Follow Us

Follow on Twitter    Follow on Facebook    YouTube Channel    Vimeo Channel    Tumblr    SoundCloud Channel    iPhone App    iPhone App

Liberal Elite Discourse and the "Realities" of Jordan

[ ["We Are All Jordan" government campaign logo, unknown archive]

For over a decade now, a diverse array of English-language publications have emerged in Jordan, which in turn have reflected and facilitated discussions amongst the country’s liberal elite circles. Despite a diversity of specializations as well as differences in readership, these publications, which include magazines and blogs, have coalesced around a dominant narrative about contemporary dynamics in Jordan. This narrative, which I refer to as the liberal elite discourse, positions Jordan (its government and society) as moving towards modernity through the implementation of neo-liberal economic reforms and the expansion of the parameters of permissible speech. In addition, parliamentary elections are presented as a particular instance of the many opportunities to further such alleged progress.

In the aftermath of the November 2010 parliamentary elections, several discussions within liberal elite circles have centered on what some of its members see as the problematic dominance of “Islamist” and “Palestinian” issues in the various campaigns. The problem, according to some, is that these issues detract from the “real issues” facing Jordanians. I have already discussed the efficacy of elections as a form of political practice in Jordan and how limited the current parliamentary system is for transforming Jordan’s political economy. What I am more interested in, for the purposes of this post, is how these limits (and the larger contexts that produces them) are ignored by many of the publications that claim to explore the dynamics animating the elections. Instead of attending to such limits and contexts, many writers vilify the majority of candidates, voters, and, consequently, the general public for squandering the alleged opportunities presented by the elections. Such an indictment sets up the liberal elite as vanguards of progress and modernity while at the same time casting the majority of the population as ignorant and/or obstinate in the face of such developments.

Thus, whereas many of Jordan’s liberal elite tend to accuse those who boycotted the elections of political apathy, some also (or alternatively) tend to criticize the majority of those who participated in the elections for their alleged political ignorance (i.e., prioritizing the wrong issues or voting the wrong way). Such allegations are articulated with little to no reference to the broader context of an authoritarian system rule or one of its particular manifestations in the form of managed (as opposed to open) electoral and legislative processes.  Consequently, these charges serve to: (1) further the notion that the current electoral system is a legitimate channel for representative change and thus renders as democratic that which is otherwise undemocratic; (2) frames the realities of poverty, unemployment, and other socio-economic problems as phenomena external to the development strategy and political economy of Jordan, rather than as inherent structural features of it; and (3) dehistoricizes the emergence of Islamist and Palestinian politics as dominant themes in Jordanian politics, presenting their manifestations as escapist tendencies on the part of the electorate and a missed opportunity (if not an obstacle) in the ongoing drive towards progress and modernity.

My claim is not that liberal elite institutions produce this narrative framework through intentional omissions and misrepresentations (though some do). Rather, such a framing is a logical byproduct of viewing contemporary politics in Jordan as part of a teleology of progress and modernity led by an enlightened and benevolent elite. Certainly, Jordan’s liberal elite (their economic basis, political constitution, and self-representations) has for the most part been constituted by the neo-liberal reforms and the expansion of the boundaries of permissible speech that have defined the last two decades of developments in Jordan. The problem is that many members of this liberal elite attempt to explain contemporary developments in Jordan by referring to (and then generalizing) their own experiences/visions of these alleged hallmarks of progress and modernity. In doing so, much of the liberal elite discourse has the following effects: (1) it renders invisible the power relations that define Jordan’s political economy (i.e., an authoritarian system of rule and an economic development strategy that increase disparities in interest representation and wealth distribution); (2) it highlights and thus legitimates supposed indicators of progress (i.e., free markets, managed elections, and the mushrooming of publications that champion both); and (3) it casts the general population as obstacles to such progress (for their alleged apathy, ignorance, and/or parochialism) . . . all the while claiming to accurately portray developments in Jordan and genuinely care about the lower classes. In addition to setting themselves up as vanguards of the progressive march towards modernity, these members of the liberal elite mask the ways in which they are implicated in the maintenance (if not the deepening) of the status quo in Jordan, which is ultimately defined by increasing authoritarianism, widening wealth disparities, and many other dynamics.

To illustrate my point, I will focus on one specific manifestation of such discussions. On November 12th, 2010, Immortal Entertainment published a photo essay entitled “The Jordanian Elections: The Search for Zion,” which was subsequently circulated throughout the blogosphere (Jordanian and non-Jordanian). This blog is significant due to its claim that “the basis on which [their] platform was built was that [they] will seek to work on projects that deal with the realities of problems and issues in the Arab world.” Thus, the post serves to highlight the workings of the dominant liberal elite narrative in the majority of publications and institutions that claim to genuinely address, analyze, change, and/or improve specific dynamics in Jordan.

Immortal Entertainment is alarmed both by the fact that Islamism and the Palestine Question were the dominant themes in the campaigns of a majority of the candidates in the 2010 parliamentary elections in Jordan, as well as that such candidates garnered more votes that those who did not have platforms based on these issues. The author contrasts candidates running on slogans such as “Islam Is the Solution” and “Right of Return” (or derivatives thereof) with those dealing with “real life agendas.” He argues that such platforms are a waste of the opportunity offered by the elections because they represent escapist tendencies that only promise a “better tomorrow” by “exporting them to dreamlands elsewhere [sic].” The author further underscores the economic status of these voters, indicating that they come from the “lower income part of the capital where issues of poverty, sanitation, unemployment, and public services are very serious issues.” Consequently, the author indicts both the candidates and the voters for squandering the elections on empty and/or irrelevant slogans, issues, and platforms.

