Lina has been elected as a new board member of Free Thought Forum in February. They are a Jordanian NGO dedicated to promoting citizen participation in political life and enhance the values of a democratic society by spreading culture and civic education.
Can you tell me a little about how FTF operates? How is it structured? What kind of people are active in it? And what kind of projects does it work on?
The Forum has been active for over 15 years, mainly working with people that ascribe to values like democracy, empowering youth and liberal values. In Jordan we don’t have a dedicated forum or NGO for liberals, so that’s the unique thing about FTF. We have a different range of ages, but I would say that the majority are studying at universities. However, there are also professional people who are working in different sectors, so the one thing we all have in common are liberal values. Since there is nothing else dedicated to liberalism in Jordan, there is a huge spectrum of different variations: there are people who like classical liberalism and people who like social liberalism; it is pretty diverse.
We have different types of projects, on which we mainly work with our partners at FNF, VVD and SILC as our values and priorities crosscut theirs. With VVD, for example, we had training courses about advocacy, solutions for education and economic challenges over the past year. We mainly conduct trainings on liberalism which help us to identify protentional members. With SILC, which is a new partner since last year, we may work on education, but unfortunately our recent work was affected by coronavirus, so we were conducting interactive sessions online.
We are partners with different international organizations. For example, I was nominated and participated in one of IFLRY’s programs; we also work with Liberal International. So, we have quite different partners and sponsors.
Are you also active politically? Do you take part in domestic politics, and if so, how?
I am not a member of any party, but a couple of our members were part of Civil Alliance, which is a secular party, but it is not entirely liberal. A couple of our members were active there, but the majority I would say are not politically active.
What are the fundamental values of FTF, and how do you work to promote these?
Throughout the past year, we had interactive sessions with the different partners, like with VVD, where we were trying to think of the challenges we have in Jordan from a liberal perspective. We want to understand how we can revive the economy, how we can push it forward, and how we can improve the educational system. I don’t know if you’re familiar with our political system, but in Jordan, the ministers and the prime minister are all appointed by the king. We have a lot of challenges where the government is the main stakeholder, so in all the interactive sessions and workshops we were trying to think how to solve these issues in a liberal way.
You have already talked about some of your international partners, what role does IFLRY play for you?
I participated last year in a training from IFLRY in Poland, about pluralism. Usually when we get the announcements about IFLRY events, we ask the participants to apply. We have come up with a new process for recommendations and applications, so we can have a better or more transparent process and people can understand why they are accepted or why they are not selected and things like this.
Is there anything that IFLRY could do that would help FTF improve? What role(s) would you like IFLRY to play in the future?
I saw that during coronavirus you were doing zoom meetings and interactive sessions in addition to the regular trainings that you conduct usually. Although everyone is doing zoom meetings now, it was interesting because a couple of those topics were from a different angle, a different perspective. So even if we are not able to fly and do a face-to-face meeting, it would be interesting to have something for the members to become involved, Such as social media, economy, ecology,etc…
What do you think FTF is good at? Why do you think so?
We have different mentalities, experiences and skills. In our membership, we have lawyers, business owners, students, so we have different perspectives. Sometimes when we are discussing for example the economic issues or challenges, we can see that people see them from different perspectives. I would say we are versatile, which is a good thing. The members themselves are volunteers in other organizations as well, so they are bringing their skills and their experiences there as well.
How do you think FTF could improve?
We were thinking of different activities and things to do. What we started to do with SILC was interesting because we tried to do simulation games. Since we started to do it during corona lockdown, it was difficult because we really have to be face to face doing it, rather than doing it online. Nonetheless, this is improving our skills and our capabilities. We are trying to diversify the activities. During the lockdown, we had different interactive sessions about agriculture, because it is a big topic in Jordan at the moment. We had something about the economy and about the environment.
We are also trying to come up with our political stances. We are not a political youth wing, but it will be interesting for the Free Thought Forum to develop and to have political stances on main issues like youth participation, state and religion, gender, LGBT, Israeli occupation in Palestine, etc.. We are trying to develop these things in collaboration with the other team members, so they can become involved in this process.
As a new board, we are trying our best to learn and listen to the members what they want and expect from us. We had one questionnaire to check what participants are expecting and what they need. Ultimately, we are trying to diversify our activities and not stick to one or two trainings only.
Is it hard to run an organization like FTF in Jordan? Are there any issues you are facing with the authorities or in the political system?
I think with authorities, no. As long as you have clearances and permissions in, so you’re getting your things legally and in the right way, that’s not an issue. But I would say that liberalism in Jordan or the Arab world has negative connotation, with people claiming we want to get rid of religion, overthrow government, and promote freedom without responsibility. This kind of misleading information and rhetoric is what other populists are using. We are trying different things in Jordan, so we not try liberalism? There is a lot of backlash against this for a very long time, so it is not easy to attract people, I would say.
Are there any specific projects/activities you are planning in the future?
Since we were elected only in February, right before Corona epidemic, we could not really do much on the ground. So, we are still in the planning phase, I would say. We are having regular board meetings to think about what to do next. Although the lockdown is a bit eased in Jordan, a lot of the activities are still virtual.