At his first news conference after re-election, President George W. Bush conducted the following odd exchange with a reporter. They appeared to be the only people present who knew what it was about.
THE REPORTER: Mr. President…Last month in Jordan, a gentleman named Ali Hatar was arrested after delivering a lecture called, “Why We Boycott America.” He was charged under section 191 of their penal code for slander of government officials. He stood up for democracy, you might say. And I wonder if here and now, you will specifically condemn this abuse of human rights by a key American ally. And if you won't, sir, then what, in a practical sense, do your fine words mean?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm unaware of the case. You've asked me to comment on something that I didn't know took place. I urge my friend, His Majesty, to make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan. I noticed today that he put forth a reform that will help more people participate in future governments of Jordan. I appreciate His Majesty's understanding of the need for democracy to advance in the greater Middle East…As I said in my speech, not every nation is going to immediately adopt America's vision of democracy, and I fully understand that. But we expect nations to adopt the values inherent in a democracy, which is human rights and human dignity that every person matters and every person ought to have a voice. And His Majesty is making progress toward that goal.
I can't speak specifically to the case. You're asking me to speak about a case that I don't know the facts.
REPORTER: Fair enough. If I could just follow up: Will you then — does your inaugural address mean that when it comes to people like Mr. Hatar, you won't compromise because of a U.S. ally and you will stand —
THE PRESIDENT: Again, I don't know the facts, Terry. You're asking me to comment on something I do not know the facts. Perhaps you're accurate in your description of the facts, but I have not seen those facts. Now, nevertheless, we have spoken out in the past and we'll continue to speak out for human rights and human dignity, and the right for people to express themselves in the public square.”
Bush went on to say that he noticed that King Abdullah has “put forth a reform that will help more people participate in future governments of Jordan. “
What was the president referring to?
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Amman, the Jordanian monarch, fed up with a parliament paralyzed, he feels, by a large Islamic fundamentalist faction, has hit on a plan to “neutralize” the legislature; its powers will be broken up and assigned to four to six new regional assemblies. With legislative authority drawn from the national assembly in Amman, these mini-parliaments will be empowered and possibly even act in a supervisory capacity over the government.
What about secessionists?
This measure would make Jordan the first country in the world to establish multiple parliaments with a single upper house. Our sources report that Abdullah is convinced that shifting power away from the center will give him and his prime ministers more freedom of maneuver and give the executive arm the chance to do its job.
Except that the king’s plan has run into opposition from most of the Jordanian royal family, large elements of the political establishment and the tribes. Senior royals and the king’s top advisers warn him that Jordan is too small for more than one parliament. Carving up power could stir up demands for regional autonomy or even secession.
They remind Abdullah of the riots that erupted eighteen months ago in southern Jordan over his government’s economic policies. Ringleaders made calls over loudspeakers and banners to attach the district to neighboring Saudi Arabia. The way might be opened for ethnic Syrians in northern Jordan to demand union with Syria. Jordan’s majority Palestinian population would pose the biggest problem. Their representatives in the regional assemblies would not miss the chance of demanding to share power in a Jordanian-Palestinian union.
Nonetheless, on the day of the Bush news conference, Abdullah telephoned the president and eagerly explained how his plan accorded with the Bush vision of a democratic Middle East. “His majesty” declared his determination to see the plan through.