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memri
June 22, 2017 No.
6973

Security Forces Raid On Restaurant Serving Food During Ramadan Fast Sparks Public Debate In Jordan

A video posted on social media this Ramadan sparked a heated public debate in Jordan. The video shows the Jordanian security forces raiding a restaurant in the German-Jordanian University in Amman's Na'our suburb that was serving food during the Ramadan fast, and arresting several students who were dining there and several of the restaurant employees. The restaurant was then closed down.[1]

According to Jordanian law, serving food during the Ramadan fast is permitted only to establishments catering to tourists and Christians that have obtained a special license from the Ministry of Tourism. The license requires the establishments to serve food behind closed doors, or else in a secluded area hidden from the public's view. The Tourism Ministry has authorized local governors to enforce the law and punish restaurants that violate it. Section 274 of Jordan's Penal Code states that anyone who breaks the law can be subject to a fine and to imprisonment for up to a month.[2]

The district governor stated that the Na'our restaurant had violated the law by failing to conceal the diners or keep its doors closed.[3] Eye witnesses report that the security officers were violent towards the diners, some of them were wearing cross pendants identifying them as Christians, and called them 'infidels.'[4]

As mentioned, the incident sparked a debate, in the Jordanian press and on social media. Some directed harsh criticism at the security forces, warning about the religionization of the security forces and likening their behavior to that of the Saudi religious police and of ISIS. Others said that the restaurant had broken the law and that the officers had merely been doing their job. Jordanian officials defended the security forces, saying that the restaurant had violated the conditions of its license.


From the video of the raid circulated on social media (Facebook.com/shayma.alkarak, June 2, 2017)

This report reviews some of the responses to the incident.

Critics Of The Raid: The Conduct Of The Security Forces Was Reminiscent Of ISIS

'Oraib Al-Rantawi, director of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman and columnist for the daily Al-Dustour, wrote that the conduct of the security forces reflected the "schizophrenia" of the Jordanian government, which purports to fight extremism yet at the same time allows security officers to behave like Salafi-jihadi extremists. He wrote that the incident seemed like "a raid of the religious police in the guise of a raid by the law-enforcement agencies. It is as though we are dealing with 'the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice' [the Saudi religious police] or with Hamas's illegal police force [in Gaza]... Sadly, this happened in Jorden while all the talk about a civil state and the rule of law, the fight against extremism, and the safeguarding of pluralism and of freedom of thought, expression and conscience is at its height.

"Legally speaking, violating the [Ramadan] fast in public is a violation of our 'progressive' criminal code, but in this case [the law] stands in contradiction to the licenses granted to certain businesses that cater to tourists which permit them to operate during the day in the month of Ramadan. So which law should be followed in this case? Moreover, [even] assuming that the students broke the law, does anyone have the right to brand them as 'infidels'? Who gave the police the right to accuse people of heresy? Is that not the job of the benighted takfiris,[5] which we claim night and day to be fighting? Couldn't the law be enforced without hurling such insults and accusations and without intimidating the students?...

"The truth is that our governments suffer from schizophrenia... These governments cloak themselves in a false mantle and insist on fighting the extremists on the extremists own terms, not according to [the principles of] the rule of law, the civil state and religious, ideological and cultural pluralism. The governments are afraid to take on the [extremists'] strongholds and insist on cultivating an image that does not befit them and does not correspond to their [stated] policies and inclinations. How can we speak of the rule of law and of a war on the benighted takfiri ways when members of the security forces accuse people of heresy at the drop of a hat and treat them like criminals even before they are brought before the relevant legal [authorities]...?

"A few months ago there was an uproar when [educator] Dhuqan 'Ubaidat famously decried 'the ISISism in our curricula.'[6] Today I warn about ISISism in our legislation and in the conduct of some of our official [state] apparatuses. And yet they talk to us about a comprehensive national strategy for combatting extremism."[7]

Liberal journalist Basel Al-Refayeh made similar remarks on his Facebook page: "The report on the raid on the café in Na'our will be font-page news in ISIS's Dabiq magazine. I therefore congratulate the Jordanian government on its victory in this blessed raid during the month of Ramadan..."[8] In another post that day, he reported on a similar case of police intervention which, according to him, occurred the day after the restaurant raid. In this incident, Jordanian police officers took two Christian women off a bus during a ride from Amman to 'Aqaba after a third passenger complained that they had been eating during the trip. Al-Refyeh wrote: "A fasting young woman, a bus driver and a traffic cop invent a law in order to keep two Christian women from eating during a bus ride and [thus] came out victorious in another Ramadan raid, one day after the blessed raid on the Na'our [restaurant]. This would not have happened had the government not donned its pious mask every Ramadan and allowed the ignoramuses and the covert ISIS [supporters] to tyrannize and humiliate people." [9]


Basel Al-Refayeh's Facebook post

Other social media users described the raid on the restaurant as a human rights violation and said that the security forces' filming of the incident had been illegal. Many contrasted the police's firmness in this case with its ineffectiveness in other cases. Human rights activist Hadil 'Abd Al-'Aziz launched a Twitter hashtag "Religious Police – Jordan Branch," and addressed the Jordanian security forces, saying: "I wish you would raid schools were they hurt children and expose their abuse [instead]."[10]


Hadil 'Abd Al-'Aziz's tweet

Supporters: Eating In Public Is Prohibited By Law, And Offends Those Who Fast

Conversely, others sided with the security forces' raid on the restaurant, and protested against the violation of the sanctity of Ramadan.

