More than a decade after the uprisings which, starting from Tunisia, interested most of the Arab countries in the Mediterranean, young people still represent a fundamental element in building a space of peace and security in the area. In this regard, thanks to an exceptional experience during the Arab Springs, Jordan has the potential to play a key role in the stabilization of the Mediterranean, as well as in facing the most urgent challenges affecting the region. We discussed these topics with Yahya Hussein Obeidat, member of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Jordan Parliament.
In 2011 on Mediterranean areas, young people were at the core of a movement which demonstrated against the local political regimes, starting from Tunisia. Which were the motivations behind the uprisings?
“I believe that people in poor Mediterranean areas face oppression and injustice in many matters such as lack of equal opportunities and absence of justice among citizens. As we know, the spark of these movements began from Tunisia due to dictatorial practices which were carried out by Bin Ali regime against the Tunisian people. This has led young people like Mohammad Bouazizi to protest. He felt that he didn’t have any rights in his country, a country that was invaded by corruption. He found himself as sort of jobless even though he was well-educated, and he used to be a vender on streets. Suddenly the local authorities took his street cart and he faced violence actions from local authorities. That was a reason to him to protest asking for having his cart back. However, the local authorities refused to give it back to him. So, he set himself fire in the street in front of hundreds of people, and due to these horrible actions the people of Tunisia come down to the streets asking for their rights, as they felt that they didn’t have any rights in their country. At the same time, they protested also to put an end to the dictatorship regime in Tunisia. And they succeeded in moving Bin Ali regime away. These multiple actions are among the main motivations for young people to uprise against their political regimes in many countries such as Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Bahrain and many others.”.
After more than a decade from the beginning of the Arab uprisings, what have been the results of the protests in Mediterranean countries? Have the protests brought more positive or negative results in the countries in which the movement spread?
“I could say that these uprising movements in the Mediterranean had both negative and positive effects on the region and globally. From one aspect, if we look to what happened in Syria and Yemen currently, we are watching a civil war that broke out in 2011 and it’s still continuing for the present day. The people of Syria and Yemen faced and are still facing forced displacement to neighboring countries and even to European and Western countries, and here I must assure you that Jordan has nearly received a million and more Syrian refugees and even Yemenis. This constituted a heavy burden on the Jordanian economy. Furthermore, armed and terrorist movements appeared in the region, as they were formed in Syria, Iraq, Yemen as well as in Sinai in Egypt. Here I am talking about ISIS (Islamic state of Iraq and Syria). Such terrorist threat made the international community act fast, and an international alliance was formed to fight ISIS command by the US and other European and Mediterranean countries. This war costs the international community billions of dollars.
But on the other hand, these democratic uprising have influenced the region in a positive way. A clear example is what happen in Tunisia, which saw the first democratic Presidential elections in 2014 after a revolution on a dictatorial regime that lasted in power for 23 years. This had a good impact on Tunisian people, who could choose their President for the first time in general elections. Also, if we look to Egypt and what the Egyptian people did, they made a revolution against the Mubarak regime. Mubarak was considered one of the most powerful Arab leaders, but the Egyptian people standing against Mubarak were able to make him leave after a 29 years of ruling in Egypt. After that, the Egyptians held their first legitimate presidential elections in 2012, which brought Mohamed Morsi to the presidency.”.
Have new technologies had a role in the Arab uprisings? Would they have been the same without social media, especially Twitter?
“Here I must say yes. Social media applications such as twitter have gathered thousands of people to move towards the Egyptian revolution, when a girl called Aliya Al-Houssine tweeted under the hashtag #25_January: “more than 15 thousands of protesters will join the protests on the 25th of January. Come and join us”. Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians reacted with another hashtag: #we_deserve_the_best and #we_are_coming. Yes, social media gathered people to the streets, in order to ask Mubarak to leave. And I’m sure even if there wasn’t social media in our life, people would have gone to the streets, though not this large amount. Also, I’m not sure if they would have been capable to overthrow the political regime. As the protesters must be updated with all actions and without social media applications, they would not be able to know anything about what was happening on the streets.”.
