NAMIBIA – (MintPress) – President Barack Obama flew to Jordan on Friday to visit a king still recovering from the embarrassment of an unintended public relations fiasco that hit the Hashemite Kingdom after a candid interview was published in the Atlantic earlier in the week.
The exclusive interview with King Abdullah II has been called the “most candid and in-depth interview we’ve ever seen involving the King,” and maybe with any head of state. In describing his hopes and dreams for a reformed, modern democracy in Jordan, the King managed to insult nearly all of his local allies, including his own family members and longtime tribal supporters, referred to as “old dinosaurs” in the article.
“Refreshingly candid would be one way to describe his remarks,” a longtime friend of the palace was reported saying in the Daily Beast. “But you get the impression what he really wanted to say was, ‘Damn, why couldn’t I have inherited Sweden?’”
“He wanted, he said, to see Jordanians build political parties that would not simply function as patronage mills but would advance ideas from across a broad ideological spectrum, and thus establish for Jordan a mature political culture,” wrote journalist Jeffrey Goldberg on his various interviews with the King of Jordan.
To accomplish such goals, the King told Goldberg he would like to see more Palestinians represented in parliament while avoiding a takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood, which he called a “Masonic cult.”
“In other words, the king wants to bring political reform to Jordan, and to cede some of his power to the people — but only to the right people,” Goldberg said.
The Royal Hashemite Court on Tuesday responded quickly to the interview after it was republished by local and international news sources, saying the article included “many fallacies and took matters out of their correct context.”
Goldberg said that each interview was recorded and fact checked. “And I told the royal court today that if they want to put up the interviews, ‘cause they recorded them as well, they should just post them to the Internet so people can see for themselves,” he said.
In an attempt at damage control, a source from the Royal Court stressed the King’s “pride in all Jordanians, and in all the state agencies and institutions, the sincerity of their loyalty, and awareness of the challenges that faces the nation from both the inside and outside.”
However, in a country slated as the next stage for an Arab Spring-like uprising, one wonders if a press statement is enough to protect the King from the backlash of his candid remarks?
Good News for the West, bad news for the rest
Naseem Tarawnah, a respected Jordanian blogger, believes a major problem with the Atlantic article was that it was written for a western audience. “In other words, the portrait of a leader the West can sympathize with emerges,” wrote Tarawnah. “It’s an image that sells well in the Western hemisphere but if you simply live in Jordan, you probably recognize the holes in that picture.”
Jordan is a country that is highly dependent on foreign aid from the United States, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other western institutions. In return, Jordan serves as a strong partner in the fight against terrorism and is the only Arab country besides Egypt to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.
“This king and his father have done enormous things for us,” said Senator John McCain. “Other countries have helped us — but none the way Jordan has.”
Abdullah had equally positive words to say about the United States. “In his proselytizing for political reform,” King Abdullah II “holds up the United States as the Platonic ideal,” wrote Goldberg.
While encouraging Jordanian youth to think more critically about incorporating American political ideals into Jordanian society, the King allegedly told Goldberg, “In our culture, if you don’t agree with me, you start shooting each other, or at least throwing our shoes at each other” — such a bold statement is not likely to sit well with the entire culture.
According to Goldberg, “Israel, in some ways, is Jordan’s most important ally.”
“Jordan and Israel are also working together to prevent the chaos of Syria from spilling into their countries,” he said.
While Abdullah avoided taking too many stabs at his Israeli and U.S. allies, the King had no problem sharing his negative opinions on Jordan’s neighbors in Turkey, Egypt and Syria. The King poked fun at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s misunderstanding of the term “jet-lag” while hinting that Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan is simply promoting a softer-edged version of Islamism, saying “Erdogan once said that democracy for him is a bus ride — ‘once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.’”
King Abdullah II’s views on the Muslim Brotherhood seemed to be most pronounced in the interviews though. “There’s no depth to the guy,” said Abdullah, referring to Egypt’s new president Mohamed Morsi. According to Abdullah, the Muslim Brotherhood is run by “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” and it is “our major fight” to prevent the Brotherhood from coming into power across the region.
Abdullah’s views toward the local Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, politically known as the Islamic Action Front, were not any friendlier. The Islamic Action Front plays a strong role in national politics, but has boycotted the political reform process in Jordan over the past two years.
The King told Goldberg he met with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Jordanian branch shortly after the Arab Spring erupted. According to Abdullah, “They were the loudest voice, so I brought them in, and they said, ‘Our loyalty is to the Hashemites, and we stood with you in the ’40s and ’50s and ’70s,’ and I said, ‘That is the biggest load of crap I have ever heard.’ And they were like, ‘Aaaargh’—they were shocked.”
Naseem Tarawnah wrote on his blog that while I am no fan of the Muslim Brotherhood, I don’t think demonizing them is the smartest move when you’re the leader of a country where they play a significant political force (like it or not). Such attempts only help to further polarize matters, allowing Islamists to further consolidate their base, and anti-Islamists to become even more aggressively so.”
Is Jordan next up in the Arab Spring?
Tarawnah believes that while many of the issues the King highlighted are legitimate concerns for the country, “when it comes to the ‘realities’ the king highlights, there should be some recognition that many of these realities are largely of his own government’s doing.”
At various points in the Atlantic interview, Abdullah expressed frustration at members of the General Intelligence Department (GID) and members of the “old guard” who were not on board with reform.
According to Tarawnah, the King generally appoints “old guard conservatives” into power. “It is difficult to paint that picture of a leader who recognized the Arab Spring as this grand ‘opportunity’ he’s been waiting for to reform, but then whose first move in the midst of that spring is to appoint a Prime Minister straight out of the security apparatus who was last brought in to power after the 2005 Amman bombings.”
While the King claims the Arab Spring is his opportunity for reform, with Queen Rania saying the political upheaval of the last two years has “brought about an atmosphere of open criticism,” others are not so confident.
Jordanian diplomat Marwan Muasher told Goldberg the time may be running out for King Abdullah II to make reforms, saying that “the level of frustration is elevated to the point where the original slow pace is not adequate.”
In spite of critics who believe Jordan is the next country in the MIddle East to face regime change, Goldberg remained optimistic in an interview with NPR where he said the King is “much more attuned to the needs and frustrations of his people than other leaders in the Middle East.”
According to Goldberg, the instability in surrounding Syria, Iraq, Gaza and Egypt have given Jordanians a new appreciation for stability. “It is still a nice place comparative to the rest of the region. And so, I don’t think that he’s in the sort of trouble that some people think he’s in,” Goldberg said.
Even so, political unrest is slowly mounting in Jordan, as seen by protests as recently as March 15 when hundreds of protesters entered the streets to demand widespread economic and political reforms.
Goldberg’s interview, which paints the King as a leader with no respect for regional allies, only adds to the already-existing frustrations about rising fuel prices and corrupt politicians. Blaming tribal leaders and the intelligence services for Jordan’s lack of political reform only threatens to upset the very supporters that have worked to keep the monarchy in power since 1946.
In a greater attempt to distance himself from a potential Arab Spring, Abdullah hinted that the family corruption that occurred in Tunisia and Egypt does not exist in Jordan. “What I’m trying to say is that everybody else is expendable in the royal family. Does that make sense? That’s the reality of the Arab Spring that hit me.”
However, as the Daily Beast put it, “A king who insults his fellow leaders, his opposition, his core supporters, his intelligence services, and his family risks discovering that he is the one who’s expendable.”