Date: Mon, 28 Jul 97 10:52:12 CDT
Subject: Jordanian "Democracy"? -- MER LIE of the WEEK

The myth of Jordanian "democracy" and the case of Rami Khouri

From Mid-East Realities, 28 July, 1997

MER - Washington - 7/28/97:

Sadly, journalists are often used by the political establishment, rewarded for playing along, punished for speaking up honestly and independently. This happens in many places of course, including in the West; but it happens far more severely in today's Arab world where the two words "independent" and "journalism" can hardly ever be used together without considerable hesitation and doubt.

Rami Khouri is a talented writer, and a smart man; and he has managed to spread his regular column far and wide going back many years when he was Editor of the English-language Jordan Times in Amman. Khouri is also among the darlings of the Washington establishment, often appearing on PBS "News Hour" (think of this nightly staple of American television as "State Department TV" when it comes to matters Middle Eastern); flying here and there to speak at this conference and that.

Unfortunately, Khouri is also a perfect example of those who lend their capable pens and mouths to those in political and financial control. Indeed, Khouri is far more useful to the Jordanian Hashemite regime kept and controlled as he is; than being appointed to officially represent it.

If Jordan were anything close to a State that could be called a "democracy" King Hussein would never have been able to collude so openly with Israel for so long; and to sign the very unpopular peace treaty with Israel. The story of early Hashemite collaboration with the Israelis is well told in Prof. Avi Schlaim's COLLUSION ACROSS THE JORDAN (Oxford University Press). The regimes close connections with and "subsidies" from the CIA are also matters of historical record, admittedly not usually remembered these days.

What Jordan is in reality is a somewhat disguised police state run by the monarchy, the army, and the vast intelligence apparatus. This "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" uses a variety of sophisticated tactics to co-opt, neutralize, and repress all serious opposition -- political or intellectual.

Another "election" is ahead in Jordan later this year. After rigging everything both economically and politically, and after new "press regulations" that make just about any serious criticism of the regime or the "peace process" a criminal offense, those in control in Jordan use the "election" terminology to try to give a veneer of legitimacy to their rule. Of course if you're among the small upper elite that share in this rule and wealth, all is OK. It's just that for everyone else -- especially those who wish to speak up against what is happening and most of all the majority population of Palestinian origins -- the infamous secret police, the Muhabarat, is watching and waiting.

In view of this overall situation the most important "legal" opposition in Jordan has announced that it is not going to participate in this "election" sham. And here's where people like Rami Khouri come in.

"If the boycott is implemented in November, it will damage the state's claim that our democratization process is credible and sustainable," Khouri recently wrote in a widely distributed column. "How the state responds to this challenge will reveal much about whether we are experiencing genuine democratization or merely cosmetic changes that retain major decision-making power in the hands of a narrow power elite. This is a question being asked about, and in, many Arab countries that are also trying to move away from autocracy and towards more democratic politics," so Khouri has recently written in a widely distributed column.

"The Muslim Brotherhood and the Jordanian state are now both challenged before the court of public opinion," Khouri continues. "I suspect that the Brotherhood has made a mistake in deciding to boycott the elections, because the Islamists have always achieved their gains in Jordan by working within the national political consensus. They should not quit the democratic game, but rather learn how to play the game better, even if they feel that the rules have been bent. Painful as it is for them, they must learn to operate as a minority..."

Khouri knows very well that what has happened in Jordan in recent years is indeed a series of "cosmetic changes", not anything even close to "genuine democracy". He also knows very well that no serious opposition will be tolerated in Jordan by either the monarchy or the army; and that "elections" are a mere facade and palliative.

But Khouri chooses to use his pen and his mouth on behalf of the regime -- mostly for Western audiences in English -- because he is part of that "narrow elite" that benefits from the way things are. He just forgets to mention this last crucial bit of information.

M I D - E A S T R E A L I T I E S
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