This is Part II of a three-part series on the Jordan Is Palestine Conference that took place on 17 October 2017 and reports on things Mudar Zahran said at the conference and later, in telephone interviews with me. Mudar was at the heart of much controversy in the weeks leading up to the conference. I stayed out of the controversy but read everything that came up on my screen. I like to form my own opinions and I assume my readers do as well. There are times when I write my opinions and there I times I tell the facts as I know them and leave readers to come to their own conclusions. This is a case of the latter – I am reporting here on what Mudar said in his speech at the conference and later in two conversations with me. I want his words to stand on their own. You decide what you think.
I already published Part I of my review of this conference, in which I discussed the general idea of Jordan=Palestine. In Part III, I critique the conference itself and tell you what I think should have been done differently.
Mudar Zahran’s Skype Talk at the Conference
Mudar presents himself as leader of the Jordanian Opposition Coalition. His goal is to see King Abdullah II of Jordan taken down and Jordan turned into the democratic secular state he believes it should be.
He was supposed to attend the conference in person, but we got word as soon as the conference began that he would not be able to make it because his flight out of London the night before was delayed and so he would have missed the connecting flight to Israel. Then the EL AL flight he was put on on the morning of the conference was cancelled because of a crack in a window. Therefore, we had to suffice with a Skype presentation after which the audience passed questions to the moderator and Mudar answered them. I will provide a brief summary of his talk and one question from the question-and-answer section.
Here are the points that Mudar made in his speech:
- In 1919, the Hashemites agreed that Jordan is Palestine.
- There is a Jewish Palestine now called Israel, and a Muslim Arab Palestine now called Jordan
- Do you think Jordanians are more concerned with Israel than with the fact that our children are eating out of trash cans on the street?
- King Abdullah II is inciting against Israel and against the USA, inciting against everything that is Jewish, not to appease his population but to divert their attention away from criticism against him. He supports the Moslem Brotherhood and in that way he is planting a time bomb in Jordan.
- The King is living a lavish life-style while his people are starving. “Anyone who assumes this is going to go on forever is foolish.”
- Intelligence agencies in three major countries know that Jordan is on the verge of collapse. Jordan is not stable.
- The King does not control the army or Intelligence. Described what happened in Egypt when Mubarak fell, implying that that is what will happen in Jordan as well.
- The Jordanian army is close to the USA government and to Israel. After Jordan collapses (in 6 months), the army will support whoever the USA deems fit to rule.
- The claim is that Jordan is protecting the borders of Israel — how does the king do this if he has no control of the army? “This is a man who is irrelevant, out-dated, useless and dangerous.”
- “We [The Jordanian Opposition Coalition] are here to say that we are popular, we are followed by our people. People trust us.”
- “We are not seeking ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Judea and Samaria.” All West Bank residents have Jordanian passports, including Abbas. They are all Jordanian citizens.
- “We have to prepare for the days to come [after the fall of the Jordanian king].” We will need your help to promote “the right government” when that happens.
- “We will respect Israel’s sovereignty over all its territory. We will take care of all our citizens in Judea and Samaria.” The Arabs in the West Bank will be residents of Israel and Jordanian citizens.
- Israel needs to be sovereign over all its land so Jordan can be sovereign.
- “Once we are in power with the help of the United States — we are not asking anything of the United States — we will not allow anyone to interfere in Jordan’s affairs.” The USA, UK and Israel will help ensure, however that Jordan does not become another Syria. “They will help promote the right people and the right people is us.”
- Three years ago, on this very podium, I warned you that the King and Hamas were preparing for an intifada and it happened a month later. “Let this serve as your last warning” — We need to prepare for changes in Jordan or all of us are going to suffer. And therefore, I call on every one of you to seek help for us.
- The first act taken when we come to power will be to ban terror organizations and members of terror organizations will not even be able to vote.
- Even if Jordanians currently think Jews are evil, because the King is inciting them to think this, they do not want war.
- The new Jordanian state is a welfare state and it will be a country that will take care of its citizens. We are not asking anyone for money – all we are seeking is for Abdullah to go. The savings from his lavish lifestyle is all Jordan needs.
- The Moslem Brotherhood is part of the king’s leadership. The MB has come out against me, against Abed Almaala (Coalition deputy leader) and against this conference. If the USA does not help Jordan get rid of the king within 6 months at most, I predict “very dark days ahead”.
- When we take over we will have “full partnership with Israel”. It will be hard for the people of Jordan, but people follow their leaders, follow the government. We will see that the relationship between Jordan and Israel will be like the relationship between Canada and the USA.
- “I personally would love to welcome the first synagogue in Amman”.
- We Jordanians are a peaceful nation — we just want the Hashemite royal family to go.
If you want to see his Skype talk, click here.
