A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

Jordan: Tightening the Noose on Freedom of Speech

Never thought I’d see myself explaining this, especially in 2010: but the Internet does not work in the same way that a static, printed piece of paper does. It does not come with the same carefully premeditated phrasing, nor the “professionalism” of a journalist who has been drilled with laws and rules for years and years. The Internet is more like a conversation in a coffee shop, where a person brings up a topic in a gathering and people react instantly, and often, honestly. The main difference is that with the technology available online, these reactions that would have otherwise drifted off into the air are saved evermore.

With that said…

I’m sure you cannot argue that we Arabs are absolutely unable to have a proper debate without resorting to uncivilized discussions, attitudes, and often fights. That applies both in the real-world and the digital world. A major part of the problem, I believe, is that we really have never been taught to debate like civilized human beings.

We are not used to sharing our opinions and we are not used to being opposed. We are not used to accepting that different people can have different ideas, and there’s no way in hell that we will soon ever come to terms with the fact that it’s actually okay to disagree.

It’s as if self-expression aside from romanticized bull-crap and unnecessary snide remarks by strangers on the streets are the only two forms of self-expression that are a part of our culture. Good self-expression practices, on the other hand, are completely alien to us. We have been taught that speaking our honest opinion is wrong, whether in our schools (don’t argue with your teachers), our family life (Heaven forbid you tell your really annoying aunt that her idea is really STUPID), and our nonexistent political life (that basically circles around nominating cousins to the parliament).

Actually, wait, as far as our culture is concerned, speaking out is much worse than boiling live puppies.

Naturally, as it is also a part of our culture to be very kind and hospitable to those we know and very rude and inhospitable to those we don’t (driving on the streets is the best example), the Internet, with its anonymous safety, has been the perfect tool to test the waters of self-expression, for many of our people. Just like you would expect, many of this “water testing” has been savage, with the various online “news agencies” testifying to how self-expression in our part of the world is more useful for hate speech, judgementalism, and the spread of stupidity.

But really, what can we expect? Elevating a mentality takes decades in terms of time, and worse, it takes great education curricula, which we do not have. It takes patience, it takes planning, it takes hand-holding.

Of course, the easy way out of the hate-fiasco circus is to apply the same self-expression-is-the-worst-thing-you-can-do mentality to the Internet as well (with a magic button that shuts people up). Ta da. Problem solved.

Is that the ideal scenario though? It is 2010, and our mentality and intellect as people has been going backwards in time, rather than forward. A step must be taken sometime soon to teach us about the beauty of the cultured part of our culture, to teach us that if we want something, WE ASK FOR IT, and to teach us to be civilized when it comes to ideas.

Outdated laws won’t teach us, it will probably make us worse – make us less civilized, more angry, and probably scare away the civilized world (Google is currently about to quit China due to censorship issues, is that we want to do with our progressive Internet entrepreneurialism?).

Well, that’s all I have to say I guess, but here’s a link to what my fellow Jordanian netizens are saying about it:
A Sad Day for the Internet in Jordan: A Gag Order. Bam Bam’s World.
A Tweet, Facebook, or a Blog Comment or Even an SMS Can Get You To Prison in Jordan. Arab Crunch.
On Jordan’s Court Decision to Control Websites. Websessed.
In Defense of Freedom of Speech and the Internet. Urdun Mubdi3.
Websites and Publication Law. 7iber.
One Step Forward Six Steps Back. MommaBean.
On Jordan Censoring The Internet. The Black Iris.
Voices in my head: I want my freedom back!. At a Place.
On the New Publication Law: Big Brother is Watching You. Cinnamon Zone.
Last Famous Words from Jordan. GYonis.
Makan.قصة تعاونيّة مستوحاة من إخضاع المواقع الإلكترونية لقانون المطبوعات والنشر الاردني
Infinite Reflections: Why Internet Censorship in Jordan is Bad for Business. Sami Shalabi.
Keeping Jordan’s web open and free. 360 East.
Parliament Asking for Passwords. Osma Al Romoh.

Well, let me know if you wrote about this so I can add your link. La Sharafa Fil Jarimah has a list of media entities that also covered the news.


I’m Being Sarcastic


“Satellite” Arabia: The Logos of Our TV Channels


  1. Chris

    Nice. But after reading that, I don’t think you’ve outgrown your “angry, passionate, rebellious, and anxious to take action” 15 year old self quite yet. And yes, that new law is most unfortunate. Just another stumbling block for a region that has so much potential. I think I’ll make a youtube video about that, stereotypical Arab media laws. I can tell this topic is close to your heart, all those words, and not one design take. :)

  2. ExpatInSaudi

    I got into a big debate with my Saudi colleague over this issue. I think of all the Arab countries,the situation is worst in Saudi Arab. Thanks to you and a lot of other Arab bloggers, the younger Arab generation is turning out to be much more self aware, civilized and humane :) but there’s still a long way to go.

