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Division should not be allowed

Jan 26,2014 - Last updated at Jan 26,2014

Official Jordan loves its success story and is not ashamed to flaunt it. In a sea of contradictory waves of conflict around us, in the Arab World, Jordan emerges as a well-managed winner, having not only settled discontent within its borders but also weaved through political pressures from across its borders.

So it is normal that three years after the beginning of the Arab Spring, Jordan should be a bit smug about its achievement.

Without being the voice of gloom and doom, however, I want to poke a needle into that happy balloon and issue what I believe is a timely warning: countries around us are falling to their knees because they allowed racist, discriminatory, exclusionist, sectarian and religious narratives to become part of the local political storylines.

At the beginning of the “Arab Spring”, the government played a dangerous game of allowing (and sometimes co-organising) counterdemonstrations carrying the banner of “Jordanian nationalism” against the “reformists”.

I am not taking sides in this debate, but pointing to the idea of creating a “counter” political tool and voice to every national debate in order to undermine it.

The government later woke up to the folly of that tactic and although remnants of that type of political dichotomisation still exist in here and there, that “ploy” has, at least for the time being, been dropped.

Yet what we did see was an escalating trend where, feeling disenfranchised, families and smaller tribes formed their “rabita” centres in order to consolidate their influence to the service of their smaller unit and exaggerate their worth within the political and more often economic structures and hierarchies in the country.

In the background, the Syrian and Iraqi crises, and the escalation and growing misinformation from those war-torn zones, pitted Arabs along sectarian divisions, and especially along religious (and minority) lines. And to a large extent, this is a natural response and evolution from the sectarian discourse of this new phase of the so-called Arab Spring.

But Jordan cannot afford to allow this narrative — and its political tools — to seep into its political, economic or social makeup, or the story of success will turn very quickly into a completely different story altogether.

And there are telltale signs that segments of the population, probably because they are fearful of becoming lost in the maze of the larger regional sectarian power grab and lose their place and status in society.

This week, I heard of an effort to create an organised group for the Christians in Jordan under the name “Rabetat Masee7ee Al Mashreq”.

I believe that there are those in Jordan who feel that this organisation is acceptable politically and socially in order to protect the rights of this very important and critical minority in Jordan.

There is very little public debate on the need for this political grouping, but from the little I saw, some feel that with Jordan having allowed the creation of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) on a religious basis and other Islamist political groups, it stands to reason that the Christians should do the same.

I am against it (and here I am not calling on the government to ban the organisation, but open the door for a national debate) and want to put forward a few reasons why I am taking this position.

Christians in Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq have historically been at the forefront of political ideologies that fed Arab unity, and not division.

It is both sad and worrying that they now feel the need to shed this idealistic and optimistic vision for the Middle East of which they were an integral part, and are becoming a fearful, terrified, reduced presence as a minority hiding behind the cloak of their religion rather than their national and political identity.

Second, I refer again to the tactics of using political groups and their counterparts to create social and political rifts.

Do the Christians in Jordan really want to be used in that kind of political game?

Will it protect their interests or will it put them forward as a potential winner in political wrangling, but also a potential loser and victim (and I believe that is more likely)?

The argument is that the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and other Islamist groups — as is being put forward by proponents of the new group — have been allowed to organise politically under the banner of religion.

But then, we need to ask ourselves if we want to employ the same tactic for the political organisation of every religious group (and ethnic minority) in the country.

Wouldn’t it be more prudent to go back to rebuilding bridges and holding dialogues on anxieties in order to find common grounds rather than institutionalise division?

Wouldn’t it be more important for the country to have everyone work to ensure that religion and politics do not become, and are not allowed to become, alternate tools of governance, be that Muslim or Christian and any of their denomination?

We worked hard for decades to maintain Jordan’s image as a tolerant, inclusionist and modern country in which Muslims, Christians, Jordanians and Palestinians, as well as Chechens, Armenians, Circassians, Syrians, Iraqis and many more have lived in harmony socially and to a large extend divided the political and economic gains among them somewhat fairly.

Yes, there is a need to revisit the old formulas and try to install a system of meritocracy that rises above sectarian and denominational divisions.

And if there is real concern among the Christian minority, then it must be addressed at the highest political levels, and very quickly, before it escalates and feeds into something else.

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