Archive for the 'Jordan' Category

Nov 18 2015

Religion should not be used to fight radicalism

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

In fighting the scourge of radicalism and religious fundamentalism, one of the strategies is to use religion.

Proponents of this approach vary from those who insist that Daesh and its ideology is simply built on a warped understanding of religion to those who say that the best way to fight religious fundamentalism is by promoting religious moderation as the effective way of combating dark and deadly ideology.

Both ideas have an inherent problem in them.

Playing the game of the radicals and terrorists is unlikely to solve anything.

The fact is that any religious text is easily amenable to interpretation, which means that anyone can find a text to support his/her position.

It is very easy to take a text out of context in order to support a particular point of view.

Yousef Rababaa, a Jordanian professor at Philadelphia University, north of Amman, argues forcefully against the efforts of Jordan TV to fight religious radicalism by using religion.

In an article recently published on AmmanNet, titled “Fighting radicalism with radicalism”, he argues that radicals will always win if you argue with them, simply on the basis of religious text. Continue Reading »

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Nov 04 2015

Resorting again to detaining journalists

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By Daoud Kuttab

The government, which has made slow but important progress in guaranteeing media freedoms, took a turn backwards.

The attorney general ordered on October 20 the detention of Osama Al Ramini, a member of the journalist syndicate and the owner of a licensed news website.

The act violates the country’s commitments.

Detaining journalists comes as a result of a loophole in the electronic crimes law.

The prime minister had earlier asked a governmental advisory body for the interpretation of Clause 11 of the recently amended electronic crimes law.

The Office of Interpretation, headed by Judge Hisham Al Tal, the president of the Judicial Council, responded on October 19 that the clause does allow the detention of a person accused of tort and slander on any electronic site; at the same time, the interpretation overrode clear clauses in the amended Press and Publications Law that forbid the detention of journalists.

The following day, the government ordered Ramini’s detention, causing an uproar among journalists, the syndicate and NGOs defending media.

The decision to detain a journalist is yet another blow to Jordan’s thriving electronic media, which has been growing steadily over years despite the continuous restrictions.

The same 2012 amended Press and Publications Law that guaranteed immunity to journalists from arrest for their views also stipulated that electronic news websites must be licensed just like the newspapers.

Nearly 300 unlicensed websites were blocked in June 2013 because of their violation of the controversial law.

The blocking of websites brought criticism of Jordan from relevant media rights groups locally and internationally. Local protests and an attempt to challenge the law in courts failed.

Publishers of electronic news sites that had complained about the new licensing scheme were told that by working for a licensed electronic publication, journalists and publishers will be protected from detention because they would automatically fall under the Press and Publications Law, which stipulates civil penalties but no detentions.

By being targeted for detention on accusations of slander, electronic journalists have been punished twice.

Having to adhere to the rigorous obligations of being licensed like a newspaper, including hiring an editor who is a four-year veteran member of the syndicate, electronic journalists are being negatively discriminated against by being detained before a judge can decide whether what they publish is slander or not.

The government decision to go after electronic journalists reflects a mentality that thinks it can deter all electronic media outlets by detaining journalists working for them.

This act is contrary to international commitments and it once again could break the trust between the government and the public.

When governments break their sacred promise to honour the right of the public to know and detain accredited journalists working for licensed news sites, they are attempting to muzzle the fourth estate.

The chilling effect of such detentions prevents professional journalists from doing their job, as they see that they are not protected even if they follow all the rules and regulations.

Jordan’s media scene was reviewed thoroughly this year by a UNESCO-appointed team that applied, for the review, the international organisations media index.

Some of the positive results highlighted by the report will most certainly be erased by the government decision to go after journalists in order to protect government officials or business people in bed with the government.

It is high time that the government understands that in the second decade of the 21st century, putting a journalist in prison is unacceptable and counterproductive.

Civil society and press freedom advocates also have a much more challenging goal now.

They can no longer accept pledges and guarantees of immunity from imprisonment in one law while other laws allow it.

It is now crucially important to ensure that proactive legislation clearly and unambiguously states that no journalist can be detained or arrested because of his/her views.

Such guarantee must clearly supersede the various existing laws that still allow for detaining journalists under a variety of justifications.

