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On the political and cultural lessons of the Jordanian popular movement

Hundreds of Jordanians gather to protest against a controversial income tax bill in Amman, Jordan on 6 June 2018 [Shadi Nsoor/Anadolu Agency]

The Jordanian popular movement ended a few days after it began, with many gains and very few losses. It recorded many lessons that the Arab governments and people can learn from.

Without casualties or material damage, and only a few minor injuries, some of which happened by accident or as a result of overcrowding, the movement was able to achieve many things, some of which are temporary and some of which can be built upon in the future with some determination and action.

The most important political and economic achievement is the resignation of Hani Mulki's government by means of the popular pressure. This is a good achievement that deserves praise, and is also unprecedented in Jordan.

In addition to the resignation of the government, the appointment of Dr Omar Al-Razzaz is also a good achievement, because of his good personal and administrative reputation, and his distance from any suspicions of corruption. It is also good because while acting as Minister of Education he proved to be open to the people and ministry's staff.

A day after he was appointed, Al-Razzaz pledged to withdraw the tax draft bill, which ignited the protests, and he promised to study it and open a community dialogue with trade unions and the MPs around him. This is an important achievement not only because it extinguishes the spark that sparked the movement, but because it could launch a new phase of dialogue on issues that concern a large part of society.

Jordan's lesson: we should stop beating ourselves up

There is another achievement that has not been mentioned and paid much attention to, which is the fact that while talking to the editors of Jordanian newspapers, King Abdullah II hinted at his desire to form parliamentary partisan governments. He also noted that the weakness of the parties is what is delaying the achievement of this. This opens the door to launching a new phase of governments that are based on the people's choice, but it is also an endeavour that requires determination and will form the state and parties equally. There must be other measures taken to open the door to its achievement, the most important of which is activating the partisan laws and amending the electoral law in a manner that allows the parties to form parliamentary blocs capable of producing parliamentary governments. The Moroccan model may be an appropriate model to follow in order to achieve this goal.

There is also another indirect achievement reached by the popular movement on a political level, which is the creation of an unprecedented atmosphere of political engagement in which the unions played an important role. This could give it a bigger role in the future in creating social classes that will contribute to the political movement in Jordan, despite the confusion experienced by the Unions' Council during the last days of dialogue, when it became led by the streets rather than being the leader who senses the needs of the street and represents and defends them well.

By means of its activities and achievements, the movement has contributed to the creation of an unprecedented state of youth participation in politics. They were the main pillars of the movement, and this gave them hope in their ability to achieve change and strengthened their sense of power and influence in politics and decision-making. This can be built upon to end the state of negativity and feeling of uselessness amongst the youth, thus allowing them to play a larger role in political life by means of participating in the elections, both in terms of voting and candidacy. They can also form effective parties representing their interests, opinions and aspirations.

Jordan's protesters don't want the regime to go. They want reform.

In the same context of the role of the youth, an important achievement can be seen in the return of the influence of the student sector, especially in the universities, and the great participation of these universities in the movement. They participated under banners of demands that were not associated with territorial, ideological, or tribal polarisation. This drew a new picture that was absent after many years of bulldozing student work, ending the negative images of universities, which witnessed in recent years a decline in union political and demand activities. This is especially after the many territorial and regional conflicts that occurred in a number of universities in the last decade.

There is also a cultural achievement that can not be ignored in light of the politics dominating the talk about the movement and its interactions. This achievement is the emergence of folk art and new literature inspired by the spirit of heritage during the protests. It produced works of art that belong to the street and express it, but at the same time, involved in the Jordanian cultural heritage. This can produce future cultural potentials and productions that contribute to the creation of new cultural awareness in the country.

In addition to the important concrete and instantaneous achievements I mentioned, the most important lesson that can be built upon not only by the Jordanians, but by all of the Arabs, is that the Arab region is not an exception and it can represent a state of change and popular reform. We have learned that popular movements can have happy endings that are not tragic or violent, as a peaceful popular movement that only lasted a few days could achieve all these achievements with almost no loss, due of the wisdom and rationality of the movement, and because the state handled it smoothly. Hence, this region plagued by blood, war and tyranny can make popular achievements and reforms without bloodshed. At least this is what the Jordanian experience says.

This article first appeared in Arabic on Arabi21 on 11 June 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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