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Transcript: The king and the people!
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Last Modified: 09 Oct 2012 08:13

This is the full transcript for The Cafe episode: The king and the people!

Mehdi Hasan:
It has a population of less than seven million people, no oil and relies on aid from its rich neighbours and its friends in the west. But a combination of geography and history has blessed or, depending on your perspective, cursed, the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.

With a critical role in the politics of the Middle East, the Israel-Palestine conflict and of course the Arab Spring.

Hello and welcome to The Café, I'm Mehdi Hasan and this week we're in Amman to discover what the future holds for a country plagued by corruption and economic stagnation and with a population divided between ethnic Jordanians and marginalised Palestinians.

But it isn't just the Palestinians who are disgruntled, the opposition to the regime ranges from the Muslim brotherhood, to the middle classes, to the former army generals and Bedouin tribal leaders that the ruling royal family has traditionally relied on for support.

Criticism of King Abdullah and his wife, the glamorous Queen Rania, is now commonplace here in the capital city, the question is, do Jordanians want reform or a revolution? Let's find out.

Joining us in The Café today are; Mohammad Halaiqa, a former deputy prime minister who served in four consecutive governments under King Abdullah and is credited with introducing economic and legal reforms. Dima Tahboub is a member of Jordan's Muslim brotherhood and represents a new progressive trend within the organisation. She emphasises the Islamic identity of the kingdom of Jordan. Jamal Tahat is the co-founder of the public assembly for reform, an organisation that advocates a constitutional monarchy. He thinks the royal family has squandered the country's resources. Lina Shannak is a blogger, her articles tackle the contentious issue of national identity, particularly the split between Jordanians of Palestinian descent and the Bedouin tribes. Nabil El-Sharif: is a former minister of information and government spokesman, he also served as head of Jordan's media institute and is now an influential political columnist. And Khaled Jarrar is an Islamist blogger who believes that the ruling secular elite doesn't represent the majority of religious Jordanians.

Thank you very much for joining me here in The Café, I want to kick off first with you Mohammad. We are seeing protests, unrest across the Middle East, we have a king here in Jordan who's been on the throne 13 years, his father King Hussein was king for nearly 50 years. How much trouble is King Abdullah in do you think?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Well I think… despite the fact that we had demonstrations for more than one year now, I personally still believe that the throne and the Hashemite family is well established in Jordan. We disagree on a lot of things as Jordanians but probably the one thing we agree is that the ruling family is there and all Jordanians are attached to this ruling premise. Having said that I think many of us also demand reform and deep reform rather than cosmetic reform. And the fact that not a single blood drop was shed during all these protests and I think that's a good sign.

Mehdi Hasan:
Jamal, Mohammad says that all Jordanians or most Jordanians are still attached to the royal family, do Jordanians in general still support the monarchy, in you view?

Jamal Tahat:
I don't think the question in Jordan is about the continuity or discontinuity of the royal family, the question in Jordan about how the new rules of continuity. If the King accepts these new rules, I think he has the opportunity to continue. Everyone in the Country who is legally engaged in politics, he thinks that the power to practice now in Jordan is not accepted anymore. More and more voices start asking for the regime change, new voices asking…

Mehdi Hasan:
Jamal regime change means getting rid of the regime.

Jamal Tahat:
Yes, this is it.

Mehdi Hasan:
Including the monarchy.

Jamal Tahat:
Yes, including the monarchy, now the question is the people, more and more they feel that after one year or nearly 18 months of calling for a democracy and demonstrating and shouting, we want these reforms to take place. And the King sort of ignoring the public demand but after 18 months people start losing their patience.

Mehdi Hasan:
Okay, Dima do Jordanians want reforms or do they want a revolution?

Dima Tahboub:
I think no, our calls for reform are below the regime, I agree that the Hashemite's have to be there, have to stay in power but the reform has to be below them. But I think what has happened in Jordan that the reform was cosmetic, was artificial, was superficial, I don't think we achieved anything. After one year we are back at zero point or even below, nothing really happened, the West's intervention was very bad for the people of Jordan because they sort of gave the green light to the King that what you did was okay and you needn't do any more reform. The thing is that Jordan is good at selling itself to the West, you know we go there or here and there and they come to us, stage managed visits here and there and we're good at promoting ourselves. The Syrian problem also affected Jordan because the situation is not solved until now, so this has had a negative effect on Jordan. So they rested assured that nothing would happen in Jordan, the public demand is not that strong also, the people are not exerting enough pressure on the regime to take actual reform and strong changes.

Mehdi Hasan:
Khaled let me bring you in, the US NGO, Freedom House ranks countries by their democratic credentials and on their list Jordan is ranked as not free, is that a fair assessment?

Khaled Jarrar:
It depends really how you see it, in Jordan there isn't a written line for where is the line of freedom, you cannot see exactly where is it, is this something going to get you in trouble or not? We have international, let's say opinion, that has not been strong enough in demand of any kind of reform. I believe that the biggest problem is we do not have any internal will, I think there isn't any real involvement from enough people. As a person, I'm not in the government, I'm not a journalist, I don't keep like a close eye on what's happening, I'm a person living in Jordan, I have not seen a demonstration and the government up until now, the system until now has been more or less ignoring them.

Mehdi Hasan:
Interesting.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
But sorry the fact that we're here in a café in Amman and Jamal is saying here, telling us that unless the regime changes it will be changed and he is saying there are some voices calling for that. I think that's an indication of how free Jordan is.

Mehdi Hasan:
Is it true there's a law in this Country that puts you behind bars if you criticise the King, is that true?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Not if you criticise the King, no, no.

Mehdi Hasan:
Yes, no which one?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Not if you criticise the King, you can criticise the King but you cannot curse the King or say bad words about the King.

Mehdi Hasan: Lina wants to come in.

