Last week the big stories in The Jordan Times were:
1) several editorials and straight news pieces about the wall going up to isolate Baghdad’s Sunni neighborhoods. Several historical examples were mentioned as negative examples of the effects of such a wall.
2) numerous human interest stories about Lebanon and their lack of a history about their wars of the last 30 years. Children learn about the war from their parents
3) American troop surge of some 6000 troops arrived in the region.
4) Data about numbers of reported Iraqi dead were suppressed by the U.S. because of the negative propaganda effect it might have in the region. Even in a quiet country like Jordan, public announcements can lead to public safety problems–an announcement of fuel price increases once sparked deaths in subsequent bread riots.
5) Prince Hassan, brother of the late King Hussein, gave an interview to a foreign Arab press, but the interview was suppressed in case it might prove to undermine Saudi/Jordan relations.
This week’s news from the Jordan Times contained almost daily speculation on the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert over the release of a preliminary report on the conduct of the recent war with Lebanon–it was definitely this week’s hot topic. Here is a summary of this week’s news from Jordan (disclosure-I once wrote some freelance articles for JT):
Friday, May 4
~Mohammad Oweidi Abbadi was arrested on Thursday and charged with “slander, undermining the country’s reputation, and violating laws governing e-mail practices.”
The statement at the centre of the controversy involves an open letter in English addressed to US Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, which was posted on the right-wing Jordanian National Movement’s (JNM) website. Abbadi is the group’s chairman.
The letter, dated April 30, accuses top government officials of corruption and claims the country is suffering a setback in democratic freedoms, particularly freedom of the press and the “abuse of detainees.”
“Widespread corruption characterises Jordan’s political leadership and many “fat cats” in Jordan’s business community,” says the letter, adding that as a result of this state of affairs the country’s social, educational and health institutions have suffered a setback.
The letter was co-signed by JNM Secretary of Foreign Affairs Abdul Salam Mullah, who is a resident of Virginia in the US.
Mullah has appealed to U.S. President Bush for Abadi’s release.
Okay, I’ll be careful with the rest of these.
~Khamasini weather conditions were expected to taper off this morning. A bus accident on the Amman-Aqaba road killed 3, the Karama border crossing with Iraq remains difficult due to weather, but Queen Alia Airport remains open. [the Khamsein, meaning fifty, refers to the fifty days of sandstorm. When I remarked on the orange appearance of the sky during one such khamsain, my students solemnly informed me it meant an earthquake was approaching and I must dismiss class. Nice try. In retribution, I gave them a news article in English about the closing of the Cairo airport due to Khamsaini sandstorm]
~Kit-Kat chunky caramel bars have been recalled due to small pieces of plastic in some bars. Ah, Kit-Kat, one of the chocolate bars that survives Jordan’s summers.
~“According to the France-based Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom 2006 Index, Jordan slipped from its 2005 position of 96 out of 186, to 109 in 2006.”
Some observers have described the country’s press corps as weak and lacking in the tools and proper training to cover major issues of concern in a professional manner. While some blamed the Jordan Press Association (JPA) for being absent from the entire scene and not promoting the profession or help raise the level of freedoms by properly training journalists, others said it was up to the journalists to unshackle themselves from decades of fear.
How droll. The “professional organizations” have in the past been a substitute for political parties, and have often taken an “Islamist” perspective, leaving the professions without true advocates. Just when I was getting tired of the constant shop closings in downtown Amman for a weekly march from the al-Husseini mosque up Wadi Sacra–where I got a good view from my balcon— they started moving the demonstrations to the professional buildings at Fourth Circle. (I never got that one anyhow. They were constantly demonstrating for the intifada, but Jordan has always supported the Palestinians in spite of the negative effect on Jordan’s tourism, so why hit Jordan’s economy, especially the Palestinian shopkeepers that predominate in that area.)
~Winograd Commission-The Israeli report released on April 30 that criticised the government for losing the war against Lebanon is likely to bring about renewed militarism on the part of Israel, rather than positive changes with Arab relations, according to an opinion piece by Rami G. Khouri.
~Tens of thousands demonstrated against Israeli Prime Minister Olmert in Tel Aviv Thursday calling for his resignation over a a preliminary report of the failure of the war against Lebanon.
~ Sixty-four reporters have been killed in Iraq, according to the press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders. The documentary was presented at a conference organized by UNESCO Jordan and UNESCO Iraq, along with USAID’s media implementer, the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX). The Jordan Times mentioned its own former reporter Tareq Ayoub, killed April 8, 2003 while on an assignment for Al Jazeera satellite television channel in Baghdad. Jordan Times did not mention the al-Jazeera station was *accidently* hit by an American missile.
Thursday, May 3
~Customs officials at Aqaba foiled the smuggling of 957 cartons of foreign-made cigarettes into the Kingdom.
