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The birth of a social contract?

Sep 24,2018 - Last updated at Sep 24,2018

Muawiyah Ibn Abi Sufian, founder of the Umayyad Dynasty, is credited with many achievements, but he is least known for his greatest accomplishment: He shaped Arab government and political communication for centuries to follow.

His description of himself being connected to the people by a hair which he did not allow to break, meant that whenever the people rose against him, he would placate them with fibs and empty promises, which he would forget once they dispersed. Muawiyah’s paradigm worked for 1,400 years, until last week, when it failed in Jordan’s governorates. 

The public was not mollified enough to accept the draft income tax law which had precipitated the protests last June. The palliative of presenting it by a new Cabinet, headed by one who is publicly recognised as honest, did not work. 

Wherever the ministers went to explain that the law, which was unacceptable eight weeks ago, is now good, they were met by hostile crowds who told them that they were welcome in their personal capacity, but not as ministers. 

The government responded with its default message, that its critics are spoilt brats who do not want the good of the country. The public on the other side, as Hassan Barari described in his article titled “Restoring Public Trust”, which was published in The Jordan Times on September 17, refused to be exploited by a government that was unresponsive to their concerns and priorities. The two sides appeared poised for a head-on collision, which did not bode well for the country. 

And then came Prime Minister Omar Razzaz’s interview on the Jordan TV news programme 60 Minutes. To her credit, interviewer Abeer Al Zaben departed from the usual “we think you are wonderful, would you care to comment” type of interview and asked the questions that concern the public. Razzaz, to his credit, departed from prime ministers’ default behaviour of disavowing responsibility for their own actions by describing them as Royal commands or dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), or blaming everything on the previous government.

Instead, the PM acknowledged the government’s shortcomings, promised to correct them and defined criteria for measuring success. He was not afraid to name individuals who are convicted or wanted in relation with cases of corruption involving millions of dinars, and he explained the measures being taken to bring them to justice. He also set deadlines for achieving results in fighting corruption, unemployment and economic stagnation. 

This is a new one: a prime minister who is not afraid of having his own words put in his mouth.   

As for the income tax bill, he acknowledged that it would have been preferable to defer it for a year. But some debts need to be rescheduled this year, and unless Jordan gets a good IMF credit rating, it would be charged exorbitant interest rates. 

For this forthrightness, Razzaz deserves support from the one stakeholder who would benefit from the success of this economic and political reform programme: The Jordanian public. It would be worth taking the risk of trusting him, if only because the alternative does not bear contemplating.

 

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Once debited to the IMF, always under control.

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