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The Jordanian Tribal Leader Who Dared To Criticize The King - And Call Queen Rania “A Marie-Antoinette'

Fares al-Fayez accuses the King’s inner circle of corruption, and “his wife" of spending lavishly and favoring Palestinians. The focus, he says, should be on a common enemy: Israel.

Queen Rania
Queen Rania
Laurent Zecchini

MADABA - Dr. Fares al-Fayez speaks with the words of a populist leader. "What the Jordanian people want is bread, social justice, and democracy," he declares. A Jaguar is parked in front of the steps to his rather patrician looking "firm," an office with the kind of luxury that Gulf emirs adore.

Despite his fancy tastes, Fares al-Fayez is far from a self-seeking, nouveau riche. Our evening meeting took place in Madaba, a 10,000-year-old city situated 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) south of Amman. The Fayez family has been in control of the city "since the 16th century," al-Fayez explains, and his clan is a member of the powerful ethnic Jordanian tribe of Beni Sakr.

So why has this representative of the country's tribal establishment made himself the spokesman of a ferocious critique of King Abdullah II, which risks contributing to the destabilization of the Hashemite regime?

He makes a point of clarifying that "the goal is not to undermine the monarchy, but rather to critique a friend in order put him back on the straight and narrow." This treatment is in the form of two petitions signed by 36 representatives of the tribe. The first, from February 25, was a pamphlet against the corruption that is running rampant in the corridors of power, paying special attention to Queen Rania, who is of Palestinian origin. The second, from March 21, condemns the sluggish pace of political reforms and "economic crimes."

As a professor of political science at the University of Jordan, having completed most of his studies in Spain and endowed with an abundant family fortune, there seems to be a discrepancy between the social and economic background of Fares al-Fayez and his aggressive, direct criticism of the King and Queen Rania, who he refers to as "his wife."

"She's a Marie-Antoinette," he rails against her, "spending the people's money for an evening party that cost what the Jordanians pay in taxes for a week!" Al-Fayez adds that Queen Noor, the widow of King Hussein, Abdullah II's father, may have spent just as much, "but she didn't cross the line by influencing the decisions of the ministers, the King's advisors, and the governors."

According to al-Fayez, the Queen, who he believes should be "under house arrest," is responsible for the disintegration of national unity by seeking to grant Jordanian citizenship to a growing number of Palestinians. Hiding behind this critique, a reoccurring one among ethnic Jordanians, is an acute anxiety concerning identity. Fares al-Fayez does not deny the issue. "If this tendency continues, then it will not encourage the Palestinians to reclaim their right of return "in a future Palestinian state."

Muhammad al-Masri of the Center for Strategic Studies confirms that many members of the Jordanian tribes "consider the Palestinians as guests to whom much rights should not be given, otherwise they will lose their desire for a Palestinian homeland."

Though many of his tribal peers fear the process of political reforms announced by the King, representative of the Fayez clan stresses its urgency and denounces the process of "national dialogue" engaged by the Hashemite sovereign. "What good will it do? He knows the demands of the people and the opposition. What's needed now is action."

Of course, we have seen recently where rising disenchantment with Arab leaders can lead. In Egypt and Tunisia, the escalation of the popular revolt was rapid, but "in other countries, such as Yemen and Jordan, it is gradual, though the movements are accelerating," al-Fayez notes. Until now the Jordanians have not considered the collapse of the monarchy, "but that could change," he warns.

Al-Fayez denies contributing to a campaign of destabilizing the monarchy, which "would be a problem," he admits. "But must we go as far as employing the term ‘catastrophe?"" In such a scenario, he recognizes that the risk of an "implosion" exists, along with a possible confrontation between ethnic and tribal Jordanians and those of Palestinian origin. But it could also create "an extraordinary reconciliation between the two peoples who could then join together to establish a new national unity."

Could this reconstructed unity then be "a platform against the common enemy: Israel?" That is the direction where we are heading, al-Fayez summarizes, "We are presenting the King with friendly and brotherly advice in order to open his eyes."

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