After last Friday’s violent breakup of the Ministry of Interior Circle gathering, the question everyone is asking is where we go next.
Does the atmosphere of confrontation, suspicion about the other, dual narratives and competing claims of loyalty continue in the weeks ahead?
Both government and anti-government reformists have many questions to answer in this regard. A quick scan of the internal discussions shows that both are facing a point of truth that must be dealt with head on. It is no longer possible to keep hiding the issues under the rug.
But before dealing with these issues, it should be crystal clear that no one has the right to claim more loyalty and more love to the country and King than the other. As His Majesty the King said to the National Dialogue Committee, no one should doubt the reformers’ loyalty. Nor should the loyalists’ desire to bring about reform be continuously challenged.
So if there is agreement on the need for reform and there is no doubt about the loyalty of both parties, what is needed as we move ahead?
To begin with, the government must clearly and unambiguously stop trying to take sides. The security forces with all their apparatuses (and they must be seen as one not as different units) cannot allow any party or side to try and bully the other.
The government, especially the security forces, must keep an absolutely equal distance between those that give priority to demands for reform and those who give priority to loyalty to the King. Anyone attempting to injury or stop the other must be immediately stopped. No security force, whether uniformed or undercover, must take sides or be seen as taking sides. No government official, agency, apparatus or equipment must be involved directly or indirectly in supporting, providing transportation, food or any other incentives to one party or the other.
No security force member, whether uniformed or not, should be seen standing idle when problems occur and none should be seen celebrating when one side appears to have routed out the other, as was seen and filmed last week.
The groups that give priority to reform must also learn from their mistakes and make some serious efforts to correct them. Self-criticism and indeed reform must start from within if the public is to trust that these young reformers will continue to push for reform. This means that protesters must have much more discipline than seen so far.
Speakers must be vetted before given the all-too-powerful microphone. Slogans must be agreed upon in advance as should be the general issues that are to be addresses in writing and in public. Building any coalition is not easy; it requires compromise. If protesters cannot agree on a particular issue, they should not try to sneak any other verbally or in writing.
Insulting in public is another problem that both groups of demonstrators seem to have mastered. What is required is a much more disciplined effort, one in which people do not respond to every insult but take a measured response that can ensure the longevity of the protests and therefore better results.
The location of a demonstration must be coordinated with public security officers. Unless the aim is indeed to disturb public order, it makes little sense for demonstrators to choose locations that make the job of the security forces hard.
While both government and protesters must exert serious efforts to curb some of the more aggressive members among them, the media are required to be neutral as well. Naturally, the attacks on the media which we saw last Friday are scandalous; so was the rash decision by the March 24 movement to kick out journalists from Jordan TV. But both government and independent media have the duty to be neutral.
Professionals covering the various events must be careful about exaggerating the numbers, about giving equal time to different points of view. Jordan TV, radio and semi-governmental papers must keep an equal distance from both sides. Independent media must also give both parties equal time and an opportunity to represent their views. Such an effort should be serious. Making an effort to reach out is not enough. Journalists should adopt the other’s point of view and make a strong and valid representation of the all sides’ points of view.
If the government and the two groups of protesters are in agreement about their loyalty and their desire to effect reform, then the road should be clear for all to speak out in freedom and without pressure or interference. While all involved must adopt neutrality, it is essential that leaders, whether in government or in the protest movement, lead by example.