Feb 29 2008

An authentic Arab leader

Published by at 4:29 pm under Articles,Jordan


By Daoud Kuttab
Guest Columnist
Published: Friday, February 29th, 2008
The Wilson School has done well by inviting Jordan’s King Abdullah II to speak about the Middle East. At a time when there are so many pundits trying to tell us what Arabs think, this is a rare opportunity for the Princeton community to hear an authentic Arab voice.
The occasion of the King’s visit reminds me of a day in the summer of 2000 when I had a chance to ask King Abdullah II a question. I was participating in a media conference organized by the International Press Institute, and we were invited to the Royal Court for an audience with the young monarch.

Referring to the fact that Jordanians had access to foreign-based radio stations but local ownership was not permitted, I asked the King when Jordanians would be able to listen to privately owned local radio. The King seemed ready for my question and answered without hesitation, “privatizing radio and television will take place in two or three years.” True to his words, three years later, the King signed an audiovisual law that allowed private ownership of radio and television frequencies. Jordan today has many privately owned radio stations and has witnessed reform on various levels.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan under King Abdullah II has seen progress in other areas. A quota for women in Jordan’s parliament and city councils has resulted in the empowerment of women; in at least case, the number of elected female politicians has even exceeded the quota. No Arab country in the Middle East has been as strong a strategic, political and military ally to the United States as Jordan.

But despite all of this, Washington has done little to listen to the King’s advice on Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I attended a meeting with the King and local journalists on the day Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ’54 resigned. The King told us that he learned that Rumsfeld had pushed aside his advice to President Bush that the Iraqi army should not be dismantled. According to the King, when Bush confronted the defense secretary with the Jordanian monarch’s advice, Rumsfeld reportedly said, “What do these Arabs know?”

On Palestine, the King has been even more forthcoming, yet his words have not been taken seriously in Washington. While King Abdullah was awarded the privilege of speaking to a joint session of both houses congress last March, what he said has not been heeded. In his speech he repeatedly said that he couldn’t remain silent and called urgently for an end to the bloodshed in Palestine. In King Abdullah II’s eyes, the longer we wait, the more bloodshed will occur and thus more revenge and more hatred. Just last month, more than 70 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza strip, and Israelis living in the town of Sederot were hit by rockets coming from Gaza. The calls by Gazan Islamists for a ceasefire have been rejected. Gazans have been placed under an unjust siege, and the world seems to watch idly.

The King’s government is not without its problems. In December 2007, Human Rights Watch (HRW) faulted Jordan in a report entitled “Shutting Out Critics.” The report documented legal restrictions on the rights to assembly and association, and violations of these rights by the Jordanian government. Another report about the country’s human rights record revealed that Jordan had deported and denied residence permits to at least 27 foreign Christians and families in 2007. The audiovisual law gave the prime minister the right to reject radio licenses without giving an explanation.

These reports have, however, produced corrective actions. HRW was given unprecedented access to the Jordanian intelligence prisons in August 2007. The prime minister’s response to the “Shutting Out Critics” was so comprehensive that it prompted the human rights organization to publicly respond that “the details you provide are amongst the most productive governmental correspondence Human Rights Watch has received in response to our reporting.”

If America ever hopes to win hearts and minds in the Arab and Islamic world, a serious and balanced approach to the region’s conflicts is needed. No can give us such a balanced approach better than King Abdullah II.

I am thrilled that Princeton University has managed to invite a truly authentic Arab leader to speak. Your majesty, I would like to welcome you to Princeton with the Arabic welcome: Ahlan Wasahlan.

Daoud Kuttab is a Ferris professor of journalism and founded the first internet radio station in the Arab world. He can be reached at dkuttab@princeton.edu.

Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2008/02/29/20311/

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