|The year 2002: Much local spin in hot international waters
|Every year is distinctive for its events and happenings. The year 2002 was no exception. Aside from the international scene, much has happened on the local level, contrary to what many may believe.
Offered below is a very skewed view of some of the events that took place in the last 12 months.
• His Majesty King Abdallah stressed need for political credibility, need to improve living standards of Jordanians, says government must strive to achieve economic social transformation in Kingdom.
• Government of Prime Minister Ali Abul Ragheb was in buoyant mood about Jordanian’s economy, registering four percent growth in last quarter of 2001 despite world recession in wake of 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.
• Kingdom hit by snow blizzards. Unstable weather conditions caused havoc-car accidents, power cuts and telephones on the blink.
• Talk of scrapping the Ministry of Information began, with new word of the Higher Media Council. Government certain, however, about abolishing the ministry, but said it might continue as an “administrative authority.”
• Jordan gets a new government. Prime minister still the same, seven posts changed hands but “technically” was still a new government and not a reshuffle, as it would normally be called.
• Al Majd Chief Editor Fahd Al Rimawi detained for publishing false information but later freed. Similarly, Chief Editor of Al Shahed, Hussein Al Oumoush, was detained for two weeks but also later set free.
• New Afghani government handed over 180 Arab prisoners, 30 of these thought to be Jordanians, to America. The US transported them to detention center in Guantanamo Bay.
• King Abdallah spoke to the World Economic Forum in New York. He said world leaders must work together to make technology serve basic human needs.
• Jordan denounced threats to expel Palestinians to this side of the border. Jordanian officials viewed with deep concern elements in the Israeli political establishment who regard “Jordan is Palestine”, a concept put forward by the extreme right.
• Central Bank Governor Omayah Touqan assured investors of financial stability of Jordan. This is in light of the revelation that Jordanian banks were victims of fraud through non-guaranteed loans.
• Election fever. For months many speculated parliamentary elections would be held in September and October.
• Jordanian novelist Mounis Al Razzaz passed away in a hospital at the age of 51. The Star did a full page of articles about the different aspects of the personality of Al Razzaz. He had an extraordinary ability to weave his intellectual talent through a literary framework via his political training. His father was Munif Al Razzaz, one of the original founders of the Baath Party in Syria and Iraq.
• Qutaibah Fahad Abdel Rahman Abu Abboud was the 7th Jordanian to be killed in Afghanistan. He was the fifth Jordanian to be killed from Salt, one from Maan and one from Wadi Mousa. Abu Abboud was 29 years old.
• King Abdallah received US Vice President Dick Cheney in Amman. The King expressed concern over the consequences of potential US strike on Iraq. Called for an American role to find solution to end Israeli aggression on Palestinians. Cheney’s visit was a part of regional tour to get Arab support for America’s war on Iraq.
• Tojan Faisal, former Lower House deputy, was taken in detention for allegedly defaming the state; she went on a hunger strike. This caused furor by local and international human rights activists who called for her release. She returned home after 13 days in detention, after she was admitted to the King Hussein Medical Center.
• Rallies took place all over the Kingdom to express outrage over Israeli massacres on the West Bank and Gaza. Government said rallies may be held but they need official prior agreement.
• Local credit scandal in Jordan continued to make headway. Former chief of Intelligence Department Samih Al Batikhi brought in for questioning by the State Security Court.
• Arab boycott of American products gained more weight in Jordan and Arab world but experts doubted whether it would work and posed the question, “Aren’t we really hurting our economies more than anyone else’s?”
• The government increased the price of bread, diesel, gas, kerosene and fuel oil between 4.2 percent and 15.9 percent. There was a further two percent Sales Tax on all those items who were previously exempted.
• Minister of Planning Bassem Awadallah projected economic growth of five percent for 2002 despite regional and world recession.
• Festival of culture named Amman as the cultural capital of the Arab world kicked off this month. For the next year Amman became the place of culture for the whole region.
• Tojan Faisal went on trial for what was allegedly spreading exaggerated information about the country, smearing the reputation of the state and its people. She was given an 18 month sentence.
• Majd Al Shamayleh, the man involved in the credit scandal, was arrested in a foreign country and flown to Amman. Government refused to comment on such reports.
• French Ambassador in Amman Bernard Emie (now been replaced by a new ambassador) said in an interview that “a military strike against Iraq will not serve anyone.
• King Abdallah concluded a two-week visit to the United States, spoke of the worsening Palestinian plight, said Israeli incursion in Gaza devastating. UN Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said 300 Palestinian children have been killed so far out of a total of 1600.
• Minister of Information Mohammad Taher Al Adwan called on the press body to draw up a “code of ethics” to allow journalists to control themselves and their conduct.
