A poll conducted by the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan a few years back showed the magnitude of the hatred held by a majority of residents in Maan against the country’s security forces. There was never a problem with a neighbour with religious or cultural differences, but there is a huge problem if the person is a security officer.
It may be that this phenomenon is more apparent in border towns, where a large group of residents depend on smuggling, but the hatred in Maan is not restricted to the border zone. The underlying reason, gleaned from direct knowledge and fieldwork, is the systematic torture and violence practiced against a large group of the people there since 1989. This has not happened in such an intentionally wide range anywhere else in Jordan.
The monitoring of this phenomenon is an attempt to explain not to defame. The following is a taster waiting to be taken up by any research, legal or media entity that cares to act. Such further research will find even more tragic details. Although security officials do face justice, they have people to defend them and, generally, the media adopts the security point of view even if it is wrong to do so. What I am saying, therefore, is not that Jordan’s security services have become like Syria’s.
Watching Syrian and Iranian TV it is noticeable that they celebrate what happens in Maan, smug in their belief that, “see, they are just like us”, and no one is better than the other. Despite all its faults, the system in Jordan is totally different to that in Syria and other totalitarian regimes.
So what has happened in Maan to trigger this?
An ex-convict was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department in the knowledge that he has not committed any new offence and has already been acquitted by the Security Court. The judge was satisfied that the man suffers from a serious mental illness which makes him unaware of his actions.
Officialdom has a responsibility towards this man, to provide him with medical care and make sure that he takes his medication on time. His relatives tried to check on him but they were not allowed to see him. They heard that he was subject to torture and then they were surprised to find a video of him recorded by the authorities in which he curses certain people by name. He ends the video by saying that “the worst of the Criminal Investigation Department is better than any of you.” The making of this film represents three breaches of criminal law in a place that is supposed to be fighting crime: it is illegal to videotape or broadcast the accused; it is illegal to publish insults; and it is illegal to violate the privacy of a sick person, especially one with mental illness.
What sort of mentality allows officials to intimidate a helpless, detained patient and ignore his right to respect and privacy? Have such people no shame?
Relatives of the man will not give up their rights or his, and they may find a judge who can get them justice. However, not everyone can act rationally or with wisdom in such circumstances and some seek to take the law into their own hands.
This incident reminded me of events in Maan that took place in 2001, when Suliman Shweter died after being tortured for three days at the CID headquarters. It was discovered later that he was innocent. The then Minister of the Interior appeared on TV and said that the dead boy jumped from the roof of a house and that is how he died. This caused outrage locally and led to the killing of an innocent policeman in revenge.
There are dozens of similar documented cases which are about to explode. They provide a stage for hatred to turn into violence at any time.
As often happens, the more powerful side – in this case the security services – can and do express their hatred in a more violent fashion; the people then respond in blind anger. The generation filling the streets of Maan with violence today was not even at school in 2001. It is thus worth asking, if the state had spent on education the same amount it spent on security in Maan, would we need so much security today?
There is no other town in Jordan that has been subjected to this amount of security abuse that has been practiced against the population of Maan. This is the problem. It is a problem that can be solved.
Translated from Arabi21, 28 April, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.