Boys Are Not Defective –The Atlantic


This article looks at an interesting development in the Middle East. Across the region, girls and young women do markedly better in school than boys and young men, even in the sciences.

  • “In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.”

The conclusion the article reaches is surprising. It questions the common assumption that Middle Eastern women succeed in education because their lives are controlled and distractions are minimized.  Rather than argue women study harder because they have nothing else to do, this article argues the problem may be in the quality of education boys and young men receive and the dynamics created by gender-segregated class-rooms

  • “…boys’ schools are more violent places, concluded the study, which was funded by USAID. Over half of the boys interviewed said they’d experienced some kind of bullying in school over the previous year. Only 11 percent of girls said the same thing. Two-thirds of male teachers said they’d witnessed physical violence among students in the past year—compared with less than a quarter of female teachers.”
  • Boys also reported worse relationships with their male teachers. Only 40 percent of male students interviewed said they believed their teachers cared about how well they did in school—compared with 74 percent of girls.” “…male teachers in all-boys schools were more likely to belittle or punish students for getting the wrong answer. And boys were much more likely than girls to complain about their male teachers’ tendencies to beat students and shout at them.”

Their explanation for this pattern was a mix of political economy and cultural norms:

  • “Teachers do not earn a lot of money in Jordan, but men are still expected to be the primary breadwinners in families. So male teachers are more likely to work second or third jobs as tutors or even taxi drivers in order to augment their small salaries. One Jordanian student told me about a male biology teacher he’d had who was so exhausted by his two other jobs that he used to close the blinds in first period and go to sleep.”
  • “On average Jordan’s male teachers—who have mostly gone through the same educational system themselves—do worse on the national entry test for teaching, according to Ministry of Education data. This suggests in turn that boys might be encountering less-prepared teachers on average. “Male teachers are hard to come by, and good male teachers are even harder,””
  • “The problem, Osman and his colleagues concluded, was not simply boys’ freedom or male teachers’ preparation. It was all that and more. Through surveys and other analysis, they identified a long list of factors that were interacting like a chemical equation, which is the unsexy secret about how education systems usually work. Not just teacher quality but students’ sense of safety, their study habits, and the subtleties of the boy and girl peer cultures all converge to create a healthy—or toxic—brew.”

Along the way, the article discusses the need to empower men: “We used to say, empowering women, and now we talk about empowering men,” Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi, the undersecretary for education and curriculum in Oman, says. In patriarchal societies this may seem a bit whiny, but it’s not:

  • “Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.”

In the context of the Middle East, that disengagement one must wonder if it also leads to political radicalization…



Jordan is Sliding Toward Insolvency -Carnegie Endowment for Peace


This article provides an interesting overview of Jordan’s worsening economic situation. About 79% of the budget is covered by revenue. The remaining 20%+ is covered by a combination of debt and foreign aid. Not surprisingly, Jordan’s absolute debt has more than doubled in less than 5 years and there is little hope in sight. There does not seem to be much of an economic recovery plan and the economy is increasingly taxed by the refugee crisis.
Some of the “highlights”:
• The 2016 budget accounts for total expenses of 8.496 billion dinars ($11.983 billion), total revenues of 7.589 billion dinars ($10.704 billion), and a deficit of 907 million dinars ($1.279 billion), or about three percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Revenues are further divided into $9.558 billion from internal sources, such as customs and fees, and foreign aid of $1.148 billion….
• …Combined, this means that of overall 2016 spending ($14.7 billion), roughly 79 percent is covered by revenues ($11.6 billion), 9 percent by aid ($1.3 billion), and 12 percent is new debt ($1.8 billion).
• …an increase of $3.2 billion in the national debt in 2015—including regular deficit, new electricity debt, and accumulated interest—brought Jordan’s debt-to-GDP ratio to 90 percent and more than doubled its absolute debt in less than five years.
• ….Jordan is increasingly turning to foreign aid to offset its debt, particularly from the United States and the Gulf. The Congressional Research Service reports that 2016 U.S. aid for Jordan is set at “not less than” $1.275 billion, with additional aid above that level available through separate military provisions. While U.S. economic aid to Jordan dates back to 1951, it has increased substantially in recent years, and was still below $400 million per year in 2011, increasing to $700 million in 2014.

