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Jordanian Teachers… The Issue Remains Open

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

by Ahmad Abu-Khalil

In the past weeks since the end of July, the issue of teachers was one of the most widely discussed topics in the national public debate in Jordan. Perhaps this debate is an important indicator of a main aspect of the social conflict in the country.

In fact, this is a new round of the conflict, which comes after less than a year from the previous “round” that was more intense and holistic. That included the teachers’ popular strike in the beginning of the past academic year, which lasted throughout the month of September 2019. That made it the longest strike by a syndicate or association in the history of Jordan. [1]

For those who are following this matter – and especially teachers themselves – this debate is still not over since the end of last September’s strike. This is due to the numerous, diverse issues raised by the strike, but which were not tackled or followed up by the official bodies. It is true that the main demand of the strike was to receive a 50% addition/allowance to the base salary, which was agreed upon and implemented at the beginning of 2020. However, there is still a long list of issues included in the end-of-strike agreement, relating to teachers and the educational process in general.

This article analyses recent developments from the July 25 decision of Amman’s Attorney-General, to discontinue the work of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (JTS) Council and close down their offices. This was followed by arresting all members of the JTS Council and many leaders of its branches in various governorates. In addition hundreds of other related persons were arrested for limited periods of time (ranging from hours to days). We also view its general context, i.e. the current state of conflict and social movement in Jordan. This article is based on a follow-up of the teachers’ movement since its launching in 2010 and establishment of the JTS to last year’s events.

In the beginning, it is worth pointing out the special status of teachers in the Jordanian society in terms of their size, influence and role within a network of social relations that affects the majority of the country’s population. Moreover, they have a special harmony regardless of their social class, which led many people to call them “the Jordanian Proletariat”. It is also worth pointing out that the matters of disagreement are limited to the teachers of the public sector (i.e. governmental schools). Private schools are governed by their own regulations led by a special culture and perceptions formed within their society (both in the affluent and poor areas). This made private schools outside the realm of the Jordanian teachers’ movement and struggle in the current period. The number of teachers in public schools is 106,000, whereas there are 40,000 teachers in private schools.

What brought us back to the crisis?

After ending the September strike and resuming studies in October 2019, the two parties (JTS and the government) sought mutual agreement. The Jordanian Prime Minister received the JTS Council in a friendly meeting and atmosphere and quoted an participatory spirit between the government (i.e. Ministry of Education) and the JTS. The Prime Minister stated that “the Ministry cannot play the role of the association and the association cannot play the role of the Ministry”. Afterwards, there was the formation of the joint JTS-Ministry of Education committee. This committee has a vital role in the daily life of teachers and the educational process, and discusses important matters from the field which concern teachers and education on the level of schools and individuals.

Teacher Ghaleb Abu-Qdeis - a JTS Council member leading the delegation that was negotiating with the government - said: “After meeting the Prime Minister, we thought that we have started a new phase by moving from the demand-based mobilization to professional syndicate work and action”.

However, the committee only held three meetings and was disrupted for six months during the current Minister of Education’s term in office. The Ministry did not call for a new meeting except in a rather ironic and provocative time. An invitation for a meeting was sent on Thursday, 23 July, and it was set for the next business day, i.e. on Sunday, 26 July. However, in the morning of Saturday, 25 July, a decision was issued and implemented regarding the arrest of JTS Council members, which came to be called “Black Saturday” by the teachers.

We need to go back a little..

At the end of last March, schools were closed down as part of the general closure measures for combating the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Defense Law led to the successive issuance of defense orders. These measures were imposed on various social and economic sectors and led to halting the communication between the JTS and the government. Meanwhile, the latter chose to unilaterally lead the fight against the pandemic and was unwilling to involve the associations (including the JTS) in any joint activities.

In one of the Defense Law orders, the government announced a fund for collecting financial donations to support the governmental efforts to combat COVID-19. This fund was called “Himmat Watan” (“Nation’s Effort”) Fund, which receives donations starting from 100,000 Jordanian Dinars. Soon afterwards, the JTS announced its donation of half a million Jordanian Dinars to the fund. They aimed to send a friendly message to the society and the state to prove that the “material goal” is not their point of focus as claimed by some parties. However, this act turned out to be counter-productive after some JTS members filed a lawsuit against the JTS Council because they considered this act to be illegal.

