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memri
July 10, 2018 No.
7561

Jumana Ghunaimat – From Editor Of 'Al-Ghad' Daily To Jordan's Government Spokesperson And State Minister Of Media Affairs

On June 14, 2018, the Jordanian king swore in a new government after the previous government resigned due to extensive protests over its economic policy.[1] A notable appointment was that of Jumana Ghunaimat, formerly the editor-in-chief of Jordan's Al-Ghad daily, as state minister of media affairs and as government spokesperson.

Ghunaimat began her career in 1999 as an economics reporter for the government daily Al-Rai. In 2008 she joined the Al-Ghad daily as the head of its economic section, and in late 2012 she became this paper's chief editor.[2] She is known for her liberal views; her columns in Al-Ghad in recent years, some of which were translated by MEMRI, called for the promotion of democracy, human rights and women's rights in Jordan and the Arab world at large, and championed the values of equality and tolerance and the battle against extremism. She often criticized the policies of the Jordanian government, especially in the socioeconomic sphere.

In the first message she posted on her Facebook page following her appointment to the government she wrote: "In light of the difficult and sensitive times and the magnitude of the responsibility, I promise to meet the challenge and justify the confidence that you the king have placed in me, for my goal is to be worthy of serving my homeland and its people and to act as media minister and government spokesperson on your behalf, [the people of Jordan everywhere], in the cities, villages and refugee camps, and also to act on behalf of the government so as to restore your confidence [in it]. My journalist friends and colleagues, I shall make every effort to earn your trust and build strong bridges and ties with you, so we can cooperate and conduct dialogue for the sake of our homeland, exchanging opinions and suggestions. Since [access to] information is a right and transparency is a duty, I hereby pledge to ease your access to information, for I know very well how difficult it can be to obtain... Since ongoing contact and dialogue are the foundations of the [future] work of Dr. 'Omar Al-Ghazzaz's government, I also pledge to renew the [government's] weekly press briefings soon."[3]


Jumana Ghunaimat being sworn in as state minister (image: Al-Ghad, Jordan, June 15, 2018)

It should be noted that this is not the first time an Al-Ghad journalist has attained a senior position in Jordan's political system. Ayman Al-Safadi, who was appointed foreign minister in January 2017 and continues to serve in this capacity in the current government, was a columnist and editor for Al-Ghad. Even before being appointed foreign minister, in 2008, after working for several Jordanian and Arab media outlets, he was appointed to the role of media and information advisor to the Jordanian king, and in 2009-2011 he served as a minister without portfolio and as deputy prime minister.

This report reviews Jumana Ghunaimat's views as reflected in articles translated by MEMRI in the recent years.

Fighting For Women's Empowerment And Combatting Discrimination

Many of Ghunaimat's columns dealt with the promotion of women's rights and the enhancement of their status and participation in the public sphere. For example, in a July 2016 column, she responded to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report for 2015, which ranked Jordan 140th of the 145 countries reviewed. She wrote: "The flaws and [gender] gaps on both the political and economic levels have been revealed, or more accurately exposed, in all their shame, [showing that] women's empowerment in politics remains limited. Even the quota for women in elected bodies, in place for two decades, could neither change the stereotype of women nor bring about greater women's representation, particularly in parliamentary activity. [Women's] participation in government still remains relatively discretionary, and can change from one prime minister to the next... According to the statistics in the Global Gender Gap Report, for every 100 men in parliament, there are only 14 women, and for every 100 male ministers, there are only 13 women [ministers]."[4]

Responding to Salafi-jihadi figures in Jordan who criticized the protests of the Murabitat[5] at Al-Aqsa on the grounds that their honor may be harmed, Ghunaimat wrote in October 2015: "Shamefully, there are men who argue that the garb of the women who participate in the resistance is shameful and immodest, and that they belong in the kitchen. To them, I say: 'There will be no change in our painful Arab reality, on the political, economic, or social level, as long as the woman and her voice are considered shameful, and as long as a male mind thinks that women's going out into the field detracts from their honor and harms public sentiment and that their [i.e. women's] participation in [resistance] activity reduces his own opportunities. Gentlemen, women are the key to change."[6]

In July 2015, Ghunaimat came out against the practice in some Jordanian institutions and private businesses to obligate women - both Muslim and non-Muslim - to wear the hijab. She claimed that the decision whether to wear the hijab or not is a personal one that should be taken by each woman based on her inclinations and beliefs, and stressed that she herself would refuse to comply with such a rule, since freedom is not a matter for bargaining.

