The events of the last sixteen months have turned the dynamic in the Middle East on its head, creating new opportunities, but also challenges and risks.
In addition to concerns over Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and renewed factionalism in Iraqi internal politics, the spiral of violence that has gripped Syria threatens to spill over its borders, engulfing neighboring Lebanon and threatening stability and political relationships in the broader region.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh has a unique position from which to view these pressing issues and the impact of recent events. He delivered an address at Carnegie on the Jordanian perspective and engagement toward recent developments in the region. Katherine Wilkens moderated the discussion.
The Arab Awakening
- The Time is Now: Judeh noted that change has always been inevitable in the Arab World, but the speed at which it came in 2011 exceeded all predictions. He called the Arab Awakening the “gateway to dignity,” and stressed that Jordan’s King Abdullah believes that rulers must act to be responsive to the demands of their citizens. There is no better time for dialogue than the present.
- Youth Movement: Judeh argued that two factors created the perfect storm that led to the launch of the Arab uprisings of 2011. These factors were the rapidly increasing rate at which Arab youth are receiving higher education degrees and the global information and communication technology revolution. This better educated generation was not able to find jobs and opportunities and their frustration fueled their grievances against the status quo. At the same time access to new tools such as social media served as an effective mobilization tool could not be contained.
- Governments: Most Arab countries have recently seen a change from single party rule to single clique rule within a party, effectively shrinking the circle of power, Judeh explained. This shift helped lead to economic failure and corruption, both of which inspired widespread popular anger. Authorities now find themselves in a situation of responding to an already mobilized public, Judeh concluded.
Jordan as a Unique Case
- Pushing Forward: King Abdullah has long held the belief that change is inevitable, Judeh said. The Arab Awakening has given the king the opportunity to jump-start the process of reform that he has always supported, which had previously been stalled by regional and economic instability. Judeh added that in Jordan there had never been a shrinking of the power base and the system has long been considered proactive and credible by the people.
- Jordan’s Goals: Jordan wants to have requisite laws in place by next summer and to hold elections by the end of this year, Judeh said. The first step to reform has been completed, in the form of a comprehensive constitutional review by a Royal Commission that was assigned by the king. Forty-two out of one hundred articles in the constitution have been amended, mostly in an effort at the redefinition of power as well as enhancing checks and balances.
- Reforms: Other reforms include guaranteeing citizenship rights, the creation of a constitutional court, the appointment of an independent elections commission, and the restoration of the balance between executive and legislative authority, Judeh added. Election laws, however, are always controversial, everywhere, and the election system is still being decided on. Judeh noted that in his view the most important factor for elections is that they produce a representative parliament.
- Palestine: The Arab Awakening should not turn the world’s gaze away from the Palestinian people, who require a justice-based solution. Judeh reasserted that Jordan stands behind a two state solution with a contiguous Palestine and security for both Israel and Palestine. Judeh stressed that Jordan is not just an observer in this process, but it is a ‘stakeholder’ in the peaceful resolution of the Palestinian issue which is as important for Jordanians as it is for Palestine. Jordan’s efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders together are ongoing, he added.
- Syria: The Kofi Anan plan has thus far only focused on bringing about a cessation of violence which, while necessary and urgent, is not enough, Judeh said. Jordan welcomes new conversations to bring about a political solution in Syria. Jordan has now taken in 122,000 Syrian refugees, and while they are welcome, this is taking its toll on Jordan’s economy, he added.
- Energy: Judah underscored the importance of energy issues for the kingdom, which imports 97 percent of its energy needs. Jordan is working on a peaceful nuclear program to help expand its access to reliable energy sources Judeh said. 2011 was a particularly bad energy year for Jordan: gas prices rose and there were fourteen disruptions to the Egyptian gas pipeline for a total of 144 days of disruption.