Women in Jordan’s Elections and Media Coverage

Women have little chance of leading or representing others in a tribal society that nourishes male dominance, says Iqbal Tamimi.

Aljazeera has published a news report online, Nov 10, 2010, about the results of the elections in Jordan. Its comprehensive report mentioned: The ‘loyalists’ of King Abdullah II, the opposition Islamic Action Front (IAF), the tribal-linked candidates, the opposition political parties other than the IAF, Jordan’s economy, and issues such as the Jordanian’s government’s failure to confront Israel, the violent incidents during the elections, the winners who used to be former cabinet ministers, foreign policies, Palestinian representation, credibility of the elections and much more, but Aljazeera failed to mention one word about women’s participation, neither as candidates nor as electors. Not even one single hint about the representation of half of the society. Women were totally invisible in this media report.

This lapse of memory on the part of Aljazeera has a painful impact on women empowerment. Women were denied the chance to occupy a small space on a media platform considered a leading media source of news. The report was almost a clear abortion of women’s political voice.

The media has failed women as much as the average citizen in Jordan’s society, where many were mainly motivated by emotional blackmail and naïve understanding of religion and tribal connections that affected their choices of candidates and contributed to dismantling Jordan’s unity and its society’s coherence by offering their votes for the wrong candidates and for the wrong reasons.

This round of elections reminded me of the elections of 1993 in Amman. I remember how much I panicked when I was leaving my home on the day of elections with my little girl, when a large group of women wearing traditional ‘tribal’ Jordanian clothes surrounded me in what seems to be like a demonstration. The crowd separated my hand from the little hand of my daughter; her cries dissolved in the middle of their voices. Women took hold of me attempting to force me to swear on my husband’s life and my children’s eye-sight that I promise to elect their tribe’s representative. They prayed otherwise I would lose my loved ones.

Women in our society love their children dearly like all mothers do and certainly do not want to lose their husbands. Many women do get affected with such emotional pressures; thinking, what if these women’s prayers where to be answered…? no place here for risking such possibility, especially amongst the uneducated who do not know that it takes more than a prayer to knock someone dead or struck him with blindness.

I was requested by women to vote for their male relative who I have never heard of, and who I found out later that he had no accomplishments or education to encourage me to trust him with my vote.

Women were and are still used in such tribal atmosphere, to create the success for the men in their clans without much consideration to what such men can do to improve the lives of the people in their constituencies and what kind of improvement they can offer women. Women, who are not even permitted to leave home without permission from their husbands at other times of the year, are offered the chance during the elections to be part of the campaigners’ teams, enjoying the false feelings of independence and self determination, in return they are expected to do their best to convince other women to vote to a man in their tribe.

I still remember women’s conversations that year on the buses, at the school gates where they dropped their children and at their gatherings for coffee mornings. Some shared stories of being forced to swear to their husbands before leaving home to cast their votes that they will vote for their husband’s or brothers’ choices. One of them complained that her husband swore that she would be divorced if she did not offer her vote for his cousin.

That same year, Toujan Faisal, was the first Jordanian woman to be elected as a representative of the people in the Jordanian Parliament. But Toujan who failed earlier in the 1989 elections was not an average woman like any in the crowds, that even women themselves did not do much to support her mission to secure a seat at the Parliament even though she was the best candidate to defend their rights.

Toujan was an educated and hard working woman who has knowledge of politics and human rights and who clashed with the taboos. She came to a conservative parliament wearing a skirt, unveiled carrying her visions of reform. Consequently she was accused through the local media of being ‘a feminist’ and a ‘liberal’. Both accusations were considered in the Jordanian conservative society as slanderous and as bad as blasphemy.

Toujan who opposed all forms of quota, because she believed that quotas are in conflict with full equality between citizens, believed that the allocation of a quota for women or tribal quota, places unqualified people to come to the fore, Yet she won a seat in the Parliament through the quota policies.

Her fiery speeches in parliament made her a good candidate for media sensationalism that she became a victim of misinterpretations. Consequently circulated made up stories such as allegation that she called for women to be allowed to marry four spouses, as is permitted for men, contributed to losing her parliamentary seat in the 1997 elections amidst suspicious circumstances. Not only that but she was tried before a military court in 2002 after sending an incendiary letter to King Abdullah II in which she criticised the dictatorship in the country. Consequently she was imprisoned for eighteen months on charges ostensibly unrelated to politics, namely “broadcasting false and exaggerated news abroad that offends the dignity of the state, writing and publishing false information that disparages the state and its reputation, harming the dignity of individuals and their reputation, inciting disturbances and crime, slandering the judiciary and the public administration, and uttering words within earshot of another person deemed detrimental to his religious feeling.”

