From the centre of the mayhem: Prince Hassan of Jordan

Jordan lies in the heart of the Middle East, a region rocked by conflict and uncertainty. PETER CAMPBELL meets the man who may well be one of the most important in establishing its stability

HRH Prince Hassan
Photo: Sam Newsome

The world is closer to World War Three than it ever has been, and the breeding ground is the Middle East, said Prince Hassan of Jordan in an interview following his inaugural lecture on peace prospects in the Middle East. “It is more possible today than it was back then [the Prince warned about the possibility of a Third World War back in 2004]. If you look at the players today, with Iran becoming a potential nuclear power, you are looking at six nuclear realities in Asia alone…This will be a very destabilising force.”

His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal is a widely respected member of the Royal Family of Jordan, with a particular interest in inter-faith dialogue and toleration. His work includes, amongst other things, being Moderator of the World Conference of Religions for Peace and Co-Chairing the Independent Commission on International Humanitarian Issues.

The lecture was given as the start of a series of lectures annually on Post-war Reconstruction, which are to be named after the Prince, and was introduced by the Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop for York. Sentamu, himself of strong and well informed opinions on many political issues, praised the Prince, calling him “an international voice of wisdom, understanding, and sanity, rising above all the petty partisanship…bringing level-headedness when it is in short supply.”

The Prince thanked the Archbishop but began by iterating that, with regards to importance of the issue, “we do not count. What is important is the hundreds of thousands of people on the ground who are dying because of lack of nutrition, because of a lack of basic rights.”

During the talk, the Prince focused on the need for conversation and dialogue between different groups as a means of understanding the other side. “The world of the internet means that we can communicate with the world. But do we know our neighbours? The answer is all too often no. One of the greatest contributors to our region is…putting yourself in the shoes of the other.”

Much of the reason for this non-communication was religion, with the three main religions of the region, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, all displaying the same “monotheistic trait: There is a dialogue of compassion and love towards to creator, but between the created there is a dialogue of ugliness. I don’t mind if we shout or cry, but let us at least speak to each other!”

The Prince served as the Crown Prince of Jordan (direct heir to the throne) until 1999. Jordan itself is a constitutional monarchy, which means that the King holds a large amount of power, but can be overridden by the elected parliament. Jordan is situated in the heart of the Middle East, and borders Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia. As such, it will no doubt play a key role in any peace settlement.

“Obviously I don’t represent Jordan directly as I am not a spokesman for Jordan. But, I think that we are in the eye of the storm: we have five neighbours; we have made peace with Israel. We have a country that is a transit country to Iraq – Jordan has to play the role of host country to the UN and to continue to ask the basic question: when and how will the region start thinking regionally?”

He also admitted that “we have to recognise that much of the instability in our region has its roots within the Arab-Israeli conflict.” A question put to the Prince concerned the outcome of that conflict. “Both sides should proceed by the armistice treaty of 1967. No doubt Israel as the dominating country would have to withdraw and take down its illegal settlements, particularly those that serve no purpose except to provoke anger amongst the Palestinians, such as in Hebron.”

The Prince also accused the West of having a narrow and unhelpful mindset, which was potentially damaging to the Middle Eastern region. “I think the best way of overcoming the Arab/Muslim threat perception is to stop generalising. Arab is not synonymous with Muslim – the time to stop the binary relationship between the West and the Rest has come. As we approach Christmas I would suggest that light came from the East. Buying Christmas presents is not really in keeping with celebrating the life of Jesus. Let us break down the walls in all our minds.”

He criticised the solutions that were offered to the issue as simplistic and fanciful, saying that the internal problems needed to be addressed. “People have this illusion about a ball-park figure of several hundred millions or billions that will make the problems in the Middle East go away. I want to say that the money will be misspent unless it is monitored from the ground up.” He backs this up with an alarming statistic. For every $1 spent on conflict prevention, $1,885 was spent on weapons in the region. “The situation that undermines each side’s ability to negotiate with the other is mirrored by the very divisions within.”

