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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Top websites in Jordan

What a shame. I was hoping that internet usage has evolved over the years and I was hoping the top websites in Jordan would include something interesting.

I started editing and creating Wikipedia pages around 2005, hoping to leave the world an easier and simpler place for those wishing to learn about a topic. A Free encyclopedia sounded like an aim

Alex gave us the rating for the top websites in Jordan
Alexa rates websites by popularity

Today, I looked up Alexa’s ranking for the most visited websites in Jordan. Hoping to see what intrigues Jordanians. I was pleasantly surprised when I noticed that stackoverflow.com is among the top website in Jordan. Which shows that Jordan is becoming vibrant with software developers.

I was also glad that ArabiaWeather.com was in the top 10. Arabiaweather is a real success story, despite official ridicule by the government, the young company was able to become the only real and reliable weather related service from the private sector in the Middle East. We needed that, we also needed to see in the top websites in Jordan.

Just look at the miserable state of the official portal of the Jordanian Meteorological Department, honest to God, they are using wallpaper images from Windows 95. The footer image background is called Midnight Blue and the mobile version doesn’t work properly.

What is a shame, however, is that a porn website is ranked 13 in Jordan (no hyperlink here). Really! Come on!

The top 20 website are broken as follows:

  • Google.com is #1, Google.jo is #10 and Yahoo is Number #18
  • 13 are local news sites
  • Youtube is #4, Facebook is #11
  • ArabiaWeather is #9
  • Porn site is number #13

The fact that 13 news sites are in the top 20 is a good indication, however, this shows that the field is not settled yet and soon either a major force in news will take over and destroy them or that we will see consolidation.

Number 49 is osskanger.com, which is a virus. That means that a large portion of Jordanian computers are infected with a virus.

Wikipedia is at #21 in Jordan while globally it is #13, this after factoring in the effect of chinese megasites such as Tmall, Baidu, QQ, Sohu, Taobao and 360.cn and JD.com .Take China out of the mixture and we will notice that Wikipedia jumps to #5

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Statistics in Jordan

Followers on my twitter account will realize that this is not the first time that I broach this topic. I am by force of nature, a data-scientist. I delve into statistics by forces that are beyond my control.

The answer to many questions we work on, on a daily basis are solved by simple data analysis. So whenever I have an issue in life, I will look into the available data to try and resolve it.

I manage a small unit in my line of work, around 30 people and 4-6 managers depending on the year. I was having a discussion with a colleague that said that my firm has regressed in promoting females to leadership positions recently. He said it is becoming a trend in Jordan. Mere weeks later, my company announced the result of its restructure and 3 out of 5 VP positions are now held by females.

I am comforted by the progressiveness of the statement and I am further glad to note that Jordan insists on quotas (hidden or announced) to maintain the progressive trend towards gender equality. I look to data to consolidate my position and therefore I had to look at the Jordanian Department of Statistics 

I looked up the data of female managers and I was immediately dismayed.

 

 

Male to Female comparison of manager positions in Jordan according to Department of Statistics

It looked like the private sector has removed 750 female managers in a year, out of a total of 1,800. A disaster, surely. What is worse is that International Organisations have removed all female managers while growing male managers by 30%.

If this data is correct, then there is a disaster looming, if the data is wrong, then what is our government using?

To further prove my point, I wanted to look at something else: income erosion. Were Jordanians getting paid less in 2018 than 2017 and if so, by how much

 

Number of Jordanians eranign more than 500 Jordanian Dnars
Number of Jordanians earning more than 500 Jordanian Dinars 2017-2018

It seemed the government and private sector both fired the higher earners. This is ridiculous! Surely, if I looked into the data, I would find the missing link. So I decided to look into the new hires in 2018 for answers

Today I went here and I chose second half of 2018.

Department of statistics in Jordan did not have Job Creation data of second half of 2018 by October 2019
Department of statistics in Jordan did not have Job Creation data of second half of 2018 by October 2019

By now, I don’t think that it comes as a surprise that I got nothing

In addition to the website not being secure! The website had no Job Creation data for the second half of 2018 by October 2019
In addition to the website not being secure! The website had no Job Creation data for the second half of 2018 by October 2019

No wonder the government is unable to take decisions, it doesn’t have the most elementary tools. I have sent an email to the Department of Statistics and I will tag the minister of planning and International Cooperation with this post. However, I know for a fact that this is part of the government failure to track even the most basic elements of data

Peace, Out!

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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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Literary Scene in Amman

Today I have to write about the literary scene in Jordan. I will start by saying it is a shame that we still have to pay a GST on book sales in Jordan. I am not sure how big a source of revenue it is, but judging by this article, the 71 publishers (are they still 71 since writing?) think it is further destroying the scene in Amman.

In ramadan, my reading hours increase as work hours decrease. I also visit bookstores as part of killing time while waiting for Iftar. My two favorite stores have met their demise this year.

The First is the Jordan Book Center, which used to have a good mix of curricula books and a decent selection of books. The second was the University Bookshop on Gardens Street.

I owe that store a good portion of my older books. The ones I bought in my late teens and early twenties. Almost all of my Mario Puzo collection is from that bookshop.

I have no doubt that both these stores realized that their business model is quickly eroding in Jordan. The Jordanian -barely existent- culture of reading is quickly fading away. Faced with a slow economy

I usually research my posts more than this, however, I went to the Department of Statistics website in order to try and get a feel of the literary scene in Jordan with some data and I knew I will fail when I saw this.

Disregard the 4st [Sic] Quarter for a second, trying to get a glimpse of data from the -assumedly- dashboard will have you comparing data from November 2018 with data from April 2019 and the 4th Quarter -again assumedly-

Ofcourse, the DoS will not have data on booksales in Jordan. For one thing, me and large number of my fellow citizens wait till we travel abroad to buy them because of the huge price differential and the selection that is available.

Second, it has become more and more common to do your book shopping from places like these

Street vendors of books are becoming more mainstream and are found in more Western Locations in Amman where the old bookshops are shutting down
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