I go to visit His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal during October 2013 at his home in the Royal Palace of Amman, where he has lived with his wife for 45 years. The Italian Ambassador to Jordan, Patrizio Fondi, and Jacqueline Beaurang are with me.
In the entrance hall, on a wall, are written long hand Koran Verses that HRH writes every time he comes back home from one of his many trips around the world. His study, next to his library, is a small room. He is warm and extremely polite. He sits on a couch close to a telephone and we sit in the armchairs.
There is no protocol. HRH is dressed in a bespoke gray suit, has a pale blue shirt and wears a sports watch. A tall black butler comes in with a tray full of lemonade, pomegranate juice and water glasses. He reappears from time to time, either with a blue folder for the Prince or with another tray of Turkish coffee or tea, and he never says a word.
The Prince is on his way to Morocco, where he is going to receive a prestigious award for his long-lasting action as a man of peace, trying, with his charisma, his cultural knowledge and his faith, to create bridges among the different religions and political interests of his region. Prince Hassan has friends and followers all over the world and acts as a cultural Ambassador for his country and for his nephew King Abdallah.
His conversation is full of anecdotes and souvenirs of his long experience. He speaks in a very fluent English that he learned first from his English nanny and then in Oxford, where he was a student at Christ Church College.
After some small talk about our families and our lives the Prince talks about his country:-
‘Today in Jordan we are eight and a half million people, including a million Syrian refugees. Now, if we want to make categories in the Arab world, there are oil producing countries like Gulf Emirates, Algeria…. countries who are “want to be producers” like Yemen – but they have no water – and countries such as Jordan and Egypt, who are importing oil. Unfortunately there is a lack of knowledge and discipline. Today, if we want a solution to the Levant, it cannot be an Israeli and Palestinian solution alone.’
What is the issue?
Trust. Today there is no trust, no regional trust, and it can only come if we can manage the global war on terror, and by recognizing that it is a confrontation of values. Extremist values have polarized Arabs versus Arabs, Jews versus Arabs. Politics of the extremists are a tragedy, for example the Israeli Government, or extremists like the Iranians…
But what is going on in Syria?
It is a country divided in so many minorities. Like in many other countries of this region there is a scarcity of resources. By 2030, according to Tom Freedman, forty-five million Iranians will have no water. There is no water in Sinai and in the Sahara deserts and the only discovery is the so-called “Israeli gas”. The Russians will continue to serve Europe and Israel will try to go through to the Far East. In this region there is no infrastructure between producers and consumers. We have no water or electricity and the fragmentation is going to increase.
What are the main issues to be solved?
First, the war on terror. So that we should find a new spirit of consultation we have to establish security and human dignity.
What is the role of Jordan?
The role of a central point that interacts. I shall call it “Positive Neutrality”. Syrians call Jordanians parasites, the same is said about the Palestinians. But neither the Syrians nor the Palestinians who are in Jordan are going to go anywhere else. We need a Regional Conference in order to stabilize our region. The methods of negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Authority only reflect the broader failing of our West Asian – North African region. Cooperation at the regional level on almost all important issues is sadly absent, even in the Israeli Palestinian peace negotiations. Their Arab neighbours are excluded from participation. Instead every chance for truly constructive dialogue devolves into trivial minutiae. The Syrian crisis has also been reduced to the one dimensional story of chemical weapons, while the broader political and humanitarian crisis is being swept under the rug. Indeed, in our region, grander visions of co-operative, intra-independent co-existence are nowhere to be found.
So what is the solution?
We must move beyond our short sightedness and agree to work together in equal co-operation, with no exceptions. In a vision of a more harmonious future for West Asia and North Africa, there can be no agenda more worthy than inclusion.
What happens in Egypt?
The new constitution is going to be promulgated. I think that a compromise should be found. Which means that they will probably find a strong man, but not military, because that would be like going back.
In Jordan what is the situation of the Royal family?
We have a lot of work to do. We have to think that all the people who live in this country can be Jordanians. We have to recognize pluralism and believe in social justice.
What about Israel?
I have great admiration for the people, they are achievers, but they have to come down from their pedestal and feel part of the region. We need a warm peace not a peace of talking heads.
What about extremism?
It is still very strong. The move is from fascism to populism. If the leadership is too strong the alternative is “populism sans frontières”. This is a great risk all over the world today.
All together are you a pessimist?
I cannot afford to be pessimist. Maybe because I enjoy life so much.
31st October 2013