Lina Shannak:
I think that you can tell when it's right or when it's wrong to criticise the King. Some people criticise the King and they say very daring thoughts I would say and they were never prosecuted. On the other hand there are some people who were actually behind the bars for criticising the King as is the case of the activists in the Country.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me bring in Nabil, one second, you are a journalist, you are someone who sees this and you write about this, free speech is a great element of democracy, how free is Jordan 18 months on from the Arab Spring, in your view?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Press freedom in Jordan is not unanimous, you would find some people, on the websites for instance, writing things that traditional journalists would not even dream of, whereas people who have been trained in the old school are still reluctant. So in general you are not going to be prosecuted for something you write, unless you write something against the laws. So press freedom really is improving, it's part of the debate now also. What I am not sure of actually is that the palace, the King is part of the debate, it is not part of the debate in Jordan.

Mehdi Hasan:
He's above the debate.

Nabil El-Sharif:
He's above the debate, it's not part of the debate.

Mehdi Hasan:
So locate for me where the debate is.

Nabil El-Sharif: The debate is about reform…

Mehdi Hasan:
Of what?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …political reform…

Mehdi Hasan: Parliament?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Of course parliament, what parliament do we want? How effective should it be? How independent…

Mehdi Hasan:
But doesn't the King appoint the government in Jordan?

Nabil El-Sharif:
No he does but the King himself said that I hope in the very near future we will be able to form governments along parliamentary…

Mehdi Hasan:
So elected prime ministers?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Elected parliaments yes.

Mehdi Hasan:
Jamal.

Jamal Tahat:
Mehdi, the recent constitutional changes, actually it enhanced the King's authority in the Country, even over judicial system which is very strange in the 21st century that the King wants authority over the judicial system. Mohammad Halaiqa: But the constitution says he's the head of…

Jamal Tahat:
Yeah this is the changes…

Mehdi Hasan:
He said change the constitution.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
No I'm saying this has been always the case.

Jamal Tahat:
This is exactly, no it's not always the case, okay, what we are asking for is our judicial system and the judiciary powers should be elected by judges not nominated by the King and not appointed by the King and this is the first rule.

Mehdi Hasan:
Nabil mentioned the government, changing the powers of government, you were once Deputy Prime Minister in government. My understanding is that in the last 18 months there have been four different prime ministers, under King Abdullah since 1999 there have been ten prime ministers in 13 years. Now, either all the prime ministers in Jordan are incompetent or the problem lies somewhere else am I wrong?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Well yeah I think probably the selection, the criteria of selection might be wrong and we all criticise quick changes of governments and governments coming for short terms and taking decisions which have a long term effect, that process is being criticised.

Mehdi Hasan:
But he's not using the Prime Minister as a shield to deflect attention, to deflect criticism.

Mohammad Halaiqa: It could be that's part of the internal politics, that's always the case. If he selects a prime minister, if he does something good then the credit goes to the whole system, if he does something bad or wrong he takes the responsibility.

Mehdi Hasan:
But the King never takes responsibility.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
The King doesn't take any responsibility by constitution. This is why the King has said that I hope in future parliament a government would be formed from the parliament itself, from political parties and this is the change we want.

Jamal Tahat:
We should accept principles, a country a modern and modernised democratic country should have not two wills, now we have the will of the people and the will of the King, this situation should not last.

Dima Tahboub:
It was the intelligence department.

Jamal Tahat:
Actually the King should submit to the will of the people and should be a symbol.

Mehdi Hasan:
Jamal do you think he will?

Jamal Tahat:
I think he must do that.

Mehdi Hasan:
Will he?

Nabil El-Sharif:
I think he will definitely and we are headed in that direction, not from today, not from the Arab Spring but early on, as early as King Abdullah assumes his powers.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you support an elected prime minister?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Yes definitely.

Mehdi Hasan:
Does everyone around the table support an elected prime minister? All together Yes we do, we all want an elected prime minister.

Mehdi Hasan:
Okay, so you all support it, here's a question, who thinks there will be an elected prime minister any time in the near future?

Jamal Tahat:
I do.

Mehdi Hasan:
You do.

Nabil El-Sharif:
Yes, I'm sure it will happen.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you Lina?

Lina Shannak:
I sincerely wish it would happen.

Mehdi Hasan:
But you sound not keen and Khaled?

Lina Shannak:
No I mean the state sends mixed signals all the time, so it's hard to understand.

Khaled Jarrar:
For me as a person I cannot see it, I still see there's a huge disconnection between the street and the government altogether, between the street and the parliament, like the parliament does not represent us. I definitely know what the problem is and the way it's elected or the problem and whatever system is like bringing them to parliament we think we see them as people that represent a very small minority that have very little connection to the demands and to the identity of the street even. So I think we have a problem at multiple levels, now I think people are less concerned with the idea of changing monarchy to a presidential system or whatever other system, I'm more concerned with the way the powers are distributed and how at the end of the day it will affect their daily life.

Mehdi Hasan: As an outsider, as someone who's observed what's gone on in other Arab countries which have been on the verge of reform and revolution, one key agency that pops up every time is the intelligence services. You tell me how much power does the Jordanian Intelligence Services wield right now?

Khaled Jarrar: From my personal observation is that it is very powerful, that it has a strong hand in making key decisions in the Country. And still it is a feared party, now when I'm coming here, like my family and friends are telling me like ‘Be aware, do not criticise too much, maybe some damage will happen, they'll put you away'.

Mehdi Hasan:
People are warning you against when you are coming to be on this programme?

Khaled Jarrar:
Of course before I come here.

Mehdi Hasan:
You seem very relaxed about it.

Khaled Jarrar:
I'm not, no.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Jamal himself went on local TV stations many times and I listened to him and he was very critical…

Jamal Tahat:
Yes.

Mehdi Hasan:
Have you ever been arrested?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
And even very critical of the regime and the King himself and he is still alive.

Jamal Tahat:
Being free and alive it's not a virtue, it's my right.

Mehdi Hasan:
It's a right.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
I agree it's a right, yeah.

Jamal Tahat:
And what is really annoying now in the Country, when they are speaking about, let's go gradual reform, it's very similar to the logic of colonialists, during the colonial era the coloniser said ‘listen, when you are modernised enough and developed enough you will sit independent'.

