Medicine in the Arab World

AvicennaListening to Arab Autocrats, you will think that medicine is still the domain of the Arabs. We are the sole beneficiaries of Avicenna’s knowledge that we inherited and improved upon. They all boast of the availability Medicine in the Arab World to their loyal subjects.

When I was younger the whole of Jordan was learning to memorize the name of the state of Massachusetts because the King of Jordan was being treated by Mayo Clinic for his late stage cancer. This was in 1998 and 1999. Even in that time, there existed a Medical City called the King Hussein Medical City, but he still travelled for treatment.

In 2010, the world watched as the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia travelled to the US for treatment of a herniated disc. Medicine in the Arab World did not seem to suit him either. He had to find it treatment ten thousand kilometers away.

Earlier this year, the Kuwaiti Emir travelled to the US for treatment. This was after the Bahraini Prime Minister came back from Germany after he spent time there for treatment. A prime minister since 1971, he surely knows the state of Medicine in the Arab World. He also has an award in his name for Bahraini doctors. But he didn’t let them operate on him apparently

Today I learnt that the Palestinian Chief Negotiator – I kid you not, this position still exists – Saeb Erekat has been diagnosed with COVID-19. He has been transferred to Hadassah Hospital which is ran by Israel Medical Services. It is important to note that some members of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, asked for concessions for treating him. Also important is the note that no one has treatment for COVID-19 yet.

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Jordanian Elections and why I won’t participate

Here is why I will skip the Jordanian Election 2020

The Palestinian population of Jordan has for the longest while seemed to integrate and assimilate in the Jordanian society. However, a look in the present working of the governmental apparatus shows that there is still a scare. We recently saw more and more ministers from Palestinian background. The Jordanian Elections, its laws and the Parliament it produces are still not representative enough.

Registered refugees of Palestinian origin in Jordan are different to almost any other country in the Middle East. Most of the refugees are in fact Jordanian nationals and Jordanian citizens. The figure varies between 80-95% depending on your definition of refugee.

Most of Palestinian refugees in Jordan have Jordanian nationalities
UNRWA figures on Palestinian Refugees holding Jordanian Nationality

The Jordanian Parliamentary Elections are announced for November 10th. The Jordanian streets are getting filled with propaganda and campaign slogans for the elections. However, nothing much has changed over the past two elections. In fact the electoral law that was passed to arguably encourage parties and political development has failed.

We are yet to see a centrist or left-leaning party gain any sizable gains. Right wing parties are continuously being challenged and harassed. At least according to the literature on the material. Therefore, tribalism and voting on ethnic and other backgrounds is as rampant as it ever was, if not more.

36% of eligible voters in 2016 actually cast their votes if we are to follow the Independent Election Commission figures. However, that is not the main story I want to write about.

Under-representation for some

In Amman and Zarqa, the two cities with the largest population, the voter turnout reached 23.1% and 25.0% respectively. Amman and Zarqa hold more than 50% of the eligible voters, however, they hold only 30% of the seat of parliament. Alone, that doesn’t look so bad.

However, look at this, a Jordanian citizen residing in Tafila, has 4 times more representation in Parliament than a citizen in Amman. Almost the same applies to a Jordanian from Ma’an as compared to Zarqa

Amman residents (Ammanis) and Zarqa residents are under-represented in the elections
Tafila residents has 4 times as much representation than Amman Residents

I am under-represented and disenfranchised in the elections. The political machinery in the regime seems to be glad of the status quo. Therefore, I will continue to not show up on election day in order to keep Amman figures low.

This is a conscious decision on my part. Many of my countrymen have a feeling that their vote matters little especially when the Independent Election Commission head lets us know that 80 members of Parliament in the 2007 elections were “appointed”. Many of those were still members of Parliament until recently, and running for elections in the 2020 elections.

Gerrymandering in Jordanian Elections

Election Gerrymandering is not new in Jordan; the residents of Amman -many of them hailing from ethnic Palestinian origins- have found themselves fighting tribal loyalties in the capital. That’s why the major refugee camps in Amman have been distributed among the five (previously seven) districts

While for example in Balqa’a Governorate, there are around 300,000 eligible voters, the gerrymandered governorate did not see it fit to divide that governorate.

