Jordan leans on critics to quit

November 5, 1999


Two human rights organisations have claimed that high-level political interference led to the resignation of a senior academic at Jordan University.

Human Rights Watch's academic freedom committee and the Committee on Academic Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa protested at a series of forced resignations at the university, including that of Mustafa Hamarneh, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies.

Dr Hamarneh resigned under pressure in July. His successor, Salah Bashir, handed in his resignation in late September.

In a letter to Walid Ma'ani, president of the university, the organisations wrote that "Hamarneh was ousted as a direct result of political pressure from Jordan's prime minister, Abdur-Ra'uf Rawabdeh, and the chief of the General Intelligence Directorate, Samih al-Battikhi".

The letter said that Dr Hamarneh resigned "after being told that if he did not resign the centre would be closed and its activities, including support for a number of Jordanians studying abroad, would be terminated". Copies were also sent to King Abdallah and to Mr Rawabdeh.

Dr Hamarneh, who was director for seven years, still works in the centre as a researcher. Dr Bashir, who had been a member of the law faculty before becoming director, has resigned from the university altogether. Neither was available for comment.

The centre has built up a reputation for tackling controversial subjects, unusual in Jordan's traditionally cautious press and academic environment. Its activities include research into the environment and economics, Israeli studies and, most controversially, public opinion polls. Findings frequently contrast with official government figures - for example, the centre puts unemployment at per cent compared with the official figure of 17 per cent.

While the authorities view the centre's work with suspicion, it has earned Dr Hamarneh respect abroad. Jonathan Fanton, co-chair of the HRW academic freedom committee, said: "Dr Hamarneh turned the centre into one of the few independent social science research and training facilities in the Arab world. It sometimes published information the government didn't appreciate."

Dr Hamarneh turned the centre from a small organisation working from a two room office into a centre with a worldwide reputation employing seven full-time staff and funding five PhD students abroad.

He achieved this with the help of funding from private institutions based in Jordan. When he resigned, sources said that several of these institutions suspended their funding. As a result, research due to be released in early October had to be delayed.

Staff are uncertain of their future. One, who did not want to be named, described events as "a hijacking". "We do not want to see happen here what happens in many third-world countries: that the centre becomes an office for retired military personnel."

Figures released by the centre at the end of October are particularly damning of the government's performance. They show public confidence in Mr Rawabdeh's government to be at an all-time low - 26.6 per cent. Although this research is likely to bring back funding from independent institutions, it will make the centre even more unpopular with the government.

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