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Young Jordanians discuss citizenship
What is citizenship, and is it at all possible in a country like Jordan? These question were raised when the MS ActionAid Denmark office in Amman invited young Jordanians and Danes to discuss citizenship.
Approximately 25 young Danish and Jordanian people discussed citizenship in Jordan at the MS regional office in Amman.
29. September 2009
The 25 young Jordanians and Danes are totally silent. The question they have been asked to answer requires concentration, lots of it. A few of them look bewildered, while others carefully write on the small white paper they have been handed by Myriam Abu Addas.
She's a young, successful Jordanian blogger and has this evening been invited by MS ActionAid Denmark to tell about her experiences with blogging and citizenship. MS ActionAid Denmark works in the Middle East and North Africa to promote cultural exchange between young Danes and Jordanians and to engage young Jordanians in their society.
And since one of the key elements of citizenship in any state is participation, Myriam has started out by asking the young audience to write down one sentence that explains what citizenship is to them.
One from the audience writes “Taking responsibility and help change a bad situation”, another writes “To love my country and culture”, while a third writes “Something I feel, I belong to...”.
“Some Jordanians feel more Jordanian than others”
After a few minutes Myriam collects all the answers from the audience and then gives the word to Dr. Mohammed Massri, professor at Center for Strategic Studies in Jordan.
“According to the constitution all people in Jordan are equal”, Dr. Massri starts out. He pauses for a few seconds and then continues: “But some Jordanians feel they are more Jordanians than others”.
According to the professor the basis of citizenship historically has always been justice, equality and participation. In the West, though, the national state has also become an important component in the process of tying countries together and promote a feeling of belonging. But in Jordan, where more than half the population are not of Jordanian origin, but of Palestinian origin, the state has not been successful in promoting the feeling among all citizens that they are one nation fighting for common goals.
Professor Massri points out that in a recent Jordanian survey 54 per cent of the Palestinians asked thought that the government only works for the Transjordanians, the original Jordanians.
53 per cent of the Transjordanians – in turn – believes that the private sector is owned exclusively by the Palestinians. And even worse: Approximately 40 per cent of the Transjordanians suspect that the Palestinians are not exclusively loyal to Jordan, while 45 per cent of the Palestinians fear that the Jordanian state can take away their Jordanian citizenship.
“This can not foster the idea of citizenship”, Dr, Massri points out.
Small things can change a lot
But according to Myriam Abu Addas' experience even very small things can make a difference when it comes to promoting the feeling of citizenship. She and her friend created a website, where all Jordanians could write about everyday problems in their neighbourhoods. Some people sent pictures of ruined pavements and posted it on the website.
“Then we found out, that the government was actually reading the blog, because suddenly the spots were repaired”, Myriam explains.
Myriam and her friends then launched a project – with support of the government - where kids cleaned and painted their neighbourhood and even made a garden with flowers. A year later the garden was still beautiful, because the kids put a lot of pride in maintaining it.
“So citizenship does not have to be about politics, but can also be about just being a citizen in your own neighbourhood”, Myriam explains.
Does religion promote citizenship?
In the meantime Myriam has handed out several small pieces of paper with simple key words to the audience. The idea is for the young people to discuss the words on the paper in relation to citizenship. The first word is “religion”.
A young Jordanian from the audience explains that religion can both be a an obstacle and a blessing for the promotion of citizenship citizenship.
“Religion can be a motivator of violence, but it can also promote brotherhood”, he says.
Another young Jordanian agrees: “In some cases it's better to include religion, for example in Saudi Arabia where all people share the same religion, but other places it's better with secular citizenship”, he explains.
A third Jordanian points out that religion historically has been the source of all civilization and that religion therefore must be a good thing in any society.
His statement, however, is quickly contradicted by the initial speaker, who points out that religion throughout history has also been a constant source of violence: “Just think of the crusades”, he says.
“Citizenship is an obstacle to human rights”
A new word is brought up for discussion: “Human rights”. A young, bearded Jordanian starts out by saying that “if we have justice and equal rights, we would have unity – maybe even over the whole world”.
But another Jordanian points out that things like corruption etc. destroys this unity, while a third feels that citizenship and human rights actually works against each other:”Citizenship promotes nationalism and in turn racism, so citizenship is an obstacle to human rights”, he explains.
A young Dane from MS ActionAid Denmark agrees: “I think the nation state is a danger. Instead we should have a world government in which we are all participants”.
Another Jordanian cuts in and explains that he stopped believing in human rights after the recent Israeli-Palestinian war in Gaza: “If human rights only apply for the powerful, then you loose faith in them”, he says calmly.
“We are not fighting to become citizens”
Dr. Mohammed Massri from Center for Strategic Studies ends the discussion by saying that in his opinion the key to successful citizenship in Jordan is to confine the use of traditional terms of belonging like nationalities, tribes etc.
“I'm so tired of being asked if I'm a Palestinian, what tribe I come from or what city my family lives in. This stops the idea of citizenship”.