Mehdi Hasan:
Get your independence.

Jamal Tahat:
But now the King says the same.

Mehdi Hasan:
Hold on Jamal, let me bring Mohammad in, when you were in government did you feel like the government the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Cabinet had power over the system or did you feel that power lay elsewhere, in the palace with the Intelligence Services?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
No, they had power in running the Country, there are certain issues where the government does not have that much power. When it comes to foreign policy that's a matter in the hands of His Majesty, when it comes to security issues and so on it's in the hands of the intelligence, there is no question about it. But running the economy, running the Country, daily life, that's in the hands of the government.

Mehdi Hasan:
Lina you wanted to come in earlier.

Lina Shannak:
I wanted to comment actually on the power of the Intelligence Services and I tell you that it's very powerful and it's present in every arena in the Kingdom. Number one; I admit that I as a person was always warned against delving into politics or saying anything political, in university, in school, even now we are warned. In schools we were told not to bring up anything political. That's one, number two; nobody speaks feely on the phone because we know that it's bugged, we use codes to say anything that we want.

Mehdi Hasan:
But you're a blogger, how do you blog, if you're restricted?

Lina Shannak:
I do practice self censorship but not as before I admit, and I always have my worries, I do worry actually about getting a call, I do worry about that but at the end of the day I'd love to see a better future for my Country so I have to speak up.

Mehdi Hasan:
Khaled.

Khaled Jarrar:
All of us, I do not, for example, I do not believe that they're listening to our phones but I believe that there is a fear at the back of the head of each of us thinking that we will do the wrong word one day and we will fall, you know and we have this fear. Whether we're blogging, whether we're a journalist or whether we're in a public debate, you'll be worried who's sitting on the next table.

Khaled Jarrar:
We have this in the back of our minds, this is limiting our freedom.

Mehdi Hasan:
How long can this continue?

Jamal Tahat:
All dictators, they are ruling by the impact of fears and to liberate people from fears it's the first step to repair the Country and to repair the political system.

Nabil El-Sharif:
What does that have to do with Jordan?

Jamal Tahat:
Actually we need to repair…

Mehdi Hasan:
What does that have to do with Jordan?

abil El-Sharif:
Talking about dictators what does that have to do with Jordan?

Mehdi Hasan:
You don't think King Abdullah is a dictator?

Jamal Tahat:
Do you think he's not? He is not a dictator, may I just go back to that economic issue if you allow me just one minute. You know when the King interfere in the economic arenas, he interfere in land, he actually interfere in selling public lands to private sector. He interferes in you know privatising public companies, he said it many times.

Nabil El-Sharif:
This is an exaggeration.

Jamal Tahat:
No he said it many times, he wants to bring food to everyone in the Country on the table, it's not his job… he should admit that it's not his job.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you think King Abdullah is a dictator?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
No, I don't think he's a dictator.

Jamal Tahat:
If he wants to interfere in policy he is.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
When you have a certain degree of democracy, freedom of speech, you have parliament, you have constitution amendment, you have…

Mehdi Hasan:
Freedom of speech and being told by you fellow panellists that they are worried about speaking on the phone.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Well I'm not but probably that is the psychology background which Khaled described.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let Dima give an example.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
But that doesn't happen in a dictatorship.

Mehdi Hasan:
Listen to Dima, Dima come in.

Dima Tahboub:
You know the previous Prime Minister said in an interview with the Economist, he said we have three governments in Jordan, we have the actual government, we have a government of the intelligence and we have the government of the royal court.

Dima Tahboub:
We agree with that because there is a…

Mehdi Hasan:
You were saying you were prevented from being appointed.

Dima Tahboub:
Yeah I was prevented also from being appointed in a public university, although there was a decision taken by the department in that faculty and I was prevented because of my political affiliations.

Mehdi Hasan:
Because you were with the Muslim Brotherhood?

Dima Tahboub:
Yeah, so yeah exactly so the levels of prosecution that they were talking about it's not only you know going into jail, this is maybe the maximum but there are other levels of prosecution.

Mehdi Hasan:
Okay, Jamal.

Jamal Tahat:
Maybe the King he is not a butcher, he is not a killer but he is a dictator because he actually monopolise all sort of power between his hands… this is a dictator.

Mehdi Hasan:
Jamal what would you say to those people who say in a region that you're in, in the dangerous neighbourhood you're in…

Jamal Tahat:
Yes he is not a killer.

Mehdi Hasan:
…not that he's not a killer but he provides stability to Jordan in a dangerous neighbourhood.

Jamal Tahat:
Actually I don't think stability it's the virtue of one man, stability is the virtue of the entire society because also Jordanians are keen to keep their stability, it's not only the King.

Mehdi Hasan:
What about the international dimension to this, do you think there's any pressure on King Abdullah to carry out reforms? Jamal Tahat: I don't think there is enough pressure in this regard.

Mehdi Hasan:
Because he's an ally?

Jamal Tahat:
Yes.

Dima Tahboub:
He's an ally to the neighbours of Israel also and this is a problem.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you think the Israeli peace treaty is part of all this?

Dima Tahboub:
Exactly.

Nabil El-Sharif:
We don't need any pressure from anyone… reform is part of the Jordanian agenda, it serves us, it serves our interests…

Jamal Tahat:
Why is this agenda better now?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …and it is progressing, it's moving.

Nabil El-Sharif:
Maybe it's moving slowly, we've had major constitutional amendments that...

Jamal Tahat: Concentrating the power.

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …were really happening for the first time in 50 years and they were major, we had a constitutional court for the first time, we have an independent elections commission for the first time. In the past only the Ministry of the Interior used to oversee elections. Now these are really…

Mehdi Hasan:
Dima wants to come in on that.

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …serious and deep reforms.

Mehdi Hasan:
Serious and deep reforms Dima?

