The first ‘paper for debate’ | Jordan Press | Ammon News

The first ‘paper for debate’

[1/17/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Kamel S. Abu Jaber/ The Jordan Times

For a long time now, I have felt that there was need for an open, honest and responsible national debate on the future of Jordan’s experience or, if you will, our experiment in building a free and democratic system

Only last year, I had the honour and pleasure of meeting, on three occasions, with His Majesty King Abdullah, where I expressed this opinion. At the time, I thought that while a debate devoted, as it was, to the laws pertaining to political parties and elections was a step in the right direction, it was not enough, and that what was even more greatly needed was a debate about the identity of the country, its political texture and, even more importantly, a Jordanian-Palestinian dialogue.

In the last couple of weeks, two highly significant and important initiatives were tabled. The first, put forth by King Abdullah, regards the nature of the state and its anticipated democratic future; the second, regarding Jordanian-Palestinian relations, was put forth by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and I hope it will be the basis for a meaningful Jordanian-Palestinian dialogue.

It is a rare, indeed a very rare, precedent when the head of a state takes it upon himself to write a political text addressed specifically to his people, exhorting them to think deeply and responsibly about the nature of the political life of their state.

As I read and reread it, I was particularly struck not only by the scope and originality of the treatise, but also by the richness of its content.

Heads of state always make statements and voice opinions about the internal and external affairs of their states, but for a head of state to purposely sit down not to make a statement or even to compose a speech, but to write a piece of political thought is not a common occurrence.

Following in the footsteps of earlier Jordanian monarchs, the King again addresses his people in the context of “family”, where the patriarch is deeply involved in its affairs and addresses the concerns of those members who harbour some opposition to him.

It is “my responsibility”, the Monarch said, to initiate debate and to offer advice and ideas, not only to encourage that debate, but also to direct its content and nature.

The King touches on the philosophical underpinnings that he believes democracy should rest upon. This provides much food for thought, and rich material for debate.

It is, of course, not by accident, that the King chose this time to communicate his vision. With the Jordanian parliamentary elections around the corner, he is undoubtedly looking beyond them, to the parliament that they will produce. He alludes to the nature of the future relationship between himself, as the head of the executive branch, and the legislature, which will develop within what he identifies as our “royal constitutional regime”, intimating that he accepts certain limits to his authority within the responsible constitutional framework that he hopes will emerge.

“Our vision of the nature of the democratic regime which we are building is clear,” the King stated, telling us that he is an active participant in a process that is evolutionary and incremental; that it should be built one brick at a time without resort to violence, based on public debate that provides room for contrary opinion and inclusion.

He reminds us that all Jordanians, both male and female, are equal, regardless of origin, race or religion, that proper citizenship cannot be complete without involvement in public life, and that although people may differ on particular policies or issues, they should continue the debate on a “give and take” basis.

Underlying the King’s call for debate is his belief in participation and partnership in gains and losses that exclude any violence.

Resorting to “the street” is not the answer, for it immediately terminates responsible dialogue. The answer is in the ability to adopt the inevitability of change, whether internal or external.

The essence of democracy is compromise among differences, not the triumph of one side over the other. Democracy, the King declares, is the attempt to reach understanding and centrist solutions.

This first “paper for debate”, titled “Our journey to forge our path towards democracy”, is a political treatise par excellence and, to my mind, a reminder to our people that our King is an active participant in our society.

That his philosophical orientations are an extension of Islamic traditions, particularly in attempting to achieve centrist consensus based on social justice, is obvious.

This paper, designed solely to direct only political debate on the occasion of the parliamentary elections, will hopefully be followed by others addressing economic imbalances and other issues in our society, especially corruption.

The writer is director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies and former foreign minister of Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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