I grew up in Amman in the early 1980′s, an era characterized by a notable lack of democratic processes or any form of freedom of expression.
As a child and young adult, I regularly heard about tragic incidents that happened to family members and friends on a regular basis: mistreatment at hospitals, embezzlement, discrimination, unchecked domestic abuse, corrupt government employees, basic human rights violations – you name it.
We Jordanians would hear about such events, get distressed, and do absolutely nothing, swallowing our pride and moving on regardless of the scars left behind. It was our survival mechanism. We had no choice but to move on since no one would listen and we were always worried about the harsh repercussions of speaking up.
Times have changed. I was thrilled and excited recently to see a group of Jordanians speaking up and rallying for a cause in an organized manner that yielded tangible results.
The campaign took place on the Internet, a medium which is having an impact in developing countries with mediocre democratic records, where speaking up online (using an alias in most cases) helps reduce or eliminate possible repercussions like jail time or a hefty fine.
In Jordan, it happened last month when a Jordanian blogger using the alias “Who-Sane”, posted an entry on his English-language blog entitled “Nine Miserable Days” in which he detailed the horror that he and his family underwent following the disappearance of his father.
After searching for him for over a week in various hospitals, his family found him at Prince Hamza hospital in a horrendous state. He was left naked on a bed without any proper treatment after being admitted following a spike in his blood pressure that caused him to lose consciousness while driving in an area near the hospital. He had not been provided with any food or water and was simply left there to rot. Most shockingly, the hospital never attempted to contact any of his family members despite the fact that he carried his ID with him.
This is how “Who Sane” (whose real name is, of course, Hussein) described his father’s ordeal:
“Because the hospital is really bad and I can’t begin to explain how horrible it is, my dad ended up with a) a brain seizure, b) severe pneumonia, c) kidney malfunction and d) blood infection. All which he picked up and was caused by his stay at the Prince Hamza Butchery (that’s what we’re calling it now).”
As soon as Hussein posted the story on his blog, Jordanian bloggers reacted swiftly. They linked to the story of the heinous incident, translated it into Arabic and condemned the horrific treatment given to the father of their fellow blogger.
It was the biggest unanimous campaign ever launched by the Jordanian blogosphere, which is only a few years old.
Bloggers contacted newspapers and talked with officials. Jordanian blogger Batir Wardam, who is also a journalist, took things to the next level by publishing two stories about the ordeal of Hussein’s father in the local daily Ad Dustour. Other media outlets later picked up the story as well after Wardam’s articles got the ball rolling. Wardam was then contacted by officials from the health ministry who wanted to get in touch with Hussein and his family.
A few days later, Hussein reported on his blog that his father (who was transferred to another hospital) was visited by the Health Minster, Salah Al Mawajdeh, . Al-Mawajdeh, who represented King Abdullah, assured Hussein’s father that a “rigorous investigation is currently in place to identify those who committed the mistakes and punish them.”
Watching these developments unfold before my eyes was jaw-dropping. What I saw plain as day was that a group of young Jordanian bloggers had succeeded in causing a national conversation on the dire situation of the hospital that was supposed to be one of the top facilities in the country after its inauguration by King Abdullah last year.
Their expos√© revealed that this facility, which cost around $100 million, is in terrible shape and immediate intervention is needed. It was bloggers that uncovered the tragedy and brought it to the public’s attention, not traditional media or concerned officials.
This was Jordan’s Walter Reed story. But unlike the US where the horrific situation of the veteran’s hospital was exposed by the Washington Post investigative reporters, this story was brought into the limelight not by investigative reporters, but by dedicated bloggers who might not have had formal journalistic training but had enough zeal and passion to expose the tragedy.
The traditional government-controlled media no longer has a monopoly in Jordan.
Nothing can be hidden or spun for long. Everything gets exposed eventually through these alternative media outlets available to all Jordanians. These determined Jordanian bloggers, who are proving to be their nation’s Woodwards and the Bernsteins deserve congratulations.
Natasha Tynes is a Jordanian journalist based in Washington, DC. Her blog can be seen at http://www.natashatynes.com