Dima Tahboub:
I'll give you some statistics, on the transparency index Jordan is rated as the 56th country and we lost six places than last year. Our debts has risen to 17 billion, the rate of unemployment has risen, more than 60 per cent of the people are below poverty line. 20 per cent of the Jordanians are suffering from psychological problems, 25 per cent of the people are suffering from stress diseases.

Mehdi Hasan:
And you lay this at the door of the political system?

Dima Tahboub:
Exactly which is the way I read the reform, if the people are not benefitting from it.

Mehdi Hasan:
How much, here's a question for you Dima, how much do you think the political problems in Jordan are caused by the economic problems?

Dima Tahboub:
They are connected, economics are connected with the political arena, so I think that we have also to develop economically, we have to solve our problems and then people will have the awareness to call for their other rights, when they are enabled economically I think they will call for their other rights.

Mehdi Hasan:
Mohammad.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Yes we face very serious challenges in the economy, I think previous governments have made a mess out of our economy, it is very hard…

Dima Tahboub:
You don't think there's an intervention from the regime and they were responsible somehow for the mess that happened?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
The first responsibility lies on the government the ministers will take decisions.

Mehdi Hasan:
Nabil here's a question to you; from what I've seen King Abdullah, since the Arab Spring kicked off, has been using subsidies, some might say bribes, to keep people happy, he's been kind of increasing public subsidies, wages etc. How long can he keep doing that when there's not much money in Jordan, you're relying on aid from Saudi Arabia, from the EU, can the King afford to keep buying off his people?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Jordan is not doing that, the King is not doing that, major commodities have been subsidised for many years, it has nothing to do with the Arab Spring and Dr Mohammad knows that more than I do. Subsidy is really a part of alleviating the suffering of the Jordanian people because of the difficult economic conditions.

Mehdi Hasan:
It's not about keeping them quiet?

Nabil El-Sharif:
No it has nothing to do with that at all, some other countries in the region have done that probably but not Jordan, maybe because it also can't afford to do that. What I wanted to say also, very quickly is that let's not forget the region in which we're living… Jordan lives in a very difficult neighbourhood, let's not forget that, Amman itself was bombed in 2005, five of our hotels were bombed, we lost many of our innocent civilians, we're not using that but it's really part of the issue.

Khaled Jarrar:
You can see that always in every country, you will see that people or governments will use a certain incident to keep justifying a stronger security grip. Freedom is not strictly about putting people in jail or people self censoring ourselves. People that have actually took the trouble of going into strikes were actually met by gangs that beat them and went to hospital. Dima Tahboub Blood was spilt.

Khaled Jarrar:
It was, I want to say something. Dima Tahboub Contrary to what Dr Mohammad said, blood was spilt.

Nabil El-Sharif:
A few people were, what would it compare to hundreds and thousands killed. Dima Tahboub You cannot compare between bad and worse.

Nabil El-Sharif:
Come on. Dima Tahboub You cannot compare between bad and worse.

Nabil El-Sharif:
Come on don't exaggerate, I don't approve of that of course.

Mehdi Hasan:
Okay Jamal.

Jamal Tahat:
Denial is not an entity to solve the problem. Voice off camera We have crime here.

Jamal Tahat:
Thousands now in the street, thousands calling and asking for reform…

Jamal Tahat:
No, yes it's their lives, you can't ask me you know because I am not killing you so you should thank me, no it's not that equation. If the King accepts to be a symbol of practising the peoples' will, this is the start, i.e. the King should recognise that there is people and he is not the master of the people he is not the owner of the Country, he is a symbol of the peoples' will.

Mehdi Hasan:
And on that very powerful note, I'm going to bring the discussion to a close for part one, we will be back in part two to talk about what it means to be a Jordanian and to talk about the Muslim Brotherhood here in the Kingdom. Join us for part two.

END OF PART 1

Mehdi Hasan: 
Welcome back to part two here on The Café. We're talking about Jordan and the future of Jordan here in Amman. I want to kick off this part by talking about what it means to be a Jordanian, because there's a big divide it seems to me in this society between different types of Jordanians. And Lina, you're I believe are of Palestinian background?

Lina Shannak:
Yes.

Mehdi Hasan:
And I think something like 60% of the population here in Jordan is about Palestinian descent. Are you a different kind of Jordanian?

Lina Shannak: 
By no means I'm different. I introduce myself all the time as Jordanian, and I'd like to be treated as such. But unfortunately the laws in my country discriminate against me. Even though it's not obvious, but it's practised every day. It's not just East Banker Palestinian, it's also tribes versus other tribes from the south, tribes from the north, it's not through that simplistic view of having a division between East Bankers and Palestinians…

Mehdi Hasan:
And the East Bankers, just to be clear, are the Jordanians who were here before the Palestinians arrived, before 1948?

Lina Shannak:
Yep, before 1948. I believe that…

Mohammad Halaiqa:
No sorry, there were no boundaries before 1948. We were all under the French Mandate.

Mehdi Hasan:
Is there a divide, Mohammad, between so called East Bank Jordanians and Palestinian Jordanians?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
I think what Lina mentioned about sub identities is true, and I think there are certain agendas of dividing the Jordanians between East Bankers and Palestinians and…

Mehdi Hasan:
Who's agenda?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
There are different agendas in…

Mehdi Hasan:
But who's?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
 …the region. Political voters, people from outside when we have some crisis, we are in a turbulent region at the moment, but the fact is the following. I think Jordanians from Palestinian origin complain, and there is some truth in this complaint. They are not treated equally when it comes to government post, security to army, to police. That's a fact. But a Jordanian from a Palestinian origin is a Jordanian by all means. He can practice his [UNSURE OF WORD].

Mehdi Hasan:
Are you of East Bank descent or Palestinian descent?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
No I am from a Palestinian origin.

Mehdi Hasan:
And have you felt discrimination that Lina talks about here in this society?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Not personally properly but I meet incidents. My kids at school, for example, sometimes have to produce certain papers, where a Jordanian from East Bank does not have to produce that paper when it comes…

Mehdi Hasan:
Even though their father was once the Deputy Prime Minister?