She wrote: "There is a private university [in Jordan] that denies entry to women not wearing a hijab. Students who do not [usually] wear one are required to don a head covering while on campus if they want to complete their studies. In a long conversation [I had] with a student who does not wear a hijab off campus, she told me that she is forced to submit to the university's requirement, otherwise she would not be able to complete her studies.

"Another example is the attempt of a Jordanian bank to impose a specific dress [code on its employees, which includes] a hijab for the female clerks, including those who are not Muslim! This is a practice that negates [the existence of] the other, and has very serious repercussions and implications.

"The question to be asked is how we, as Muslims, can criticize the West for banning the hijab in schools, universities and sometimes also in workplaces, while we do the exact same thing, only in the opposite direction. There is no difference between the two cases: in the first case, the woman is required to forgo the hijab by force of a decision, and in the second, she is compelled to wear it by force of a decision! I do not know how we can accuse the world of violating the freedom of Muslims and attacking their privacy while we allow ourselves to behave in precisely the same manner!

"I could understand the university administration taking such a decision if it were part of a religious educational facility such as Al-Azhar. But we are talking of a private university that charges thousands of dinars for awarding academic degrees... Had the university been located in a house of worship, this decision would have been logical, [but it is not]. This behavior has only one meaning: [it implies] a narrow view of the goals of Islam and of women. What is the point of students wearing a head covering if they remove the minute they leave campus? What is the point of imposing a head covering upon them if it is not part of their personal [behavior] and beliefs?!

"Another point has to do with students who are not Muslim [but] who want to know more about our religion. Do we have the right to impose our beliefs upon them just because they decided to study at a specific university?

"This article should not be taken to imply that I oppose the hijab. I [simply] believe that this issue is a matter of [personal] liberties and beliefs, not coercion, irrespective of whether we are talking of wearing the hijab or removing it.

"With the spread of the radical ideology that thinks nothing of murdering women, or even worse, selling them on the slave markets, we must to act sensibly and reasonably in handling women's issues, so that we do not resemble the radicals, even unwittingly.

"Frankly, had I been in place of these women who are put to the test, I would not have agreed [to wear the hijab]. For liberties cannot be granted [only] partly and are not a matter for bargaining - not even for the sake of obtaining an academic degree or a job."[7]

Criticism Of State Of Democracy, Human Rights In Jordan And Arab World

In numerous articles Ghunaimat criticized the state of democracy, human rights, equality and tolerance in Jordan and in the Arab world at large. In 2015, following the appointment of an India-born Sikh as Canada's defense minister, which attracted great interest in the Arab media, she wrote that this interest emanated from the Arab yearning for true democracy in their countries, where the principles of democracy had never been internalized:

"The appointment of a new Canadian defense minister was awe-inspiring for Arabs - not because it was a democratic move, but because a man born in India was appointed to this sensitive position. This apparently reflects a latent Arab aspiration to be rid of all the manifestations of division and dispute [among them] as well as [an Arab] yearning for a citizenship that does not become invalid [even] when signs of schism and differences of opinion emerge - as happens [in the Arab world].

"Democracy has principles in which we are not well versed. Today, Canada showed us an example [of such a principle], with its appointment of Harjit Sajjan as defense minister - he was born and raised in India before obtaining Canadian citizenship, and [nevertheless] he was given [such] a sensitive post. Canadians do not question his loyalty, do not discuss his origin, and do not warn against his involvement in the state's most important secrets. This is the democratic element whose absence we notice [in the Arab world]; these are the practices whose absence we have lamented for a long time.

