On Friday, the Islamists’ demonstration in Mafraq, north of Amman, was yet another missed opportunity for the government to show seriousness in securing the safety of demonstrators. The intention to attack the Islamist demonstrators was well-known to all. And yet the government failed to fulfill its basic duty of protecting people.
There are a number of lessons we can learn from the Friday events. First, it seems that the centres of power in Jordan are not in harmony. Worse, they have contending agendas that cripple the work of the government.
The minister of information and government spokesperson said what happened in Mafraq was against the government; such statements cannot be more revealing. The minister made it clear that the attack on Islamists was both unlawful and directed against the government. He stopped short of accusing other powers of facilitating the violent attack on Islamists.
It is hard to avoid the feeling that the prime minister’s statements and moves are a source of concern for many influential figures in Amman. Under his leadership, the government sends a clear signal that it will open the corruption files, a move that scares many.
Against this backdrop, the prime minister seems to stand lonely. Now the “thug” phenomenon reemerges and it has the potential of undermining the credibility of the government. We saw this before, with the previous government. It remains to be seen how the government is going to deal with this particular point.
Another important lesson has to do with the political culture prevailing in Jordan. It seems that many in Jordan have no internalised yet the fact that people have the right to express themselves peacefully. For many, Islamists pose a threat to Jordan and they should be dealt accordingly.
I often read what various Facebook groups discuss and I am afraid to say that I am shocked by the level of intolerance and incitement. The threat against Islamists was made clear on Facebook and other media outlets. And yet, a few took notice that this kind of intimidation is a result of the dominance of a negative political culture. This is what we need to take into account if we are really serious about reform.
Also, although it is legal for any political force to stage a demonstration everywhere in Jordan, there appears to be a need to respect the uniqueness of some places. For instance, Amman and Zarqa are known to be the strongholds of the Muslim Brothers. Islamists can demonstrate in these places as they wish. Nonetheless, there are some cities that are tribal. In these places, it is obvious that Islamists are not welcome. This is, of course, not a call to ban Islamists for going anywhere in Jordan or to confine them in Amman. It is rather a call to show prudence at this critical time.
In brief, the attack on Islamists last Friday rang the alarm bell for all of us. The last thing we need in Jordan is to drag the country into chaos. If this trend continues unchecked, worse is yet to come.