Mohammad Halaiqa:: Yeah, there are certain laws. Dima Tahboub I cannot renew my passport because my father was born in Hebron in Palestine, and I'm Jordanian.

Mehdi Hasan:
But hold on isn't the Queen of Jordan Palestinian?

Lina Shannak: Yeah. Dima Tahboub Yeah exactly.

Mehdi Hasan: So how is there discrimination against Palestinians if the Queen is Palestinian? Dima Tahboub Well this is another issue we can't talk about because the Queen…

Mehdi Hasan: I thought this was a free country we could talk about it? Nabil you tell me, what's the deal between Palestinians East Bankers? Is there a divide?

Khaled Jarrar:
Actually I'd like to hear from you.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me hear from Nabil and then we'll bring in Khaled.

Nabil El-Sharif:
There are definitely some problems. Some individual practices that violate the laws. Basically we have to remember actually, the fact that we are living in a difficult neighbourhood, and the fact that this issue in particular in Jordan cannot be resolved unless the Palestinian issue itself is resolved. They are linked. So the issue of citizenship really is quite blurry in this case.

Mehdi Hasan:
Khaled.

Khaled Jarrar:
We have, let's see, two levels of citizenship in Jordan. Those who enjoy full citizenship, like I think all of us, and including myself, I'm from Palestinian descent, but I have like full citizenship with what you call national number. Now a number of Palestinians enjoy passport of two years only, not five years, and do not have this national number, and they have like, only have the rights that we enjoy.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
But, sorry Jamal, these were never Jordanians.

Jamal Tahat:
These were not Jordanians.

Khaled Jarrar:
Yes, yes, but now…

Mehdi Hasan:
But is it true that there are Palestinians with Jordanian passports and citizenships who have it taken away from them? Dima Tahboub Yeah exactly, they were…

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Yes when we have that big political step of separating the West Bank from the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, after the Palestinian, of the royal leader. PLO decided that PLO is responsible for the Palestinian issues King Hussein took a decision in 1989 saying ok, Palestinian, PLO is responsible for the West Bank of the Palestinians. We had a problem at that, and that problem is still existing. Palestinians living in the West Bank, it's a complicated issue.

Mehdi Hasan:
Khaled come back in, finish. Ok let Khaled finish his…

Khaled Jarrar:
But as full citizens, I'm from Palestinian descent, I've never faced myself a case where I thought that it was discriminating against me because I'm of Palestinian descent, but… Dima Tahboub But you could be?

Khaled Jarrar:
Well, it happened, as you said, we see these cases happening, but there is no way to actually prove it.

Mehdi Hasan:
Ok we'll let Lina come back in, you feel strongly there.

Lina Shannak:
Yeah I actually agree with him. There's nothing that you can prove that it happens, and this is why, for example, in the post of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have like the majority of East Bank origins, and I've no problem with that. I'm just telling you that there are certain cases where they employ Palestinians on purpose just to prove that here there's no discrimination, when in fact there is discrimination. I have no problem with all of that. I have a problem…

Mohammad Halaiqa:
The Minister himself is of a Palestinian origin.

Lina Shannak:
Yeah that's fine but he's been there for a while and he's known for his... no I need to finish that.

Mehdi Hasan:
Ok let me bring… ok one second…

Lina Shannak:
…no I need to finish that.

Mehdi Hasan:
Ok Nabil very briefly. So an East Banker, what would they say?

Nabil El-Sharif:
They would say that the majority of Jordanian Palestinians…

Khaled Jarrar:
Are taking over the country

Nabil El-Sharif:
 … are taking over the private sector…

Khaled Jarrar:
Right, that's right.

Lina Shannak:
I have a..

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …all the major corporations…

Mehdi Hasan:
So it's a resentment?

Nabil El-Sharif:
No, it's just another fact.

Lina Shannak:
Ok can I tell you something, because I don't have a problem with all of that. I have a problem with, actually the statement or the stance that justifies the discrimination, saying that if I practice my political rights it means I'm abandoning the right of recent Palestine, when it's never the case, that's one. Number two, there's this response that Palestinians are taking over the private sector, and this is how we're making the balance, but I believe this is not a balance, this is a flawed equation, because I can't keep on paying taxes and I don't have representation. I can't keep on…

Mehdi Hasan:
No taxation without representation?

Lina Shannak:
Yeah, when I'm allowed to…

Mehdi Hasan:
But let me bring in Jamal who's been very quiet…

Lina Shannak:
When I'm not allowed to work for the government.

Mehdi Hasan:
… are you an East Banker? I'm trying to phrase that…

Jamal Tahat:
Yes, yes.

Mehdi Hasan:
Ok we have an East Banker at the table.

Jamal Tahat:
Actually I do not agree with that…

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you consider Palestinians are taking over the economy?

Jamal Tahat:
No, no, no, no, it's not the issue

Mehdi Hasan:
Ok explain to me.

Jamal Tahat: 
I think labour division in this country, it's done by the regime. The regime who inserted the firewalls between the sub identities in the country, who really divided between Palestinians and Jordanians, East Jordanians and West Jordanians, is the regime for security purpose, and to ease the manipulation of the society. This is exactly the situation.

Mehdi Hasan:
You don't think it's the ordinary people on the street? It's all political?

Jamal Tahat:
No, no, no, no, if you check the self-perception of the people it's Jordanians, and with Jordanians there is no differences actually.

Mehdi Hasan:
So East Bankers don't consider Palestinians to be guests in Jordan?

Jamal Tahat:
No, no, it's not the equation now, it's not the situation. Everyone admits, and everyone sees and knows that there is a problem, but so far this problem it's been reproduced for 50 years, and the regime has done nothing to solve it.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask a question to Dima. Dima let me ask you a question. The Muslim Brotherhood, which you're associated with here in Jordan, draws a lot of support from the Palestinian part of the population. Is one of the reasons that Palestinians are discriminated against, politically, Lina says about political rights, because the regime is worried that if Palestinians are empowered, the Muslim Brotherhood is empowered?