~270,362 passengers crossed the King Hussein Bridge to, um, The Other Side, during the first quarter of this year, averaging out to 4,000 per day
~Editorial: Israeli PM Olmert is expected to resign at any time “for not winning an illegal and insane massacre against a neighbouring country” [Lebanon], if so, he will not be missed. However not former PM’s Ehud Barak or Benjamin Netanyahu, current Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni or former chief of staff Ami Ayalon would be any better.
~Opinion by Michael Jansen on the Winograd report: the angry and frustrated Israeli military is muttering about waging a Third Lebanon War in the summer–the view of some analysts is that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz are too incompetent to wage the coming war and must be replaced…
~ A new computer game lets you make peace in the Middle East.
The software, called “PeaceMaker” and manufactured by Israeli and US programmers in the United States, allows you to play the part of the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian president and make diplomatic, security and economic decisions….The goal of the peacemaker is to reach compromises and eventually a peace agreement, leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Tuesday May 1
~A new law requires landlords to register apartment buildings by October. “The interior minister will either approve or reject the application within 30 days. Upon approval, owners must submit a notary certificate worth JD10,000 in the interior minister’s name, so they can be held accountable to the licence terms.” You’ve got to be kidding. A seven thousand dollar deposit just to rent an apartment for, say $100 a month? Or maybe the influx of Iraqis in Amman have driven up the price of housing. Still, I had a potential landlord give up on renting to me–I even had the key and cleaning supplies inside the building– because the previous tenant left an electrical bill of JD 500 and the landlord couldn’t afford to pay it.
Wednesday, May 2
~The head of the Jordan Communist Party stated 28 political parties would stage a sit-in in defiance of the denial of a demonstration permit to protest the new Political Parties Law.
The controversial law increased the minimum number of founding members of a political party from 50 to 500. Members must also be drawn from at least five of the country’s 12 governorates, with a minimum of 10 per cent from each governorate. … current parties that lack the necessary 500 members would have to merge with other parties to ensure their survival. Most of the country’s estimated 34 political parties, with the exception of the Islamic Action Front, have less than 500 members.
But government officials and independent MPs maintain the bill, which was endorsed by both Houses of Parliament in March, reflects King Abdullah’s concern to see a modern law that would eventually produce three major political currents, rather than the present array of ineffective parties.
They claim the new law will also moderate tribal influence in politics and lead to more representative parties.
However, observers say political parties only play a subsidiary role in parliamentary affairs. Some two-thirds of the 110 members of the current Lower House are individuals without party affiliation. Only 25 represent parties, of which the largest party — the Islamic Action Front (IAF) — now accounts for 15, following the expulsion of MPs Ali Abul Sukkar and Mohammad Abu Fares last year, after they received jail terms for fuelling national discord and inciting sectarianism.
~“The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) on Tuesday agreed to raise the monthly wages of the city’s street cleaners. Married employees will receive an increase of JD22 while unmarried employees will get an additional JD11 a month. Street cleaners currently earn a monthly starting salary of between JD170-200. ” [that’s $119-140 U.S./month–teachers make JD 175/month and day care workers make JD 30/month]
~Palestinian government workers will be paid half wages, union leaders were told, after government workers announced a one-day strike on Wednesday and teachers staged a one-day strike on Monday. Arab League members are expected to provide $55 a month, since a Western aid ban on the Palestinian Authority remains in place over the Palestinian Authority’s unity government with Hamas. Fayyad is counting on receiving at least $55 million a month from Arab League members to cover about half of the Palestinian Authority’s monthly payroll.
Monday, April 30
~In Turkey, a million people demonstrated in the streets of Istanbul for secularism against fears the government planned an Islamist state.
~Opinion piece by Fahed Fanek on legislating the Jordanian national debt: The Public Debt Law of 2001 requires the rate of debt to GDP be reduced from 100 per cent in 2001 to 80 per cent in 2006. The debt was actually reduced to 73 per cent of the GDP, mostly because of growth in the economy, which averages 5.9 per cent a year.
Sunday, April 29
~“HRH Prince Raad, the Chief Chamberlain, on Saturday opened a training course at Muta University for support services and physiotherapy in community rehabilitation programmes. ” Prince Raad has been a steady protector for the blind and disabled in Jordan, taking up where the late King Hussein left off .
~Saddam’s birthday is celebrated quietly in his burial site in Iraq with a crowd of 200 leaving unlit candles at his grave.
~And now for something completely different: George W. Bush is a “one-eyed anti-Christ”. According a letter from Moktadr al-Sadr read in the Iraqi parliament:
“Here are the Democrats demanding that you withdraw at least with a timetable and you are stubborn against them…You are like the one-eyed Antichrist. You look with one eye and refuse to look with the other.”
And now in the smilee tradition of Jordanian bloggers, here is a row of Jordan flag emoticons: