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Jordanian Information Minister: The View from Amman - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Jordanian information minister Muhammad Al-Momeni. (AAA File photo)

Jordanian information minister Muhammad Al-Momeni. (AAA File photo)

Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat—It is a time of growing turbulence and demands for change in Jordan. The monarchy has responded with reforms to the country’s political system, and has promised that there is more to come. Among the changes already introduced is the process of selecting the prime minister. The current prime minister, Abdullah Ensour, is first Jordanian prime minister to be chosen by elected lawmakers and not appointed by the king. He he has taken premiership of a country facing economic struggles exacerbated by rising energy prices, along with an influx of refguees from Syria.

Having won the election in January and survived a confidence vote in the Jordanian parliament on April 24, Ensour’s new government is finally able to begin policy-making in earnest. As Jordan embarks on this new stage of its development, Asharq Al-Awsat spoke with the country’s information minister, Muhammad Al-Momeni, on the new political structure, the economy and the Syrian crisis.

The following interview has been edited for length:

Q: The government has won the vote of confidence in parliament. Can you give us your opinion on the week of debates that preceded the vote?

Thanks to the impartial parliamentary elections, a new reality has formed in Jordanian political life. There is a strong and effective parliament which plays a basic role in the Jordanian scene. Anyone who watched the debate leading up to the confidence vote could see an example of how Jordanian democracy should be. We have witnessed political discourse that is committed to the affairs of homeland and citizens and seeks to strengthen the role of the legislative authority as a main part of the constitutional authority in Jordan.

Jordanians eagerly watched the parliamentary talks, not because they demand better services (despite their importance), but because they wanted to make sure that the speeches expressed their political demands in a way that reflects the debates over reform taking place in the street. Moreover, the fact that MPs are split between supporters and oppositionists is a confirmation of the democratic reforms achieved so far.

Parliamentary debates strengthen democracy in Jordan and offer an opportunity for people to take the country to a level that everyone aspires to, so as to achieve the desired progress and modernization. It must be emphasized that the debates were based on responsible political programs, reflecting Jordan’s distinctive parliamentary procedures that stress the real values of democracy, which we encourage in our country.

Q: The prime minister spoke about a cabinet reshuffle that will take place shortly. Do you know when the consultations on this will begin? Will there be MPs in the cabinet?

To start, I must emphasize that both the formation and amendment of the government are the prerogative of His Majesty, King Abdullah II. The prime minister announced before the parliament that there is an urgent move to form the parliamentary government as quickly as possible. We can say that the government line-up, which only includes a limited number of ministers, is an indication of the prime minister’s tendency toward the changes in government. The prime minister announced on Jordanian national TV that once the king returns from the US, he will ask for His Majesty’s permission to consult with the parliamentary entities involved in the preparations for a cabinet reshuffle. Here, I must emphasize again the cooperation between the government and the MPs in forming the parliamentary government: it confirms the parliamentary aspect of the political system, as set out in the constitution. This requires the involvement of MPs so that the parliamentary majority forms a government.

Q: Jordan is experiencing relative political calm at the moment. Does the government have any plans to start a dialogue with the Islamist movements and the other popular movements to reach a consensus on the priorities of political reform?

When it comes to dialogue, it must be noted that the king’s letter of appointment [decree authorizing the formation of the government] stressed that strengthening the consultative approach requires dialogue with the different political factions. The government will indeed start such dialogues, because of its obligation to implement the letter of appointment. It is also motivated by the government’s belief that national dialogue is necessary to reach a consensus. It is an effective means of reaching legal and political formulas needed for the process of reform, particularly in the laws of elections and political party formation. As a part of its vision to promote a collective dialogue in the country, the government is willing to submit to the parliament an initiative concerning the one-vote law and election laws. In addition, the government is obligated by the constitution to promote public freedom and freedom of the press, as these help monitor government organizations.

Q: How do you assess the international community’s response to the influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan? Does your country have the capacity to accommodate the large number of refugees?

The impact of the Syrian crisis is threatening Jordan’s national security. Based on this reality, Jordan went to the UN Security Council to emphasize the UN’s humanitarian and security responsibilities. We drew attention to the fact that Jordan is facing a serious humanitarian situation that is threatening its security and stability due to the constant influx of Syrian refugees, whose number has exceeded 500,000. Under Article 35(1) of the UN Charter, Jordan requested that the UN Security Council to consider what the country is facing as a threat to international security and peace and that the UN should urgently intervene and provide the financial support required to enable Jordan to address the serious impact of the influx of Syrian refugees. Jordan also urged the international community to take clear measures to improve the crisis.

During His Majesty’s visit to the US, King Abdullah II showed keen interest in the Syrian crisis and the issue of the Syrian refugees. For its part, the US endorsed how Jordan has, in spite of its size and limited resources, opened its borders to the refugees who enter the country in enormous numbers due to the humanitarian situation in Syria.

Q: The GCC has been providing economic support to Jordan, mainly by investing in infrastructure development projects. Is the helping to end the country’s economic crisis?

A number of projects included in the budget are funded by the GCC grant to Jordan. In this context and on behalf of the Jordanian government, I appreciate the fraternal stance of the GCC countries. I would also like to take the opportunity to thank the Iraqi government for its cooperation in the issue of the oil pipeline and for promoting our agricultural products.

The Jordanian government is counting on the GCC grants, as well as on international donors, to increase capital expenditures and to address the imbalances resulting from high prices of energy. If we can address these issues, it will increase the economic growth rate.