Senate president calls for gradual progress to political ‘development’

Al-Fayez says local culture dictates an evolutionary approach to change

Senate President Faisal Al-Fayez
(Photo: Senate President Faisal Al-Fayez)
AMMAN — After a series of discussions with community leaders and other figures, in a bid to depict an accurate picture of the public opinion ahead of a major move to modernize the country’s political system, Senate President Faisal Al-Fayez came up with the conclusion that the Kingdom needs to adopt an evolutionary approach to political reform.اضافة اعلان

The veteran politician prefers the term “development” to “reform”, he told Jordan News during an interview at his office one on Thursday, hours before His Majesty King Abdullah assigned the chair and members of a panel to “modernize the political system”.

“Our political system is intertwined in our culture, whether we like it or no. We are a tribal community where tribalism and regionalism prevail,” Al-Fayez said.

According to Al-Fayez, a former House speaker and prime minister, the 2011 Arab Spring offered a lesson and a warning against “rushing to political reform,” explaining that such a haste has led to civil wars in several Arab countries. “Our culture and social structure do not allow hastened reforms,” he said, adding that Arab societies need time to strike the required balance between secularists and Islamists, for example, citing instability in Tunisia due to the conflict between the two political groups. 

On the rift between the state and Islamists in Jordan, Al-Fayez said that the Kingdom is not a secular state, but rather one that seeks to evolve into a civic state. “Therefore, we must accept everyone,” and Islamists seem to agree with that.

“In one of my meetings with [former foreign minister and political activist] Marwan Muasher, he said that Islamists are totally convinced that Jordan is a diverse country, and that no group should dominate the other. In the process of political development, the Muslim Brotherhood must accept diversity, and the domination of one single party cannot be accepted. Yes, we are an Islamic country, but we are also a diverse country. The national dialogue must reach a place where everyone agrees that we preserve our Islamic and Arab culture, as [His Majesty the late King] Al-Hussein — may God have mercy on him — when asked about returning to Islam, he said it is ‘progress towards Islam.’”

The Cardiff and Boston University political science graduate called for a gradual progress towards the envisioned change in the Kingdom. For example, he suggested an elections law where the voter picks a candidate from the constituency, another at the governorate level and a third from an all-country ticket. The national list can grow in number of electees with time, he proposed. 

Asked if tribalism has been a hindrance before sound progress towards modernity, the Senate president insisted that the state and the tribes are not in opposing camps, recalling that that the people he has met from the Badia are not against a change in political life and they approve of the three-vote system, demanding that their constituencies should not remain closed. He spoke of the founding fathers from tribal chiefs, who were not educated, but helped Jordan take its shape and evolve into the Jordan the world knows and respects.  

In tandem with political development, the “services” role of elected representatives, customarily handled by lawmakers should be shifted to members of local, municipal and decentralization councils, leaving legislators enough space to focus on policies and serving national interests.

Such a shift should be well-studied and goal-oriented, “because we suffer from deteriorating quality of services and lack of discipline [in government agencies] after we used to boast about the quality of services offered and compare ourselves to Europe in this regard. We need to address the root causes for this deterioration, which might be cultural, like the arrogance of public servants,” Al-Fayez said.   
He stressed that the modernization process should expand to address all aspects of deterioration, including education and economy. 

On education, the statesman blamed the woes of the sector on the failure to qualify teachers and the fact that school curricula have not kept pace with the spirit of the age, stressing that an educational makeover is a priority. 

The ailing economy is a key factor in the deterioration, he said. Acknowledging setbacks caused by unsound government policies over the years, Al-Fayez said that the disruption of the cheap Iraqi oil following the Gulf War and gas from Egypt were behind the mounting public debt, rejecting as inaccurate that corruption, specifically embezzlement of public funds, was to blame. He said that there are checks and balances that protect public money, making it “impossible for anyone to steal from the state budget”. 

The refugee influxes have amplified the problem, he said, citing the fact that the cost incurred by Jordan as a result of hosting a wave after a wave of refugees from Iraq and Syria has aggregately stood at $11 billion, only a quarter of which was covered by donors. 

The refugee crisis was caused by the Arab Spring and Gulf War, he noted, and so the halt in oil and gas supplies led to losses by the National Electric Power Company (NEPCO), which, for years, relied on heavy oil to generate electricity.  In the outcome, NEPCO’s debts went up from JD300 million prior to 2003, the Iraq war year, to around JD5.5 billion presently.   

“All of these heavy burdens prompted Jordan to borrow. Also, it is important to clarify that I do not exonerate governments, as there have been major failures that have led us to the current situation.” 

The top senator outlined the way out of the economic crisis, going into specifics, such as suggesting support for SMEs, generating power from waste, focus on water harvest and building an oil refinery in the south, “which would generate 12,000 jobs”.  

On the privatization process, which critics blame for much of the economic crisis, Al-Fayez said it had its pros and cons, citing examples of success stories like the French company that is managing the Queen Alia International Airport. 
“The airport management was not successful in the past, but now the French company has facelifted the facility and the government is making more earnings than before.”   

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