Continue Reading »

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Sep 30 2015

To fight extremism

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By Daoud Kuttab

In his plan to counter what he called khawarej (the outlaws) of Islam, His Majesty King Abdullah gave prominence to the role of communication in the battle for the heart soul and mind.

Item four of the seven-point plan the King laid out at the UN General Assembly Monday talked about amplifying the voice of moderate individuals.

“It is one of the greatest ironies of our time that extremist voices use advanced media to propagate ignorant ideas. We must not let our screens, airwaves, broadband and social media be monopolised by those who pose the greatest danger to our world. We too must populate our media, and more important, the minds of our young people, with the purity and power of moderation,” said the King.

The battle for the minds is not and should not be limited to the media, however. 

In an excellent analysis, columnist Rami G. Khouri took to task those who have a narrow view of countering extremism without searching for its root causes.

In his article in Al Jazeera America, titled “Beware the hoax of countering violent extremism”, Khouri calls on the global community to search deeper into the role of governments in helping increase terrorism.

“Violent extremism, it turns out, is the consequence of policies of Western and Middle Eastern states, and radical changes by both are required to stem the problem,” he argues, explaining the ongoing violent extremism as “a desperate reaction to political and socioeconomic hopelessness at home and dehumanization from foreign armies”.

While his argument has merit, it can be argued that the present crisis in Iraq and Syria is not the responsibility of either the Obama administration or of King Abdullah. Both were totally opposed to the Bush/Blair war on Iraq that gave birth to the current round of extremism.

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Sep 28 2015

What Does Jordan need to do with its Syrian refugees

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By Daoud Kuttab

As the international community struggles with the Syrian refugee crisis, many are looking at Jordan’s courageous position in absorbing as many as a million and a half Syrians as guests of the Kingdom.

While this hospitality has been duly recognized and rewarded, the longevity of the Syrian conflict is forcing all players to rethink the policy towards the Syrian refugees. What was thought to be a short term crisis which would end with the happy return back to Syria is turning to be a long term conflict that requires more than immediate housing, food and medical aid.

Alexandra Francis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has produced an important study on the issue and has suggested a number of takeaways that Jordan would do well by adhering to. She recommends integration of development and humanitarian aid, maintain protection space for refugees, formalize access to livelihoods and empower local governance actions as they integrate capacity building programs that help deliver services to the Jordanian population as well as to Syrian refugees.

The challenges facing Jordan are made even more acute as the slow but steady political reform process has resulted in a relatively progressive election law that has been welcomed by Jordanian democrats and civil society.

Jordan is not a signatory to the 1951Refugee Treaty and therefore doesn’t have the obligations of turning the temporary guests into asylum seekers. But Jordan is a signatory to the convention against torture which forbids the Kingdom from sending individuals to a country that might torture them.

Court records connected to a recent access to information case raised by Radio al Balad have shown that the issue of refugees is one of the state secrets designated by the Ministry of Interior and thus it is impossible to know exactly how many Syrians are in Jordan and how many have been sent back in contravention of the Torture Convention and in violation of the agreement Jordan has signed with the UN agency responsible for refugees UNHCR. Continue Reading »

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Aug 26 2015

The not so independent Parliament

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The independence of the three branches of the state is the bedrock of democracy. In Jordan, this independence, while guaranteed by the Constitution, one can still witness the inference of the executive branch.

Simply following the Parliament deliberations, which are being broadcast by a local NGO live on YouTube and by Radio Al Balad (ironically not on any of the many publicly owned TV and radio stations) demonstrates this problem.

Subcommittees’ amendments to the government-issued laws are routinely denied, making the process of turning draft laws to a subcommittee a farce and a waste of time and effort by individuals elected from the Parliament plenary itself.

The ineffectiveness of Parliament is reflected in the way members deal with one of its members who was elected on a national party list.

Rula Hroub, from the “Jordan is strong” party, is perhaps one of the most active members of Parliament. She has something smart to say at every session of Parliament. Her interventions are logical and her recommendations for text changes are practical, yet almost every single idea she presents in the House is voted down without any idea why.

Few argue convincingly against her ideas, yet when the speaker of the House calls for a vote, her suggestions repeatedly fail to get the needed votes. The situation has become so predictable that she started to begin her deliberations by saying: “I know this will not pass, but I need to say this for the record.” Continue Reading »

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May 06 2015

‘Public service broadcasting should not be run by government’

Published by under Articles,Jordan

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The caller on the phone, a close friend, was frantic.