In order to keep the Palestinian population from overwhelming the district that include the Baqa’a refugee Camp. This will happen if, for example, Balqa’a was split into two districts in keeping with the average of around 180 thousand eligible voters per district.

The official count of camp residents is around 100 thousand, however, the surrounding area (not included in the official estimates) could include 150-200 thousand more people of Palestinian origin

Electoral Districts in Jordan, Comparing Irbid to Balqa'a
Balqa has one of the highest eligible voters per district counts in Jordan, many believe it is because of the heavy Palestinian-Jordanian residents in Baqa’a camp and the surrounding area

Irbid, to contrast, has been split into 4 districts and has an around average district size.

Tribal zoning and its effect on Jordanian Elections

Jordan has one of the only Election systems that allows people to actually vote not based on the place were they reside, but where their family names has historically lived.

We have three Bedouin Areas (North, Center and South) and they are overrepresented as well. 2.8 times more represented than Amman and have a voter turnout of more than 72%.

Amman and Zarqa as compared to the Bedouin Areas
Mixed Cities (Amman and Zarqa) as compared to the three Bedouin Areas

Of course voter turnout can be explained by the willingness to be in that area’s lists. Meaning a resident of Amman wanting to vote in the Southern Bedouin Area, will most probably put the effort to transfer his vote. However, if that citizen did not intend to vote he would just stay at the logs of Amman.

However, maintaining the tribal system in 2020, means that the tribal elections that occur still have more influence on the Parliament than the parties and agendas I have seen in Jordan.

Finally

It is important to engage the widest possible percentage of voters in the Jordanian Elections in order to pave the way for agendas and programs to surface, hopefully, parties and progress that is not tied to individuals.

In our individualist society, that is urgently needed. However, until I see an election law that squares me as an equal citizen of this country I will continue to pass on the Jordanian Elections and spend the election day holiday at home.

Peace, out!

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Flight Laundering

Jordan is shaping up to be the flight laundering station between the Gulf capitals and Israel

There was a time when the face that Jordanians overfly Israel and Palestinian territories was a novel concept. Whenever we sat in ICAO meetings in Cairo or some other capital, the word “Israel” spoken made many uncomfortable. The attendance evaded that by saying “Lima Lima Lima Lima.” 

It was not a Peruvian patriotic chant or some sort of debilitating stutter. It was a reference to the Phoentic pronunciation of LLLL. The ICAO code for Tel Aviv FIR, the airspace that Israel manages.

People where uncomfortable acknowledging the world Israel meant something now. I always thought it was a rather “Head-in-the sand” approach to dealing with the problem

Laundering as it where the word Israel or Tel Aviv and cleaning it into the cacophonous  “Lima Lima Lima Lima” always seemed ridiculous to me. 

 

That was something that we got used to, public pressure to conform to the official line of no recognition and no peace was always there. On the other hand, many rumors of normalization went on for years on end.

 

LLLL Airspace
Tel Aviv FIR as part of the EUR region and Paris office

Tel Aviv FIR falls under the Paris office in ICAO, meaning it is considered in EURope. While a stone-throw away (no pun intended) from Europe, Israel is solidly in the Middle East, however, it was never welcomed in the MID region which covers the Middle East. 

 

The move to the Paris office was logical to the Middle East and the Israelis. So much so that a few years later, Israeli airspace is now under a comprehensive agreement with the Euro-control.

 

That was then, this is now. 

 

Cl-604 landing in Marka
The bizjet landed with a squawk code of 0431

On Tuesday the 22nd of October, an airplane landed in Amman’s Marka Airport on 19:09 GMT.

 

Two minutes later the aircraft departed the same airport in the opposite direction and with a different squawk code. The two minute stop could be pushing the edge of what is legal as it doesn’t seem the flight has truly terminated to require a new code. 