As mentioned above, for many members of Jordan’s liberal elite circles, the problem with the political economy of Jordan is the people themselves. With respect to the elections, they argue that candidates are running on empty platforms that do not deal with real issues, the media is failing to scrutinize such platforms and push candidates to present better ones, and the voters are simply taking the opportunity to escape from their daily realities through dreams of heaven and Palestine rather than reserve their votes for more worthy candidates. With respect to broader developments in Jordan, they argue that bureaucrats are inefficient, the private sector needs to do more, and the general public needs to rid itself of its parochialism (described variously as social conservatism, tribalism, and/or apathy). These lines of argumentation highlight a central framing device deployed by many of the liberal elite in Jordan: labeling the people (for their practices, their habits, their mentalities . . . basically, their alleged ignorance) as obstacles to progress and modernity while obfuscating the role of those at the commanding heights of ruling institutions (and both their active and passive supporters) in the production of the status quo.

It is as if the recent elections were an open contest between conservative and progressive social forces, the present outcome of which is a function of a false consciousness on the part of voters and ineffective strategic choices on the part of progressive candidates. No mention is made of the ways in which the institutions of governance are underpinned by the regime’s alliance with specific social forces and how such an alliance structures the nature of electoral contestation. Furthermore, the economic development strategy underway in Jordan (and its attendant political economy) is presented as something open to critical questioning when in fact it is a highly censored topic both in public and private forums of discussion. Poverty and unemployment are rendered as vestiges of underdevelopment (i.e., they are naturally given) and thus in need of being targeted by neo-liberal development policies. Rarely, if ever, is there a discussion (let alone acknowledgement) of how the existing development model being institutionalized in Jordan produces poverty and unemployment. Put differently, my point is that the dynamics of poverty and unemployment are not external to Jordan’s development strategy, but rather internal to its logic of "prioritizing markets over communities" (for a regionally comparative perspective on this  dynamic, see  Bassam Haddad's series entitled "Neoliberal Pregnancy and Zero-Sum Elitism in the Arab World," especially Part 3) This fact, in and of itself, affects the boundaries of permissible speech (even election slogans and platforms) when it comes to “real issues.”

This is not to say that arguments made by some members of the liberal elite are completely without merit. For example, the author at Immortal Entertainment makes an important interjection into one of the photographs, showing how an Islamist campaign banner was placed in front of a church. However, it is as if such conduct on the part of candidates and voters are the central dynamics of the Jordanian elections. In other words, absent any significant discussion of the broader political, economic, and social contexts, such problematic actions are portrayed as the politics of the elections. The broader contexts are either rendered invisible or presented as inconsequential, which by its nature is a political act given that such (mis)representations serve particular interests within Jordan, irrespective of the intention of the author. Furthermore, such decontextualization contributes to the “ever-growing body of sensationalist representations of Islam [and the Middle East]” (see this post for quotation source and more on this dynamic with respect to temporary marriages in Lebanon).

The author does claim that “the government in Jordan has a huge role to play” in alleviating this situation and proceeds to provide a two-sentence reference to the “very strict controls and restrictions on the activities of political and social activists.” Even more so, in one of several responses to readers’ comments, the author states that his argument is actually as follows: “because of [the government of Jordan and its civil society] failures in providing for these [lower income voters] what is logically expected from us, they have given up on [Jordan] and thus the appeal of a better future in this country sounds foreign to them.” Such statements, however, serve more as disclaimers rather than as central features of the post. This is typical of the broader pattern of liberal elite representations of politics in Jordan: the underlying logics and broader contexts of developments in Jordan are marginally incorporated into the dominant liberal elite narrative as disclaimers rather than bases of analysis.

Irrespective of the intention, the effect of such emphases and omissions is an indictment of the Jordanian population as politically ignorant and naïve. This is not to say that writers should refrain from commenting on individual or group behavior. Rather, the problem is that many authors are claiming that such behavior represents the central dynamics of the elections while at the same time ignoring the political, economic, and social contexts that frame such behavior. Despite a claim to have intended to highlight a failure on the part of the Jordanian government, no where in the post does the author actually name the nature of these failures, how central they are to the power relations of Jordan, and who is culpable in them. Instead, the author focuses on the decontextualized conduct of candidates throughout their campaigns as well as that of the voters at the ballot box. In turn, readers are left with the impression that legitimate elections were held in Jordan, that candidates chose to run on empty slogans, and ignorant masses went along without questioning the lack of “real issues.” Again, the problem, according to such a narrative lies with the people.

Such representations are not only patronizing towards the majority of the Jordanian population, but are analytically flawed as well. Despite Immortal Entertainment’s claim that the problem is not the existence of Islamist and Palestinian issues in and of themselves, but rather their primacy throughout the elections, we must question the characterization of Islamist and Palestinian issues as not “real” or simply empty platforms designed to facilitate escapism on the part of candidates and voters alike. Such issues are central to the “real issues” of the Jordanian political economy.

One of the major omissions in the author’s post is the fact that the Islamic Action Front (IAF), who chose to boycott the election along with other Islamist and secular groups, represents the largest opposition group in Jordan. The IAF’s ability to successfully mobilize a significant part of the population is largely based on their criticism of the economic problems facing Jordan. Rather than discuss the boycott issue and the absence of the most organized of political opposition groups from the elections, the author chooses to focus on the allegedly “considerable number of Islamists and clerics [who] had declared the participation in elections as a forbidden act in Islam.” Such a selective choice in a post that seeks to describe the dynamics animating the elections serves only to demonize the Jordanian population as politically ignorant. Alternatively, the author could have highlighted how the alleged absence of “real issues” was partly a function of the absence of “real opposition,” who boycotted the elections not on religious or ideological grounds but rather on strategic grounds given that the current electoral system is designed to handicap any opposition and empower regime supporters. To do so, however, would have required the author to engage in questioning the efficacy of the current electoral system as a form of political practice; something completely absent given the framing of parliamentary elections within a telos of progress.