"In Canada, citizenship and loyalty is embodied in public service, regardless of [a citizen's] origin and race. No element [in the state] has an advantage over another element, except regarding the extent to which it contributes to building the nation. Today, when we look at any Arab country, we see that what predominates in the discourse there is conflict, the [non-acceptability] of disagreement [between components of society] and rejection of the other, instead of coexistence. Our societies have been torn to shreds by politicians - to the point where our countries are now arenas of chaos, even though part of society is still making an effort, albeit so far unsuccessfully, to unite the ranks and restore national unity.

"So where does the problem lie? In the [Arab] societies [themselves], or in the regimes and the politicians? Everyone is part of the difficult situation in Arab societies, because these societies have not had sufficient awareness to confront the [phenomenon of] politicians who seek personal gain. The reality created by interested parties and regimes over decades, by keeping true democracy away, has contributed to this..."[8]

In a June 21, 2016 column, following the arrest of a preacher on charges of jeopardizing Jordan's security, she wrote about the need to balance the protection of security with human rights and freedom of speech: "Freedom of speech, which is certainly a sacred right, and the need to respect [this right], must not, under any circumstances, become an opening for spreading a discourse of hate, racism, disagreement and schism in society – because freedom of speech does not include [the freedom to] hurt, strong-arm or reject the other. However, it is equally unacceptable to use security, defined in a broad manner, as a pretext to infringe on true freedom of speech."[9] In 2017 she criticized the absence of human rights from Jordan's school curricula: "Our [Arab] societies are societies in which the values and culture of human rights are absent, due to ignorance or to a misunderstanding of their true meaning. It is therefore only natural that our conduct often violates these rights... Reviewing our schoolbooks and the topics our children study, we discover that human rights are not among the foundations and guidelines [stressed in] our curricula... It's not just that the schoolbooks fail to teach the pupils what their rights are, as children and later as adults. Sadly, some of the content even distorts and misrepresents the very concept [of human rights]. For example, the schoolbooks, especially the civil studies schoolbooks, do not teach or intill respect for [freedom of] belief, [and do not] inculcate tolerance based on acceptance of the other and acceptance of differences [between people], which are associated [with this freedom]. Equality among Jordan's [citizens] seems to be a marginal topic in our curricula... and so are women's rights... Also absent are many concepts related to the denouncement of fanaticism, to living in peace, to dialogue, and to respecting others who differ from us and have different opinions, no matter who they are."[10]

Calls To Combat Growing Religious Extremism In Jordanian Society And Schools

In many columns Ghunaimat decried the growing religious extremism in Jordanian society, especially among young people and even in schools. She stressed that the authorities' response to this threat is lax and even negligent, and called to take the matter in hand. Following a December 2016 terror attack in Al-Karak, she wrote that there were terrorist cells in Jordan inspired by takfiri ideology, and called for combatting extremism by reforming values and ideology. She wrote: "The dangers Jordan faces from takfiri ideology are real and visible, [so the attack] in Karak is not surprising... In truth, these are not 'sleeper cells,' as they are often called, but rather 'active cells' that plan and constantly seek to terrorize, murder, and destroy society's ideology and values... This danger is spreading, and this is well known.

"However, what is even worse is that this is being dealt with using traditional means, which often border on leniency or laxity. Jordan has withstood this test as well, but this reminds us that 2016 saw more than one terrorist incident. There are no assurances that this won't happen again, seeing as how public opinion polls show that hundreds of thousands of people in our society are sympathetic to this stream, even subconsciously. This requires [us] to begin a long process of reforming our ideology and values."[11]

Two years earlier, in December 2014, Ghunaimat wrote a column titled "Close the Jordanian Branch of ISIS!," in which she addressed the phenomenon of extremism in Jordan's schools, writing: "A fifth-grade pupil in a government school in 'Amman came home with new knowledge based on accusing the members of other monotheistic faiths of heresy, which shocked his father. The father did his best to convince his son [to think] differently from what he had been taught by his teacher, who tries to sow ideas in the minds of our young children that lead to non-acceptance of the other and to challenging the principle of coexistence rooted in Jordanian society.

