likely outlast the reform movement. If the government’s attempts to divide the protest movement create further divisions within Jordanian society in general, the unexpected result could easily be a prolongation of the opposition efforts:
It is interesting to note that with all this going on, the state is either completely ignoring this schism or capitalizing on its ability to create divisions and offer a little self-regulation amongst the masses. But it’s something that will continue to plague the country long after any reforms have or have not been accomplished. It will continue to fester, grow and eventually find new avenues in which to manifest and explode, and has been witnessed recently, some of the manifestations can be quite violent.
As for the press. It is quite interesting to me that a great deal of the last Friday protest has become about the protection of journalists. One camp has made an issue about the rights of journalists while the other is convinced that journalists are unprofessional and seek only to paint Jordan as another Syria. The former camp seems to have lost sight of what these protests are all about to begin with, and the latter (which includes the security forces) have simply little to no understanding about what the role of a free press is or should be. The idea that because a news report or a photo or a video does not look favorably on the police is therefore evidence of a press that is bias and intent on making this country is as idiotic as it is incomprehensible. Those who demand “objectivity” are really calling for a bias that is in their favor. This is a very common mindset in Jordan unfortunately; we seem to constantly misdefine what objectivity means and demand standards of others that we do not apply ourselves…
This is no longer about elected governments, constitutional monarchies, unemployment, poverty, electoral reform, corruption or nepotism. This isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. This isn’t about who has a hidden agenda or who has the ability to read minds and intentions. And this isn’t about policy or governance. All these issues are about to take a back seat because in my mind, this has now become about a society divided and struggling to keep it together. The security apparatus along with the executive branch is constantly going on about how protesters are hell bent on “destabilizing” the country with calls of reform, and their banners and their flags. The words “sedition” and “stability” are constantly being thrown around but in reality, this issue, this growing schism, is the greatest source of civil disorder there possibly is for Jordan. And if this issue goes unaddressed then my fear is that we will be swimming in the deep end pretty soon.
Photo from NYTimes