 

Preparing for a proper departure in a jet aircraft usually needs no less than 5 minutes at least and usually around 15-20 minutes. Being a night flight necessitates more caution. Someone was in a rush 

 

Departing Cl-604 from Marka
The aircraft departing two minutes later with 0710 squawk

To land on Runway 06 in Marka is not normal and someone was coordinating their operation intently.

 

A squawk is a code that allows Aircraft to talk to secondary radars. The series of codes allocated to each country can usually be a tell-tale of the origin of the aircraft 

 

This makes it seem that the flight originated from Amman. For all intents and purposes, someone put an effort to try to make it look like the aircraft originated from Jordan.

 

The aircraft is US-registered and media reports are actually pointing to Mark Esper’s visit to Saudi and a possible meeting including Israeli officials

tweet from Avi Scharf, an Israeli journalist, actually made this laundering public. The journalist seems to have a tracking passion. Many of his twitter posts point to FlightRadar24 images and some images of what seems to be a flightfeeder

 

A previous tweet by Avi explained that this flight laundering is common place. In the strained public perception of Israel by citizens of gulf countries, it seems to legitimize the flight and make it clean. 

 

Many other media outlets also referenced the same event to point to the possibility of Netanyahu being on the airplane

 

The aircraft also did a small stop on the way back in Marka Airport, again changing the squawk code. This time a more normal turnaround of 20 minutes ensued. 

 

These antics were not envisaged when the air transport system was designed. It does mean that the operators and pilots of such flights are usually put under more pressure and this can lead to undesirable results, if not incidents and accidents.

 

The local regulator in Jordan will find itself helpless. The political pressure to maintain the relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel at the bare minimum will override any bureaucrat desire to apply simple and well-established procedures that guarantee safety. Flight Laundering seems to be the equivalent of money laundering in politics.

 

 Peace, Out!

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Visualizing Palestine

Information, imagery and advocacy

I was looking through twitter on my phone I ran into this tweet. I knew this was something big from when I saw it

I have always appreciated the effort that many people spend in trying to advocate a cause. When it is a cause I agree with, I like to put something out there to help. A small donation, are-tweet or maybe just a mention.

Visualizing palestine is a in a class of its own, the effort is huge and the visuals they create are tantamount to art. The message is based on fact, visualized to maximize the impact. The beauty of it is ethereal and the content is always weel-researched.

Have a look at their main project and their 101 subsite. This is not a project per se, it feels more like a movement. The influence of which depends on you and me. Look at their work, share it and let people know about it.

If you like their work and believe in their missions, then become a member. I did. Contribute financially towards sustaining their effort. More importantly. Use the visuals, use the data.

I will try to do that as well.

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Authoritarianism in Jordan

I never understood how a unit of the army – for that is what they are – can call a civilian for a “cup of coffee” and a friendly chitchat without due process. There is no writ of habeas corpus nor legal representation. Subpoena rights are out of the question of course, but they still call you and ask you to attend.

I know I live under an authoritarian regime, I never imagined anything different and I never thought that the instruments of authoritarianism will ever surrender their power without a fight. To be clear, the Jordanian regime has made it clear that the fight will always be peaceful and as long as it is principled, it will always be fruitful.

I just never knew how to be sure about how authoritarian the regime was until I saw an episode that John Oliver‘s show did in November 2018

So I wanted to use the 1,2,3 of John Oliver to check if Jordan is an authoritarian Regime

I was called into the intelligence services offices a couple of times, and no, it wasn’t because of my intelligence. I was never insulted, threatened, or even offended or anything of the sort. The experience was always pleasant, in so long that I understood that they can ask and I can answer.

I never understood how a unit of the army – for that is what they are – can call a civilian for a “cup of coffee” and a friendly chitchat without due process. There is no writ of habeas corpus nor legal representation. Subpoena rights are out of the question of course, but they still call you and ask you to attend.

Seeing a Jordanian Brigadier General get 4 – yes, four- cars for the benefit of his family always made me wonder. I am certain that any self-respecting military in the modern world do not extend such privileges to their senior officers, yet it happens.

