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'King, Not PMs, Is Jordan's Problem'

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TEHRAN, April 14 (ICANA) – After weeks of anti-government demonstrations across Jordan, King Abdullah sacked Prime Minister Samir Rifai, replacing him with Marouf Bakhit.
Thursday, April 14, 2011 1:01:11 PM
'King, Not PMs, Is Jordan's Problem'

The Jordanian king instructed Bakhit to "take practical, quick and tangible steps to launch true political reforms."

The following is Press TV's interview with Jordanian opposition leader Laith Shabelat, who says the problem in Jordan lies with the King and not with the prime ministers.

Q: Where do the problems in Jordan lie, do they lie with the King or with the prime minister?

Shabelat: What prime minister? We don't have prime ministers [in Jordan]. It is certainly with the king. In this 50s and 60s it was the King and the prime ministers and these prime ministers were strong prime ministers who respected themselves, although they were completely loyal [to the King], but they had personal dignity and wouldn't allow the King to transgress on them

Q: How did it change then?

Shabelat: Well, eventually a new lousy generation came and all of a sudden 70 percent of the Jordanians woke up to what they think is an absolute monarchy. Whatever his Majesty wants, his whims should be achieved or done and that is wrong and this is what leading us to this [situation]. I think ... did not see in front of him men and women who are ready to struggle peacefully and to tell him, “This is wrong, you cannot do this.” So he runs the country like a presidential monarchy and started his political life in the 80s in the parliament. I was very critical, I told the government, “Have you ever heard of an opposition asking for a strong government to be sitting in front of it? This is end of the day, doomsday. Usually the opposition would like to hit at your legs and weaken you. What government sitting in front of us? No sovereignty, the minister of interior knows nothing about security. We don't have a minister of defense, it is all with the King, the treasury is no more treasury, everyone is interfering in the treasury in the palace and the King is our minster of foreign affairs. So for Heaven's sake, be a government. You are a greater Jordan municipality that is what you are.

Q: You have a picture of Saddam Hussein on your mantelpiece, you told me before that he was not a dictator. So the King is effectively a dictator. What is wrong with that, what is wrong with this King?

Shabelat: If he were a dictator who is leading us against the enemy, the Zionists and the American transgression, that would be much easier, at least that is a price we are ready to pay for our national dignity.

Q: Is your problem not the fact that he is a King but a king that doesn't speak for the Jordanian people?

Shabelat: That is point number two. The first point is that he is running the country absolutely [with absolute power], he is running it part time, half of the time he is outside [of Jordan], spending a lot of money, draining the treasury. His prime minster told me that his per diem, personal per diem, not other expenses, is more than 2 million dollars a day

Q: Which is not even accountable, it is not actually shown on the country' budget?

Shabelat: That is another problem. It is not accountable because in this pseudo-country at the end of the year we don't have settlement of account. There is a settlement of account that has to be presented to the parliament and the account of last year must be accepted. Never in the history of Jordan had any government presented a report of the accounts of last year to compare with the budget. You give us 3,000,000 for health, we 3.500,000. The 0.5 million we had to take form one chapter. We tell them, “How did you take that? You have to come to the parliament to move from chapter to chapter. you had to take parliament's acceptance.” Now taking the money from treasury, not from an accepted chapter to another accepted chapter, is done without acceptance and government [permission]. The King makes phone call and says, “I need a couple of million dinars” and then he gets a couple of million dinars.

Q: What King Abdullah, what kind of man is he?

Shabelat: I don't know, I never met him.

Q: That seems to be the response we get form most of the people. Some people say we love him but we don't know him or we hate him but we don't know him.

Shabelat: He needs to know Jordan more. He needs to sit more in Jordan at least. He spends half of his time outside Jordan. We have a joke here, when is he going to visit us next time?

Q: Does the King Really rule Jordan?