  3. Ola

    Do you know how really old people who were born before TV’s became popular are fascinated by how a TV screen can take you to another country that’s a million miles away?

    I feel that the parliament, which consists mostly of people well over 40, feel threatened by the Internet for the same reason. It’s something new to them, something tey didn’t grow up with and is becoming increasingly popular, gaining momentum that’s working to change things on the ground of reality. What the heck, even the geekiest of all geeks may find it fascinaing how the effect on online campaigns actually had and continue to have a huge effect on real time issues. Maybe that’s it… Evil World Wide Web

  4. Yasmin

    I think I’ll keep my thoughts on this subject to myself, I wouldn’t want to get fined or locked up… ±

  5. Raghda Butros

    While expressing your opinion and concern about possible restrictions on online freedom in Jordan is extremely valid, I find this blog post to be hugely offensive. Since you’re encouraging people to speak their mind, I hope you won’t mind that I will honestly speak mine.

    I have an issue with the following statements and the premise behind them:
    “I’m sure you cannot argue that we Arabs are absolutely unable to have a proper debate without resorting to uncivilized discussions, attitudes, and often fights”: This is a massive over generalization. It also reeks of condescension, and worse yet, feeds into everything you claim to not approve of. Respect for debate and the opinions of others means you have to be open to possibilities, differences and variations, and yet your statement is full of blanket, stereotyped generalizations.

    Your use of the words “civilized” and “uncivilized” which you repeat several times, most strikingly in the statement: “make us less civilized, more angry, and probably scare away the civilized world” is astounding to me. Who decides who’s civilized and who’s not? You? Or is it the West which you seem to bestow the honor of “civilized” on (as represented by Google?) I can name a multitude of ways in which the West is anything but civilized but that will take more time and space than this comment allows.

    Another incredible generalization is ”it is also a part of our culture to be very kind and hospitable to those we know and very rude and inhospitable to those we don’t”. I see your point with the driving and even the anonymous comments online, but do you really believe that Arabs are rude and inhospitable to people they don’t know? How do you explain the kindness and hospitality to tourists and visitors from people all over the Arab world to whom they are complete strangers? How do you explain the fact that, like many others, I have witnessed numerous acts of hospitality, warmth and kindness from complete strangers all over Jordan and the Arab world?

    I won’t go on, but will end by saying that blanket generalizations cannot and will not get you very far in proving how outrageous the prospect of Internet censorship is, nor in proving anything else for that matter. Self-criticism and taking a long hard look at ourselves is a good thing, but when it ends up being a bashing senseless tirade, you achieve nothing.

  6. Chris, lol, I’m a different kind of angry now though :) Link me up with the YouTube video after you do it! :)

    ExpatInSaudi, well, it’s quite bad all over, really. It is always sad to see how we shun self-expression.

    Ola, you think? I wonder if there were ever any efforts in Jordan to censor TV coming in from abroad?

    Yasmin, you cracked me up :)

    Raghda, thanks for your comment. I appreciate the time you spent on writing it, as well as the fact that you shared it. While I understand how this post seems self-hating, it was not meant as such. I do believe that we are not very civilized, regardless of what my definition of civilization is and regardless of what is yours. As far as I’m concerned, it saddens me a lot that we keep drifting farther and farther away from an intellect that at some point shone in the world’s history. I did not mention what I believe is a more civilized example and what is not either, though I agree with you that the Google insert does make i seem like I am talking about the US, when I was not. I was also not referring to hospitality towards tourists, the hospitality there is arguably more about fascination, I was talking about being kind to each other.
    I know that you are very active in the field of empowerment, and that you work in improving skills and curricula, so I am very happy to read your opinion. While it is often appropriate to take a more positive outlook on life, this is not one such case for myself.

  7. mo

    the only thing worse than this law are those people feigning surprise and shock over it … 3a asas 3aysheen bil scandinavian countries ya3ni

  8. Most of the times i fail to express my inner thoughts, but I’ll begin with :

    كم يصعب علينا كعرب تطبيقها

    الإختلاف في الرأي لا يفسد للود قضية.