The author also problematically implies that the socio-economic problems facing the Jordanian population are epiphenomenal to the development strategy well underway in the country. This is part of a broader phenomenon wherein many amongst liberal elite circles in Amman simultaneously argue for the deepening of market-oriented reforms as well as the alleviation of poverty and unemployment. Lost within this idea is the way in which deepening poverty, expanding unemployment, and decreasing purchasing power are structural features of the unraveling of Jordan’s state-centered economy and the institutionalization of a neo-liberal economic development strategy. The reality is that any significant challenge to current opportunities of wealth creation and patterns of income distribution inevitably leads to direct criticism and confrontation with the regime, its supporters, and the entrenched interests of both. Contrary to the claims of many, the alleged absence of such criticism and confrontation is not the product of political ignorance. Rather, it is a function of a series of repressive measures that silence any opposition that links poverty and unemployment (or any other problem) to the existing development policies. It is also a function of survival strategies on the part of opposition groups and the general public within a larger context of an authoritarian system of rule. A genuinely critical concern with documenting “the conditions and realities of those who are less fortunate,” as Immortal Entertainment and many other liberal institutions profess they possess, would have made such dynamics central to the discussion of the alleged absence of “real issues.” Instead, poverty and unemployment are characterized as circumstantial phenomena and the alleged lack of attending to such phenomena, on the part of the general public, as manifestations of false consciousness or escapism.

While there is certainly much to criticize in Islamist mobilizations and Palestinian (not to mention Jordanian) nationalist rhetoric, it is problematic to suggest that the dominance of political Islam and Palestinian nationalism in Jordanian elections is the product of a lower-income experience which causes people to seek escapism through idealist (yet imprecise and empty) slogans. Islamism and the Question of Palestine can certainly be understood as dynamics within ongoing identity politics in Jordan. But such identity politics are neither void of meaning nor escapist.

With regards to political Islam, liberal elite discourse in Jordan intersects with Orientalist discourses as both frame the dominance of Islamism as an obstacle on the path to progress and modernity. While there is certainly much to criticize in Islamist principles and practices, one cannot, as many liberal elite Jordanians do, ignore the fact that the dominance of political Islam (a modern phenomenon in and of itself) is largely a historical product of the previous and existing policies. I am referring to the repression of secular and leftist opposition figures, groups, and parties throughout the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, which continues today. There is a historical record of demobilizing the broader population through the episodic banning of political parties, the suspension of parliament, the violent suppression of free speech, and the never-ending imprisonment of opposition figures, most of which have historically been secular and/or leftist. While Islamist groups have formed a bastion of regime opposition in the contemporary period, their nascent forms were viewed  as an instrumental counter-weight to the popularity of secular and leftist oppositional groups. Thus, any criticism of the dominance of political Islam needs to make central the role of policies in fostering such a dynamic; or at least not absolving the government of its role. However, such recognition would complicate the liberal telos of progress that frames political Islam as an obstacle and the regime as the benevolent shepherd.

The same is true of Palestine-related issues. While liberal discourse posits the dominance of Palestine in Jordanian politics as a function of an unresolved identity crisis, I would alternatively explain it as something much more complex given the historical legacies and contemporary policies of Jordan vis-à-vis the Question of Palestine. Immortal Entertainment writes that “[f]or these types of feelings and sentiments [i.e., Palestine-centric themes] to prevail so powerfully, is a worrying and troubling aspect. These candidates seem to seriously imply that such issues are in the control of the Jordanian Parliament.” The premise of such a statement is that Jordan is external to the Question of Palestine. While the larger trajectory of settler-colonialism in Palestine is certainly beyond the control of Jordan (its government or its people), the history and contemporary politics of Jordan are intimately tied to the history and contemporary politics of this project (and vice versa). Within such a context, demands for the right of return, or criticisms of Israeli and U.S. policies vis-à-vis Palestine, serves as legitimate examples of “real issues.” To acknowledge them as such, however, would require that one locate Jordan within a larger configuration of regional power relations, which in turn opens up a space to consider how the existing political economy in Jordan is tied to many projects, some of which are not exclusively contained within its borders.

It is true that, in response to readers’ comments, the author of the above-referenced post highlights many of Immortal Entertainment’s projects as a means of countering accusations of elitism and anti-Palestinianism. That is exactly the issue, however. In a similar manner to the way in which a liberal in the United States may profess to not be racist by virtue of having black friends (or being black themselves), many amongst Jordan’s liberal elite circles argue that they are neither elitist nor anti-Palestinian by virtue of their acknowledgement of poverty and support for the Palestinian cause. The fact that such activities are commonly part of a larger repertoire of relations and practices that are implicated in the Jordanian status quo is precisely the problem. Narratives about Jordan that mask the existing power relations, irrespective of intentions, are integral to the maintenance of the status quo. This is especially the case when they claim to report on or provide insight into the driving force of politics in Jordan.

There are those who justify such omissions as a strategic calculation. This idea is based on legitimate concerns given the censorship and risks to personal safety that accompany political speech in Jordan. Yet it is problematic that there is not even the slightest public acknowledgement that such limitations on freedom of speech exist. It is simply not possible to sincerely and accurately analyze contemporary dynamics (e.g., the dominance of Islamist and Palestinian issues) that are implicated in the broader contexts of authoritarian rule and uneven development without incorporating those contexts into the discussion. Such a phenomenon inevitably serves to perpetuate the status quo by rendering invisible the ways in which power operates in Jordan.

I do not doubt the sincerity of those who are seeking to engage in the issues that animate the present Jordanian political economy and their desire for a better future for Jordan. I do, however, take issue with the lack of public reflexivity on the part of many liberal elites, who have refused to implicate themselves, their families, or their institutions in the production and maintenance of such a political economy; one in which they are the primary beneficiaries. To obfuscate their roles and that of the regime in the production and maintenance of existing conditions, while simultaneously claiming to provide insight into the phenomena animating politics in Jordan, ultimately serves as an exercise in self-congratulatory political speech with little to no accountability. Instead of viewing the population as obstacles to Jordan's alleged progress towards modernity, we would do better to consider their words and actions (contrary as they may be to some of our desires and political logics) as the traces of a disjuncture between the liberal elite vision of Jordan and the reality that is Jordan.

Latest posts in Politics:

21 comments for "Liberal Elite Discourse and the "Realities" of Jordan"


My name is Nasser Kalaji and I wrote the above mentioned blog entry. The author knows this and I find it rather strange that he did not mention it nor did he mention the fact that he knows me personally.

