Brace yourselves—2018 is likely to be tumultuous, packed with ever more instability and uncertainty.
By Osama Al Sharif
A record was set when the Lower House of Parliament passed the 2018 state budget in one day; effectively doing away with any meaningful debate about a controversial package of new taxes that have been imposed on a wide range of essential products and services.
The government hopes to raise millions of dinars to lower the deficit and increase self-dependency. Naturally the cost of living index will rise and we should be weary of inflationary tides amid sluggish economic growth rates and almost depression-like conditions for most commercial sectors.
But regardless of the social and political fallout, the government must present its economic incentive plan. Raising taxes alone will not get us out of the dark tunnel. We need to see an action plan to restructure a bloated and inefficient public sector along with meaningful incentives aimed at attracting direct foreign investments and encouraging the private sector to take risks.
The government must downsize and lure the private sector and foreign investors to take the lead in creating jobs. The current course of relying solely on people’s pockets to raise additional revenues is untenable and will lead to a myriad of social and political upsets.
With the unprecedented profusion of news and opinion outlets in the virtual world it has become increasingly difficult to sift through real and fake news. It’s a global phenomenon that we’re all enmeshed in.
The news industry has to find solutions and set in standards that regulate the flow of news. But it is people—and illicit organizations with a sinister agenda—that specialize in spreading fake and biased news. It is impossible to immune our society against such dangerous outlets. Even Facebook and Twitter admit that their platforms have been used to spread false news in order to achieve some political goal and influence public opinion.
But we have to be careful, as we try to deal with this phenomenon, not to over-legislate and in the process infringe on people’s right of expression and freedom of speech. More importantly we must not limit the power of the domestic press. In this age people will easily migrate and switch to the medium of their choice. It’s a tricky formula but government and legislatures must be careful not to alienate citizens. The choice must never be between tolerating fake news and suppressing genuine means of communication and expression.
One thing we have come to realize by now is that political life in Jordan will hardly move forward without viable political parties. Since the resumption of democratic life in the Kingdom in the late 1980s, we have had a surplus of political parties—now numbering over 50. But at no time did any of these parties, except the Islamic Action Front, manage to mobilize voters and form a genuine force under the dome. After many elections and numerous governments Jordan’s political scene remains barren and impotent.
The latest attempt to form a civil all-encompassing centrist party took place last month when the so-called Civil Coalition was launched. Whether it can offer itself as a popular base that can contest future elections remains to be seen. But the issue here is that we need to move beyond what we have been doing for the last 28 years. Political parties have become an anathema to a majority of Jordanians, leading, unfortunately, to malaise, apathy and low voter turnout.
But a dysfunctional political system should never be taken as a foregone conclusion and an accepted fate. We must strive to reform and revive that system if we are to renew our social contract and move this country forward. The efforts of the new Civil Coalition must be lauded and we must find ways to support it. Cynicism by a vast number of Jordanians is a dangerous trait that must be confronted and not tolerated.
We should be ready, along with the rest of the world, to batten down the hatches for three more years of Donald Trump. During this time he will no doubt continue to force his loathsome agenda on our part of the world; especially with regard to the future of Palestine. The chances are that he will find ways to impose a unilateral settlement; a fait accompli on the Palestinians and by extension Jordan and the region. Geopolitical conditions are unfavorable for everyone apart from the Israeli far right. Jordanians, along with the Palestinians, will be tested and we should close ranks in order to weather the storm.