Jordan’s citizens have responded to events in Tunisia and Egypt with their own protests. King Abdullah is trying to respond to their grievances. On Monday he sacked the government and names a new prime minister. Marco Werman speaks with Jordan’s Prince Hassan bin Talal, the uncle of King Abdullah and brother of the late King Hussein about what steps the new prime minister should take to help usher in political reform in Jordan and what the West needs to do help it along. Download MP3
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MARCO WERMAN: The crisis in Egypt, and the one in Tunisia earlier, has sent a clear message to leaders throughout the Middle East: Ignore the peoples’ grievances at your own peril. Jordan’s King Abdullah has moved swiftly. This week the king sacked his government and named a new Prime Minister, Marouf Bakhit. He ordered Mr. Bakhit to take practical, quick, and tangible steps to launch true political reforms. Prince Hassan bin Talal is King Abdullah’s uncle and a member of Jordan’s Royal Family. He is also the brother to the late King Hussein.
MARCO WERMAN: Prince Hassan, have you been encouraging your nephew, King Abdullah, to open up to democratic reform?
PRINCE HASSAN BIN TALAL: Well, this has been the writing on the wall for very many years. I mean, with my late brother, King Hussein, he did much of the involvement in international relations and I was, basically, involved with national priorities. But I think that the problem with security is that everyone has assumed, particularly with the war on terror, that we are only useful to the United States and the Western Alliance in Afghanistan or in Iraq or whatever it may be. If we are on the side of the good guys. And, unfortunately, the populist movements are really gaining ground on the basis of association with fighting this new imperialism. This is how it is seen in this part of the world.
WERMAN: You and your nephew, King Abdullah, along with many other Arab leaders, have been educated in the West, and you know the benefits of Democracy. Why is it taking so long, in a place like Jordan, to embrace Democracy and where does the push-back come from?
BIN TALAL: Well, I don’t want to look to outside the region, but I do want to say when, you know, this business of, well you can hold an election, for example, and Hamas can win that election. But if it does so, please remember, it will be on the terror list. As Jimmy Carter said, you know, “Getting onto the terror list is easy, but getting off of it is almost impossible.” I know, I’m not advocating that Muslim idealogs should get onto any democratic list any more than Jewish or Christian idealogs. I don’t think monopolizers of the truth can make headway. But these monopolizers of the truth are not only the idealogs but also the states. Everyone wants it just so. To serve their own interests. So there is an oppression of fundamental freedoms, in terms of this symbiosis, or this partnership, between countries who see themselves allied with the West. And with those Western countries who want business to continue as usual.
WERMAN: Although, we should point out that the Muslim Brotherhood is not on the State Department’s Terror Watch List. Maybe you could just elaborate a bit more on what Arab leaders are afraid of, opening up quickly to democracy.
BIN TALAL: Well, the Muslim Brotherhood is a basic organization, or alliance of organizations, that, of course, is not on the Terror Watch List any more than it’s supportive of al-Qaeda. But, unfortunately, the basic problem is discrimination against anything that smells, even remotely, of Islamic identity. Which is playing directly into the lap of the extremists. As far as what Arab countries are afraid of, it’s not a new Jasmine Revolution, as in Tunisia. I know they were talking about the Jasmine Revolution. Or the Facebook and Twitter legalist generations who have compelled Tunisians to go out and recover their dignity. I think that, basically, it’s a clash of legitimacy. Legitimacies of state power, legitimacy of the street. I personally believe that no civil society can work without a clearly focused population. And this is where good governance has just broken down. That’s basically what it is. And good governance is not just sitting back and listening to security reports.
WERMAN: So, Prince Hassan, say you sit down with the new Prime Minister of Jordan, Marouf Bakhit, what is the first thing you suggest he do?
BIN TALAL: Well, I think that a focus on a regional database, starting with a national database, which takes human, natural, and economic resources. It’s there, it can be touched up, it can be put in place. And correcting poverty, I think, requires addressing the structural injustices which underly poverty. And one of the main structural injustices is this whole issue of the refugees in their different categories. How long can we continue to talk about them as though they didn’t exist?
WERMAN: And you’re referring to Palestinian refugees, of course?
BIN TALAL: Not only Palestinian refugees, but Palestinian, Iraqi. I mean, we have received the equivalent of forty million people arriving in relation to the population of the United States arriving on the shores of America. And nobody recognizes what hospitality Jordan has offered.
WERMAN: So you think establishing, to start with, this database, can create some kind of transparent system whereby, you know, a Jordanian Bedouin nomad might see connection, might see a sense of ownership in Jordanian Airlines, for example?
BIN TALAL: Yes, I mean, our model is Canada. You go an HD, Human Development, office in Ottawa and you end up finding a job in the Yukon and you go there. But, moving towards a skills based, a merit based community, is what it’s about.
WERMAN: Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, thank you, very much indeed, for your time.
BIN TALAL: Thank you very much.
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