Mr. Abu Alrish was courteous enough to email me and inform me of his intentions to publish the article, I thanked him and told him that I found it rather strange that he even though he knows and has access to me, that he would write a critique of my entry without talking to me, perhaps I am mistaken but I believe that a person, specially an academic, would fully research the subject matter before offering a public critique of it.

I also had pieces of information that I was going to share with Mr. Ziyad, because I felt it was vital that he knows about them and I felt that without it, Mr. Ziyad would certainly arrive at some flawed conclusions. I was right. There is saying in Arabic that goes “ Al Labeebu mina al isharati yafham” which more or less translates to “ a smart one gets it from its implicitly “ If you need to be told that the policies formulated by Bassem Awadallah and his goons are one of the main reasons to why these conditions prevail in lower income areas then welcome back to earth .If I need to mention that the election laws are flawed when political commentators have been saying so for the past two decades then the Jordanian population is more naïve than those who believe Ms. Cleo is capable of telling them what their future holds.

However and this is where things are going to get interesting, had you contacted me before you published this, I would have showed you a 15 min video that I shot during my election coverage, the footage contains people buying and selling votes, government corruption and manipulation of the elections and journalists and citizens discussing the negative effect the press law has on their writings and work. The video is in its final stages of editing and should be released soon.

So here you have it, I did address the issues of press law and the flawed election law, the reason I chose to do it in video format instead of writing it is because there are hundreds of Jordanians who have written about this, to my knowledge I am the first Jordanian to capture it on camera, and I think that visuals truths hold firmer than written ones.

I could have written about the buying and selling of votes, but then pro government elements would have argued that I have no solid proof, when I present it through a video, no one and I mean no one can claim that it did not happen. Had you contacted me before, I would also have shown you a documentary that we have been working on for the past 8 months, a documentary that illustrate how the new con like economic policies of the elite in Jordan has driven farmers, particularly in the Jordan valley to their knees, a documentary that contains footage of government officials lying through their teeth about the services they are supposedly carry out. A documentary whose primarily focus is about the pressures and harassment by the government and other forces of two local female journalists and the laws and regulations that seriously hinder their rights and work. You seriously did not need to embarrass yourself like that in public. Furthermore, the photojournalistic approach to my work is necessary to challenging the status quo when it comes to the media laws in Jordan, The government and forces within society have harassed and prosecuted journalists who have raised issues that you spoke off, my response to that is, instead of complaining about it like many have, I will present hard hitting facts, I am taking the calculated risk that such an approach will make any legal attempts to prosecute me futile, for it is harder to prosecute real life footage than it is to prosecute opinions. I could be wrong, and maybe I will get in trouble when I release the videos and the documentaries, but these are the extents that I am willing to go to for my country.

You also flat out lied to your audience, one several occasions, and I really don’t need to dwell on it but I do want to talk about one particular example. You said that I highlighted the Gaza documentary project in response to accusations of being labeled anti Palestinian and being an elitist, this is absolutely false, I was responding to a reader who said this to me “So if people supported Palestine it will be a problem for you and no wonder we can't get a piece of that land back. Honey as you want people to put the slogans you like they are also allowed to put the slogans they like” My response was designed to refute such claims, I do not have a problem with people supporting Palestine, I do it myself, do I think that mediocre poetry on election banners do anything to solve the Palestinians issues? No I don’t and I do however think that a documentary about the only two foreign journalists in Gaza during the war, a documentary that is in my humble opinion is one of the most telling and brutal documentaries ever made about the atrocities committed by the Israelis during the war, is far more beneficial to the Palestinian cause than some banners that simply play on peoples desperations and emotions. So it was not an attempt to show that I am not an elitist or anti Palestinian is was in response to the accusation that I am against Jordanians supporting Palestinian issues. In 1948 my grandfather armed and trained an independent platoon that went on to fight the war in Jerusalem, in the Algerian capital, and in honor of his role in the independence war, there is a street named after him, in the era of the young Jordanian state, the budget of the Jordanian government was donated entirely by him. So don’t you dare lump me in the same group of the nouveau riche that run this country, I am of a different breed. Perhaps these bits of information will shed some light on your misguided interpretation and your even more misguided efforts to make an example out of the wrong guy.

But there is a reason why it is suppressed by academics and people in power, for what I represent is the real change in the country, I and others like me, operate legitimate businesses free from reliance on the government and the regime, we have the track history of selflessly serving local and pan Arab causes, and most importantly we are the ones with a presence in the street. Unlike some scholars who preach what they think to know in the comfort of American Universities, the streets know us, you don’t find us in charity gala dinners in the dead sea, but when in need, the gum sellers outside of night clubs know who to call, we don’t receive government grants and awards nor are we some U.S aid program but it is guys like me that pull kids out of their despair in East Amman to travel and work with some of the biggest names in international hip hop.

Immortal, and now you know.

Nasser Kalaji wrote on December 04, 2010 at 09:39 PM

It's been quite a while since I last saw someone dedicate this much effort and time to dream up a social phenomena just to discredit a blogger. He hides what is (in my opinion) a personal attack under guises of different scholarly hues. He diverts our attention by strategically repeating and placing words like "liberal", "elite" and "neo".

Presenting a bold socio-political statement isn't the sin Mr. Abu-Rish committed. His sin is that a scholar like himself failed to give references to back up his statements (quoting just one, in this case Immortal Entertainment's blog entry). The least a writer and a scholar can do is point to us at the direction of those "diverse array of English-language publications". Refreshing as it may be to read a piece with words like "coalesced" and "teleology", the sophisticated language used by the author (on its own) is not an argument.

Ameen wrote on December 05, 2010 at 03:53 AM

Good work Ziad Abu-Rish. This is a very sharp piece. And I invite the previous commentator to try to overcome his own narcissism and appreciate the fact that this is not just a piece about his mediocre blogging. It’s about much more than that. But either way, I think Mr. Kalaji’s response reveals a great deal, not just about Amman liberal elite discourse that his writings exemplify, but also about the self-deception that sustains it. My advice to him is less speaking and more reading.