I knew it was the one of the ways the regime appeases the tribal associations that are being maintained in the military, but I was saddened that this is where my tax Dinars are going. I didn’t think it was undeserved, but rather excessive.

On the same scale I used to walk into police stations and find Lieutenants in charge of the couple of rooms that were the law-enforcement capability in the area. While a precinct in NYPD -for comparison- is usually headed by a Captain, sometimes a Major (Deputy Inspector). The inflation in rank whether in the Army, Gendarmerie or Military has become so obvious in Jordan that it became the butt of some untasteful jokes.

1-Image of strength

While this resource-intensive exercise in imagery and prestige is a must, it hurt to realize that this was mainly done to project the image of strength, capability and military might. Strength is one image favored by authoritarian regimes and usually on parallel with images of their leaders in full military uniform, often leading the march on their enemies.

Being a Field Marshall or a similar high rank was almost a prerequisite for the despots of old time.

The Jordanian regime is not a power usurper as with the cases above, nor is it a failed republic or a dysfunctional democracy. It is however, a constitutional monarchy. The Monarchy part is active, the other parts of the equation, not so much. The image of strength is heavily present in all sorts of media and propaganda, and the one below was copied from our embassy in Washington’s website

Our King is a Field Marshall, however, he is probably the most militarily capable of the Field Marshall’s I mentioned. He runs his military actively, but that is because he was trained for it at the best institutes of the world and he is a formidable military leader

2-Demonizing Enemies

Enemies are another favorite of despots but that is mainly on us, trump understood this back in ’12, watch him use it soon!

That is the easiest way to increase your popularity, no one ever heard of someone asking for a change of course during war. All that people ask for in wars is unity behind our troops and leaders. There is no doubt that Roosevelt would not have served 4 terms were it not for the oratorical space provided by the Second World War.

Think of Churchill losing the election 2 months after VE Day and you will understand two things: 1-The necessity of public support which is why the election was not delayed to a “more appropriate time”. 2- The peaceful handover of power, even -and perhaps especially- for wartime heroes.

Jordan has been notoriously unlucky with its enemies, in 2011, the king called on Assad to step down, later we were at war with extremism in some form or the other for a few years. Finally, it seems the country whose burden of providing refuge, military resistance and political and ideological moderation has been rewarded with the raw end of the deal.

So much so, that the new bogie man is now the “Deal of the century” and its backers who are attempting to move the Palestinian “Final Solution” to the Jordanian boundary.

The three men (Mohammed Bin Salman, Trump, Kushner) pushing the “Deal of the Century” which is rumored to include a city in the south of Jordan and North of Saudi Arabia that will hold those disaffected by the deal that

We are supposed to be afraid of a deal that no one knows about yet. All the government ministers are supposedly refuting that they have seen any scheme of the deal. Yet they are adamant that they are refusing it.

Our foreign minister told me -among others, in public- last week, that he is not aware of the details of the deal. This is therefore the typical definition of fear mongering. Why are we all worried about a deal that we know nothing about.

The issue to me seems to be that Jordanians do not know whether moderation now is the right thing. It has brought us nothing but international scrutiny and national debate on our ability to have our own sovereignty.

We have had more than our share of Enemies and we have demonized them. Whether our stands were inconsistent with each other remains to be seen.

3-Dismantling institutions

I recall vividly that I read about the constitutional crises that faced King Hussein, however, he never assumed that the problem was with his father’s constitution. In fact, while he pushed martial law and emergency decisions, The Constitution remained a bastion of freedom and an exemplary document that other countries envied and sometimes copied from.

However, the recent amendments in the constitution has shown an escalation of the speed in which power and authority is being consolidated in the palace institution and these changes are outside of the old, established and sometimes antiquated institutions of government that preserved some semblance of democracy.

It is interesting to note that all the people I talk to in the higher echelons of politics insist that these changes were not the wishes of the King but the reactionary ventures of those who surround him and who try to protect the regime – of which they are a part- with the only way they know how

Peace, Out!

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