Shabelat: Certainly he rules the country but who rules him is the big question. I don't mean his wife, I mean the CIA, the Mossad, the exterior.

Q: How influential are the Americans and indeed Israel in Jordan?

Shabelat: It is very important, those people have the civilization of disposables, when they are finished Pepsi cola can they throw it [away]. When they are finished with his mother, they put her in old people's home. As long as they use you, they get a good taste out of you, then they throw you [away]. So we advise them, “Nobody protects you and your throne except a good relation with your people. Don't listen to their threats, be close to you people and it is us who protect you.” But they rarely listen, they are scared. They like to be pampered by the West. When TV channels that I don't trust interview me, the first thing I tell them is, “You are the makers of dictators. You pamper our Queen as if she is a model”. Who cares about a model Queen while the poor people of Jordan cannot find a piece of bread?

They have detached themselves semi-completely from the people of Jordan. In 2001, at the time I was fed up with the pseudo-opposition, I received a document, a letter, asking for 1,800,000 meter square of land from the south of Amman to the west of Amman from treasury land to be placed under the personal name of the King. I got another document of such nature. I know about other lands too. I looked around, nobody uttered anything, so I made a lecture and I said that the King is confiscating our land and this is not constitutional and asked for the lands to be returned. So the King or people around him send me his thugs and they broke my car and they accused my son of breaking my car claiming that he was angry with me. I, however, stated that it is the Kings' men who broke my car so I was taken to the police and the head of Amman police he made a very obvious mistake. He said, “Next time we will break your neck!” I said, “Thank you, this is the confession I needed.” Last year again I was assisting a writers' union and everybody there asked me to speak, so I took the microphone and said, “Why I should speak to you? I don't want to speak to you, I am an opposition. You say that you are an opposition, does anyone of you not know that the King has confiscated our lands and put them under his name?” They said, “Yes, we all know that.” I asked, “Did anyone of you raise his voice?” They shut up and I said, “To hell with you and with your opposition” and said, “Good night” and I went out. Aljazeera net carried that in writing and it was published and that is why I got my second beating.

Q: It is illegal to criticize the King, is it not?

Shabelat: Anything he dislikes is illegal to do. If you curse him, yes it is illegal but if we have a proper court, it is not illegal to say that this policy is wrong. But certainly it is illegal to call him names and say that he is a coward.

Q: It seems that a lot of people are all scared to criticize the King, even in bars, even in cafes. You seem you do not care. You criticize him. But why are you different? It seems that most people are scared to criticize the King. Why are you ok with that?

Shabelat: I will tell you why, because I am a good Muslim.

Q: And anyone else in Jordan is not? Why do you think most people are afraid to criticize the King?

Shabelat: Any good Muslim leader should do at least what I am doing but to say that you are a good Muslim and a good Muslim leader and you do not obey the prophet that tells you Seyyed al-Shohada Hamza and Iman who stood up for the Imam and told him do and do not and got killed. Al-amre bel maroof va nahie al-monkar. If you do not do it… I think you understand what is al-amre bel maroof va nahie al-monkar.

Q: Do you support overthrowing the King?

Shabelat: No, by all means no.

Q: What do you want then?

Shabelat: To tailor him down to the constitutional monarch. First I want him to announce that I am sorry, I took your wealth, and I am giving you back your wealth. If he does not do this, there is no dialogue between at least me and him. To start a dialogue, he has to confess that my [King's] assistants fooled me. I want him to say this early not at the time of [Tunisian President] Ben Ali. Ben Ali said this too late that “They [the assistants] have not been telling me the truth.” The next day Ben Ali was out.

Q: If he does not concede power he does not apologize, you think you will…?

Shabelat: We will survive a couple of years more but Jordan will go on to have turmoil.

Q: Just how fragile is the King's power?