Najat wrote on December 05, 2010 at 12:27 PM

Thanks to Mr. Kalaji for taking the time to read my post. My reason for not naming Mr. Kalaji individually is the fact that his original post and a subsequent republishing of it on another blog were anonymously authored. It was not my place to publicly out him you since he chose to write without using his name (except for the third time the post was published, and in a much more edited-down version). Had Mr. Kalaji used his name in the original post, then I would have referred to him by name. There was no attempt to hide the fact that I knew who he was or that I knew him personally. These facts are irrelevant to the argument I was making and including them would have made my article personal.

I am not critical of Mr. Kalaji's photography skills and actually think he took some amazing pictures. My critique is of his words, which can be just as effective as his pictures when some one reads his article. Had he simply posted the pictures with translated captions, that would be one thing (even if he added an introduction). But his article was both pictures and words. And doing that is totally within his right. But those words were incredibly problematic in my view. And I am entitled to that opinion without being accused of having malicious intentions towards him. Mr. Kalaji might very well be trying to say a lot more with pictures than he thinks he is saying with words. But in the end, he wrote something in public . . . and in that piece of writing there was a certain representation that I am critical of. Mr. Kalaji's 15-minute video might be completely counter to the dominant liberal elite narrative, if not critical of it. But that does not change the fact that his article, as a stand-alone and self-contained argument, echoed and thus contributed to the dominant liberal elite narrative. This is why contacting him prior to publishing my piece (which was about much more than his article) would not have changed my analysis and thus why I did not.

My post was not about Mr. Kalaji as an individual nor his blog as a whole, but rather how his piece (specifically his words) on the elections was part of a broader way of representing the elections and Jordan that has become dominant (but certainly not exclusive) in the English-language media of Jordan. Immortal Entertainment clearly does much more than what Mr. Kalaji reflected in the piece. He might genuinely believe much more than he wrote in his article. He might even actually hold very different views once given the chance to elaborate on his arguments. And he might be very different in his personhood than others who write in the English-language media. I am not denying any of that. However, none of this changes the fact that Mr. Kalaji's article, as a stand alone piece (as one that seeks to represent the elections and was circulated as such), does not include any of this. And I simply wanted to respond to his arguments, particularly the way they intersected with the dominant narrative; which is the ultimate target of my critique. As writers, we are accountable not for what we meant to write, nor for what we say given the chance to elaborate, but for what we have written in public. In this sense, Mr. Kalaji's article fell in line with the dominant liberal elite narrative of the elections in Jordan, which I am critical of.

I am not saying that there is a lack of important work on (or personal investment in) Palestine by Mr. Kalaji or anyone else that might write within the dominant liberal elite narrative. What I am saying is that such work or investment can exist side by side with problematic ways of talking about Palestine or Jordan. In such situations, as it is certainly the case with his work (meaning some of his work is critical and this article, in my view, is not), one does not negate the other. Mr. Kalaji can be, and perhaps is, doing some incredibly critical work re Palestine or economic issues in Jordan. That does not mean that his article, as it was written and published, was not problematic vis-a-vis Palestine in particular or Jordan in general.

With this in mind, my reference to defending oneself against claims of elitism or anti-Palestinianism hold true. The accusation that Mr. Kalaji is "against Jordanians supporting Palestinian issues" is another way of saying he is anti-Palestinian. We live and write within a context of complex power relations. We can say, for example, that we are not racist and actually do some things that really challenge racism. But that fact alone does not negate other instances when speech or action by us contributes (either explicitly or implicitly) to the power relations that maintain racism (or any other power relation). This is why it is not about whether one lives in the United States or in Jordan. Nor is it about whether one is a businessperson or an academic. Nor is it about whether one is wealthy, working-class, or impoverished. People in all of these social positions can hold a genuine commitment and make important contributions to challenging power relations. However, the politics of any action by a person across those social positions (whether in the form of speech or otherwise) needs to be judged in relation to the set of power relations it engages with. Some of Mr. Kalaji's work can be crucial to challenging the existing power relations in Jordan. This particular article, however, was not . . . and in fact contributes to them. And that is not to say that he meant to do this. But it does mean that I believe he did. This is why I used it as part of a broader critique of liberal elite discourse in Jordan. Not because there is nothing else to Mr. Kalaji or Immortal Entertainment, but rather because even those of us who want to, and actually do, perform important work towards social change can simultaneously undermine that very work when we write in certain ways.

Ziad wrote on December 05, 2010 at 01:13 PM

You all should be happy that you can at least debate these issues in public, kind of, as opposed to some other Arab countries were we live! But it is sad that when we have such a forum we are unable to just discuss and debate.

Personally, I think both ziad and nasser are not trying to insult the other (i don't agree with nasser that the article was personal). but the comments are sad. Ameen and Najat who support opposite points ARE getting personal. there is no sense for Najat to say to Nasser to read more (that's too much) and frankly it does not seem that Ameen understands the article and is more interested in seeing the original article as a personal attack--i wonder why.

While friends of mine don't agree with everything Ziad wrote, it was clearly NOT personal! Why is everyone so scared? I think like in many parts of the Arab world we are not used to have our writing criticized and we consider arguments with the substance of what we say to be personal. It's like our public sphere has not matured and the blame is on our regimes for not fostering debate. Everything becomes personal. We are falling for it and insulting each other instead of fighting censorship.

What Najat wrote in defense of Ziad included a personal insult to Nasser (about reading more), but there's nothing personally insulting in Ziad's article. What is the fuss about? Why can't people just argue back?! so sad.

Elias S. wrote on December 05, 2010 at 01:58 PM

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote,

"when things get weird the weird go pro"

Mr. Ziyad highlighted issues that were missing from my narrative, as if every article written about the election should include every detail about the country, cannot one write an article to attack a specific phenomena ?

Furthermore, he reached the conclusions that I am a liberal elite working for the maintenance of the status quo in Jordan, his argument was based entirely on what he thought was missing from my argument .