Dima Tahboub: Yeah, you know, being raised in Islamic movement I never felt there is an identity problem, because, you know, we saw ourselves as, you know, Jordanian of Palestinian origin, there was no problem. I didn't have to hide my identity, for example, or my religion. But the problem is I think that this identity crisis emerged in the, you know, last 20 years probably, and it was manipulated by the government to use it in cases of reform.They use it as a scarecrow. Well, don't, you know, ask for the reform because the Palestinians will rule you. They're using it the same way for the Palestinians, you know, you have to stick to your rights and ask for the earth because, yeah, they're terrifying each side from the each other.

Nabil El-Sharif:
This is the easy way out. No government in the world would so descent among its own population.

Mehdi Hasan:
Really?

Nabil El-Sharif:
No of course, because it…

Mehdi Hasan:
What's going on in Syria then next door?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …will backfire. No in Syria it's a war, a war of the regime against its people regardless of their origin. But I'm saying, in Jordan, there is a problem that has been caused, not necessarily by the government, it has been caused by the political developments in the region. Dima Tahboub They're implanting, you know, fear from each side. The Jordanians from the Palestinians and the Palestinians from the Jordanians and they were using this divide to keep the status quo.

Mehdi Hasan:
Mohammad, come in.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Yes, yes, please, can you just… Mehdi has said that the majority of Muslim Brotherhood is coming from a Palestinian origin. Can you confirm that? Dima Tahboub No, no, no…

Mohammad Halaiqa:
This is not a fact, ok. Dima Tahboub …we have leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood that are Eastern…

Mohammad Halaiqa
Actually most of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are still brought up from the East Bank so this is not.. Dima Tahboub …most of them are Eastern Bank.

Mehdi Hasan:
But in a democracy, if Jordan was a proper fully function representation democracy, if Palestinians make up the majority population, they would have the most power in a democracy would they not, in Jordan?

Mohammad Halaiqa:
But that's not the diligent, Dima Tahboub Exactly, why do we have to identify?

Jamal Tahat:
By telling about the Palestinian size in power and in the authority and institutions, that…

Mehdi Hasan:
But Dima's saying that's the fear that's the fear that's being sewn? People were saying.

Jamal Tahat:
Yes, yes, yes, listen, they're actually terrifying the Palestinians by raising angry voices from the East Jordanian side and…

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask you a question. With all the protests that have been going on over the past year or more here in Jordan, have Palestinians tried to avoid being at the forefront of those protests to avoid a backlash?

Jamal Tahat:
No, no, no, no, actually no, no. The reform is not a Palestinian issue. The reform is not a Palestinian call. The reform is a call of everyone in the country.

Mehdi Hasan:
Here's a question to you Nabil. Do you think the royal family and the government and the regime should be worried that criticisms and protests are not just coming from Palestinians, but are coming from East Bankers, who used to be their most loyal supporters? There was a letter written last year by, I think, 36 tribal leaders criticizing the King and Queen.

Nabil El-Sharif:
All Jordanians of different sectors are asking for reform.

Mehdi Hasan:
But that's unprecedented isn't it?

Nabil El-Sharif:: Well there are so many unprecedented things happening in the past few years.

Mehdi Hasan: Khaled.

Khaled Jarrar: I see that all of us here are from Palestinian descent, but we would love to be identified as Jordanians. We want to be citizens of this country. We want to have all the rights and all the responsibilities. We don't want to have different quota in the parliament for us. We don't want to be treated differently. What we're asking for is not to have any kind of discrimination against us, and treated as one.

Mehdi Hasan:
Let me ask you one question before we move on. Who here thinks that the divide inside Jordanian society has increased in recent years? It's a more divided society.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Yes there is a divide.

Jamal Tahat:
There's a hint of polarisation.

Khaled Jarrar:
There is a divide. The last two years.

Jamal Tahat:
Recently it's been intensified by the regime's policies.

Mehdi Hasan:
Ok, Mohammad, do you want to leave us now? Do you want to move on? Thank you very much Mohammad.

Mohammad Halaiqa:
Yes, but I'm sorry I have to.

Mehdi Hasan:
No, no, have a great wedding.

Mohammad Halaiqa:: Great pleasure.

Mehdi Hasan: Thank you so much for joining us.

Mohammad Halaiqa:: Goodnight.

Mehdi Hasan:
It's our loss, we really appreciate it. We will carry on the discussion. Mohammad has had to leave us, but Nabil I want to bring you in and ask you. Do you think Jordan is a secular society?

Nabil El-Sharif: 
I, basically I think it is, and it should be actually. That does not negate anybody's right to, of course, be religious in his own way, to have even religious political views, but Jordan as a country, I think should be secular in order to maintain the rights of everybody, in order to maintain…

Mehdi Hasan:
Khaled, do you agree with that?

Khaled Jarrar:
I actually think that Jordan is a largely religious population with enforced secular system and government.

Mehdi Hasan:
Who is it… the government enforces secularism?

Khaled Jarrar:
Yes, I think that people by nature are very religious…

Khaled Jarrar:
… that if you go to any elections people would give their vote in that direction, but I think that the government, the system…

Nabil El-Sharif:
Not in the past two parliaments.

Khaled Jarrar:
…the govern… but well…

Mehdi Hasan:
Didn't the Muslim Brotherhood boycott one of the elections?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Yes they..

Khaled Jarrar:
Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you accept the Muslim Brotherhood is the biggest political movement in Jordan?

Nabil El-Sharif:
It is definitely yes.

Khaled Jarrar:
But, two points, it's not necessarily that even Muslim, religious Muslim, will vote to the Muslim Brotherhood…

Mehdi Hasan:
Of course, we saw that in Egypt.

Khaled Jarrar:
…this means that the votes that they got doesn't represent all the Islamic votes. They are much more.

Mehdi Hasan:
Jamal.

