Alain Elkann recently sat down in London with Jordan's Prince El Hassan bin Talal. Here are excerpts of his interview.
How are your efforts going to bring an ecumenical community together to address the problems of the Middle East?
I am beginning to feel that voices from the region have some traction. [This month], I am going back in Rome, having already met the Holy Father earlier this year, for a meeting of the Pontifical Council where there are going to be Anglicans and Catholics, Shia and Sunni.
So I am beginning to feel that the call for justice, which basically is a call for enabling and empowering people with citizenship, is beginning to receive the support of the broad ecumenical community. Last summer in London, I also called on Archbishop Welby, and I recently spoke at the House of Lords on this topic.
The British Parliament, decades after the Balfour Declaration, has said they recognize the State of Palestine, and so does the Swedish government. And now also the French Parliament.
But you might say that this is not only too little too late. It is also a gross irrelevance, because the problem is not to recognize different sectarian and ethnic groupings; the problem is the citizenship deficit that these individuals suffer from.
I mean, for example, the Arabs of Jerusalem are living on as residents at the discretion of the Israeli Minister of Interior, and I am afraid to say that, like the Arabs of Palestine before them, Christians Jews and Muslims of Arab culture, citizenship is not yet a common denominator, and certainly not first class citizenship.
What does it take for peaceful coexistence?
The traction I feel we are beginning to get is that, for the first time in a long time, authentic ideas are coming from the region and are being listened to. Some years ago we established the West Asia-North Africa Forum, and today we are in touch with the international bar associations of the world. People are beginning to develop the content of the rule of law.
The rule of law is not simply the ballot box; the rule of law is not the conventions which come undone when you cherry pick that this convention suits me and that convention does not suit me. The rule of law that protects all citizens means recognizing for the first time the difference between "migration stakeholders" and "national stakeholders."
Peter Sutherland, special representative of the secretary general of the U.N. for migration, says that in some ways, this is a story of Mars and Venus. It sometimes seems that migration stakeholders are from one planet -- and national stakeholders from an altogether different one. They see migration very differently.
Forty-five million Egyptians are going to have to move from the Nile delta region. With global warming raising the Mediterranean sea levels, the delta will be flooded by the water. Yet, I don't see anybody, who is interested in building the infrastructure or who cares about crisis avoidance.
Shifting the emphasis from bombs and oil to citizens being the vector of stability or instability may be, just may be, the way to propose a stabilization architecture for the region. And the region I am talking about is West Asia to South Asia, East of Suez to Iran, Turkey and Iraq.
So then you would have a situation which, as Nasser put it in his day, that would detract from Arab nationalism. But, in reality what we need is citizenship not pan-nationalism. As Churchill put it in his 1946 speech, I paraphrase, "a broader form of patriotism."
Don't tell me that Washington or Brussels or Rome knew what a Yazidi is, what a Malachite Christian or a Maronite Christian is, until five minutes ago. You can't cherry pick the community you want to protect because you want to protect minorities. You have to protect the minority and the majority as equal citizens.
In terms of existential threat, Iran has the same figure of 45 million people, also potentially on the move by 2030, because the water they get is from the Zagros Mountains, where, like the Himalayas, the ice is shrinking. The water is deoxygenating and when you deoxygenate water you can't grow anything.
So where will this 90 million people go before you can say, "Aleikum Salaam?"
We have not talked together since this time last year. What has changed since then, and what are your major concerns now?
Well, a major concern in the region, with the possible exception of Tunisia, is rampant corruption, alongside a lack of governance and of institutionalism. So I am talking today about the importance of the triple helix of political, economic and civil society coming together to talk.
You see the problem we face is that all the slogans of the Arab Spring in 2011 were just that -- slogans. Democracy. Freedom.
"Rather than democracy, I think that what people are asking for is equal opportunity."
Rather than democracy, I think that what people are asking for is equal opportunity. In the last year, since we last met, we have produced a charter in the Arab Thought Forum. Thousands of young Arabs have developed a charter proscribing discrimination at all levels; that means all the things that are not written into constitutions, with the exception, ironically, of the Egyptian constitution which is explicit. The rest of the countries only write such proscriptions into their emergency laws, and emergency laws don't have the power of good governance.
In my country, there were about 7-8 million people when we met a year ago. Today we are 11 million. Since 2011, 32,000 Syrian children have been born in Jordan, and in the absence of policy to ensure their ability to participate, in several years' time these children will be the foot soldiers of the Da'esh.
Obama wants to find a way to destroy the Syrian air force capability within 75 kilometers of the borders with Syria, so he puts in Patriot missiles. This is not the real issue. My point is it is not a question of 70 kilometers, or a 20 kilometer buffer in Gaza; it's a question of groundwater and economic free zones, so that you get citizenship. When will people understand that citizenship is the basis of stability or instability? But instead we are all driven by populist factors.
Is ISIS now a major problem for you in Jordan?
People joining up with ISIS in Jordan or elsewhere is about the absence of identity. If everyone gets $1,000, or whatever it is, and if people are unemployed and humiliated, they join up.
Da'esh, or ISIS, has several components, one of which is the former Baath army which was disbanded. The second component is the Salafis, which is a sort of rejuvenation of the first Wahhabi movement in British India (the second was in Qatar).
Remember that a percentage of the population of Bahrain, of Saudi Arabia's eastern province, and a percentage of Oman is Shia; a large percentage of Iran is Shia. So the growth of ISIS is a sort of rejuvenation of a Sunni balancing factor.
Some people say that there are those in the military establishment of the U.S. who thought maybe they can make amends now for when the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi army after it invaded by bringing the Sunni into a balancing role with the Shia. But what are they turning to? They are turning to these iconoclasts.
In Iraq, the actual administration and training of ISIS is being done by the old regime. In northern Syria and northern Iraq it's basically a holding position. This is why I think that the comments of Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, are so important concerning making Aleppo an open city. I think Mosul should also be an open city and that all the minorities should have a chance to breathe as citizens.
There is a difference between domination and pluralism. You can refer to a sense of authority, but the federation should not be a federation of clear cut lines between us and them.
What will happen in this region? Is Jordan the only stable state? Lebanon, Syria, Iraq -- what is going to happen?
Today is 1914 all over again. Margaret MacMillan at Oxford University has written a brilliant book about that war, The War that Ended Peace. Pope Francis has also made a very important remark that today we are facing a "piecemeal World War III" because every region is in conflict.
They had to go through a world war between 1914 and 1918 to get to the peace conference in Versailles. Is there a possibility of our region seeing a conference focusing on West Asia? Of the five countries that have seen military intervention, four are in our region -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran and then we have Nigeria. And what has foreign intervention achieved? According to the terrorism index, it has not achieved anything.
You mean the bombing?
I mean the bombing yes, but also the special forces and the special operations. This is the sad point. People cannot even think, they cannot focus anymore, because of continuously being hit on the head. These are the zombies that ISIS wants. As we say, the dead-hearted.
Do you talk to the people of ISIS?
I believe in talking to everyone. At the Arab Thought Forum we invite anyone from the region who is willing to engage in conversation. When the vernacular of governance breaks down then these communities become ghettoized. As an Italian sociologist said to me years ago, "There is a big difference between cosmopolitan and convivial." If people are all living in ghettos, they are not communicating.
There has to be an understanding of the fact that this West Asian region cannot be protected by armies and navies focused solely on gas and oil. What we need desperately is connection, conviviality and citizenship.
The unabridged text of the interview can be read at Alainelkanninterviews.com