But those arguments are not missing , because when i wrote statements like

The Government in Jordan has a huge role to play in this process. With very strict controls and restrictions on the activities of political and social activists ,the government, has in effect emptied the political scene from any sort of political opposition"

when i wrote that statement in my mind i was covering the press and elections law, why? because to me that is what restrictions and controls mean, some got my point others did not.

but the failure to get that, means that you are entitled to criticize the way I write , it does not entitle you however to accuse me of attempting to maintain the status quo nor does it entitle you to accuse me that I seek to maintain that status quo for the the my own benefit or that of my family.

the point is, had the editing system not crashed on my editor and the video was released the day after the election and all those missing narratives we covered extensively , would Mr. Ziad still make the same argument?

i think the answer to that is yes, because he now knows that the video exists and he now knows about the documentaries, did he change his position? no.

Nasser Kalaji wrote on December 05, 2010 at 02:03 PM

I feel as though there are too many glaringly obvious issues going on with Mr. Kalaji, those of a personal nature - and those which were not the subject of the article whatsoever, to comment on all of them. However, let me use this shining example of how Mr. Kalaji is a man in denial: Just by virtue of the fact that in his own written defense Mr. Kalaji states that the 'nouveau riche' [sic] (a problematic term in and of itself) 'run this country' and that Mr. Abu Rish ‘dared’ to 'lump' him in with them illustrates precisely the elitist rhetoric Mr. Kalaji employs. Rhetoric that clearly must extend beyond the parameters of this article, how could it not?

Rather than defend himself with humility, Mr. Kalaji uses all of the "accomplishments" he and his grandfather or colleagues have made as evidence that he is not part of the status-quo furthering liberal elite. Precisely what Mr. Abu Rish highlights in his article as behavior that furthers the status quo, isn't it? His arrogance shines as a glaring reinforcement of what Mr. Abu Rish is arguing. It seems Mr. Kalaji can’t defend himself without discussing at length how he is a great figure and an important person. He says: "...when in need, the gum sellers outside of night clubs know who to call…it is guys like me that pull kids out of their despair in East Amman to travel and work with some of the biggest names in international hip hop." Those gum sellers Mr. Kalaji is referencing stand outside of the club, one which he no doubt frequents regularly, a venue in which those 'gum sellers' would never be welcome. Relegated to manning the curbside for pocket change, the gum sellers remain ‘outsiders’ while ‘insiders’ are inside spending considerably more than just pocket change. What about that dynamic is not elitist? I wonder how many gum sellers he has actually taken under his wing. Further, it is completely ludicrous to say that he himself has pulled 'kids out of their despair in East work with some of the biggest names in international hip hop." Would we not have heard of these East Amman kids if they had in fact reached the international hip hop ‘scene’? Where are these kids?

More importantly, nowhere in that self-congratulatory - not to mention unnecessary - statement is Mr. Kalaji addressing the issues he so insistently claims are important, those which he discussed in his article. If Mr. Kalaji is in fact playing this role of "street savior" it would be admirable to show some, just some, humility in not using it to defend himself of legitimate criticism, which he set himself up for by publishing political commentary. He may be doing some great work, but by virtue of the fact that he champions himself and brags about his ‘good deeds,’ he is setting himself up to look precisely like the liberal-elite member of Jordanian society that he denies he is.

Clearly Mr. Kalaji harbors some delusions of grandeur.

The fact that he can't see his problematic arguments (whether he "meant" them or not) or accept this very straightforward criticism of his words, or respond to said criticism in a respectable manner is very sad. I hope Mr. Kalaji seriously considers checking his ego at the door whenever attempting to discuss politics in a public domain, and be willing to hear the things that he is, in fact, in denial of. When someone holds up a mirror, and you don't like what you see, change it. Humility is a noble trait, and it seems Mr. Kalaji is in need a hefty dose. Kudos to Mr. Abu Rish for having the ability to perhaps begin that process he so badly needs to go through.

Samir Z. wrote on December 05, 2010 at 02:46 PM

Let’s go through this step by step, shall we?

1.“as if every article written about the election should include every detail about the country, cannot one write an article to attack a specific phenomena ?” It’s called context. Look it up. It’s one of the basic tenets of good writing.

2.“he reached the conclusions that I am a liberal elite working for the maintenance of the status quo in Jordan, his argument was based entirely on what he thought was missing from my argument” What other conclusion could he reach? What’s missing sometimes speaks louder than what is there.

3.“you are entitled to criticize the way I write , it does not entitle you however to accuse me of attempting to maintain the status quo nor does it entitle you to accuse me that I seek to maintain that status quo for the the my own benefit or that of my family.” I read the article twice (phew!) and sorry to say, I don’t think he was talking about you specifically. I think he was referencing a LARGE group of people, and you basically say your one of them based on how the article was written. I don’t think he was talking about benefit either, I think he was talking about a bigger implication that we as a society ..and families, even yours! are part of that society) are involved in creating the power relations that Jordan operates under. It’s funny that you think it’s about you. Step down, my man.

4.“the point is, had the editing system not crashed on my editor and the video was released the day after the election and all those missing narratives we covered extensively , would Mr. Ziad still make the same argument? i think the answer to that is yes, because he now knows that the video exists and he now knows about the documentaries, did he change his position? no.” For lack of a better phrase, by saying this you make yourself sound like a whiny brat who can’t handle the fact that he made a mistake. It’ cool, we all make mistakes. Blogging is a learning process. Remember the lesson about context? But why should “Mr. Ziad” change his position just because you explained it to him in a comment? Did you change your article to mention this editing fiasco or to explain what you really meant? No. It’s really big-headed of you to ask him to do that. I imagine if your article were different, his article would be too. As it stands, your blog is still troublesome in Ziad’s eyes, probably because you didn’t change it to reflect all this new information. Consider the disrespect and immodesty that comes off when you request for him to change his argument, while it's ok for you not too. Wow. You;ve got some guts.

I think its conceited of you to think that this whole issue is about you. It’s about SOCIETY, one which we’re all a part of. You just happened to offer up some bad politics. Deal with the consequences. Grow up.

Fawanees82 wrote on December 05, 2010 at 03:45 PM

Dear Samir,

I addressed the following in my reponese

1- I answered the alleged lack of narrative by telling him that i acknowledge that these issues are indeed important and that while they are not extensively highlighted in the written part of my narrative, they are the focus of my short video.