“They are going to destroy us,” she said.

After calming her down, my friend who is a senior adviser at a local commercial TV station, said that several of their staff are leaving to work for a new station that the government is setting up.

“How can that happen, we invested in these people trained them and we pay them well. Furthermore what is the government doing creating yet another TV station, doesn’t it have enough with the existing stations it owns; and now it will take away the little advertising we have worked hard to attract,” she was saying.

I quietly explained to her that there is nothing one can do about the poaching problem, but that a real problem is the mistake that publicly funded television is allowed to broadcast advertising, which clearly violates the need for a level playing field.

The next day, my friend and I, and others, were invited by UNESCO to a celebration of Press Freedom Day held on the premises of the Royal Film Commission.

Half way through the event, the minister of state for media affairs spoke about the new TV station.

“It will be a truly public service station,” he assured those gathered, although he refused to say if it will refrain from broadcasting advertising.

UNESCO defines public service broadcasting as “broadcasting made, financed and controlled by the public, for the public”. The organisation further says that it “is neither commercial, nor state-owned” and must be “free from political interference and pressure from commercial forces”.

Jordan Radio and Television (JRTV), which owns and runs multiple TV and radio stations, is funded by tax payers and advertisers. One dinar is deducted from the electricity bill from every home, office or factory every month. JRTV also gets further tax payer funding from the general budget.

The problem is in the way this money is spent.

JRTV has an exaggerated payroll, made up mostly of people appointed by the government, often as part of political patronage. Although on paper JRTV is supposed to have an independent board, the government directly appoints its director general as well as many of its senior managers.

UNESCO says that if public service broadcasting works properly, “citizens are informed, educated and also entertained. When guaranteed with pluralism, programming diversity, editorial independence, appropriate funding, accountability and transparency, public service broadcasting can serve as a cornerstone of democracy”.

When a government minister says that the new station will be truly a “public service” one, this is an indirect admission that the current station, which employs over 2,000 and costs tens of millions of dinars, is not.

If the new TV station wants to apply international standards, it is important that at least two conditions are met. First, the government must stay away from owning and running this station so as to satisfy the “must not be state owned” condition, and that it is “controlled by the public and for the public”.

An independent board representing a spectrum of Jordanians should manage this station, totally divorced from government pressure.

Second, and since public service broadcast, according to the UNESCO definition, is not commercial and must not be “influenced by commercial pressures”, the audio visual regulator must ensure that it does not deform the commercial broadcasting field by competing with commercial stations through cutting into the already small advertising cake.

The problem with asking this of the regulator, however, is that Jordan does not have an independent regulatory board. Media, both print and audio visual, are regulated by a government-appointed director who is accountable to the same minister of media affairs who wants to start this new station using public funds.

A much better and more efficient path to creating a truly public service broadcasting station would be to address the deformities at JRTV, which will no doubt again be taking away the lion’s share of advertising in the upcoming Ramadan season.

And instead of creating yet another satellite station, effort and support must be given to create local terrestrial digital stations once the migration from analogue to digital takes place in the coming months.

My friend’s worry about the future of commercial broadcasting in Jordan is real and it will unlikely be resolved as long as the government continues to be an active player in a field it is not traditionally known to do well in: the media business.

Governments should govern independently and fairly, representing the entire population. They should not try to govern using media outlets that are intended to be used by the public and for the public, and not as a government mouthpiece.

Continue Reading »

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May 05 2015

Why the Muslim Brotherhood Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

Published by under Articles,Jordan


By Daoud Kuttab

AMMAN — In the end they withdrew their call for a demonstration. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan wereplanning to celebrate their 70th anniversary on Friday, in spite of the Jordanian government’s public refusal to allow the event to take place. The huge pressure that the government felt shows that the Muslim Brotherhood continues to be a powerful force.

In Palestine, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliate, Hamas, won student council elections at Bir Zeit University. Student elections there are often seen as a signal of general public sentiment. And in Yemen, Egypt and Libya, support for the Brotherhood has not gone away, despite very strong repressive and violent action against them by the authorities.

