Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

How Social Media Can Help in Destabilizing Jordanian Society…

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None of the wikileaks have probably created a fracas as intense as the one they created in Jordan. And of all the cables leaked from the American embassy in Amman none has created such an uproar as the one entitled “The Right of Return: What it Means for Jordan”. This has to do not only with the extremely sensitive nature of the topic the cable is discussing but also with the fact that it describes in detail meetings between American officials and top level Jordanian officials of Palestinian origin. These officials – crossing what King Abdullah II of Jordan later described as “The Red Line” – discussed the share Jordanians with Palestinian roots should have in the political life of the country. The Americans – as always – divided Jordanians into “East Bankers” (native Jordanians) and “West Bankers” (Palestinians who fled to Jordan during the Arab Israeli conflict). The scary thing is that criticism of the current status quo in Jordan comes from the top class of  Palestinian Jordanian officials and the political elite that has been part of the regime and does not tally with their stated attitude toward various topics related to the Palestinian presence in Jordan and the country’s relations with Israel. Naseem Tarawneh, a Jordanian Blogger, discusses the cable and its consequences in this article.

The problem in Jordan is that it is now home to many, many “minorities” created by refugees who came to it to escape from political and military conflicts not only in the Arab World but also in Europe and Africa. Palestinians now account for 2.5 million people or more than half of the population, and in the absence of any clear solution for the Palestinian case over the past 60 years of conflict, Palestinians may now reconsider their status in Jordan and the impact they have on the political game in this country. This particular case gives native Jordanians serious concerns about the role they play in their own country since they are now in the clear minority, and many of them are already calling themselves “Red Indians” in plain reference to what happened to the native inhabitants of North America. But in spite of the fact that they are fewer in numbers, Jordanians still retain their hold on power as they control most of the civil jobs, security apparatus and the armed forces.

Since social media tools, cell phones and local news websites have spread across the whole of Jordan and now reach almost every household, discussions between different groups have started to take a very aggressive and in some cases violent turn. Before the Arab Spring most of the violence occurred between tribes around the kingdom as some regular everyday incident was magnified until it reached the level of an exchange of gunfire between tribes and families –  all of which of course was covered 24/7 by web-based media. Tribal loyalty began to pose a major threat to the state and the social fabric as clashes between tribes became so frequent and turned into skirmishes that the security forces struggled to control. Jordanians still recall the domestic unrest in Ajloun back in 2009 that lasted for almost a month before it was contained by the security forces and a few army units. Even though this was  a totally different kind of unrest to what neighbouring Syria is now witnessing, the strategy of fear deployed by the security forces was completely ineffective when faced with a fearless, angry and frustrated generation that could barely see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Twitter hashtags, Facebook pages and local websites and forums turned into forums of fierce debate between different groups of Jordanians – mostly youth – during the Jordanian version of the Arab Spring in which every group used them to market its own ideas, attack opponents and even gather people together to protest. Freedom in cyberspace became a tool with which Jordanians could express their opinions on various topics, including some that were considered taboo subjects to be avoided in regular conversation on account of their sensitivity and the possible “legal” consequences for anyone trying to initiate them. Comments on Facebook and comments on articles showed what a huge gap there was between daily pragmatic conversations between Jordanians and the – sometimes scary – ideas and attitudes they held about one another. During the late reform movement last March, the social media played a huge rule on both sides of the game: the reformist and the “loyalist” with allegiance to the status quo. Each side succeeded in using social media to spread its ideas and gather supporters. E-debates spread like wild fire, and with the internet reached almost 40% of Jordanian households. Over 1.6 million Jordanians are on Facebook, almost every one took part in the debates and the cracks between different sectors of society started to widen. You can even find the same cracks running deep between members of the same family who hold different political opinions.

Going back to Wikileaks, Toujan Faisal, an iconic reform politician and a former MP gave her particular take on the latest leaked cables when she said: “the leaked cables created a shock among the popular bases that did not create a mature relation with digital information technology on the one hand while on the other what has been translated into Arabic and published from these documents has been an eclectic reading in terms of the topic and sometimes even in terms of the translation itself“. All of what has been mentioned above may well represent one of the consequences of social media. As a friend of mine put it, in a time when every person should have an opinion, social media has given every person a voice – and this is not necessarily a good thing as the case of Jordan has shown.


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Akrum Idrees Twitter: @akrumidreesAkrum

A Jordanian Muslim Engineer that his concerns don't only circle around numbers ...