2- the response about my family was specifically in response to his claim that my omissions was to maintain the status quo , so I had to tell him that this was not the case , my economic well being is not tied to the regime nor the government.

3- the names of the rap star is jay electronica , heck him out , Jay - Z just signed him two weeks ago, I invited Jay to Jordan back in July and the local rappers that he worked with are Sam, AL Majed and Damar( a producer not a rapper )

in short I mentioned the family thing to refute claims that I my well being is tied to that of the regime, and I did address the issues that he spoke off by highlighting the work I do in documentary making and video.

Nasser Kalaji wrote on December 05, 2010 at 05:24 PM

Dear Fawanees,

far too impolite for me to even think about replying.

thank you for taking the time though.

nasser kalaji wrote on December 05, 2010 at 05:26 PM

to all those that claim this was not personal

how on earth do you explain this

I do, however, take issue with the lack of public reflexivity on the part of many liberal elites, who have refused to implicate themselves, their families, or their institutions in the production and maintenance of such a political economy; one in which they are the primary beneficiaries. To obfuscate their roles and that of the regime in the production and maintenance of existing conditions, while simultaneously claiming to provide insight into the phenomena animating politics in Jordan, ultimately serves as an exercise in self-congratulatory political speech with little to no accountability

is not what Mr. Ziad saying that the lack of reflexivity is to protect the status quo that serves my interests and those of my family?

Nasser Kalaji wrote on December 05, 2010 at 05:34 PM

Mr. Kalaji,

I suggest you read my post once again. It seems you've missed the point entirely. Not surprising since it is rather a severe indictment of your ego and ability to accept honest criticism.

Your response to my post addresses none of the issues that concerned me as a result of reading your original blog or the atrocious response you made to Mr. Abu Rish's very fair analysis. It is harsh in your eyes because it points out all of the things you don't want to hear. I suspect your inability to properly comprehend my previous comment stems from the fact that you have 'blinders' on to protect your ego from the truth.

As for the last comment you made, I believe Fawanees82 addressed this in their comment. This paragraph is not about you, it is about a society as a whole whole, and while I can see why you would understand it as personal (because it appears everything is about you in your mind) it is merely suggesting that we take accountability. Not by blaming ourselves first, but by realizing it is the case. I think Mr. Abu Rish clearly suggests that the majority of the liberal elite maintain the status quo unknowingly and may not like it when they realize that is what their actions (and in words) are contributing to. However, since it has been pointed out by Mr. Abu Rish, the responsible and socially conscious thing to do would be to examine ones self and hold up a mirror to perhaps try and understand how this is not a question of one man's actions in a vacuum. It is a call to society. And you, Mr. Kalaji, are most certainly not living in a vacuum, which is why I suspect Mr. Abu Rish chose your article to critique.

Fawanees82 lacked eloquence in their language, but I believe that person is right in saying that you participated in perpetuating bad politics - at least in Mr. Abu Rish's eyes, which is fair - and that you need to cope with the fallout in a manner that paints you as humble and educated, rather than arrogant and unable to learn.

Again, I seriously hope that you take this opportunity to examine yourself as a member of society who may unwittingly be a direct participant in aiding the very ills you are trying to address through your work. Talking about that work in public just isn't enough. In fact, it's bad. Bad because you need a defense bigger than a rapper who has signed with Jay Z. How does that affect East Amman? Do Sam and Al Majed still live in poverty? I'm betting they do.

Mr. Kalaji, once again, humble pie, take a big bite. Open your eyes to reality, it's better to be reflexive (as hard as that can be sometimes) than proud. You are hiding from the truth, and to see it, your ego needs to deflate to be able to take the criticism. I hope you are a big enough man to accept this important challenge.

Samir Z. wrote on December 06, 2010 at 12:41 AM

I would like to thank both Mr. Kalaji and Mr. Abu-Rish for writing such provocative articles on a very difficult subject. As a side note, when I hand out essay assignments to my students, I make it clear to them that the only object I will be grading is the essay that they turn in to me, not a previous draft that they have written and that I have not seen. In the same vein, I must echo Mr. Abu-Rish's statement above that Mr. Kalaji's article is "a stand-alone and self-contained argument" that must be judged on its own merits. I also hold Mr. Abu-Rish's article to the same set of standards.

In doing so, I would like to suggest that we focus on what the two essays share in common: a passionate concern for the future of Jordan. Mr. Kalaji best displayed this through "some amazing pictures" as Mr. Abu-Rish notes above and which I think we can all agree added greatly to the discussion. Mr. Abu-Rish's commitment is, in turn, best conveyed through a dense and layered critical analysis of what he deems to be the "invisible structures" which are in need of unpacking.

Thus, the question of "personal attacks" not only distracts us from far more important issues, it is rendered moot by the fact that on the textual level, each essay offers a critique not of a particular individual, but instead of embedded narratives. I did not read Mr. Kalaji's exploration of the use of "the Palestinian cause" and "Islamist" issues in the election as a criticism against a particular person from either group. By the same token, rather than a personal attack against one individual, I interpreted Mr. Abu-Rish's analysis of the "liberal elite discourse" as an attempt to speak to the multitudes of people who are shielded by blinders from understanding the deeper critical structures that are at work in a system. It is worth nothing that I say this as an American "liberal" who, rather than take offense at the language of his essay, deeply appreciated the insight that it offered. This is because the purpose of a critical essay is to engage its readers, encouraging them to think deeply and sometimes contentiously about a particular subject.

