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Liberal-conservative political labels

Feb 16,2019 - Last updated at Feb 16,2019

Deceitful labels of liberal and conservative in Jordan seem to be misleading everyone, including those self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives. As a contribution to the debate, this is an attempt to help both “parties” better self-define through a checklist of values and positions that define how liberal or a conservative an individual is on political issues. In the coming weeks, I will also address economic and social values associated with the two camps.

On the King’s power, a conservative, also called a Royalist, would argue that the King should keep his current powers or even have more powers. A liberal would argue that the King has too much power and his power should be reduced. Ironically, it is not the liberal camp that called for fewer Royal powers throughout the recent history of Jordan. On the contrary, it is the Islamists, who cannot be defined as “liberal”, who called for that. When liberals were appointed by the King and held power disproportionately larger than their presence in society, some of the conservatives were calling for less Royal powers. In this context, the liberals were not elected through the existing universal suffrage of voting rights in public elections, and most those of them who ran in parliamentary elections failed to win seats, with miserably low votes.

The King defines himself as left-wing, leaning on health and education, and right-wing, leaning on foreign policy and military. He is a “realist” on both accounts because he wants to ensure the macro safety and security of the country and would like to see good universal healthcare and education. We will return to these in the coming weeks.

Politically, a conservative would generally support military force and strength. In our current situation, a conservative is likely to argue that force is the best way to deal with terrorism. A liberal would advocate addressing the “root causes” of terrorism, such as economic disparity, injustice and inequality, and argue that military force breeds hatred, which leads to more terrorism. In Jordan’s context, it is hard to find any significant difference between the two camps on this issue. On a larger macro level, conservatives would support the position that says the best way for Jordan to remain safe is through increased military strength, while a liberal would argue more democracy and better diplomacy.

Although foreign policy is not a flagrantly clear divisive issue, it does not seem to be a contested issue between conservatives and liberals, such as in the US. In a comparative context, hypothetically, a conservative would be more of the view that Jordan should concentrate on internal issues, while a liberal would argue that Jordan should play an active role in the politics of the region. Probably a more accurate description of Jordan’s foreign policy would be “realist”. It means Jordan acts in ways consistent with its national interests. A more complex issue is the involvement of the US in Jordan: Is the US involvement in Jordan bad or good? Does the position differ among self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives? Liberals advocated stronger relations with totally illiberal neighbours, and were strongly against relations with socially liberal, politically illiberal neighbours! It seems there is little room for manoeuvring and disagreements between both camps on foreign policy issues.

In regard to the position on refugees, the assumption is that a conservative would argue that a growing refugee population is damaging Jordan, while a liberal would argue it is helping Jordan. Can we define the majority of Jordanians who reject receiving more refugees, around three-quarters, or those supporting their return, 87 per cent of Jordanians and two-thirds of Syrian refugees in Jordan, according to NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions, as “conservatives”, even when the main reason for that position is hard economic conditions and not stemming from exclusionary or primordially-defined xenophobic attitudes? Furthermore, for those who support receiving more refugees, the main reason is either religious or Arab-nationalistic brotherly motivation, rather than a deeply rooted egalitarian civic value system resembling that of the Swedish/Nordic refugee welcoming, rights-based culture.

While a liberal would argue that the government should loosen the control of the media, a conservative would argue for maintaining that control. Liberals and conservatives alike called for more legal accountability of media, and some self-proclaimed liberals, in particular, attacked their political opponents in mob-fashion personal attacks and blocked people on social media for differences of opinion. It is too early to delineate clear lines between liberals and conservatives in Jordan over political and foreign policy issues.

In practical terms, if liberals are pro-peace with Israel, how can they justify normalisation with continuing Israeli occupation, which asphyxiates basic liberal values of freedom? Moreover, establishment conservatives share similar positions with liberals on relations with Israel. Both have a realist, rather than an ideological approach. These examples of political issues suggest that the labels of liberal and conservative in the internal and external Jordanian political contexts are impractical categories for political identities, and their blanket usage adds ambiguity more than clarity. Both camps are invited to crystallise their political and foreign policy positions so that voters and constituencies can know where they stand.

 

The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions [email protected] 

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