Racism in Jordan: Between Denial and Practice

Racism has been condemned in most countries of the world, with 170 states signing the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, racism still exists in different forms in every country, but it varies according to historical, cultural, religious or economic reasons.

In the Middle East, forms of racism vary in different countries: sometimes it is focusing on race, sometimes on religion or ethnicity. Recently, new forms of racism have flared up against refugees. This form of racism was enhanced by the Syrian Revolution that has displaced millions of people to neighboring countries and to Europe. This is also the case in Jordan, which is suffering from a deep-rooted racism that emerges every now and then due to the country’s division between Jordanians, Palestinians and families of different origins.

Return to Beginnings

Before the formation of the Hashemite Kingdom, Jordan was known as the East Bank for the Jordan River, opposite to the West Bank with the Palestinian territories.

After formation of the state of Israel in 1948, and following the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and six-day-war in 1967, large numbers of Palestinians were displaced to Jordan.

Today, most Palestinians enjoy Jordanian citizenship; by the end of 2016, they numbered 2,175,491.

Feelings of racism between Jordanians and Palestinians were enhanced after the eruption of the black September events, threatening the Hashemite rule.

However, they both were able to overcome those events due to the close ties and the mutual destiny that brought them together.

Racism has continued to appear occasionally in football stadiums, where most Jordanians tend to support the Al-Faisali team, while most Palestinians support the Al-Wahdat team.

Riots and exchanges of racial insults take place in stadiums, mainly in the football stadiums; the most prominent place for regional cheers, and yet no remedy is found for those racist insults.

That phenomenon had somehow retreated in the past period – specifically the racism against Palestinians – due to the events and challenges facing the country regarding the Palestinian cause and the Jordanian position of it. However, it was replaced by individual racist practices and actions that appear time and again, such as bullying and offending Syrian refugees, Egyptian expatriates and attacking them.

According to observers, all the components of Jordanian society coexist, but the phrases “Jordanian” and “Palestinian” still exist today as one of the controversial expressions, referring to racism among the two most important components of Jordanian society.

Racism has also reached the Royal Palace, where Queen Rania, the wife of Jordanian King Abdullah II, is repeatedly exposed to racist criticism campaigns because of her Palestinian origins, specifically by the so-called Jordanian opposition abroad.

Constitution Rejects Racism

The Kingdom’s Constitution affirms the principle of equality and non-discrimination on the basis of race, language or religion.

Its articles stipulate that “Jordanians are equal according to the law; they are equal in rights and duties, even if they differ in race, language, or religion.”

Article 14 of the Constitution stipulates that “the state protects the freedom of worshiping and beliefs in accordance with the traditions of the Kingdom unless they are contrary to public order or contrary to morality.”

The „Visual and Audible Media Act“ obliges different media not to publish or broadcast anything that can provoke sectarian and ethnic strife, disrupt national unity, or incite racial or religious discrimination.”

The Jordanian Criminal Code and the Electronic Crime Act criminalize hate speech, defined as “any writing, speech, or action intended or resulting in the instigation of doctrinal or racist prejudice or the instigation of conflict between communities and various elements of the nation.”

But „Human Rights Watch“ considered this as incomplete, as it does not enable the authorities to control a wider range of racist speech that is still “legitimate and protected,” according to many indicators.

Labor and Expatriates

Practicing racism in Jordan has exceeded the Jordanian and Palestinian crisis, reaching Syrian refugees and Egyptian expatriates and has even expanded to become a stratified and often interracial racism.

On „Karamish“, a local kids TV channel, a video clip titled “The Maid” was broadcasted, showing a little girl bullying a foreign house maid who wants to exchange her money to USD to send it to her sick daughter in her home country.

The video “promotes hate speech and allows children to mock house maids,” explained Linda Kalash, director of Tamkeen Legal Support Center to Daraj website.

The channel deleted the video after it reached more than 6m views, together with a fierce campaign by the Arab audience who refuse the content of the video.