Jamal Tahat:
And also not every Christian will not vote for the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mehdi Hasan:
I can't help but turn to you Dima. You're with the Muslim Brotherhood, you're with the Islam action front, which is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. Is there a divide between religious Jordanians who support, say your movement, and secular Jordanians who don't want to see the Muslim Brotherhood come into power in Jordan?

Dima Tahboub: 
There is a divide, but this divide could be overcome, because most of this divide is based on stereotypes that…

Mehdi Hasan:
Of you? Dima Tahboub …has been built by the media, no the media.

Mehdi Hasan: But who are the stereotypes of? Of Islamists? Dima Tahboub Of Islamists, yes, against us, because all over the world, even what's happened in Egypt, the media is building these stereotypes an they're making people afraid from the Islamists, from the rules, from their coming into power, and this is what's happening similarly in Jordan. I met with a person who was only asking about what will you do to tourism? Because she's working in the field and it's about opportunities. What are we going to do there? But I think that what happens in other countries, and Jordan is no different, will also take place if reform takes place in Jordan. If the Islamists come there is going to be a simulation and co-operation with other powers, and this is not only reassuring words, this is really what's going to happen, because the Islamists themselves are revising their strategies and they're dealing with society.

Mehdi Hasan:
Hold on Jamal, let me ask Khaled a question here. You're someone who sympathises with the Islamic movements, how can an Islamic movement try and come to power in a society like Jordan, which many say is secular not religious? Amman is a secular city. What would you say to them?

Khaled Jarrar:
Well, I have… Dima Tahboub Amman is not all Jordan by the way.

Mehdi Hasan: That's true.

Khaled Jarrar: 
Well, I'm a Muslim but I'm not politically affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But I think there are three options. I think the very majority of the population are religious people, but the very majority of them have some of the serious vibes that are instilled by the media, that put some fears in their mind what will happen if Islamists ruled. But I do believe that there is a division, clearly.

Jamal Tahat 
Rephrase the question. What we are speaking about, not a divide between secular and religious, it's everywhere, but we are speaking about polarisation between secular and religious. Until now, the regime tries to create this polarisation, but so far we are speaking about actually enough wisdom within Muslim Brotherhood, and within also other, let me say, can I say civic movements in the country. Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and highly respected leaders, they actually announced clearly that they do accept the concept of civic estate and civic law, which is very clear.

Mehdi Hasan:
So you're not worried that if the reforms that you call for, the democratic reforms, if they're implemented, you're not worried that it won't be your supporters or your movements that are elected, it will be hers?

Jamal Tahat: No, actually I'm not Islamist and whereas a few years ago, when we start the constitutional monarchy movement with the Islamists and with Muslim Brotherhood, we raised four points. First one it's the guarantee of the continuity of democracy in the country, who really refused to contribute and to participate with the regime, not the Muslim Brotherhood. But we are speaking about the continuity, it guarantees for the continuity of democracy, guarantees to respect individual rights, guarantees that you will not impose religious and sacred text as a source and as a reference of political practice, and actually these are…

Mehdi Hasan:
And you believe you have those guarantees?

Jamal Tahat:
…actually most of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood they do accept this.

Mehdi Hasan:
Nabil let me ask you this. Should secular Jordanians be worried that if democracy comes to Jordan, as we talked about in part one, it will lead to the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood as happened in Egypt?

Nabil El-Sharif:
If we believe in democracy, we should not worry about the outcome…

Mehdi Hasan: You're not worried?

Nabil El-Sharif:: … of the democratic process, we should not. I just want to point out actually that we are making the argument that the regime is causing divisions among Islamists and secular, this is not true…

Jamal Tahat: Polarisation.

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …and we made the same argument a little while ago that the regime is making distinction between Palestinians and Jordanians. I think this argument really is not realistic.

Khaled Jarrar: Actually..

Mehdi Hasan:
Lina what do you think about the possible rise to power in a democratic Jordan and a Muslim Brotherhood government?

Lina Shannak:
I have no problem with that, I absolutely have no problem with that, and actually I'm quite disappointed by some of the voices who are making us afraid of this move, because if democracy is applied there should be no problem, that's number one. Number two, in the debates, like some people come and ask about allowing swimsuits and banning swimsuits. I'm fine with like individual liberties, that's fine, but that's not the priority in Jordan. We have like villages that do not receive water and proper services. We have people living like out of history, so…

Mehdi Hasan:
Khaled.

Lina Shannak:
…that's not the priority. Swimsuits are not the priority.

Khaled Jarrar:
90 of the population are Muslims for example, so if those 90% of population chose that their belief, that is by constitution in Jordan, Islam is the religion of the country, so if this constitution is right, and we have 90% of the population that have the wish to have Islam be the constitution of the country, and why is it that you think that should not be implemented?

Mehdi Hasan:
The criticism of the government, of society, of the handling of the economy, it's coming at the King and the government from all sides. How worried should King Abdullah be?

Nabil El-Sharif:
He should not be worried because he's a symbol of stability for the country, but that does not mean he should not do anything. He should move on with his agenda of reform, and I think he has been doing a good job until now since the beginning of… Dima Tahboub Where do we see the reform?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …if you don't mind, let me just finish my sentence, ok. Dima Tahboub What if when they want to raise the prices [INAUDIBLE]?

Nabil El-Sharif:
There is no unanimity on what we need to do when we say a reform.

Mehdi Hasan:
Do you think the issue here, is not just the nature of the reform, but it's the nature of the leaderships? These debates weren't had on the King. Hussein seemed to be a much more popular leader than King Abdullah.

Nabil El-Sharif:
That's not true at all.

Mehdi Hasan: Because people here in Jordan mock him for his Arabic, his Arabic is poor I hear?

Nabil El-Sharif: 
No, his Arabic is really good.

Mehdi Hasan:
Is this King as charismatic as his predecessor?

Jamal Tahat:
This King, he loses the four pillars of legitimacy. He lost the historical legitimacy, he lost the charismatic legitimacy, he lost also, which is very important, the functioning legitimacy as a functioning leader of the country, and now I'll explain this. Recently because of the corruption, and because of the fixing the election, he lost also the institutional legitimacy.