From a teacher wrote on December 06, 2010 at 12:45 AM

If Mr. Kalaji's claim, that my article was a personal attack on him, is based on my concluding paragraph's broad reference to individuals, their families, and institutions, then allow me to state the following:

I do not know Mr. Kalaji's family and was not inferring anything about them. If my writing was not clear enough to avoid such an accusation, then I apologize for that. My point was that Mr. Kalaji's lack of reflexivity in terms of his article's implications in legitimating the status quo (which I certainly never said was intentional) is representative of a broader lack of reflexivity on the part of many member's of Jordan's elite who refuse to implicate themselves. Some of these individuals are implicated by virtue of their own conduct, others by virtue of their family's conduct, and others by virtue of their institution's conduct. The only claim I am making about anything to do with Mr. Kalaji is that I find his article politically problematic by virtue of that fact that I believe it echoes the dominant liberal elite narrative of Jordan (which I am critical of for the reasons stated in my article). This is not to say that Mr. Kalaji intentionally echoed such a narrative. I actually know him to genuinely care about the present and future of Jordan and its people. Rather, I am saying that irrespective of his intentions and his other projects, the article itself as a stand-alone piece was both problematic in and of itself as well as representative of a broader trend of writing about contemporary issues in Jordan amongst English-language media (e.g., Jo Magazine, Jordan Business, Venture, 7iber, Black Iris, etc.) in Jordan.

Ziad wrote on December 06, 2010 at 02:17 AM

Ziad: You tried to present a case based solely on just one example. You say you were merely responding to the argument he presented in his blog post. I believe the place for that is the comment section of his blog. By opting to publish here (and kicked started your piece with a generalization that you are talking about a trend) a reader has the right to criticize you for failing to show other examples to back up your argument.

Elias: Believe it or not, this is the first time I heard of Mr. Abu-Rish and Mr. Kalaji. I saw the article as a personal attack for the simple reason that it failed to quote any other reference (again I would point at the introductory paragraph of Mr. Abu-Rish's article). You lumped all comments in one category; just as the writer did all Jordanian liberals and English-language media in one category. You say it seems I don't understand the article and that I'm on an opposite side. I say you didn't understand the point I made. I didn't take sides. To take a side would only mean that I commend one and damn the other. And again, my concern with the article is purely scholarly. A single instance does not a phenomenon maketh.

Ameen wrote on December 06, 2010 at 02:56 AM

Dear Samir the issue is really simple.

The press laws and the elections laws and neo- liberal economic policies have a huge role to play in the elections.

I had mentioned these laws, in my entry, however it was not up to Mr. Ziad taste,in the sense that I did not highlight them enough.

if that was his criticism , that it is not highlighted enough then i would certainly understand where he is coming from, but this was not the case,

how is it the mr. ziad took on the role of defining what is enough and what is not? should i talk specifically about these three issues in 20% of my entry for it to meet his standards? is it 30%? is it 40%?

Mr. Ziad then used his own standard of what is enough and what is not to go ahead and tie the , in what was his mind , the absence of these issues ,to the liberal elite political speech.

this is like telling an african american who wrote a blog entry about racism in America,that because he did not mention lynchings in 1950's american , that his political speech is similar to that of the KKK.

I kid you not , this is how i feel about it, this is the level of disgust I feel towards these liberal elites in Jordan.

I have made it my life mission to fight with these people and their actions and their policies, but because of a blog entry which did not contain enough mention of the above mentioned issues, enough, according to Mr. Ziad, I am somehow contributing to their cause?

that sort of analysis is flawed my friend and that is my whole beef with Mr. Ziad , he could not have criticized the fact that it was not highlighted enough and I would have respected that, but to tie it to something that is so sinister , that is so evil that is sucking the life out of the citizens of this country is simply wrong.

My Ziad has allowed his own ego, to create a world where he , and he alone, can determine what is enough and what is not.Besides the fact that such a method is my humble opinion , stupid , it is the very definition of an elitist.

p.s as for the east amman guy, how many 22 years olds, in east amman make 1000$ a month working in music do you know off?

Nasser Kalaji wrote on December 06, 2010 at 04:20 AM

I would like to make the following correction to one sentence to my post. It should read:

It is worth noting that I say this as an American "liberal" who, rather than take offense at the language of his essay, deeply appreciated the insight that it offered.

From a teacher wrote on December 06, 2010 at 07:03 AM

Apology accepted, thank you.

Nasser Kalaji wrote on December 07, 2010 at 09:35 AM

Excellent piece. I'm jordanian and I've been aching to read insightful analysis of what's been happening.

Almost all articles I come across seem to be reciting some strange capitalist manifesto. Those raging capitalists who spew this discourse seem to ignore very basic facts about Jordan and the circumstances that surrounded it creation.

Nasser Kalaji, please stop embarrassing yourself. You're way out of your depth writing about this stuff, and you got a response by somebody who knows what they're talking about. Give it a rest dude, and try reading something not written by Thomas Friedman.

Al Salti al Mullatham wrote on December 07, 2010 at 06:23 PM

I absolutely love this post! I think you've unpacked and vocalised everything I have been feeling and wanting to write about the Jordanian liberal elite-- the doublethink that happens. I wouldn't worry about the criticisms you're getting-- everytime someone comes close to scratching the shiny veneer of liberal elite discourse they charge at you.

My only disappointment is that I wish this was more condensed and possibly written in a more easily accessible style so that it could be read more widely. Perhaps that is the next chapter.

best of luck, great post, the website looks great as well.


Saleem wrote on December 08, 2010 at 07:39 AM

I think it’s really sad that when we Jordanians (or anyone really) reject any constructive criticism (which I believe is the point of this blog entry) and immediately go into self defense mode instead of taking it as a chance to raising out self awareness. The perspective shared in this blog post should be the point from which we begin to discuses and attempt to solve the problems in Jordan if we ever wish to truly develop and change things, because otherwise we will just be stuck mistaking the byproducts of the problem with the problem itself, and spend all our time blaming the wrong people and attempting to “fix” them with all the wrong methods. I just want to voice my admiration for this blog post. Thanks … it was a joy to read

Muhammad wrote on December 09, 2010 at 03:41 AM

If you prefer, email your comments to




Apply for an ASI Internship now!


Political Economy Project

Issues a

Call for Letters of Interest


Jadaliyya Launches its

Political Economy




F O R    T H E    C L A S S R O O M 

Roundtable: Harold Wolpe’s Intellectual Agenda and Writing on Palestine


The 1967 Defeat and the Conditions of the Now: A Roundtable


E N G A G E M E N T