• Heat wave in early June. Temperatures around 40 degrees centigrade. One of the hot subjects in Jordan became women’s rights to call for divorce from their husbands. Taking advantage of the changes in the Personal Status Law last December 130 women filed for divorce, so far.
• “Jordan through the eyes of its King” is a documentary made by the Discovery Channel to promote Jordan’s tourism to the world. King Abdallah said he did the program to show “the spirit of Jordan to the world.”
• This month marked the beginning of the 3rd year for the government of Ali Abul Ragheb. No government in the history of Jordan had been in power for that long.
• Tojan Faisal was granted a pardon by HM King Abdallah. Her 18-month-sentence was slashed. She walks free. Tojan had been on a hunger strike.
• Jordan marked International Narcotics Day. Experts said the number of people using drugs is increasing but not alarming. What is alarming however, is more and more are turning to hard drugs such as Heroin.
Local experts see all-out war on Iraq probable. Many fear attack by the United States and Britain on Iraq very probable, will be disastrous for the region, and the local economy.
• Jordan eased restriction procedures opposed on Palestinians to enter the Kingdom across the Jordan River. It was officially argued restrictions were imposed to prevent Palestinian exodus which could be economically-induced because of worsening conditions on West Bank and Gaza and/or because of the Israel’s policies that increasingly see transfer to Jordan as viable option.
• The government closed Al Jazeera Channel office in Kingdom. Jordanians incensed by Al Itijah Al Moakes program for its attacks on Jordan and the Jordanian leadership.
• The 2002 UN Development Report ranked Jordan as 99-much better than some of the other Arab countries-in terms of development.
• Jordanian delegation attended Johannesburg summit. Delegation proposed project to save Dead Sea from extinction.
• Prince Zeid Ben Shaker passed away at the age of 68. Prince Shaker had always been close to the Royal Court and His Majesty the late King Hussein. Starting out as a military man, he later entered politics serving as Prime Minister.
• Prime Minister Ali Abul Rageb defended his government record. He restated that parliamentary elections would be held the following spring. King Abdallah had already made the decision. Abul Ragheb rejected criticism the government was using the absence of the Lower House to pass temporary laws, 106 pieces of legislation had been passed till September.
• Events of 11 September, the attacks on New York and Washington are remembered all over the world. But issue of healing wounds is bypassed by American war rhetoric to fight a bloody campaign against Iraq. America, as felt by everyone in the region, is in a belligerent mood. Besides that, everyone was talking about repercussions of 9/11 on the global economy that went into recession.
• Jordanian pharmaceuticals were doing well. By 2010 experts predicted that Jordanian pharmaceuticals could reach $1 billion- 4 times as much as they are today.
• Jordanian-American military exercises were held. Government sources said these had nothing to do with any war preparations concerning America and Iraq. They had been planned long in advance.
• Al Aswaq’s newspaper, Jordan’s only financial daily, closes down. About 130 people were laid off. It’s always said when a newspaper collapses; it’s regrettable because it means less of that creative writing touch. With Al Aswaq gone, Jordan’s news digest goes down to three daily newspapers.
• Head of the Anti-Normalization Committee of Jordan Engineers Association Ali Abul Sukkar was taken into custody together with two others for what the government calls belonging to an “illegal organization”. The government wanted all the anti-normalization committees of the different professional associations to be disbanded.
• Olive season started, expected to be bountiful this year. Ministry of Agriculture expected 30,000 to 40,000 tons of olive oil, prices expected to be JD30 to JD35 instead of the JD40 to JD45 range mark.
• King defended “Jordan First” national slogan, King Abdallah said slogan is not supposed to be isolationist, adding a strong Jordan is good for the Palestinians and Arab causes. Slogan triggers a series of pivotal reforms at home.
• Analysts weighed effects of regional crisis on the local economy, said Jordan, which is dependent on Iraqi oil and market, would be deeply affect by a US war on Iraq.
• US diplomat Laurence Foley was shot and killed in Amman. King Abdallah and the Jordanian people condemn the killing.
• Changes in the law gave women greater rights, under new changes Jordanian women married to foreign husbands have the right to have equal treatments for their children.
• Confrontation in Maan between police and what was described as armed gangs. Situation is brought under control.
• Majd Al Shamayleh, the man involved in the major credit scandal, was finally brought home. He is to face charges of financial corruption at the State Security Court.
• Anti-Normalization Committees of the Professional Associations deemed illegal by government, moved to disband them, in turns set free Ali Abul Sukkar with his two colleagues. Government also disbanded Council of the Jordan Engineers Association for six months after appointing committee to run the JEA.
• Higher Media Council rejuvenated. Council now exists under new president, Izz al Din Ibrahim. Council now has advisory powers.
• More and more people talking about polls being held in Spring. Although it is too early yet, there is a new feeling that elections are in the air. Women discussed their chances at the poll; there is even talk of granting a 6 to 7 seat quota to make sure they are represented in the next Lower House.