Shabelat: I think it is very fragile now. I am extending my hand to him, telling him that I am the guy who will help you preserve your throne which I need, not because I love you. I love my country and my country needs a throne. Stop shaking the throne. I am not allowed to shake the throne. The people around you should not shake the throne. But Your Majesty, you're the person who is shaking the throne most in the last ten years. This is a throne that should keep stable. You cannot just play around the throne.

Q: And what other players are there in this? You are asking the King to apologize but who does the King have to go to, to apologize?

Shabelat: I do not want him to apologize. I want him to start by giving back (people's wealth).

Q: Sure, but is it his choice alone? Or is that other influences which have to be won over as well?

Shabelat: No, it is his choice alone and all his friends outside will be begging him to do this. That is the only way out. I cannot see any American diplomat or Israeli diplomat, who tells him no, no, do not do this because they know he will be stepping on a land mine. The way out of a land mine is to come to the safe grounds I am telling him, “Sir, you are moving to a land mine. Sir, here is the safe land. That is the peer you and I, you and us.”

Q: But the problem with that, though, is that if you get what you want, more representation, and more democracy in a more democratic Jordan, Jordan would be a much stronger foe against Israel, it will stop being a good friend with America and that could create problems, that could be a roadblock in the way of what you want.

Shabelat: Sorry, it is a very bad question. Who cares when I am free I decide to be friend with America or not a friend of America. He does not impose it on me. What your question implies actually is that the interest of America and Israel are tied to a dictator called King Abdullah.

Q: That is the question I am putting, yes.

Shabelat: They should know that their interests should be negotiated with the people and I am sure that people would come to some sort of a negotiation, not what they want. Certainly I do not think that the people will vote for going to war but certainly they will vote for their interests. Now those liars in the West, the biggest hypocrites and I am sorry that I went to an American university.

Q: Which one did you got to?

Shabelat: Two universities, one in Beirut and one in Washington. I learned so many good things. They fooled me. I came back full of these beautiful ideas only to discover that the biggest hypocrites and liars in the world are those institutes in those universities there. They teach you something and they practice exactly the opposite.

Q: Around 70 percent of people in Jordan are under the age of 30. 50 percent are under the age of 18. How important are young people in this revolution if it is to be that?

Shabelat: Those under 18 or 17, unfortunately that have been taught so backwardly … they brought their intellect down to a degree that all they care about is to have tribal problems with each other at university. Imagine how lowly did we drive our universities down. But if somebody like me starts issuing this and starts paying the price for it, those young people who are fighting their small fights, they would look [and ask] what is going on? What is he saying? All of a sudden this will raise up their intellect and he would say, “Hey why are we struggling against each other? There is a big struggle. This guy is leading a big struggle. Let's rally.”

Q: For your dreams to be met what has to happen?

Shabelat: I think the King will bow down. I think he has enough intelligence to know that somebody like me, because he saw me, he saw my letter, he saw the way I am addressing and talking. I am saying this bluntly; in this letter I said it. I sent copies to every head of security that took office in Jordan and to the actual head of security and I wrote to the head of security a reference [that] your duties to protect the throne and in my interview I said you want to know how bad things are in Jordan. The major opposition leader is teaching Modir Mokhaberaat, the security, at MI6, he is teaching them how to protect his King. Did you hear of anything happening like that anywhere in the world?

Q: So you are trying to protect the throne?

Shabelat: I do not want to do so that he likes me. I need the throne. Jordan needs the throne. Without the throne, there will be civil war. People of Jordan are tribal. I am one of the most popular people in Jordan. Yet, the Jordanians do not accept me as their number one. “Oh Shabelat!! Why in the hell? Our family is better.” The mentalities are still not centralized enough to value you only by your intellect. “Who are you? Who is your father? How large is your tribe?” For the Hashemite nobody would dare to say that our family is no better than the Hashemite. They are a point of meeting for us all. That is one side of the story. The other side of story, for having Heaven's sake, behave like what your grandfather (May peace be upon Him). You cannot be Hashemite and behave like a non-Hashemite.

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