Questions and Answers at the End of His Speech
A number of people wrote questions down on slips of paper and passed them to Ted Belman, the conference organizer and moderator of the session. Ted read out the questions one at a time and gave Mudar a chance to answer. Here are some comments he made in response to some of the questions (the Q&A is not on the recording):
- The future Jordan will not seek sovereignty over Islamic holy sites — these sites should be handled by the local population.
- We will be a secular state.
- The king fled Jordan in 2012 and 2013 [during a revolt that in his speech he claimed credit for the Coalition for having initiated] and Obama brought him back.
- The King is moving toward Islamism and Sharia Law.
The final question was mine. Here is the gist of what I asked:
You were involved in quite a controversy in the time leading up to this conference. From what I could see, you handled it with something less than political finesse. Given that I do not think you handled the situation well, why should we believe that you know how to run a country?
Here is the gist of his answer (I wrote it down in point form):
You have to get the facts — there were documented serious allegations against me — accusations that I am homosexual, for example. With this level of silliness, why were they promoting these lies? And if Trump has the right to defend himself against rumours, do I not have that right? He [Khaled] has to answer particular questions: this is not about him, about Khaled personally, but about the fact that he is with the King. We will win — if they kill me, there will be another Mudar Zahran to take my place.
Final Statement to the Audience
I must admit that, when he presented his final message to the audience, I was so astounded by the hand gesture that he made that I was unable to concentrate on his words. This part of his speech was not included in the recording uploaded to the Internet and I was not quick enough to take out my camera to capture it. I am grateful to Sharon of @rjstreets.com for providing me with the image.
I guess the hand gesture was an imitation of Spock and not half the Cohanim gesture made when blessing the people. What do you think? Spock (Leonard Nimoy) invented the Vulcan salute, that means “Live long and prosper”, based on the Kohanim gesture he had seen in synagogue as a child. What does it mean when Mudar, not a Vulcan, flashes this gesture in front of a Jewish audience (and does he do that in front of non-Jewish audiences as well?).
Just by chance, while looking for something else, I found another video in which he made the Spock/Cohanim gesture; he did this in response to someone prefacing a new question by complimenting Mudar (at about 17:30 minutes). When I asked him about it later, he did not give me an answer, really: “It is just a gesture”.
Telephone Interviews, 25 October 2017 and 30 October 2017
I wanted first to get a sense of the man and not just the leader of the Jordanian Opposition Coalition. Here is what I learned about him. He is 44 years old, married and has three children, a boy and two girls. He has two MA degrees, one in health administration and one in business management. His PhD is in management and information systems (banking). He completed his PhD in 2014. Zahran was an economic specialist and assistant to the policy coordinator at the American Embassy in Amman seeking political asylum in the UK in 2010. For a time, he did consultations for businesses wanting to become established in the Middle East.
Because of his political position, it is now difficult for Mudar to find jobs. In spite of this, he never charges for his speeches and all of his activism is supported out of his own pocket. This has affected his family and he says they are suffering financially.
I challenge anyone to check with the organizers of lectures I have given and find out if I was ever paid. There is zero advantage to me in taking the positions that I take.
His kids go to school under protection and the family lives in a safe house, having to move frequently. He says his life is very difficult. He has not seen his dying father for eight years because he cannot go back to Jordan since he has been found guilty in absentia of the crime of criticizing the king. However, in a moment of humanitarian concern, the authorities allowed his children to visit their family in Jordan on two separate occasions.
He does believe, however, that there is a light at the end of tunnel. He says there are 6 million Jordanians behind him. Mudar claims that there are former intelligence officers in the Coalition as well.
Then he returned to the subject of Khaled Abu Toameh. I did not want to pursue this route but he went on:
There are a handful against me in Israel, all revolving around Khaled. They are all making the same claims — that I left Jordan because of unpaid loans from the bank, that my father disowned me and that I am not really a political refugee. People making these claims do not relate to the difficulty in attaining political asylum in Britain. The government must be convinced — beyond convinced — that my claim is legitimate.
Mudar said he has no connections within the Israeli government because our government is purposefully staying away from becoming involved in internal Jordanian affairs.
We are not asking for financial or political help. We just want to educate the Israeli public about what is going to happen. It is happening whether they like it or not. The Jewish Press has predicted the King’s imminent fall.
I found one article making that assessment – Jordanian Kingdom’s Collapse Imminent.
Mudar went on to explain that the king is irrelevant to Israeli security and peace. The army is responsible for peace and security and the army is influenced by the American military and intelligence. Zahran states that the king is NOT in control of Jordan’s army and, in fact, that he is outside the country 90% of the time.