Causes and Effects

Tamkeen specialized center has prepared a study on the hatred speech that exists in the Jordanian media against foreign workers and refugees. The study recommends adopting “new editorial policies that respect immigrants and refugees, and training journalists to distinguish between hatred speech and opinion, in addition to promoting human rights.”

Even Corona is Racist

The “epidemic” of racism has reached the point of targeting people infected with Covid-19 instead of supporting them. Campaigns and attacks on people infected with the virus were launched by officials, media, and social media in in a racial discrimination language.

A few weeks ago, a Jordanian daily newspaper published an article with the following headline: “No Jordanians among Those Infected in Aqaba.”

Other Jordanian news sites used the same headline.

Kalash held the chief of Aqaba Authority Commissioner Nayef Bakhit responsible for declaring that there were no Jordanians among infected workers. In addition, some officials asked the Jordanian workers to stay home for their safety, ignoring the migrant workers at the factory, mostly Indian citizens and living in overcrowded homes, where the virus is more likely to spread.

It is noteworthy that in Jordan some people are discriminated because of their skin color. They are Jordanian black people who suffer from marginalization according to several indicators mentioned in different reports.

Royal Messages

Authorities always try to balance the two most important components of the society, Palestinians and Jordanians, as King Abdullah II, in 2011, visited Jordan’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, Al-Wahdat, stating from there that national unity is sacred and it is a red line,  one of the State’s constants.

The King then issued explicit calls for stopping those who provoke racism, only a few days after the incitement campaigns took place in the country because of an argument between a Palestinian and Jordanian.

In Jordan, there are 13 Palestinian refugee camps located between the center and the north of the Kingdom, while there are three Syrian refugee camps.

Mistakes and misjudgment

In his statements to „Independent Arabic“, Bassam Badarin, writer and political analyst, considered that privatization in jobs and positions created a fertile environment for racist practices and the state should be blamed for this.

The analyst clarified that there is a problem in the reality of the Jordanian society that requires deep addressing. It requires in-depth, frank and responsible dialogues. The Jordanian bureaucracy has unfavorably divided the country demographically and according to a demographic composition that reinforces the division.

Former Jordanian Prime Minister Taher Masri would prefer not to use the term national unity to speak of the Jordanian people of all their origins, but to the one Jordanian society.

“Jordan is an independent homeland with its Jordanian national identity, and it is there is a place for anyone,” Masri said.

He asserted that rejecting privatization and enhancing the values of justice, sovereignty of the Constitution and the law, and respecting human rights principles would protect society from racism.

Syrians face racism

The racial enmity against Syrian refugees started to overshadow with the increasing influence of the Syrian presence on the Jordanian labor market, especially during the climax of the Syrian emigration to Jordan a few years ago.

This enmity led many Syrian workers to flee the working places, fearing of arguments with the Jordanian youth. Some shop owners asked their Syrian workers to stay at home to prevent any attacks against them.

According to a 2014 report published by SaSa Post, then Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Nisour called for preventing Syrians from integrating into Jordanian society. That call coincided with the racial incitement of some Jordanian representatives against Syrian refugees in Jordan, during the House of Representatives session devoted to discussing the Syrian crisis in Jordan.

Meanwhile, a group from the city of Irbid warned Jordanian merchants against keeping Syrian workers, demanding the expulsion of all Syrians working in shops and markets; they gave the job masters a week of time to end Syrian employment.

In a report, Human Rights Watch confirmed that Jordanian authorities discriminate Syrians and Palestinians fleeing to the Kingdom in order to escape violence in Syria; the organization confirmed that Jordan returned some Palestinians to Syria after they fled, and threatened others with deportation, after they were subjected to discrimination based on their national origin.

Shocking results

In an older survey, The Washington Post said that Jordan is the third country whose citizens do not show tolerance with other races, after Hong Kong and Bangladesh.

The survey, that included surveys from 81 countries around the world, showed that Jordan is among the most racist and least tolerant countries.

Hong Kong was the most racist country according to the survey, while Bangladesh came second.

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