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January 20 2022 4:56 PM ˚
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Jordan’s opinion writers are mentoring our populist MPs

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.
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2021 has rocked the world of Jordanians in more ways than one, but contrary to widespread defeatist outlooks, it did close with a silver lining. The very last week of the departing year saw a tipping point for national discourse – in a subtle, but powerful, sign that things are changing for Jordan.اضافة اعلان

As the country marches toward a new era of political reform, Jordan’s opinion writers are actively schooling our populist members of Parliament on the merits of decorum and civil dialogue through their published columns. Peculiarly enough, our MPs responded with visible attempts to clean up their act, even if ever so slightly.

In essence, local opinion writers have somehow metamorphosed into the allegorical “mentors” of the nation’s representatives (in light of the fact that Parliament is far from being a true representation of Jordanian society in all its diversity and intellectual prowess).

This new dynamic between the movers and shakers of public opinion and our Parliament was seldom, if ever, seen before. It signals a new era of political maturity for Jordan, with the steady departure of demagogy from our local media, in favor of sober, more mature, writing that is reshaping our national consciousness and overall political discourse.

Whereas balanced writing has for years been the staple of English-speaking media in Jordan (which reaches a limited niche audience), we are seeing more and more of this positive streak in Arabic-speaking media, especially in the top three mass-circulation newspapers, Al Ghad News, Al Rai, and Ad Dustour.

For the time being, demagogy and mayhem continue to be the main characteristics of local online news websites that depend on sensationalism to lure in clickbait from the general public (but that is no reason to despair).

The catalyst for this curious transformation came about following the fistfights and unruly behavior that broke out last Tuesday (the last week of 2021) in Parliament between some male MPs who acted like “thugs fighting in a back alley", as columnist and editor-in-chief of Al-Ghad News, Makram Ahmad Al-Tarawneh, eloquently put it.

To add to the embarrassment of Jordanians, many regional Arab and international media channels aired our dirty laundry, prompting local social media users and opinion writers to reach a noteworthy national consensus about our legislators’ sad state of affairs. From mocking the MPs’ theatrics to lamenting their obvious lack of self-control, many Jordanians have arrived at one basic idea: “Parliament does not represent the ethos of Jordanian society, and it most certainly should be ashamed of itself.”

Local cartoonists joined the national uproar in this rare collective condemnation of the Lower House’s lack of professionalism and its insistent desecration of the sanctity of the dome (as a national institution), by reiterating that Parliament is meant for ratifying nationwide laws that are in the best interests of Jordanians, it is by no means a “boxing ring” for primitive acts of intolerance that happen in the absence of dialogue.

The idea that lawmakers need to lead by example as “law-abiding citizens” came across in several opinion pieces, with many agreeing that “rational dialogue and debate” were the unequivocal principles to guide the future conduct of Jordan’s immature Parliament.

On Sunday, Al Ghad News published a scathing column by Dr. Mohammed Hussein Al-Momani, titled “War on populism in 2022”, where he criticized the spread of grandstanding on the Jordanian political scene.

His article opened with the following striking words (as translated from Arabic): “At a time when populists have had relative success in reinforcing the voice of skepticism, while spreading pessimism and negativity and an atmosphere of general frustration with a sense of uncertainty… we – who oppose them – have succeeded in making populism a blemish, an indictment, and a flaw requiring correction.”

Momani went on to say: “This is an achievement despite its modesty,” especially in the face of countering those who “have tried to market populism as the origin of politics and a legitimate behavior to achieve their ends in a way that justifies the means, even if it harms the country.”

His column closed with the proposition: “… the best we can do in 2022 is to launch a relentless war against populism and populists… (in a bid) to put a stop to the voices of falsification, distortion and destructive irrationality, which marginalize society and seek to weaken its ability to build and progress.”

That same day, and to the surprise of many, Lower House Speaker Abdul Karim Al-Doghmi and a number of other MPs who took part in the brawl came out to convey their “apology to the Jordanian people” for the recent events.

To affirm Parliament’s commitment to the rule of law, Doghmi said he referred the issue to the Legal Committee, signaling a positive development.

Parliamentarians were guided by public opinion before. Just a couple of weeks earlier, in mid-December, scores of MPs upset the quorum needed to discuss the “energy-for-water” declaration of intent by melodramatically storming out of Parliament. They ended up reassembling a few days later, though, following a scorching opinion piece by Al Ghad’s Tarawneh, where he urged them to take their responsibility toward Jordanians seriously and to steer away from dramatic populist behavior.

This new dynamic is a healthy sign that we are moving in the right direction, despite all the challenges facing us as a nation that still needs to learn the art of respectful debate.

We do have good qualities to bank on for positive change, though. Jordanians have always been able to persevere to survive regional turbulence with tenacity and unshakable resilience. We can now switch from survival mode to a prosperity mindset by persevering to evolve, together, for a better Jordan.

Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

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