"Another story comes from Wadi Arabah, where a gym teacher also fulfills the role of a preacher - [instilling] not positive messages but rather the opposite. Instead of using her time to release the students' energy, she tries to fill their young minds with worrisome ideas.

"What takes place in our schools is grave because it leads to a change in the authentic [character] of society, which is based on tolerance, peace, moderation, and the middle way. This change - if not dealt with - could afflict us with a harsh reality for which we will all pay the price...

"The education ministry, which has noticed this situation, began tracking the distortions and trying to deal with them, first by directing attention [to the problem] and sending official letters forbidding teachers to deviate from the curriculum. The ministry is also taking additional steps to limit the spread of certain streams, which spread their ideas to our children. For example, it has begun amending the curricula in Islamic education and Arabic language studies in grades 1 through 3, focusing on one main purpose, namely teaching them to read and write, after it became known that some 130,000 of them are illiterate. Furthermore, it has begun formulating curricula meant to reinforce basic values in our children, especially values of respecting and accepting the other...

"Our schools spread extremism, as do our universities. Sometimes, a child or youth returns from school or university with horrid ideas that shock even his parents. This price, which is paid by all, is the result of religious thought taking over the curricula for decades, placing future generations in peril. Complaints against the curricula are old. They are already being dealt with, and we hope [the efforts] will achieve the necessary result so that our sons will have curricula that encourage creative thought in place of rote learning. Since this problem has grown ever more widespread and complex, the solution seems to be too difficult, but we must [nevertheless] start so as not to leave future generations hostages to a narrow group of people who swallow our children and use them as tools in the hands of extremist streams... Using education above all, we will thwart the extremism that infiltrates our [society] to a dangerous degree. Since the war on terror is our war, we will best deal with it internally, starting with our schools."[12]

Criticism Of Governments' Out-Of-Touch Economic Policies

As a former economics reporter, Ghunaimat frequently addressed economic matters and criticized the Jordanian governments' economic policies. Following the protest wave that erupted in the kingdom in February 2018 in response to the government's austerity measures, which included the elimination of the bread subsidy, she published a column titled "Governments That Are Not Fluent in the Language of Their People." In it, she claimed that the Jordanian establishment was not aware of the feelings of its citizens, and called for a dialogue between the government and the different sectors of society so that the government would understand the citizens' hardships. She wrote: "The government still doesn't realize the extent of the anger in the hearts of Jordanians as the result of long-term neglect on the part of [Jordan's] governments... [The fact that] people are taking to the streets in more than one location, in protest against the decisions of the government, indicates their difficult situation... The suffering encompasses citizens from all sectors... Even public sector employees – both military and civilian – are suffering, for their meager income is clearly insufficient to meet their daily needs with dignity. They, who were the mainstay of the middle class, have been neglected for years as a result of the harsh government policy and the lack of any real development plans...

"In light of the difficult economic situation, the deficit [in the state budget], the [public] debt and the sensitivity about the currency's stability, senior officials continue to seek new ways to tap the pockets of Jordanians, and now they are legislating a new tax law to broaden the taxpayer base so as to increase income...

"Today, the gap between the public and the state is wide and dangerous. [I] do not mean a crisis of confidence, which is another story. [I] am talking of the feeling of the citizen – who has been ground down by the taxes and whose expenses for [private] education and health services, as a result of the deterioration in government services, have depleted his income – that he has been wronged and that a heavy economic burden has been placed upon him... The officials, as the only ones with the right to decide on a rise in prices, are moving farther and farther away from the public and provoking it... [They are doing] this without fully understanding the great changes taking place in society, and without attempting to internalize the changes that have taken place in the character of the Jordanian citizen, who is filled with rage at the governments that have achieved nothing and have never managed to present real solutions for the problems of the [public] debt and the [budget] deficit.