Mehdi Hasan:
Is it just an issue of the King? From an outside perspective, I live in the West, in the West… let me just finish this point. In the West Queen Rania is very, very popular. I come to Jordan and I'm told she's not popular here. People are calling her the Marie Antoinette of Jordan. How big a problem is that for the royal family? Dima Tahboub Because there is a generation that has been raised that she's Palestinian and she doesn't have the right to be a Queen and so on, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan:
So it's unfair criticism? They're picking on her because of her Palestinian background? Dima Tahboub This is part of it, this is part of it, religion is part it, yeah.

Mehdi Hasan:
Not because she's out of touch or the royal family looks out of touch? Dima Tahboub Yeah, this is another reason.

Jamal Tahat:
No, they are not out of touch. Dima Tahboub No, this is another reason and…

Mehdi Hasan:
So why was she called… why did the people's private leaders write a letter calling her a Marie Antoinette? Dima Tahboub Her family was associated to some of the corruption times.

Nabil El-Sharif:
Well you take, for example, one person or five or six…

Mehdi Hasan:
36 tribal leaders.

Nabil El-Sharif:
So what?

Jamal Tahat:
So what?

Nabil El-Sharif:
At the same time… Dima Tahboub So what? Everyone is no one.

Jamal Tahat:
This is the concept of not respecting your people.

Mehdi Hasan:
You're not respecting the people.

Nabil El-Sharif:
No, no, no I can give you 100 tribal leaders who would say the opposite.

Mehdi Hasan:
So you're not bothered by the criticism that we're reading about and hearing about in Jordan?

Nabil El-Sharif:
The criticism is quite healthy and it's quite good and it is this criticism..

Jamal Tahat:
But after all… Dima Tahboub The regime insists people are living in their comfort zones, everything is alright with them.

Nabil El-Sharif:
I would say the same about you.

Mehdi Hasan:
You're in denial. Dima Tahboub Yeah you are in denial.

Mehdi Hasan:
Out of touch,you say she's out of touch. The problem is when I look across the region…

Nabil El-Sharif:
We are both out of touch? (laughing)

Mehdi Hasan:
It looks like you're more out of touch, given the tidal wave of what's going on in the Middle East, aren't you in denial about what's heading the way of Jordan?

Nabil El-Sharif:
No we're not in denial. We are doing something about it…

Jamal Tahat:
What is it?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …and we did something about it even before it started, he's…

Mehdi Hasan:
So you think the royal family today is as popular as it was under King Hussein?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 That's right…

Mehdi Hasan:
Same? No different?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …even more, I would say even more…

Mehdi Hasan:
Or more popular today Jamal? More popular?

Nabil El-Sharif:
 …even more popular yes.

Jamal Tahat:
No, not true. Neglecting people's opinion, you know, not respecting people's voices, and denying that there is anger between people, and speaking about reform that in terms of why the power between the Kings hands.

Mehdi Hasan:
Ok, prediction time. Will King Abdullah, a, still be in power in a year or two's time? And if he's in power, will he be in power with the same level of power as he has now? What do you think Dima? Dima Tahboub Well if he's wise in reading the, you know, international atmosphere and the international situation he has to change really quickly, and he has to give power to the people…

Mehdi Hasan:
Otherwise it gets worse still. Dima Tahboub …because otherwise it's going to get worse. And, you know, the thing is that, it's not only the Jordanian of Palestinian origins who are moving, it's also the tribes, and they are…

Mehdi Hasan:
Khaled do you agree? Do you agree with Dima? A year from now? Dima Tahboub …they are the safe side for the King and supporters, so when they move, it means that something is going really to change.

Khaled Jarrar:
I agree that the King and the monarchy system is very stable, and I think that up until now there haven't been calls to change that. What people need to change is the power distribution, and to see actually that getting at the end to the daily life for people, to see a parliament really representing them, who see our government really working for them, and the real accountability and the transparency. This is what the debate about. We're not concerned of the King change and then another person comes with the same plot. What would you care?

Mehdi Hasan:
Lina?

Lina Shannak:
Ok, I have to tell you that I've been hearing so many stories, because I'm working on a project to document stories in Jordan, and I've been hearing from fierce opponents of the late King Hussein, and they were tortured back then, in his time, they were tortured, they were sent to jail, they were not allowed to work, and all that stuff. And the same person who went to jail and suffered from all of that told me, and I'm just quoting him, that even after all he went through, he's not willing to change the Hashemite regime to any other regime in the region.

Mehdi Hasan:
So you don't think they're going anywhere?

Lina Shannak:
So I hope that they're not going anywhere but I also agree with Dima, he has to be wise, and I hope to become a constitution in the monarchy, I hope to become a state that has its own strategy and vision, and not just day to day survival.

Mehdi Hasan:
Nabil?

Nabil El-Sharif:
The King is a sign of stability for the country, and I think he will continue to be like that. I think there is no…

Mehdi Hasan:
With reduced powers?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Again please?

Mehdi Hasan:
With reduced powers? Will he continue on reduced powers?

Nabil El-Sharif:
Well that's really a process that will happen, we don't know how it will end, but I'm talking about the monarchy as an institution, it's going to remain, because I think all Jordanians believe that it is really a sign of stability for the country.

Mehdi Hasan:
Jamal?

Jamal Tahat:
Actually what I think which is inevitable in Jordan, which is must to come that…

Mehdi Hasan:
What is inevitable?

Jamal Tahat:
…transformation of the King's power to become a real constitutional monarch, a simple, of the people's will, not an individual will imposed on the people in the country. Second, which I think a prediction that this is a must, and my wishful thinking, that the King will accept this and become a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.

Mehdi Hasan:
Well that's all we have time for tonight. Thank you very much for joining me here in The Café. The debate will continue online. Goodnight from Amman. Follow us on twitter at @aljazeeracafe - @mehdihasan

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