In another matter related to the Defense Law, the government suspended the validity of all the approved allowances in the public sector both on the civil and military level. This meant stopping the teachers’ allowance (which was the main demand of the previous teachers’ strike). The governmental decision stipulated the resumption of the allowance’s validity starting from the beginning of 2021.

Conflict through the Media

According to the teachers, the atmosphere which preceded and accompanied the COVID-19 crisis was tense between the JTS and the Ministry. Communication between the two parties was halted. Teachers started announcing that the Ministry of Education does not respond to them and does not want any dialogue. This gradually prompted action through the media and social media pages belonging to the JTS and its bodies. Moreover, the JTS held a general meeting and sharp words were expressed. The JTS also accused the government of withdrawing from the previous agreement and refusing to communicate, and threatened to escalate the situation. They rejected the government’s decision to stop the financial allowance and demanded that it gets paid in full. At a later date, these videos were added to the list of evidenced charges against the JTS Council.

The government responded by more than one means, including several articles appeared in newspapers and online news sites (including prominent sites). They collectively position opposing the syndicate’s positions, such that the government aimed to launch a counter-campaign.

The opponents of JTS attacked the syndicate’s aim of “differentiating” themselves from the decision to stop the financial allowances, even though this decision included all the categories of civil and military public sector employees. Additionally, the adversaries of JTS accused them of politicizing the syndicate’s actions by claiming that the syndicate’s decisions are controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. [2]

On Saturday, July 25, Amman’s Attorney-General decided against the JTS Council members, Central Commission members and the various branches and departments of the JTS, discontinuing the syndicate and closing down its offices for two years. Subpoenas were issued against the defendants (members of JTS Council) to bring them before the specialized public prosecutor charged with:

  1. Purported “financial abuses” - charged by the public prosecutor of the Jordanian Integrity and Anti-corruption Commission (JIACC).

  2. "Incitement and inflammatory actions"by the JTS Council which were circulated on social media.

The decision of the Attorney-General included a gag order (a “suppression order”) to prevent passing of any information related to this case to the media (including social media).

These governmental procedures came as a surprise. The government formed a managerial committee for JTS, headed by a senior employee from the Ministry. They announced that the case is now being heard before the court and that this should be respected by all.

Alternative Leadership of the Syndicate

The second line of JTS leaders from the Syndicate’s Central Council and leaders of its governorate branches worked tirelessly and formed a new leadership. Firstly, they called for a sit-in in the Jordanian capital Amman in front of the Prime Minister’s headquarters. Approximately 3,000 teachers were able to reach areas that were close to that location. To disperse this gathering, the government cracked down, and several hundreds of teachers were arrested. This JTS action was followed by marches and public protests in governorate centers and some cities. The protests of Irbid, Mafraq, Karak and Jarash witnessed a relatively large presence but were confronted by arrests.

In light of that, a wide-scale media silence prevailed. The teachers and their supporters used social media but were very careful – especially in the first days – because the gag order included social media platforms. What was strange is that the silence went beyond the case presented before the court, pervading developments not related to the case per se. Therefore, big news such as the sit-ins of thousands of teachers and the arrest of tens of them (including female teachers) – not to mention the open hunger strike of the arrested JTS Council members – were not covered by official or private satellite channels. However, this news was covered by some local and foreign unofficial media outlets. The “undeclared” Jordanian traditions of media work, show that there was an official directive to ban the publication or broadcasting of everything related to teachers.

The Jordanian Press Association did not initiate a discussion of the legal significance of gag orders. Other professional syndicates and associations also remained silent, including the Jordanian Bar Association. Furthermore, the large associations – which usually express their opinion about important matters of this sort – remained silent. Moreover, the political forces expressed a “minimalist” stance and did not speak out loudly, with statements in an unusually quiet language. Additionally, the voice of Jordanian parliamentarians and House of Representatives was largely absent.

Nevertheless, one article was written by the former President of the Legislation Bureau Nofan Al-Ajarmeh. Al-Ajarmeh carefully explained the legal meaning of gag order decisions, where he stated that the Public Prosecution has the right to issue gag orders in accordance with the law. He added that gag orders aim to achieve one of two things: First: Respecting the right of privacy, and Second: Preserving the confidentiality of an investigation.