Jordan’s leading opposition figure Laith Shbeilat posted an open letter to King Abdullah on his Facebook account, calling on him to allow the Brotherhood to hold their celebrations and reminding him of earlier cases in which repressive attempts against the Muslim Brotherhood actually made them more popular.

Many arguments have been circulated to justify repressive acts against the Muslim Brotherhood. In Egypt, they are accused of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a terrorist group masquerading as a peaceful movement. In Palestine and Libya, they are criticized as an undemocratic force that merely exploits democratic elections to gain power whilst ignoring all other democratic principles. Once in government, the Brotherhood is accused of acting dictatorially and of hanging on to power even after they have outstayed their welcome.

In Jordan, a conflict has evolved over the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. A split within the movement has provided the government with a chance to take sides, even though the prime minister insisted in Parliament that thegovernment does not take sides in this internal conflict. Continue Reading »

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Apr 29 2015

Muslim Brotherhood’s choices

Published by under Articles,Jordan

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is planning to celebrate its 70th anniversary on Friday in spite of public refusal of the Jordanian government to allow this event to take place.

In Palestine, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliate, Hamas, won the elections for student council at Bir Zeit University. Student elections are often seen as a signal of general public sentiment.

In Yemen, Egypt and Libya, supporters of the Brotherhood did not disappear despite very strong repressive and violent action against them.

Jordan’s leading opposition figure Laith Shbeilat posted on his Facebook account an open letter to King Abdullah, calling on him to allow the Brotherhood to hold their celebrations and reminding him of earlier cases in which repressive attempts against the Muslim Brotherhood actually made them more popular.

Many arguments have been circulated to justify the repressive attempts against the movement.

In Egypt, they are accused of being in fact a terrorist group dressed in sheep’s clothing. In Palestine and Libya, they are accused of being undemocratic and that they merely give lip service to democratic principles only to gain power. Continue Reading »

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Mar 13 2015

Legislative Challenges to the Audiovisual Media in Jordan


By Daoud Kuttab

Jordan’s Parliament is expected to discuss a new audiovisual law. The law fulfills the constitutional need of updating all temporary laws.

The current audiovisual law, issued in 2002, was seen as ushering in an end to government monopoly of airwaves. Tens of private radio and TV stations have since been licensed, but the sector has witnessed many distortions that media freedom activists hope will be corrected in the new law.

Zakaria Al Sheikh, the head of the parliamentary guidance committee, has been holding consultations with media owners and held a number of workshops and a two-day retreat in Aqaba in the hope of reaching consensus among members of his committee and other relevant groups, including the government. What emerged from these behind-the-scenes activities is a law that reportedly will abandon the clause which gives the Cabinet full power to license radio and TV stations or reject applications without giving a reason for the rejection.

Yet, this is not a way to go if the country wishes to attract investment. The new law will also end the practice of allowing business companies that work with government agencies not to pay license fees. Neither will it allow licensed broadcasters to get a waiver for the fees and advertise at the same time, which has been the case with a number of government-owned stations (army, police, Amman municipality). While this move is welcome as it attempts to create a level playing field, it fails to give a serious push to community media. Continue Reading »

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Dec 29 2014

Why I Am Opposed to the Carrying Out of Capital Punishment in Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

I am in principle opposed to the capital punishment. I am even more opposed to Jordan carrying out this inhuman punishment for a number of reasons.

One of the main reasons people are opposed to capital punishment is the fact that the chance of miscarriage of justice is high.

Throughout history, there are abundant cases of individuals who were executed, only to be proved innocent later.

Through DNA testing, one could see that even some of the world’s most careful judiciaries made mistakes that led to this irreversible punishment.

In Jordan, the judiciary is well respected by the public, but it could still be mistaken. In fact, weeks ago, a scandal led to the early retirement of five senior judges. The fact that judges were part of the scandal points to the potential of a grave miscarriage of justice.

A one percent chance that a wrong judgement can end someone’s life should be reason enough to refrain from carrying out this cruel punishment.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the capital punishment, especially in a region like Jordan, is the mistaken understanding that it will work as a deterrent and lower crime rates. There is no scientific proof that this is the case.

Studies show that motives for crime are many and those who carry out acts that result in a capital punishment verdict are bound to continue to act in the same manner, regardless of the penalty. Continue Reading »

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