Arab uprisings in Jordan have specific features, which differentiate the protests from all the other countries in terms of responses from the local political regime and results. In which terms were Jordan protests “exceptional”?
“I believe that the Jordanian political system represented by His Royal Majesty King Abdullah II was working to prevent the country from any crisis that could have end in a negative way and that could cost the country more than doing political reforms. As I know our King, he is working hard to hear the Jordanian people needs, as well as in directing the Jordanian Government to respond to the requirements of people. In 2011, when people in Jordan moved to the street asking the political regime to do political reforms over the country, the king ordered the local authorities not to use any kind of force against people, and to be soft with them. People who took the streets are our brothers, sisters and our sons. He also directed the Government to give the people on the streets all aids. Therefore, I believe that in Jordan the Arab spring was a soft revolution due to the King stance with people. He welcomed all the people’s demand, starting from doing new major amendment on the Jordanian constitutional Act to a new early parliamentary election in 2012. The King Abdullah II granted the integrity of the parliamentary elections by establishing (according to the constitutional amendment in 2012) an independent election commission to supervise the voting process. Here, the biggest difference is between a regime that seeks cohesion among people and other regimes that seeks to monopolize power and dictatorial rule without turning to the demands of the people.”.
According to you, what can be the role of Jordan in the Mediterranean? Do you believe the country has the potential to affirm itself as a model for democracy, peace and thus contribute to a long-lasting stabilization of the Mediterranean area? And which are the eventual challenges that Jordan may face?
“Allow me to say that Jordan has already showed itself as a model to all other countries in the region. The policies that took place during and after the crisis until our present days in terms of development and modernization of the Jordanian political system were not witnessed by any other country in the region. Jordan is a country that lacks many resources, unlike other rich and wealthy countries that collapsed during the Arab Spring crisis. Now, what do we see? A strong, steadfast country that was not affected by the crisis that surrounded the region and who became a vital model in terms of security and peace in the region and globally. Nonetheless, in Jordan we face lots of challenges. Jordan is considered one of the smallest countries by size, but it shares common borders with many important countries in the region, starting with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Israel. You can imagine the huge challenges and even responsibilities we have. And this requires permanent and continuous coordination in order to preserve the security of Jordan and the region. Also, I believe that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the biggest challenge in the region and the world. It’s a huge responsibility on Jordan to ensure security in region. And we can’t forget the Syrian civil war crisis, which started in 2011 and is still continuing to our present day. As I mentioned previously Jordan welcomed Syrian refugees, and now they are over one million inside a small size country like Jordan. The refugee crisis was a challenge on Jordan, because we can’t stand and watch our neighbors dying without doing anything. But this crisis has affected our economic situation, and now we are facing the highest level of inflation.”.
The Mediterranean has always been a key area both for commerce and for the movement and encounter of people. Therefore, in light of its centuries-long strategic role, ensuring its stability is a responsibility as well as an interest of the countries surrounding the area. During these difficult times spurred by the current turbulent geopolitical scenario, what solutions could be, according to you, desirable to contribute to stabilize the Mediterranean and to face the challenges of poverty, refugees, collapse of countries and democratic participation? Could young people have a role?
“As you pointed out that Mediterranean has many natural resources. It is a vital area for trade and for transit, so I think it is not only the responsibility of the countries of the region to maintain its security, but that Western and European countries should seek for security because it is a transit corridor for their goods as well. The West has, moreover, a long history of partnerships with countries in the Mediterranean areas. I believe that the least that European and Western donor countries can offer is financial and moral assistance, which would strengthen the region’s security from any future disturbances. Furthermore, these countries must establish investment funds in developing countries in order to combat poverty, which may lead to more civil wars and more refugee crises. I do not think that the presence of foreign military bases contributes to solving the security problem as long as there is poverty among peoples. With respect to young people’s role, youth is the foundation of society and the foundation of states. Young people cannot be excluded from participating in all aspects of life, otherwise we will have to go back again to the starting point, and this is something that the international community does not want. Providing job opportunities for youth should be the title of any stage of prosperity and progress for all countries.”.
Photo: The role of Jordan for peace and security in the Mediterranean