Jordan’s youth movement

People walk past electoral posters for parliamentary candidates, ahead of the general elections to be held on September 20, in Amman, Jordan, September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed - RTSO224
Young Jordanians are banding together to take control of the future of their nation. Amy Collins reports.

There is a new political movement in Jordan. Young people are banding together to take control of the future of their nation by working within the system they grew up in.

More than 60 per cent of Jordan’s population is under the age of 30. And yet they are restricted from running for parliament and representing their views in policy making.

Kais Khalil Zayadin was recently elected to parliament following September’s elections. He represents Jordan’s youth in the newly formed Maan party. “Maan was the creation of some people who wanted to change Jordan,” Zayadin says.

Maan was formed in August this year. It wants to create a civil state that represents all people living in Jordan.

“We call for complete equality regardless of one’s gender, religion, profession or nationality. This is in the constitution however it is not really being practiced,” he says.

Zayadin says they want a civil state in which “the rule of law between the citizen and the state is implemented in the correct manner”.

Jordanians are concerned for the future of their nation in an unstable and war-torn region. Young people are beginning to actively involve themselves in the decisions of the government.

Movements such as the Arab Spring saw young people protesting and uprising against governments. Now they have changed their tactics. They hope they can make more progress to towards the country they dream of by working with the government.

There is a second instrumental party within the youth movement. Activists created the Shaghaf party in June this year. It quickly grew to more than 6000 members.

Jordan’s youth movement
Coalition of the Youth in Future – the Shaghaf party logo.

“The creation of Shaghaf came about by the marginalisation of youth,” says Enas Zayed through a translator. She is the party’s spokeswoman. “Youth are not given prominent positions in political life and government roles, despite the fact that some of these youth have a lot to offer and they are very capable of doing things.”

Their goal is to “try and get the voice of the youth to the decision makers and let them know what the youth think through the use of social media and seminars,” says Zayed.

The Shaghaf party says it is grateful for the decisions of past and present governments, however it is frustrated by older generations’ resistance against youth involvement in politics.

“We urge them to listen to us and believe in us,” she says. “The youth can help with new ways and new technologies. But we need their help to find better ways to run the country.”

Until recently the majority of Jordan’s MPs were independent. Independents are often elected based on their tribal ties and social connections in their electorate.

Maan and Shaghaf want to change this. By becoming parties, they hope to enact policies which represent the wider community.

Both parties are educating young people about the ways politics can improve their lives.

Maan is running sessions across the country to teach people what a civil state really means. “We need to explain the meaning of the civil state and the fact that it does not go against religion. On the contrary it protects religion,” says Zayadin.

He says many people are wary of a civil state because they believe it will remove religion from Jordan. “Religion is quite involved in the every day life of people. There are certain parties in Jordan that use religion in their own way to convince people of their political stance.”

Zayadin says “religion is something pure, politics is something dirty. They can not be mixed together.”

“We were astonished when we broke the taboo by saying separate religion from politics. The tremendous amount of support that we found was unbelievable from people all over Jordan who are extremely interested in the idea,” says Zayadin.

“It is what I call the silent majority.”

Similarly Shaghaf has run several programs on the importance of transparency and proper governance. The party is educating young people to closely watch their parliamentarians and hold them to account.

“We must observe any offences that happen by the members of parliament,” says Zayed.

Shaghaf is trying to promote a discussion about political life in Jordan, and is providing support to encourage young people to run in local council elections.

However this has been difficult to implement. “We don’t have any moral or financial support from the government or institutions. We have carried out activities and paid for them from our own pockets,” says Zayed.

“We have done everything on our own.”

She says young people are hesitant to enter politics. “The reason they do not participate is because they are afraid for their security,” she says. “We still have the feeling that if we get involved or discuss politics you have a black mark put next to your name.”

Shaghaf and Maan have big plans for the future of Jordan. Both parties endeavour to expand their education programs throughout Jordan and encourage youth to engage with politics.

“We will continue to work on trying to include Jordanian youth in the Jordanian parliament so that the parliament can represent the large amount of youth that exists in the Kingdom,” says Zayed.

Maan won two seats in the September parliamentary elections and aspires to win more in four years time.

“We want to have 10, maybe 20 members at the next parliament,” says Zayadin.

In order to sustain Jordan’s future “we have to create laws and regulations which accept the outliers and accept us being a community, a country of different people living side by side,” he says.