Staying in touch
Below are extracts from a speech delivered by His Royal Highness Prince Al-Hassan bin Talal of Jordan during a visit to Al-Ahram
Al-Ahram has a special place in my heart. The times I have been able to spend with you will always be etched in my memory. They have been meetings of minds and souls. I take this occasion to express my appreciation for your efforts, and the spirit of impartiality you bring to them, in this difficult and changing world.
Many issues trouble both you and me. Permit me to share with you observations on several pressing issues, in Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre and its adverse twin, the World Economic Forum in Davos, our reform concerns at all levels, the Tsunami and other disasters and calamities.
Let us begin with Iraq in all its dimensions and identities. I say "identities" in the plural understanding that these identities together form an indivisible whole. It is this whole that shapes the history, geography and all aspects of life in that country. Building a modern democratic government in Iraq is as much to the benefit of the US as it is to Iraq, the Arabs and the Islamic world. It is only such a system that will prevent adventurers from seizing power and inflicting the scourge of despotism on the people. However, what is needed is democracy in the fullest sense, not just elections. Voicing the opinion of many in "How to build a democratic Iraq", ( Foreign Affairs, May/June 2003, pp. 36-50), Karen Dawisha wrote that what was most needed was to develop a middle class that supported democratic practice. She added that there was a need for colleges and institutes to train civil servants in democratic practices.
Is there not, moreover, a need for a new Marshall Plan? Democracy cannot thrive under conditions of poverty and deprivation. Nor under conditions of exclusion and discrimination -- discrimination against any group or class for whatever reasons. My hope is that no one will be marginalised, neither the young, nor women, nor any sect.
Perhaps the proper course is to set in motion a public inter-denominational dialogue to help build a democracy founded on mutual respect between religions and sects on the basis of the belief that religion belongs to God and the nation to all citizens. Then religion will serve to strengthen a democratic society, maximising commonalties while promoting respect for difference.
The idea of a Marshall Plan brings us to Palestine. In the current climate some hope has been restored to the downtrodden Palestinian people. Our hearts must go out, regardless of political manoeuverings and personal agendas, to the cries of the Palestinian people, desperate for the necessities of life. We must address the plight of refugees and the homeless and the nightmarish expulsion of Palestinians from their land. We must address the concerns of Christian Palestinians, and the issue of Jerusalem. These all require urgent attention.
On Jerusalem I can only reiterate my concern -- expressed in Al-Ahram of 3 July 2004 beneath the headline "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, have we forgotten you?" -- over the deterioration of the holy places in that holy city and the cracks and dilapidation that threaten Al-Haram Al- Sharif as a result of neglect. In the article I appealed for "the creation of a spiritual authority for the holy places that will attend to them not only in the abstract but also in terms of the practical concrete circumstances that pertain in the city of Jerusalem. We cannot ignore the role of the holy places there in social organisation, or the effect of this on political developments in the city... This property is the primary characteristic of Jerusalem, the city of the holy places. Any political authority cannot but recognise the need for religious leaders in the city to act as an intermediary between it and its citizens. The semi- autonomy of Jerusalem forms the practical incentive for creating a spiritual authority for all religions concerned with the holy places. It would thus be beneficial if a religious council, composed of representatives from the three divinely-revealed religions, reached a consensus that will enable politicians to formulate a just solution to Jerusalem, the city of peace."
On Sudan, are we not uplifted by the prospect of peace and concord between our brothers in that country? But we are still only at the beginning. Now is the time to build the house from within in that cherished sister nation. We have a long road ahead of us, and we hope that the people of Sudan, the people of Egypt and all other Arab peoples will join hands in the march down that road. The Nile Valley will not prosper without Egypt's bright and prominent presence, after which comes the role of the United Nations and other parties.
Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday the meetings in Porto Alegre and Davos drew to a close. I do not believe that we have an either/or choice. Although Porto Alegre is closer to our hearts we are also part of Davos. The important thing is not to get bogged down in futile bickering and sloganeering, and to come together under the umbrella of international institutions, laws and common values as we press forward in our attempts to promote profound and earnest reforms. In these efforts all contestants are encouraged to compete.
No one disputes our region's urgent need for reform at all levels, whether the impetus for this comes from home or abroad. The notion of reform as propounded by the US beneath the banner of the Greater Middle East is not new to us. Calls for reform have emanated from our region since the 19th century, when appeals for constitutional government and women's liberation were made by pioneering reformists such as Qassem Amin and Kheireddin Al- Tunisi. Throughout the last century the call for democracy in the Arab world has continued without interruption, from Ahmed Lutfi Al-Sayed in Cairo at the beginning of the century to Burhan Ghalioun in Paris at the century's close.
There is no conflict between reform and our identity, no contradiction between the principles of democracy and our values. Reformers since Rifaa Rafie Al-Tahtawi have demonstrated that reform involves borrowing from the West but also that carefully studied borrowing will help revive, rather than jeopardise, our identity. The real threat, as I see it, is for us to remain fixed in place while others move forward at an increasingly rapid pace.
Among the challenges we face -- from poverty, famine and natural disasters to extremism, despotism and occupation -- I would like to give special mention to the migration of our young men and women abroad out of frustration at the lack of opportunities in their own countries. This alone should compel us to place reform above all other concerns. The aim of reform is to develop the capacities of our people to confront the challenges that face us, in other words, to enable them to liberate their land and build their future.
We cannot discuss reform and the transition to a reasonable level of democracy in our region without a full understanding of the meaning of freedom, its prerequisites, conditions and boundaries. Freedom is one of the eternal values of enlightenment. Alongside rationalism, progress and equality it forms the essence of the humanitarian spirit.
Democratic practices can only be exercised, free expression, creativity and personal development advanced, in a climate of freedom. Only under these conditions can we achieve the type of development that contributes, in turn, to building democratic systems. We cannot confront challenges such as poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, extremism and terrorism, which threaten security, peace and stability throughout the world, without building and expanding the democratic institutions needed to fortify the foundations of peace and development.
Perhaps the task of stimulating development and promoting stability in our region would be better served in a regional framework. Certainly collective development would help narrow the growing gap between the South and North under the current global political and economic order. We must work to promote South-North and South-South dialogue and cooperation so as to create a more just and stable world.