Furthermore, he believes that the Arab-Israeli conflict has “overshadowed so many other pressing issues in the region.” He cites two: “Israel, out of all the developed countries, has the largest gap between the rich and the poor second only to the United States. The second largest export from Iraq is scrap metal. Our children are dying as we speak; from eating out of cooking pots that are uranium depleted; from climbing on climbing frames that are uranium depleted. You can say we need to take the necessary steps, but tell that to the sticky-fingered.”

Prince Hassan’s belief is that the best way to control the Middle East is by getting people to talk to each other. “If they want an opinion from this centre of this mayhem, then our advice has always been; ‘please think regionally’. I resent civilisations as a word: I think we belong to one world civilisation. Culture is not just what you think, it’s how you operate.”

He talked briefly about commodities, saying that the three most important commodities that any region possesses are water, energy, and the human environment. In all three areas, he feels that humanity has let itself down badly, but particularly water given that only 3% of the world’s water is saline. “I thought that you civilised northerners [by which he means Europeans] would have been able to share, to preserve the world’s water for the world. What do we find? Nations placing flags with submarines under the ice-cap.”

Returning to the central question, the Prince takes the chance to talk about the problems and possible solutions that face the region. He is particularly concerned about the human rights of those who object to their governments. “Thousands have gone to jail in Iraq, in Palestine, in Afghanistan – thousands of sympathisers who are being ‘rehabilitated’. We are creating a hotbed of new groups of activists as we speak.”

Dr. Sentamu, who introduced the lecture, said afterwards in an interview that he thought that peace in the Middle East was entirely possible. “I am a strong believer that all things are possible. Take South Africa: People thought that apartheid would never end, and it did. Mugabe has risen – he too will end! I am a strong believer that humanity has within itself a grasp of making a difference, and I strongly believe that if everyone was like his royal highness then we will make a difference in the world.”

Prince Hassan finished by outlining steps to be taken towards peace, but reiterated the fact that much of the problem lies within. “We are our own worst enemies when it comes to recognising the public good…the role of Jordan is to remind itself and the world of stability with a human face. The Mediterranean should be exactly that – the terra media: The middle ground.”

6 comments

  1. Very full article but well-written and representative of what he said. I loved his speech and the intro by Sentamu was awesome too…

    I hope we can have similar-quality speakers in the future :)

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  2. “He is particularly concerned about the human rights of those who object to their governments. “Thousands have gone to jail in Iraq, in Palestine, in Afghanistan””

    Someone should have taken him to task for this hypocrisy. Jordan is among the most oppressive regimes in the world and it is his family that is directly responsible for it.

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  3. 19 Nov ’08 at 9:00 pm

    steven Bainbridge

    Subodh, you are very much mistaken. Jordan is in no way “among the most oppressive regimes in the world.”
    In Jordan, people have the free and fair elections, parliament can overide the King’s veto and the judiciary is more independent from the government than in either the UK or America. Your assumption that Jordan must be oppressive due to being an arab kingdom is a naive stereotype, Jordan is the most free Arabic Kingdom in the Middle East.

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  4. What wise and insightful ideas from Prince Hassan of Jordan!
    If all our countries could get princes like this, I’d happily become a monarchist.
    As for his comments about Christmas, I hope that Prince Hassan would be pleased to know that many of us in Christian countries now give donations to Oxfam, instead of materialistic presents to each other. (It’s not much, but it’s a start)
    Christina Macpherson http://www.antinuclear.net

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  5. I agree that Jordan is probably one of the most progressive and ‘democratic’ Arab Kingdoms in the Middle-East. I also think their attitude to Israel in terms of intelligence sharing and condemnation of Hamas and Hezbollah is something not prevelant enough in other states in the region.

    Nevertheless, it’s worth remembering that the UK includes Jordan in its list of ‘dangerous states’ with regard to the deportation of potential terror suspects and the risk of torture/death. Deals are trying to be reached, but a guarantee that individuals will not be tortured (an no, we are not just talking about water-boarding for all you US-haters out there) suggests that Jordan has a very long way to go.

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  6. I completely agree with Dan Taylor.

    Jordan is by no means perfect. The speech was brilliant and Jordan is indeed far better than many countries in the area, but it will have to continue to strive if it wants peace in the region.

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