On the surface, student elections in Jordan are very similar to those in the UK; in both countries, candidates print leaflets and banners and canvas for votes. In reality, however, the Jordanian elections are a far cry from those in Oxford. Whilst violence darkens the campuses of Jordanian Universities during student elections, Oxford currently has a joke candidate as its OUSU President. Student politics is heavily debated and can sometimes be controversial in the UK, on occasion leading to protest, but it is difficult to imagine someone being hospitalised or worse because they support a certain candidate. This, however, is not infrequent at Jordanian universities, which see fights and deaths almost every year.
Whilst this year’s student elections for OUSU ran smoothly – with the biggest mishap being a need to recount the votes – the elections at the University in the Jordanian capital, Amman, were postponed from the end of 2014 to March 2015. This was partly due to the violence that had hit educational institutes elsewhere across the kingdom in December during the period of student elections.
This violence stems from tribal rivalries and allegiances which dominate not just student politics but Jordan’s politics as a whole. In a country where giving people two votes – one for their tribal and family allegiances and one for their political preference – was considered (but not passed), it is clear that tribal politics dominates all areas of life.
2013 saw a particularly violent year in Jordanian student politics, with five students dead by June due to the violence. In March 2013, a conflict between two students in a University in the central town of Karak turned into a fight involving Molotov cocktails after armed men from the students’ tribes waded in. The clashes ended with the death of a student and the fight was solved only through a temporary tribal truce. In April of the same year, a fight between two students became an open battle in a university in the south of the country when tribal supporters of students poured onto campus with weapons. Four people, one of whom was a professor, died, and the university closed its doors for a month. Violence is highest in the south of the country and in rural areas; there, tribes are the strongest identity referent for many students. These tribal tensions spill over into student elections, with students and the general public fighting to ensure that the candidate from their tribe wins.
This year, although there was widespread violence in the student elections in the south of the country, it was less serious than in 2013. The Jordanian University elections that had been postponed due to the violence were held relatively peacefully. However, there was a small scuffle after some outsiders tried to enter the university, and there was a constant police presence outside the university throughout the election period.
We would do well to learn from our fellow students in Jordan: student politics can have a big influence on national politics, and many people who hold important positions in Student Unions go on to play prominent roles in society in the future, both in Jordan and in the UK. Whilst we should encourage more engagement in student politics in Oxford and hope that the government and people in power take student politics more seriously in the UK, we must be grateful that our elections can be held peacefully.