Blogging in Jordan: Part Two

الأحد 13 كانون الثاني 2008


Written by Sam Bollier

What, then, do blogs accomplish in Jordan? Although they have a small readership and play virtually no role in Jordanian politics, it would be a mistake to assume that blogs are irrelevant. The most salient effect of blogging in Jordan is the ability of bloggers to, as Tarawnah put it, “vocalize and amplify…what’s been said on the street.”

In comparison to Arab neighbors such as Egypt, Kuwait, and Bahrain, Jordanian bloggers have had little success in creating political change. However, Jordanian bloggers have succeeded in framing several current events in the nation. In these cases, such framing led to, or was a factor in, the implementation of tangible political changes.

Perhaps the most prominent case so far occurred last September. Earlier this year, a blogger writing under the name Who Sane (Husain) recounted an incident involving his father’s severe mistreatment at a public Jordanian hospital. At least 30 other bloggers and several online newspapers linked to Who Sane’s blog, ricocheting the story around the Jordanian blogosphere. Eventually, Batir Wardam, author of blog Jordan Watch, wrote about the incident in his weekly column in Al-Dustour. His column gained a significant amount of attention from other newspapers. Eventually, the Minister of Health fired the head of the hospital at which Who Sane’s father had stayed.

Bloggers framed the issue as one of pervasive incompetence and gross neglect – which was exactly the case. Yet, had the traditional media first picked up the story, it is possible that their framing of the issue would be different – they might have deemed the incident as an unfortunate tragedy, or as the failure of inept low-level hospital employees. But, since bloggers were the first to pick up the story, it was their framing that “stuck” when newspapers covered the incident.

In the same month, Jordan’s Press and Publication’s Department announced that it would begin applying the same rules to blogs and online news sites as were currently applied to print journalism. The Jordanian blogosphere again erupted in protest at what they perceived to be a blatant infringement on freedom of speech.

Then HRH King Abdullah II assured Jordanians (and, for that matter, international observers) that “there is no censorship on online media.” Jordan’s sensitivity to international scrutiny of its freedoms certainly played a role in the King’s announcement. But such scrutiny might not have picked up on the story had Jordanian English-language bloggers not framed the issue as one of a hypocritical government trumpeting freedom while simultaneously cracking down on citizens exercising this freedom.

Blogs, perhaps, may facilitate a greater openness in Jordanian society – a greater willingness to engage in the political process. Blogging may also help to revitalize journalism in Jordan. Journalism has never been a highly esteemed – nor taught – profession in Jordan. Blogs help to fill a space that did not previously exist in Jordan – a vibrant, albeit subjective, voice keyed into the heart of Jordanian society.

However, the growth of the Jordanian blogosphere is creating a new generation of writers. Many Jordanian bloggers have become journalists while continuing to write online. And Ahmad Humeid, author of, argues that given the fact that the country lacks well-developed democratic institutions, “any form of expression of public opinion…even if it doesn’t reach all the masses,” is an important tangible change.

As we have seen, Jordanian blogs exert a small influence on political discourse, and are relatively “quiet” as compared with their Arab neighbors. Why? On the one hand, Jordan is in the middle of the Arab pack in terms of Internet access, does not have strict censorship laws compared to states such as Egypt, and has a proportionally large number of political bloggers, many of whom are well-connected with one another.

Yet, although there may be a proportionally high number of such bloggers, a critical mass may need to be reached in order for the benefits of networking to come into full effect. When asked why the Egyptian blogosphere was so active, Tarawnah pointed out that there are “thousands and thousands of people” blogging there, whereas in Jordan this figure is less than 2,000.

More importantly, Jordanian blogs – due to sparse Internet access and low visibility – lack a critical mass of readers as well. Furthermore, the Jordanian traditional media rarely pays attention to blogs, decreasing their public visibility. Finally, there are few political opportunities to be had in Jordan in the first place. The recent midterm elections represented one such prospect, but little came of it.

If current trends continue, more policy elites and professional journalists will blog, and more bloggers will become policy elites and journalists. This trend will help to diminish the distance between bloggers and traditional media, the latter of which will finally be forced to recognize blogs as a “legitimate” medium.

As for self-censorship, it is anyone’s guess as to when, indeed if, Jordanians will feel more comfortable about expressing their opinions on controversial subjects. However, I would postulate that as Jordan continues to modernize, and as Amman continues to grow into a metropolis, a greater sense of anonymity will begin to emerge in Jordanian society (for better or worse). I would also posit that the increasing number of political bloggers in Jordan may confer a greater sense of security to those who would write about contentious issues. Furthermore, Internet access is continuing to increase, and high-speed broadband access is gaining a foothold in Amman.

Clearly, it will take time and patience in order for a greater readership to materialize and for blogs to emerge as an important form of media alongside the traditional sources. Still, optimism is by no means misguided. Ahmad Humeid, in a quote redolent of Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams, said he was confident that “if a number of people keep blogging…the audience will come.”

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