Citizenship debate resurfaces in Jordan

Article Summary
Following a decision by the Jordanian government to grant basic civil rights to children of Jordanian women married to foreign men, a fierce debate on Jordanian "authenticity" and racism has re-emerged in the country.

For those observing the old-new debate about “naturalization” in Jordan, the war is not over between the two main components of society: native Jordanians and Jordanians of Palestinian origin who obtained citizenship and have integrated into society in Transjordan since the 1920s.

In light of the project that was set forth by US Secretary of State John Kerry and has been said to present a solution to the Palestinian dilemma, a heated debate broke out about the legitimate right of “native” Jordanians to the homeland. The debate reached the corridors of the state, media platforms and then spread across social networking sites.

In terms of history, the term “native” is somehow glorified. In the beginning of the 20th century, there were no geographical, well-defined limits and borders. People in Jordan hailed from Hejazi (western Saudi Arabia), Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian areas, not to mention the prior migrations of Chechens, Circassians, Armenians, Kurds, Druze and Christians. This makes society in Jordan rather diverse and not consisting of one “pure race” distinct from other races.

The tension taking place in society reflects the split on the issue of civil and political rights, and concerns about Palestinians in particular, since they constitute the largest component in society, according to many UN reports. This is not to mention concerns that they might control the reins of power and politics. “We might lose the country to them,” one commentator said on Facebook.

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Beside Kerry’s project, the debate — which reflects the strife between the regime forces and the Palestinians guerrillas of 1970 — pushed the government of Abdullah Ensour to grant the children of Jordanian women married to foreigners civil rights, including the right to receive treatment in hospitals affiliated with the Ministry of Health, the right to obtain residency permits and the right to education in public schools and universities. This is in addition to their right to work, obtain driver’s licenses and perhaps grant them ordinary passports (without a national number) to facilitate their travel outside the country.

It is clear that the offspring of Jordanian women married to foreigners (the majority of these “foreigners” are Palestinians) do not enjoy the same rights as their mothers. This has subjected them to many hardships and turned their lives into hell. Yet these minimal civil rights they have now been given sparked controversy once again. Accusations were renewed and fears surfaced once again. Hopes of coexistence, intermarriage and contribution to building the state were lost. “Xenophobia” and tension re-emerged in society to the extent that a senior state official, who was a former army general and a former president to the Royal Court has gone as far as to say: “The talk about human rights, women’s rights, justice and equality, nationalism, constitution and the national unity are nothing but empty words. This is how things are. Take it or leave it.”

This statement was met with wide condemnation and disapproval and was considered “racist.” Yet, it reflects the view of a significant number of Jordanians, who continue to uphold fears of the alternative homeland, where Palestinians would control the country and “native Jordanians” would become minority. This same old story continues to repeat itself, reflecting a social and political divide that is likely to drag on as long as the Palestinian state is not yet available and as long as the rift is widening between Ramallah and Rafah, with no end in sight.

However, the debate on Jordanians of Palestinian origin lacks two main points: the issues of human rights and citizenship. Thus, it ought to include the fears of both parties, without the double-standard discourse espoused by some political elites, who dictate their statements but do not tolerate other opinions.

With these rights granted to women, one cannot but reminisce about the privileges and rights of women in the Mesopotamian civilization, nearly 2,000 years before Christ, when women were free to marry a slave and their offspring would be free!

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Found in: palestinian refugees, minority rights, marriage, jordanian government, immigrants, civil rights, children's rights
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