Spokeswoman For Muslim Brotherhood Faction In Parliament: The Feelings Of Those Who Fast Must Be Respected; Violating The Fast Harms The Social Fabric

Dima Tareq Tahboub, spokeswoman for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) faction in parliament and columnist for the MB daily, pointed to the spread of restaurants in the country that illegally violate Ramadan, and thanked the Interior Ministry and Public Security Directorate for considering the feelings of those who fast and respecting the law. She wrote: "Jordanian society is a civilized society in which respect and general etiquette are customary, not only because it is the law, but also because of [our] upbringing and respect for religion, custom, tradition, and the elderly that characterize [our society] and are deeply ingrained in it. Unfortunately, in recent years, we have begun to notice behaviors foreign to Jordanian society that harm the strength of its social fabric, which is anchored in religion, morality, and convention – all of which are protected by the law that punishes those who act inappropriately. Because of [these virtues], Jordan has preserved its unique characteristics and its reputation...

"For years the government has monitored the preservation of the sanctity of the month [of Ramadan] and has not stopped gently encouraging the citizens to make sure to [maintain it as well]. However, public violations of the sanctity of the month have proliferated, and some businesses are not respecting the feelings of those who fast. I have received emails from an English-language blog titled 'The 2017 Guide for Those Who Are Not Fasting in Amman.' The blogger, who has an Arab name, wrote: 'Ramadan has caught us unprepared, and in order to allow you to live a normal life in Amman during the month of Ramadan, here are the names of restaurants that are open during the day and serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.' He goes on to present the names of dozens of restaurants in Amman that are open and serving [meals] all day long.

"You in the Interior Ministry and [Public Security] Directorate have certainly been criticized for the raid on the restaurant that was violating the sanctity of the month of Ramadan, but you have not heard the appreciation of the many who thank you for your concern for the fast and for their feelings, and for protecting behavior in the public space where people should act according to the law of the land and not according to their whims.

"I have no intention of slandering [these] restaurants and businesses [that open on Ramadan]; if I did, I would have published [their names] and many would boycott them... My intention is to demand that the rule of law be upheld, if etiquette and social sentiment are not sufficient to enforce behavior that respects the laws, regulations, and [Muslim] identity of society in public places.

"Indeed... we have a pleasant atmosphere of tolerance among the various parts of society. But all these are based on mutual respect, and if that is lost, God forbid, we will also lose many of the foundations essential to stability in our society. Today, all the religious practices need protection from the various ways of violating respect for them and of provoking people. Allah bless you for your efforts. How good it would be if we could choose a type of punishment [for those who violate the sanctity of Ramadan] that will lead to positive behavior in the future, and not to further violations – punishment of the sin, not the sinner; punishment that will inculcate knowledge that is lacking, not add to ignorance; punishment that will bring the truth closer, not lead to a continuation of the lie; punishment that will reduce future violations, not increase them."[11]

Those who supported the raid also posted their views on social networks, emphasizing that daytime eating during Ramadan is forbidden according to Islam and offends those who do fast. Some quoted Section 274 of Jordan's Penal Code, which bans public eating during fast days.

On his Facebook page, Ahmad Sa'ad Alabbadi, an Amman student, shared a media report on the restaurant raid, and wrote: "Allah said: 'You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind [Quran 3:110].' What is happening [to us] today!!!! Breaking the Ramadan fast during the day and violating its sanctity, and, what is more terrible, we hear the rising voices condemning the Public Security [Directorate] for closing the restaurant that served food and drink during the day in Ramadan without the least bit of respect for this Muslim state and its residents. It seems to me that we are close to falling into the chasm, because this distancing ourselves from the religion will not go unpunished by Allah."[12]


Ahmad Sa'ad Alabbadi's Facebook post

Jordanian Officials: The Restaurant Violated The Conditions Of Its License

Jordanian officials expressed its support for the raid. Sa'd Al-Shihab, governor of Amman province, was the first official to weigh in on the affair; he said that the restaurant was violating regulations by openly serving meals without concealing the diners or closing its doors. He said that after it was found that the restaurant was serving meals during the day, in violation of regulations, security forces were sent to enforce the law, discovered that the restaurant was violating the conditions of its license, and closed it down for two months. He clarified that the supervisory committees were acting to enforce respect for the fast. [13]

Jordanian government spokesman Muhammad Al-Momani said that the Tourism Ministry guidelines allow facilities and restaurants for tourists to operate during Ramadan without violating its sanctity, and clarified that every year the Interior and Tourism Ministries publish guidelines for protecting the sanctity of Ramadan, taking into account the unique circumstances of non-Muslims, particularly tourists – provided that accommodations for them are not carried out in public.[14]

It should be noted that a Jordanian security source said that an investigation had been launched in the Public Security Directorate command regarding the security forces member who had filmed the video of the raid. He said that if it is found that he acted in violation of the law or exceeded his authority, legal measures would be taken against him.[15]

 

 

[1] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), June 5, 2017.

[2] Gerasanews.com, June 4, 2017; Abumahjoobnews.com, June 3, 2017; Al-Arabi Al-Jadid (London), June 3, 2017.

[3] Gerasanews.com, June 4, 2017.

[4] Al-Dustour (Jordan), June 5, 2017.

[5] Takfir – accusing fellow Muslims of heresy, which is customary among Salafi-jihadis, including ISIS.

[6] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No.1211, In Light Of Jordanians Joining Terrorist Organizations, Calls In Jordan To Reform Curricula, December 14, 2015.

[7] Al-Dustour (Jordan), June 5, 2017.

[8] Facebook.com/basel.refayeh, June 3, 2017.

[9] Al-Dustour (Jordan), June 5, 2017.

[10] Twitter.com/hadilaziz, June 2, 2017.

[11] Al-Sabeel (Jordan), June 6, 2017.

[12] Facebook.com/groups/841477559270723, June 8, 2017.

[13] Gerasanews.com, June 4, 2017.

[14] Al-Ghad (Jordan), June 6, 2017.

[15] Al-Rai (Jordan), June 6, 2017.