• Poll shows there is much widespread anti-American feelings in the world. Poll carried out in 44 countries shows many people dislike Americans because of the United States global policies. People in such Arab countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia feel the same way.
Palestinians look glum but Arafat hopeful of new year
By Ghassan Joha and combined agencies
The Palestinians observed the advent of 2003 with mixed feelings. The Israeli army continues to grip Occupied Palestinian Territories, as Al Aqsa Intifada enters its 28th month. The Palestinians believe their fight for independence will continue as President Yasser Arafat reiterated Tuesday 2003 will be the year of comprehensive peace in the region.
The Palestinian National Authority announced this week its budget for 2003, estimated at $1.278 billion with a deficit that may reach $747 million.
The PNA’s Finance Minister Salam Fayyad promised a new era of accountability concerning public funds. He indicated Palestinians are more suspicious if not contemptuous of any change on the political scene for the new year.
“Revenue-making capacity is projected to decline to about $531 million, while external budgetary support is assumed to remain at around the same level as in 2002 at $500 million,” Fayyad told members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah.
The budget deficit includes $500 million of external support, which Fayyad said is expected to be donated to the PNA by Arab and EU states.
While he referred to the devastating impact of Israel’s offensives into Palestinian areas, Fayyad spoke more about what Palestinians could do to take control of their financial destiny. Palestinian lawmakers said the budget is expected to be passed within a month.
Appointed in June 2002 by President Arafat amid calls for reforms in the PNA’s finances, Fayyad promised more transparency and renewed trust.
“We are on a path that will put an end to managing public funds that previously undermined the credibility of our public finance system,” Fayyad said, adding he will make monthly disclosures of the PNA’s budget execution reports and vowed to ensure the appropriate use of public funds.
Palestinian officials are increasingly worried that Israel will use the current US war rhetoric on Iraq to launch widespread operations against the PNA, sweeping its leadership into exile.
“We fear the Israelis will displace the population in the Occupied Territories in an internal transfer operation,” said Mamduh Nawfal, one of Arafat's aides. “These operations depend on the American administration's approval. It will not be easy and will create an atmosphere of anarchy which will further complicate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Many Palestinian commentators argue that the negative impact of America’s war on Iraq will generate more political instability in the occupied areas. Sakher Habbash, member of Fatah’s central committee, predicted that "no scenario should be ruled out and that [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon will do everything he can to fight the Intifada.”
Last year was also marked by severe economic hardships for the Israelis. The Israeli Statistics Department noted 2002 was the worst in the Jewish state’s history. The economy lost more than $10 billion, while foreign investments went down by more than 15 percent over the past two years.
The past 12 months were also rife with international pressure on the PNA to pursue sweeping reforms in its institutions, something that was hampered by the continuing Israeli aggression on the Palestinians.
“Arafat is aware of the threats posed by a strike against Iraq,” said a PNA official. “He took steps towards complying with the US and Israeli demands, by engaging contacts with the hardline opposition factions, including Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, and speed up reforms of the Palestinian security forces.”
Palestinian political analyst Hani Al Masri predicted that Sharon would take advantage of international focus on Iraq to press on with his war by “imposing an Israeli solution to the conflict.”
Many far-right politicians in Israel have advocated the issue of “transfer” of Palestinians outside the Occupied Territories. An extremist Jewish organization early this week for example started to distribute leaflets to Palestinians crossing the King Hussein Bridge "congratulating them on their immigration to their new home, Jordan” according to the Quds Press agency.
Meanwhile Israeli defense officials have predicted a US strike on Iraq would take place in early February. However, news reports in Britain suggest that the war will start on 21 February.
British political analyst Brian Cloughley noted that Sharon’s recent accusations against Iraq and Syria to gather nuclear weapons were made in support of America's impending attack.
“This is the way America is advancing to world domination,” he said. “It treats majorities in the same way as it does minorities. There is one country in the world that for Washington can do no wrong: Israel.”
Israelis are busy with their elections set to take place in four weeks time. Sharon dismissed Tuesday a member of his cabinet on charges of participating in illegal funding in the Likud Party’s primaries. Earlier, Arab Israeli lawmakers Azmi Bishara and Ahmed Tibi were barred from running in the elections on 28 January.
The Israeli elections’ commission didn’t elaborate, but several Israeli politicians suggest Bishara and Tibi were barred for advocating armed Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation.
Bishara’s Balad Party was also disqualified. Tibi and Bishara are among Arab lawmakers in the Knesset who support an independent state in the 1967 Occupied Territories.
Balad issued a statement Wednesday warning if Bishara is not reinstated, the party will call on the Arab community in Israel to boycott the elections. The two Arab lawmakers have appealed to the Israeli High Court.