Davos, Asharq Al-Awsat- Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh believes that foreign intervention in Syria will be difficult. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat on the side-lines of the Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Jordanian Premier said: “Libya’s example is non-existent, and Benghazi’s example is non-existent, and the state in Syria is more powerful than Libya, while the degree of China’s and Russia’s commitment to Syria is more powerful [than in the case of Libya]. However, we live in a region where one cannot be certain of anything.” He expresses his rejection of sanctions against Syria, giving as example the sanctions that were imposed on Iraq. He says that from a moral perspective, sanctions are harmful to people.
Discussing reforms, Khasawneh says that Jordan decided to adopt a host of reforms in the political field and in the Constitution. In addition, he says, there is a need for reform in the economic field. He adds: “I speak first about legal and constitutional reforms. There were demands for opening certain article of the Constitution [for discussion] in the past spring. His majesty the king was very responsive to these demands.”
According to Khasawneh, his government is committed to a clear timetable for introducing these political reforms. He says that “the basic idea is to form an independent committee to supervise and run the parliamentary elections. This is a new idea that did not previously exist [in Jordan]. This idea is applied in India and in South Africa and in other countries. The importance of this idea is that henceforth governments will not run the elections. Khasawneh says that the committee, which will be composed of five people, “will be independent according to the bill we submitted to the parliament, which has not yet voted on it.”
Regarding the Islamic movements, Khasawneh says that there is exaggeration of the size and influence of these movements, although he acknowledged their existence and importance.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At what stage are you at with regards to achieving the fundamental objectives of reform in Jordan?
[Khasawneh] Reform is, naturally, a goal in and of itself, but after what is referred to as the Arab Spring; reform has become an urgent and important task in all Arab countries. Under the leadership of his majesty the king, Jordan decided to adopt a host of reforms in the political field and in the Constitution. In addition, there is a need for reform in the economic field. I want to speak first about legal and constitutional reforms. There were demands for opening some articles of the Constitution [for discussion] around the past spring. His majesty the king was very responsive to these demands. There was, for instance, a demand for setting up a constitutional court and another demand for having an elected government, but this has not yet materialized. We are acting in this direction. There are demands for holding honest and transparent elections, and other demands relating to political parties and ways of functioning.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What progress has the Jordanian government made in this field?
[Khasawneh] Since my government was formed in October, the first thing we did was to extend our hand to all stripes of the political spectrum, including the Islamic movements, the nationalist movements, and the opposition in general, and even the leftist movements. We requested them to join the government. This was part of the general policy that one cannot be simultaneously a reformist in economics and a reactionary in politics. Regarding these political parties, they did not take part in the government, which is normal, but I, at least, believe that there is a way for understanding and cohabitation between them and the government. This approach directly led to a decline in the so-called mobility in Jordan, and to a stop to escalation, which could have led, God forbid, to an explosion in the country. To make things clear, we are not opposed to peaceful mobility. I start from the basic point that there is no gap that cannot be bridged between the regime and the opposition. This situation, naturally, does not exist in certain other Arab countries. The reason is that the opposition, except for very few voices, does not call for changing the regime, but for reforming it. The opposition groups believe in the Hashemite leadership. And the regime, led by his majesty the king, also calls for reform. So the possibility of having reform to spare the country the revolts, bloodshed, and killing, which other Arab countries shave gone through, is in itself and of itself a noble goal. The government also is committed to a clear timetable for introducing these political reforms. The basic idea is to set up an independent committee to supervise and run the parliamentary elections. This is a new idea that did not previously exist [in Jordan]. It exists in India, in South Africa, and in other countries. The importance of this idea is that henceforth governments will not conduct elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Has this committee been formed?
[Khasawneh] The committee will be independent and composed of five people according to the bill we submitted to the parliament, but the parliament has not yet voted on this bill. It will take a long period of time until it is ratified by the parliament. This helps us take our time a little before announcing a specific date for holding the elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat]But questions are being raised regarding the delay in setting a date for the elections?
[Khasawneh] There were questions, but they had no basis of truth. We are like one who is building. The basic thing is to have an independent committee to conduct the elections, otherwise the election would be held the old way, and we would be back to square one. The bill has been referred to the parliament end of December, and we are awaiting its ratification. We have approximately six months for this committee to be logistically set up. For example, in India, the basic model of this committee, the committee is chaired by Mahmud Qurayshi, a member of the Muslim minority, has approximately 30,000 employees. At the time of the elections in India, the committee has one million employees, and it can request the army’s assistance in conducting the election process. For me, the setting up of this committee is very important because it is the key to a true democratic election process. We are currently working on an election law so that when it is logistically applicable, the elections will be held. We hope this will take place in the fall toward the end of this year.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So you do not want to delay holding the elections?