"The solution is for someone to issue a warning and whisper in the ears of the officials what the Jordanian [citizen] is feeling and inform them that every decision that has been made or will be made plays on the frayed nerves of the public and increases its anger. We do not need unilateral decisions, which emanate from an isolated element of government [i.e. Finance Minister Omar Al-Malhas], to worsen the situation of the public. Further, we expect the government to open a dialogue with society and its different sectors, which may perhaps [help it] understand the public's situation and spare the public its bad decisions..."[13]

In May 2016, after several suicides and public suicide attempts by young people in Jordan motivated by unemployment and severe economic distress, Ghunaimat criticized the government's helplessness in handling the problem of unemployment among young people and warned that this was a time bomb that could go off: "The suicide pact of the five young Jordanians is undoubtedly a terrible thing, whether they [really] intended to put an end to their lives or merely threatened to do so. Their action yesterday near Al-Dakhiliya Square in Amman is another sounding of the alarm bell that draws attention to the despair and frustration that many of our young people are feeling due to the rising levels of unemployment among them...

"I wonder, what have we done on behalf of the young people? Has the current government, which has been in office longer than any of those that preceded it, presented any genuine ideas or initiatives to save the young people from the difficult reality in which they are living? The truth is that I do not expect answers from the minister of labor, the minister of planning and international cooperation, or the prime minister himself - because the answers are [already] known to the young people, nearly half of whom are drowning in unemployment. This time, the [real] answer was the anguished desperate cry of those young people who climbed to the roof of a building in Al-Dakhiliya Square and attempted to put an end to their lives, and their spokesman said: 'We have had enough of your promises and your lie'. Had the promises of all the governments to [these young people] yielded anything [concrete], they would have been busy planning their future and their lives instead of planning to kill themselves.

"Jordan's suffering young people have become a time bomb that poses a grave danger throughout the homeland, because the young people are ultimately a force which, if not harnessed [for purposes of] productivity and creativity, can get out of control and cause destruction."[14]

However, Ghunaimat also complained that the international community was not extending sufficient aid to Jordan, which was buckling under the burden of hosting over a million Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their country. In February 2016, she criticized the extent of aid pledged to Jordan at the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference, held in London that month, on the issue of Syrian refugees in countries bordering Syria. She noted that only a small part of the aid –$2.1 billion – was given in grants, whereas the rest – $5.7 billion – was in the form of a loan. "The large scale of loans compared to grants," she wrote, "proves that the world has yet to feel truly responsible for the refugees and for the suffering experienced by them and by their hosts. The Europeans should expect further movement of refugees in their direction, because the aid they provided is insufficient."[15]

 

[2] Al-Ghad (Jordan), June 15, 2018.

[3] Facebook.com/Jumana.ghunaimat, June 17, 2018.

[4] Al-Ghad (Jordan), July 28, 2016. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6633, Criticism In Jordan, Palestinian Authority Over Marginalization Of Women In Public And Political Arenas, September 29, 2016.

[5] Women of the Islamist Al-Murabitoun movement, who stage vocal protests in the Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, especially to prevent Jews from praying there.

[6] Al-Ghad (Jordan), October 10, 2015. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1212, Palestinian Women On The Frontlines Of The Current Uprising, December 16, 2015.

[7] Al-Ghad (Jordan), July 11, 2015; see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6147, Editor Of Jordanian Daily Jumana Ghunaimat: Forcing Women To Wear The Hijab Infringes On Their Freedom, September 2, 2015.

[9] Al-Ghad (Jordan), June 21, 2016.

[10] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 18, 2017.

[11] Al-Ghad (Jordan), December 20, 2016. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1311, Jordanian Journalists: Hundreds Of Thousands Of Young Jordanians Support ISIS – And The Authorities Aren't Dealing With It, May 3, 2017.

[12] Al-Ghad (Jordan), December 14, 2014. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1211, In Light Of Jordanians Joining Terrorist Organizations, Calls In Jordan To Reform Curricula, December 14, 2015.

[13] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 4, 2018; See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1376, Protests In Jordan Following Austerity Measures – Including Elimination Of Bread Subsidy, February 21, 2018.