By Dr. Raed Al-Tabini, SIT Academic Director in Jordan
On Thursday April 18, 2013, SIT students on the Jordan: Modernization and Social Change program had the opportunity to meet with His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein, and uncle to Jordan’s King Abdullah. The Prince gave a talk, answered students’ questions, and invited them to share in a favorite local dessert.
Prince Hassan spent much of the lecture discussing the historical, social, political, and cultural specificities that differentiate Jordan from other Arab countries, and the current realities and challenges facing the Arab world. The talk was largely interdisciplinary, blending historical and empirical data with personal thoughts and reflections to make the case for the urgency of a design that prioritizes self-determination, political reformation, and human security in the region. To ground his argument in a historical context, the Prince began with an appraisal of the British Mandate period, discussing agreements like the Sykes-Picot Agreement in relation to the current state of the Middle East.
What was significant about the talk was not that it was another call for democracy and openness in the Middle East; to a significant extent, the Prince merely used these issues as a theme rather than an argument in and of itself. Rather, the lecture was a unique opportunity for the students to hear about these issues contextualized within a history and an ethos of the Middle East. The Prince also addressed the issues of refugees, political participation, and human security both in terms of livelihoods and scarce resources, and he provided a comparative analogy between Jordan and other countries facing similar problems.
Following the lecture, the students were able to ask questions on diverse topics, such as Jordan’s human capital in relation to the problem of peak oil exploitation, cultural differences between so-called “Jordanian-Jordanians” and the imported culture of refugees, women’s rights in relation to the Arab Spring, and the ability of Syrian refugees to gain political traction to help their situation.
To all of these questions, Prince Hassan provided in-depth and thoughtful answers and tied the questions back to the thematic elements he had discussed in the lecture to demonstrate the interconnectedness between development and political stability in the region.