[Khasawneh] We have no desire to delay the parliamentary elections until next year. The important thing is not only to hold the elections, but to hold quality elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you considered running in the elections?
[Khasawneh] No, no. I have no desire whatsoever to run in elections. I was nominated for elections on the international level eight times and, thank God, I won.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the basic and final objective of reform?
[Khasawneh] First and at present, the important thing is to secure the country’s safety. But this does not mean to wait for the storm of the Arab Spring [to come]. We have to build Jordan on firm foundations so that the country can live on these foundations. The Arab Spring has proved that the old way in the Arab world is no longer workable. The goal is to find an equation so that we can restore the civil state that existed in the Constitution in the 1950s, and to end segregation between citizens so that the will of the people will not be forged. All these are not favours by the government, but are rights for the Jordanians and for Arab citizens. We want to restore what existed in the 1950s. We want justice and law to be the true guarantee of the survival and continuation of states. There is no problem in Jordan because the regime is not built on a person who came atop a tank in a military coup. The regime in Jordan is built on a royal dynasty that has religious heritage. So there is nothing to prevent concord between the regime and the people’s interest.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Islamic movements and Islamic political parties are on the rise; there are people who fear these movements and some who complain about this fear. What do you think?
[Khasawneh] These are not charitable societies but political movements. This does not prevent or change the reality that they have a legitimate right to play their role. They have weight in Jordanian society as they do in other Arab societies. But I believe that there is exaggeration of their weight in Jordan. This is prediction. Let the ballot boxes prove [this]. We cannot decide that there is fear and build everything on this fear. I am of the view that intimidation and exaggeration of the Islamic movements is overblown. I met with them several times and they emphasized that they were opposed to raising the ceiling of slogans, that they are with the Hashemite leadership in Jordan, and that they do not want to change it. At the same time, there is a lesson to learn from what is happening in the Arab world. The attempt to exclude the Islamic movements and parties earned them popularity, and the states’ abandonment of their role is what gave these movements this role. Simply speaking, let there be a competition to see who serves the people more.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] While there are admittedly internal challenges, there are external challenges and disturbances on Jordan’s border; how worried are you about the repercussions to Jordan of developments in Syria?
[Khasawneh] I do not think there is anyone who has a clear picture of what will happen in Syria, or of the way of dealing with Syria. As for us, our policy is based first on the premise that the sanctions order should not hurt the Syrian people and, second, it should take into account the Jordanian situation. We interact with the Syrian people even on the tribal level, not to mention economy, like agriculture. The entire transportation sector is affected by what happens in Syria. But eventually, the problem is not between Jordan and Syria, the problem is between the Syrian government and a very important segment of its people. We are pained by what is happening in Syria, which faces us with very difficult moral and humanitarian options. Some people predict that the conflict in Syria will be long, and this will naturally be very bad for the Syrian people. Others predict that the regime in Syria will collapse, but all these are speculations.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect international intervention in Syria?
[Khasawneh] No, that is difficult. In other words, Libya’s example is non-existent, and Benghazi’s example is non-existent. The state in Syria is more powerful than Libya, and the degree of China’s and Russia’s commitment to Syria is also more powerful. But we live in a region where no one can be certain of anything. When sanctions were imposed on Iraq, we then requested to have Jordan accepted in accordance with Article 50, which permits exceptions. I think the sanctions can be formulated in different ways to avoid harming the people and wreck Syrian society as happened in Iraq.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are sanctions the best way to address this situation?
[Khasawneh] Personally, I am against sanctions. They are of course permissible to the United Nations, but morally, sanctions are always harmful to people, as happened in Iraq throughout the 13 years during which sanctions were imposed. That situation was sad and painful, and proof of the moral failure of the sanctions system.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Let us move to the Jordanian- sponsored negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, what is your view of that step, and can these negotiations succeed in the current circumstances?
[Khasawneh] This issue is not easy, and we realize this. Jordan saw that it was duty bound to make an attempt, because leaving things as they are while the US Administration is busy may lead to other consequences. By making this attempt, we envisioned to have both parties face their responsibilities. We believed that talk was better than silence about this issue. Clearly, the current situation is not favourable for conducting a peace process. There are many difficulties, and there is a great change in Israeli society, and greater strategic goals. Moreover, the US Administration is busy [with the elections). We hope all this will change after this phase. At this time, the process is managing the conflict so as not to allow it to aggravate.