Muthanna Gharaybe: Discovering Jordanian Identity
By: Ahmad Zaatari
Published Tuesday, July 3, 2012
On the ‘Friday to Bring Down the Wadi Araba Policy,’ political activist, Muthanna Gharaybe, did not set off on the demonstration from al-Husseini Mosque in central Amman. Instead, he chose to set off from the al-Hashimi Mosque in the city of Irbid, his birthplace, north of the capital, retracing his first demonstration in 2002 during the second Intifada.
In 2002, demonstrating was a serious confrontation. Gharaybe and his comrades had to shout out their demands and run away quickly for fear of being beaten up or arrested. Furthermore, if Arab causes were okay to demonstrate for, the internal situation was taboo. Today, however, the popular pressure which began last year has restored the Jordanians’ right to demonstrate.
Gharaybe believed what the state curriculum taught him at school. It said that Jordan “was a state that was created as a result of the Sykes-Picot partition agreement. Its job was to be a barrier between the Israeli occupation and the surrounding countries.” Therefore, “the general feeling was that it was our duty to support Arab causes, primarily the Palestinian cause,” he tells Al-Akhbar.
Gharaybe has been a supporter of Palestine since his childhood. His father, born in the rural area of Irbid, is a retired military man who had fought in Palestine. His mother is a teacher who was born in the town of Arraba, near the city of Jenin.
His father used to take him to the Umm Qays cave (in the furthest northwest) where he would tell him that he shelled the Israeli army in Tiberius in 1968 during the War of Attrition. Gharaybe’s father is still proud that he cut off the enemy’s electricity supply. He often says: “I cut off Israel’s electricity before Hasan Nasrallah.”
Gharaybe grew up connected to the Arab causes. He remembers the closed green doors of shops during the strikes in support of the first Intifada in 1987. He recalls daily allowances being withheld from most of his generation so that milk and food could be sent to Iraq during the second Gulf War. Nine years after the end of the war, he went to Iraq as part of a trip organized by the Young Arab Nationalist Camp. There, he would later be arrested.
In 2001, he joined the Ajyal camp in Beirut, where he met Anahid Fayyad. She was studying at the Higher Institute for Theatrical Arts in Damascus, the daughter of the Palestinian writer and politician Ali Fayyad, or “Abu Ziad Vietnam,” the PLO’s representative in Vietnam. Gharaybe and Fayyad fell in love and got married five years later.
After his stint at Ajyal camp, Gharaybe spent three months in Egypt. During these months, he trained at a communications center in the town of Hilwan, as part of his degree in communications engineering. There he met young activists such as Khaled Abdul Hamid, Muhammad Khair, and Hani Darwish.
Gharaybe’s experience in Egypt was a turning point. He was fascinated by how he could meet someone in a cafe and become friends within five minutes, receiving an enormous amount of affection without any need for preambles.
He wrote in a letter to his father: “The warmth of the air in Egypt is fake, like friends in Jordan. If you go out without a jacket, the wind can strike you, just like your heart is struck when you find that your friend is not as warm as he should be. In Egypt, the real warmth comes from the people.”
After graduating, Gharaybe spent two years in Oman and two years in Syria, before returning to Jordan in 2008. He then began to establish the Nationalist Progressive Current with a number of other activists.
“The Current is a social condition rather than an organization. Our approach to Arab nationalism is in its open Arabist sense, not the chauvinistic approach linked to the regimes of tyranny. Moreover, we work on enlightenment and true citizenship, to restore to the citizen his legal relationship with the state without having to resort to party or tribal connections or social groups.”
At the time, political activity was not mature enough to have an effect on the street. Even when Gharaybe, like others, received the call on Facebook to participate in the Day of Jordanian Anger on 14 January 2011, he could not believe that he was going to go on a demonstration in Amman’s commercial center without getting beaten up!
In fact, the 3000 people who chanted “unity, freedom, social justice” were not beaten up. From then on, the Nationalist Progressive Current took the decision to join the demonstrations every Friday. But then came the famous Interior Ministry roundabout sit-in on March 24.
Gharaybe gives an account of what happened during the sit-in, just like any other young man who had been pelted with stones, abused, and accused of treason. He also tells us how the electricity on the roundabout was cut off, and how stones were thrown at them by the “loyalist group”: “Each person there was willing to take a hit for someone he did not even know. This used to be impossible in Jordan, because the nationalists, Baathists, leftists, communists, and Islamists now protesting at the roundabout are well-known for their one upmanship against each other. It was at that moment that I discovered my true Jordanian identity.”
However, “because the demonstrators and the state were not experienced in this form of protest, both sides failed.” The sit-in was ended by force with the protesters being beaten, leading to one dying. After that, Gharaybe joined the March 24 Alliance, formed as a result of the sit-in and named after the day on which it took place.
However, he soon withdrew from the alliance for several reasons, one of which was “the attempt by the Islamic movement to control the media side of the alliance, seeking to organize another open ended sit-in without a clear political goal or clear demands.”
Today, Gharaybe is active in the Youth and Popular Alliance For Change, which seeks to advance non-negotiable political issues, such as education, health, and taxes. He says: “The problem lies in social justice. If this can be achieved, each person will feel like a citizen and this will enable him to compete politically.”
Even so, Gharaybe does not believe that the solution lies in protest movements, but rather in “the sectors that have started to organize themselves.” By this, he means the teachers’ strike, which led to the formation of the first teachers’ union in the history of Jordan; the electricity workers’ and employees’ strike, which led to a restoration of their rights; and currently the strike by the workers in the potassium mining company.
Gharaybe says that there is a death in Jordan every three days as a result of work injury, and public debt increases daily by $12 million — “these facts have never come to the surface before,” he adds.
But what is the solution? “This requires institutions to be run by involved people, convinced that they are capable of change. The current situation does not guarantee this solution. Therefore, either the state becomes caring – organizing its production and making use of its resources in a real way, which guarantees that wealth is distributed fairly – or Jordan collapses economically.”
Despite that, Gharaybe repeats the somewhat modified saying “have faith in the people and they will respond.” He is optimistic because of the sectors that have organized themselves within a culture of protest.
“And society is overcoming its secondary identities and moving towards a society able to interact and be productive,” he says, adding that Jordanians have a long way to go, “but it is good that we now know that there is a way. Later, people will organize themselves well, so that whoever is in charge will have to be just ... or else he will fail.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.