Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

A Talk with Jordan’s Information Minister Samih Maaytah | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat–In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Jordan’s minister of information, Samih Maaytah, assesses the parliamentary elections held in Jordan on Wednesday, stressing their impartiality and transparency. He also believes that the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which boycotted the elections, has no clear vision of how to deal with the current Jordanian arena.

Finally, Maaytah addressed regional issues such as the situation in Syria, and the recent spike in cross-border smuggling. He also gave a current evaluation of his country’s relations with Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The Jordanian information minister is also the official spokesman for the Jordanian government. A veteran journalist, Maaytah has worked for several Jordanian media outlets and publications, and briefly served as editor-in-chief of Al Rai newspaper in 2011. He was appointed to his current office in May 2012.
The following is the text of the interview:

Q: How would you assess the performance of the independent elections commission that is seeking to combat the influence of political money in parliamentary elections?

A: The government cannot officially assess the commission, as it is an independent body. We can provide logistical support to the commission so that it can succeed in its work, but it is the constitutional and legal guardian of the elections.
As for the issue of political money, there are two courses of action. The first relates to people’s values, ethics, and customs, and the second is the legal course. With regards to the legal course of action, we are restricted to cases where there is evidence and proof, and the decision in these cases is up to the courts, not the government. As the executive authority, we cannot refer any case (to the courts) unless it is supported by evidence and proof. Nevertheless, the executive authority has exerted every possible effort to monitor the process of vote-buying, and several influential figures in the elections have been apprehended and referred to the judiciary.
We have problems when it comes to finding evidence of vote-buying, especially as the law punishes both the one who receives the money and the one who gives it, and hence the recipient is an accomplice in the crime and does not want to expose himself. However, ultimately, we rely on the awareness of the Jordanian citizens, and we are confident that they would steer clear of bribery.

Q: Is the Jordanian state fearful of political money coming from abroad?

A: The issue we have is that some candidates are seeking to buy votes in order to influence the will of the domestic electorate; we are not talking about foreign political money, and we have yet to uncover any case of foreign financing. The cases I am referring to come under the Jordanian elections law, nothing else.

Q: The Muslim Brotherhood, together with other popular movements, has raised the slogan of “warning the regime”, and has threatened that this may escalate to “overthrowing the regime.” What is the government’s interpretation of this behavior?

A : (The Muslim Brotherhood) called for the elections law to be amended, then for the constitution to be amended, and finally it is talking about an Islamic state. The question is: What does it want? Does it have a clear vision? Who calls for amending the law and then for an Islamic state? There is a huge gap between these two demands. We call (on the Muslim Brotherhood) to have a clear vision when it comes to dealing with the Jordanian arena, and to fully understand that there is a course of reform in Jordan. The king has a vision to build a new Jordan after the elections, which are part of this vision.
The Muslim Brotherhood must think realistically and refrain from areas in which you sense that the group does not have a clear vision. There are those who claimed the elections would not take place; there are those who claimed that electoral registrations would fail; and there are those who claimed many other things. However, the state has proved that it is serious about the electoral process; the people will see the true opinion of the Jordanians and the high voter turnout. This is the real reply to the Muslim Brotherhood.
If the Muslim Brotherhood, or any other political organization, was actually convinced that it represented the majority of the people, then it would not hesitate to go to the ballot box. This would bring its “majority” to the legislative authority, and consequently the group would have great influence in power and could impose its political program and agenda, and even impose changes on the constitution. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood are not doing so shows they have no clear vision of the way in which to manage relations in the Jordanian arena.

Q: What does the state think about the slogan “overthrowing the regime”, which some popular movements threaten?

A: This is a hypothetical question. The state has not turned its back on any of the political powers, or activists on the street, or even the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood. The state has dealt in a positive way with all these issues. Reforms were adopted last year and the king says that there will be more in the upcoming stage. If you want reform, the reform is there, if you want something else, this is another problem. This is a problem that has nothing to do with reform.
Once again, I say that the Muslim Brotherhood need to have a clear vision to deal with the upcoming stage in a calm and objective way, and to understand the course that the state is following. Simply withdrawing from political life just to exert pressure on the state will inflict great political losses on the group.

Q: Jordan claims that it is in control of its borders, but we hear every now and then that Jordanian
Salafis have been killed in Syria. How do you explain this?

A: Previously, any Jordanian was able to cross borders into Syria before the deterioration of the security situation there. Since the beginning of the Syrian crisis in March 2011 and until very recently, cross border movements stopped due to the lack of traffic in either direction. During this period, those who wanted to enter Syria could still do so through borders other than Jordan’s, as there is more than one way into Syria for the Jordanians. As for the state’s control of the borders, the Jordanian Armed Forces are exerting a great deal of effort in this field, which is a reflection of the Jordanian political stance. We are not a party to this crisis, and our own security and stability is the first priority.
Our borders are not an outlet for smuggling weapons and fighters into Syria, and likewise we do not allow other parties to enter into our country. I would like to emphasize that we are not the only way into Syria.

Q: Recently there have been statements suggesting that smuggling operations from Syria into Jordan have increased?

A: Yes, this is true. Currently in Syria there is a large amount of weapons, and at this stage there are dealers trying to smuggle them into Jordan and other neighboring countries in order to gain huge sums of money. Security control on the Syrian side weakened after the loss of stability and now there are widespread operations trading in weapons, drugs, and other goods.

Q: Is Jordan still in contact with Syrian officials?

A: The fact is that all political contacts have been severed. If there is still contact between the officials of the two countries, it is at a minimum.

Q: At this stage, how do you assess Jordanian-Saudi relations?

A: With regards to Jordanian-Saudi relations, they are extremely positive. They are well-established relations that have not been affected by the changes. We appreciate the stances adopted by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, in support of Jordan in all fields. I can say that Jordanian-Saudi relations are part of Jordan’s wider strategy in Arab relations, and there is complete coordination between the relevant officials in all fields, especially borders, because there are common interests on both sides. This coordination is aimed at preserving these interests, especially as the Jordanian-Saudi borders extend for more than 700 km. We exert all efforts we can towards our Saudi brethren, and likewise they have not been negligent toward Jordan.

Q: After the recognition of Palestine as a (non-member) state under occupation, a great deal of talk has taken place on the subject of a confederation. Is there any truth to this?

A: Jordan is focusing on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on Palestinian national land. This focus was reinforced by the king’s visit to Ramallah, with the aim of sending a message to the world; and likewise President Mahmoud Abbas has been received by Jordan in his capacity as president of the state of Palestine. There are also regular visits conducted by Jordanian ministers to help our Palestinian brethren in building their state.
With regards to talk about a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation, the Jordanian stance is firm. Jordan is focusing on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Q: Is there are reason behind the recent cooling in Jordanian-Israeli relations?

A: Jordanian-Israeli relations are governed by the peace process. The Israeli government has turned its back on the peace process and this has affected our relations with Israel. We hope after the Israeli elections that there will be a new Israeli government interested in the peace process, through which the Palestinian people can fulfill their rights and establish their state with Jerusalem as its capital.