    فعليا، الإختلاف في الرأي عنا مش بس بفسد القضية، لأ وبلعن أبو اللي
    نفضها، اصلن بتتنسى القضية بالاخر وبتطلع برة موضوع النقاش، وربك حميد
    اذا ما قلبت *طوشه وبكسات وتكسير منخير.

    i find it hard that we Arabs (lets say Jordanians and not all, most of us) can discuss or debate an issue in a logical way and respect each other points of view -and keep them to our selves- (and i honestly may act like that sometimes when i discuss two major issues i believe i have good-great knowledge about + analysis : Computer Tech and Politics) -it’s an absolutely big X on me i know (bad behavior) , and it has nothing to do with being civilized or not as it has something to do with :

    1. the way we’ve been raised up, its the psychological environment we lived in that we used to (actually have to) listen, respect, believe and not to comment or discuss what the Old says and take it for granted without a logical reason.

    no one is perfect (except god), no human is infallible, even some prophets and messengers who were infallible, made tiny mistakes, we’ve been taught at school the following in Islamic classes:

    “الخليفة العظيم عمر بن الخطاب حين يقول عند توليه الخلافة : فان زغت فقوموني فيرد إعرابي قائلا والله نقومك بحد سيوفنا”

    and Omar did nothing about him, he didn’t get upset ! he was glad actually.. though he wasn’t ruling only one country then, anyway..

    we were not allowed to discuss stuff with the same teacher who said the above (at least for the sake of mind tickling and making sure of things), it was considered “3eeb” or “7aram” though we were kids, and we asked questions as kids are curious at that point of their age..

    2. and we grew up, and went to universities, and (Oh God) discussing something with an old instructor or professor, i swear to god, the best most humble professor in my years of university that i could ask him anything (no matter sounds stupid or smart) without being shout at or picked up on was Russian, i would be unfair if i said non of the Arab were, they were few, but they were around our generation, while the Russian was not ( i miss you Dr. Dimitry)

    this second point and the restricted freedom of speech and activities in university, home and work (along with Proffs, parents and bosses) completed the Oedipus (not to forget governmental papers transactions) resulting with the first point to the wrong behavior of not respecting each other’s point of view and final result would be when debating or discussing:

    My point of view is the right one, yours is wrong and you are a dumb ass and don’t understand anything in this world, period. goto *
    sorry for taking Islam and Islamic culture as an example of democracy and freedom of speech, but as far as i know, this is the simplest example of it (am not talking about currently improper applied Islam), to me, even USA’s democracy has red lines. (talking about logical democracy, and nothing above the law)

    Culture of Shame (ثقافة العيب) is a two bladed weapons, inherited from the religion in a wrong way that one of the blades are harming us, tweaking it logically will simply turn it back to its source IMHO.

    though i disagree with him in some struff, but this man speaks sense (last 3 minutes)

  9. Raghda Butros

    I appreciate your response to my comments Roba, and the openness with which you accepted my feedback. You are a great example of an Arab who accepts the opinion of others and who knows that it’s ok to disagree, which was really my point to begin with.

  10. Raghda Butros

    I appreciate your response to my comments Roba, and the openness with which you accepted my feedback. You are a great example of an Arab who accepts the opinion of others and who knows that it’s ok to disagree, which was my point to begin with.

  11. mo, I agree actually, which is why it took me a week to write this post :)

    Mesh, I emailed you the reply ;) The George Carlin clips aer awesome!

    Raghda, the best way to solve a problem is by admitting there is a problem.

  12. Raghda Butros

    Admitting there is a problem is one thing; generalizing the problem to the point where it seems impossible to solve because of its perceived magnitude is another. This is especially true when the generalization is not a correct one, as is usually the case with generalizations. There is no such thing as “all Arabs are” or “we Arabs are” etc. Each of us is an individual and while some of us may exhibit common traits, it is essential to recognize the distinctions and trends which do not reflect those traits, be they good or bad.

    You say Arabs are kind to tourists out of a sense of fascination and unkind to one another, and yet you failed to answer my question about the kindness that I and others who are Jordanian and Arab have witnessed from other Jordanians and Arabs who are complete strangers. I walk into communities all the time as a complete stranger and have experienced countless displays of kindness and generosity, often from people who can ill afford it. This remains true even after the initial “fascination” wears off, if you want to assume that this is the reason for it to begin with.

    If you are calling for free speech and freedom or expressions, you need to be able to see that this is often undermined or threatened by generalized blanket statements that attack entire groups and label them in a particular way due to their gender, ethnicity, race or religion. Why is it ok to say “Arabs are absolutely unable to have a proper debate without resorting to uncivilized discussions” when you would never dream of making the statement about blacks, whites Muslims, women, Christians, people with disabilities etc.?

    Think about it and if all the Arabs you know fit into the generalized descriptions you make in your post, perhaps it’s time for you to step out of your comfort zone and meet other Arabs who don’t.

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