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Why national politics are more important

Feb 09,2014 - Last updated at Feb 09,2014

I rarely — if ever — write about foreign policy in Jordan or the Arab world, primarily because when I started my career as a journalist a couple of decades ago, and writing this column, some years ago, very few journalists dared or wanted to write about local issues and that vacuum provided me with an interesting niche to explore.

At the time, being seen as an expert on “foreign policy” placed journalists and columnists on a higher echelon, where they rubbed shoulders with foreign dignitaries and discussed “issues of mutual interest” almost in a parallel universe to the Prime Ministry or even the Royal Court.

The power rush from that elevated status, it was obvious, was addictive and therefore we saw journalist after journalist follow the news about the Arab-Israeli conflict, American influence and the different manifestations of superpower politics — including its regional manifestations — from all angles and with varying degrees of convincing political analysis and journalistic credibility.

Those “senior” journalists and columnists accompanied the King on his state visits, attended Arab summits and other high-profile conferences as part of the “official” delegation, reaping not only financial benefit (in per diems and other remuneration) but also experiencing other cultures and becoming exposed to alternate views of the world and politics in general.

On the flip side of this rosy picture there were the “other” journalists and columnists.

Reporting on and challenging internal policies was risky business with very little reward and, more often than not, guaranteed one an invitation “for a cup of coffee” at the blue building.

Those who do not know, the blue building was the Abdali intelligence headquarters, which was demolished and replaced by the much more tourist-friendly promenade with this same name.

There was a long list of taboo subjects that we could not touch: policies relevant to citizenship and national identity and how they were being moulded and spun to create two-tier citizenship structures, the limits or extent of authority of the Royal Court, government and Parliament, the influence of tribes and undeclared (and unquantifiable) benefits from the state to the more influential ones, the economic influence — and therefore political clout — of Jordanians of Palestinian origin and their relationship with the regime, the “deal” between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and its impact on the leftists and Arab nationalists, to name just a few.

It stood to reason that, as a matter of survival at least, opinion writers and journalists would gravitate towards the less threatening “foreign policy issues” and leave “national issues” to “dissidents” and “rebels”.

And as the division became clearer between the two, we were eventually left with a Jordanian press profile that was starkly divided with labels and counterlabels that basically created two clearly different camps of journalists: “loyalist beneficiaries” — mostly men who by now were wearing designer suits, puffing on cigars and trotting around the world discussing “the latest political developments” — and “dissident untouchables” who, having been denied membership in the Jordan Press Association (JPA) and employment by the “more influential” national newspapers, sought work with foreign media organisations, NGOs, academia, news websites or left the country to work elsewhere.

This division continues to this day and, in my opinion, it is ever expanding and reflected in how each issue of political significance to the country is being reported on, internalised, analysed, marketed and regurgitated to the Jordanian public.

We have become the tools the system uses to perpetuate the “us” versus “them” narrative, where we are the “protectors of the country’s security and national integrity” and they are “non-conformists and dissenters who want to invite foreign meddling and change the face of the Jordan we know”.

All those issues came back to mind after I mentioned to a friend and colleague how I cannot shake off my need to write local issues, and how I always find myself pursuing issues of human rights, citizenship, personal freedom, instead of the more glamorous and rewarding foreign policy analysis, in which incidentally I hold my university qualifications.

It is because these issues matter more to what and who we are as citizens of our country and what we bequeath our children.

And it is because that is where we can make a difference.

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