On the official level, the government stopped communicating with the detained JTS Council members. This issue was not absent from the public debate. The circle of discussion started expanding after the public found out that a gag order does not mean that it is prohibited to discuss the matters that are beyond the court case events.

On the day before the new academic year, the public waited apprehensively for the official decision. Some expected that the JTS Council members’ detention would be extended, whereas others expected or preferred the decision to release them. The latter took place, and this was considered a positive message. Also, the release of the teachers was made without bail.

The first session of the court was set for the 9th of September, for the presentation of evidence by both parties. The Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (JTS) ihas legal evidence which clearly shows that the decision to dissolve the JTS Council and form a managerial committee for JTS requires procedures which were not fulfilled and can be easily appealed.

At about this point in time, new unofficial channels were launched and some summons were made to discussions. Meanwhile, the JTS Council members held on and refused to acknowledge the dissolution of their council. However, the Council does not completely exclude the option of resorting to mobilization if the government pursues the hostile procedures.

Even though the JTS experience does not exceed ten years[3], the teachers within and outside the JTS Council [and especially those in leading JTS positions] are aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Many community actors and activists view the Teachers’ movement (and especially after the successful strike) as a model for their desired social movement. This allows the Teachers’ movement a greater role in directing, specifying, and formulating the different subjects of the social struggle.

No one in Jordan can provide a clear picture of the potential developments. This is because simple events can take things to different directions.[4] In Jordan, an element such as “preserving one’s dignity” can play an important role because it means winning the public image in light of certain events. The government expressed that it is dissatisfied from the teachers’ strike, considering it an 'impermissible' method and declared that they will not allow it to be repeated. On the other hand, the teachers accuse the current Minister of being hostile to the Syndicate.

The teachers keep pointing out that they now constitute a “national case”, meaning that their cause has gone beyond the category of teachers and was elevated to a higher level in the hierarchy of national issues. Moreover, the teachers’ mobilization became more powerful through their increased presence in governorates outside the Jordanian capital and also in the central area whose role in the social movement was previously declining on the national level.

The government’s attempt to pressure and bring a lawsuit and accusations against an “uncooperative” JTS Council did not succeed. Also, the events of combating the COVID-19 pandemic and its negative effect on school attendance might have played a role in dispersing the debates and discussions. Nonetheless, the comings weeks might witness a decisive settlement and each party is working to achieve a favorable outcome. Meanwhile, it is clear that this issue remains open.

Ahmad Abu Khalil is a Jordanian writer and anthropologist. Focuses on issues of poverty, development and Jordanian social history. He Founded the magazine “Al-Mastour,”  which specialized in the issue of poverty (2005-2012). He is the editor-in-chief of the website Your Time … Yesterday’s Story, focusing on the past. All Rights Reserved To Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Regional Office Palestine. This article first appeared on the rosa luxemburg stiftung Website. Reproduced with permission

[1] In order to learn more about the events of the first wave of the public strike and confrontation, please refer to the following published article under “Rosa Paper” by visiting the following link: http://www.rosaluxemburg.ps/?p=2913&lang=ar

[2] The JTS Council, which includes 13 members, has 3 members who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the JTS Council denies any control of the Muslim Brotherhood over the Council’s work. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood denies any intervention in the JTS Council’s activities.

[3] The activities for demanding the establishment of the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (JTS) started in 2010 and the JTS was established two years later. Since then, there was the election of four JTS councils.

[4] Teachers always remember the story of the Minister of Education in 2010 at the beginning of the teachers’ calls for establishing a syndicate, where the Minister asked the teachers to “take care of their clothes and shave their beards” before asking for a syndicate. This provoked the teachers on the margins of press statements. This controversial statement also intensified the teachers’ mobilization and led to the dismissal of the Minister.

Rosa Paper is a collection of analyses and relevant viewpoints irregularly published by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Regional Office of Palestine and Jordan. The content of Rosa Papers is the sole responsibility of the author and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Regional Office of Palestine and Jordan.

The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung is one of the major institutions of political education in the Federal Republic of Germany. It serves as a forum for debate and critical thinking about political alternatives, as well as a research center for progressive social development. It is closely affiliated to the German Left Party (DIELINKE).

The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung has supported partners in Palestine since 2000, and established the Regional Office in Ramallah in 2008. Today, the office is in charge of project cooperation with partners in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, and in the Gaza Strip as well as in Jordan. This article was edited for length.

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