Toujan completed her term in prison with a hunger strike, then a royal pardon was issued and she was released, but she was handed a ban on running in any parliamentary elections. I believe since that date, Jordanian women lost the following elections, because their rights of self expression were hijacked through the lesson they took from her experience as a pioneer woman who was ambitious enough to seek change.

This year’s round of elections, offered Jordanian women 12 parliamentary seats out of 120 by implementing the quota policy. It has been announced that Reem Badran the daughter of ex Prime Minister Modar Badran has managed to secure a seat in the Parliament from outside the quota, bringing up the number of women in the Jordanian parliament for the first time ever, to 13 seats.

I do recall clearly Badran’s participation during the ‘Women in Leadership’ conference held 12-15 December 2004 in Dubai. When representatives of working women came from all over the Arab countries to talk about their business achievements, and how they managed to succeed on their own initiatives from scratch. Badran was chosen by Jordan to represent the hardworking Jordanian women in that event.

Each woman speaker was a pioneer of women in her country; women shared their stories of struggle while creating employment opportunities for other women without much help from others. Then came Mrs Badran with her pre written speech, painting a pink picture of women in Jordan, talking about her own fuscia experience. Every single expression she used had more to do with her own ego and comfortable life style and less to do with the reality the rest of Jordanian women she was supposed to represent. At that point I had to ask her about the struggle of Jordanian women farmers, working in the Jordan valley, fighting poverty and standing alone against the odds to keep their families intact. That year the litre of their tomato juice produce was cheaper than the price of water. Israel has stolen the Jordanian water resources, depriving all the farmers of the valley from their only source of living. The women suffered the consequences of the drought since the majority were the sole providers for their big families. That year, I have witnessed with my own eyes, along both sides of the roads running from north to south of Jordan valley, heaps of abandoned tomatoes; full year hard work, because the price of the recycled boxes were more expensive than the price of the tomatoes, and the farmers could not afford the price of transporting their produce to wholesalers.

I remember that she had nothing to say about those struggling women or had any clue about the social security system policies and how it affected fully qualified unemployed widows. She knew nothing about the hard working women under the baking hot sun, whose dry cracked heels can become a hideaway for lizards. Yet, Mrs Badran has found her way to the parliament as she did find her way to represent Jordanian women workers even though she does not share with them much; I hope she can represent the majority now and have better performance than she did 7 years ago.

The dust settled on the electoral process yesterday, and the results revealed bizarre situations, such as accusations of forged results, especially in the Third Circuit in the capital city Amman, where the numbers of voters exceeded 300,000 yet some candidates won the elections with less than 2000 votes. Marwan Alhaj Hasan, one of many Jordanian citizens, commenting online, claims the elections lacked transparency. He wrote: ‘half the number of votes where already placed inside the ballot boxes before starting the voting processes.

Another wearied anomaly was declaring the name of the President of the new parliament before holding the new parliament’s first session scheduled on the first of next month, where the members of the new parliament are supposed to formally elect the new President.

It seems wearied as well, that the former Prime Minister Faisal al-Fayez, who won the seat of the Central Desert area of Jordan, has no competitors at all. It has been claimed that ‘very difficult tasks’ are awaiting him in his new post, and that he was requested to resign from the Senate Council two months ago to focus on the elections, with solid promises to support him in occupying the seat of the Head of the new Parliament. Al- Fayez is practically recovering his late father’s seat, Sheikh Akef Al-Fayez, former Minister of Defence, who was elected decades ago as President of the Jordanian House of Representatives. Al-Fayez, Jr., who served for decades in ceremonial positions at the royal palace, and as a secretary at the royal court, and later became head of the government, has left his official duties for a number of years to secure his tribal platform succeeding his late father’s position as a leader of the Jordanian tribes.

Another winner in this years’ tribal dominant elections, is former Minister Ayman Majali, the elder brother of the Director of the Internal Security, Major General Hussein Al-Majali, both are sons of the former Prime Minister of Jordan, Hazza Majali.

The former Director of the public security, Mazin al-Qadi as well won a parliamentary seat following the unanimous decision by his tribe that he should represent them in the new parliament. Al-Qadi, who left office in May, in light of royal criticism of the performance of the Internal Security Agency, and the increased incidents of clashes between security personnel and the citizens, is the nephew of the Interior Minister Nayef al-Qadi, who supervised the electoral process.

Women have little chance of leading or representing others in a tribal society that nourishes male dominance, and where even the law could not score much success in sparing women’s lives killed by male relatives, in what has been labelled as crimes of honour. It remains to be seen whether the 13 women will be given the opportunity to carry the voice of half the society and whether their voices will be heard.

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