The Letter from Obama
In our phone conversation, I raised the topic of a letter Almaala had received from former USA President Obama. Mudar had once expressed pride in the letter, saying it shows Obama supported their efforts. Almaala had sent me a photo of the letter by private message on FB when we were communicating some time ago, and he held the letter aloft during his speech at the conference, which shows that they place some degree of importance on the letter. During the phone call, Mudar told me:
We send lots of information to the American government. We are doing a lot in Congress. This letter we received is lip-service because Obama supports the King and the Moslem Brotherhood. We are rocking the boat in Washington. Yes, you can publish the letter.
A photograph of the letter appears on Abed Almaala’s Facebook Page. The explanation accompanying the letter tells us that it was in response to a letter Almaala sent to the President after a failed assassination attempt against him in Washington, DC.
I asked if I could see copies of other correspondence between the Coalition and Washington and was told that it is not for public consumption.
The Zahran Tribe
Mudar expressed pride in his tribe, numbering about 30,000 people.His parents were born in Jerusalem and moved to Jordan when Judea and Samaria were under Jordanian occupation. By fluke, then, he missed the chance to be an Israeli citizen (residents of East Jerusalem can opt for Israeli citizenship).
The Zahran tribe is politically active and financially well established in Jordan. In 2014, he told Mida:
The family is very well-established politically, and was very wealthy until recently, to the point where the most affluent neighborhood in Amman is named after it: “Zahran Neighborhood.” That is where all the embassies and the royal palaces are located.
One of those palaces is Zahran Palace, located on Zahran Street in the Zahran Neighbourhood.
I Cannot Hold Back From A Bit of Editorializing After All
I am left with a bad taste from the controversy that raged and the mudslinging that went back and forth between Mudar and Khaled. Without taking sides, all I can say is that someone who intends to lead a country, who wants to overturn a king and take the reigns from him, has to be a superb politician. Even more so, perhaps, someone like Mudar — in contrast with those who work their way up through the ranks within a political party and capture the electoral vote. When I see all the criticism that politicians have to cope with, some of it quite vicious, I am impressed with their thick skins and ability to manouever their way through public relations minefields. I did not see that in this case.
Mudar claims he has the right to defend his reputation from slurs just like Trump does. That is true, but I am not sure that Trump should be his benchmark for more reasons than one. And I am not sure that he answered my question at the end of the Skype presentation at the conference.So I raised this topic in our second phone conversation, not because I wanted to go into the controversy itself, but because I wanted to challenge his handling of it.
He did not agree with me at first. He says he has years of experience dealing with lies being told about him on Jordanian TV, radio and in the newspapers. And he has faced Hamas on TV. The Israeli public in view of whom this controversy was most recently being aired is not a show-down versus Hamas, however, and the approach needs to be tailored to the audience. I told Mudar that he exhibited more rage than diplomatic skills. A leader of a country does not have the luxury of acting out of rage. After we discussed it for a while, he acknowledged that I may have a point.
Mudar, people are watching you and everything you do and say is being measured and judged. I know you know that.
Zahran told me that the media in Jordan are preoccupied with him every day in some form or another.
Why is Jordan so busy with me if I am unimportant?
I asked him to send me links to articles and TV shows in which he is vilified and lied about. Here is what he sent me this morning (31 October), writing “There are MORE THAN 200 articles and stories in the last two weeks alone, here is just a sample”:
- Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood protesting the conference and pro-Jordan, London-Based, news site publishes it
- Jordan-government-controlled news site, Saraya, attacking the conference and me, calling me a traitor, this is the second most read news site in Jordan
- Ammon News Site, which is run by a a former Jordanian intelligence general, attacking me and the conference, calling for counter-measures by Jordan’s government. This is the VERY news site Khaled Abu Toameh and his friends are referencing as “evidence” my dad has “disowned” me.
- This is another one, I am called the evil one here.
- Jordanian government controlled TV show that includes a piece about the conference, showing my previous lecture in Israel, parts of Ted Belman’s interview, and a MP, loyal to the King, calling for killing me and my group. [Between 1:13 and 1:59 – if you do not understand Arabic, just watch the part between 1:17 and 1:22 (repeated between 1:53 and 1:59) and then tell me whether or not it makes you feel as uncomfortable as it made me feel. As an aside, that piece got a huge amount of screen time.]
- Jordan’s Congress Member, the king’s advisor, and former Minister of Interior, Hussein Majali, calling for the murder of my group and I on national TV
One thing that Mudar has is tenacity. How much his predictions will come true, only time will tell. Does he have the support he says he does? I do not know and I hope to be able to explore this in the future. Is he the right person to lead Jordan if (when, according to him) the king falls? I have no way of knowing at this point. I am still not taking sides.
Feature Image Credit: Mudar Zahran’s Facebook Page
This article originally appeared in Israel Diaries.