How to Make Enemies and Influence People: Why ISIS’s atrocities will destroy it. -Slate


“ISIS set out to inspire hatred. It has succeeded, but not in the way it intended. “These people are in many ways their own worst enemies,” one expert told the New York Times. “You just have to give them time and space and their extremity will alienate their own base.” ISIS has ignited itself. Now it will burn.”

There have been a number of these “backlash” articles written since a Jordanian pilot was burned alive by IS. The Jordanians like the French after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, have reacted with defiance. King Abdullah donned a military uniform, invoked Clint Eastwood and promised revenge.
The basic point being made by this article and other like it is that the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have finally gone too far and that their violent excesses will ultimately be their undoing. This is an attractive argument on several levels. On the surface, it suggests that IS and AQAP are on the wane and things will start getting better now. On a deeper level, it reassures us that the moral order of the universe remains intact: bad behavior does not get rewarded.
As comforting as all of this is, there are reasons to be skeptical. To begin with, the anti-IS sentiment we are seeing now in Jordan is not really anything new. Although there are Salafi groups in the country and some support for IS, opinion polls indicated that most of Jordanian society considered IS to be a terrorist group well before the immolation of their pilot. Indeed, opinion polls across the region showed the same pattern, IS has never had widespread popular support. Moreover, Jordan is unlikely to make a long term commitment to the war against IS either in Syria or Iraq. Jordan’s military capacity is limited, and even more importantly, the situation is just too messy. As much anger as there is directed toward IS, the Hashemite Kingdom has no love for the Assad regime or Iran. Fighting one enemy therefore means helping another. Right now, Abdullah is playing to the crowd, and he seems to be doing a pretty good job of it. But leading the country to war is another thing altogether.
Similarly, it is true that the Charlie Hebdo massacre provoked a backlash in France, but this hardly means that the attack was counter-productive. The Kouachi brothers, who perpetrated the attack, may have hoped to intimidate the French press, but AQAP who claimed responsibility for the attack, has wider goals. For them, like most terrorist groups, “the worse things get, the better they are”. More cartoons and an anti-Muslim backlash in France mean more social tensions, more Muslim alienation, and ultimately more recruits. It also raised their profile at a time that when IS was hogging the headlines. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being hated if you are AQAP, is not being hated.
Both AQAP and IS also use violence to build their identity. While Islam gives them the symbols to protect, like the image of the prophet Muhammad, it is the beheadings, the immolation and the sectarian cleansing that gives these groups a sense of who they are. Indeed, many of their followers knew little of Islam before they were recruited, buying books like “Islam for Dummies” before shipping out to Syria. They are driven by anger, not religious fervor. They are attracted to the violence.
All of this is not to say that terrorist organizations are unstoppable. Rather the point is that political violence is complex: it can have multiple purposes and its impact differs over time. Being defiant alone is not enough.

Fighting Fire With Fire: Jordan’s Risky Strategy Against the Islamic State -Carnegie Foundation


“Support for terrorist groups inside Jordan is already worrying. According to a late-September survey, only 62 percent of the population believed the Islamic State is a terrorist group, while only 31 percent viewed members of the Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, as terrorists. Jordanian analysts fear that the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and the Nusra Front will increase the support for these groups, given the widespread popular resentment of U.S. policies in the region. This is especially true because the United States is fighting the Islamic State, a Sunni group, while avoiding attacks on the root of Syria’s troubles, its president, Bashar al-Assad.”

Islamic State crisis: Jordan’s battle on two fronts -BBC


Jordan has largely been forgotten in the IS crisis. Historically, Jordan has often found itself surrounded by instability. It has been stuck in the geopolitical middle between Israel and stronger, more radical Arab neighbors. It has also been the first destination for refugees from regional conflicts; Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, Iraqis after the 2003 invasion and Syrians after the start of the civil war. Now, IS is knocking at the door.