Liberty, democracy and positive change

Recently, a widely criticised cybercrime law that empowers the government to control online content was approved by Parliament. The law comes at a time when the country is going through a phase of modernising the political system that was meant to promote political activism, joining political parties and encouraging wider participation in the coming election. Despite this new law and its expected negative impact on liberties and expression of thoughts, the country needs to create a positive pro-reform atmosphere to overcome the high level of negativity and bridge the trust gap between government and citizens.

It is important to remember that democracy and liberty cannot be separated, so the promotion of political activism has one essential pillar, liberty of speech and free expression of thought. There is no doubt that many problems exist with misuse of social media which was the main driver for this new law, but controlling social media and censoring its content is hardly the solution. Practical steps to shore up the legal processes, such as accelerating the procedures of litigation, activating the Penal Code and focusing on punishing only wrongdoers without generalising, would be a far more democratic approach.

Jordan should focus more on the promotion of political culture, enhancing the political awareness of people and investing more in cultural values. This can make people more responsible and aware of their attitudes and more positively engaged in the development process. The key to more positive political engagement is for the system to be perceived positively. The concept of liberty might not exist in its absolute form anywhere, but the sense of freedom is essential to creating positive perceptions in any society.

Putting people under pressure and making them feel more restricted is more likely to encourage them to act negatively and try to get around the new laws to avoid restrictions. Therefore, it is important to realise that the more restriction we put on people, the more people will feel unattached and less interested in engaging in society, and politics.

There is no democracy without a pluralist political culture which promotes diversity and tolerance towards criticism. At the same time, unsatisfied people, opposition to governments and even criticism of officials is becoming a global trend, and not limited to one country. Therefore, facing this challenge requires a long-term vision inspired by the need for cultural change in social attitudes, increasing the sense of responsibility and make people feel more involved in the political scene.

Putting an end to reckless online behaviour and exploitation of social media is critical. But it is also important not to leave grey areas where personal interpretations might play a role in targeting people, or those who express their thoughts or opinions. Having a different opinion and diverse views is a healthy sign for a democracy, as diversity and pluralism are essential parts for political activism.

Dr.Amer Al Sabaileh