Knowing my love for political discussions and political sittings, my boss let me tag along to a “salon seyasi” at the World Affairs Council. I don’t believe “salon seyasi” has an actual English translation but it is basically an informal get together, meet-up, or forum, where people sit around the perimeter of an open room and discuss political issues, while sipping coffee. In Jordan, when large families visit one another, the men tend to form a mini-salon-seyasi, keeping in tune with social tradition. So, in any case, every Tuesday a group of well seasoned politicians and diplomats meet to talk shop at the World Affairs Council in Amman. It was an extremely enlightening and enjoyable experience for me, and I was especially interested in the way it was conducted.
First of all, there are a lot of big names in Jordanian politics in attendance. Abdullah Ensour is one such name as well as former Prime Minister, Abdel Salam Majali and the first female Jordanian ambassador, Laurice Hlass.
Traditionally, Majali concludes every meet up, by rounding up the topic, whatever it may be. At the start of the meet they generally ask what they’d like to discuss and topics are thrown out there until a quick consensus is drawn. Domestic issues tend to be avoided for
obvious unknown reasons, although every now and then (such as two weeks ago) a discussion is forced to revolve around the elephant in the room, such as parliamentary elections or inflation. The WAC has been around since 1977, and many of its members have been active in the Jordanian political scene even before that time.
It is an open and informal salon as far as I know, so anyone can walk in and get a cup of coffee, sit on a chair or couch and listen or take part in the discussion.
Last week’s topic was about the US planned peace conference in Annapolis this autumn. Some of the members felt this was an unsatisfying topic to discuss but everyone eventually agreed.
Through out the discussion you get to hear a variety of opinions. Some of the opinion that Jordan shouldn’t attend and Palestine should boycott the conference if Israel doesn’t fulfill so and so demands. Others felt that in a situation where the Arabs are weak, powerless and in a bad position when it comes to negotiate, that there’s nothing left to do but talk. While others felt that the negotiations would lead to nothing, fulfilling their historic prophecies, and moreover, neither the Palestinians nor Israelis have governments which are strong enough to deliver on promises.
I don’t want to make this post about the conference itself, this was just by way of pointing out the variety of arguments made.
What’s interesting about this particular group of people, is the experience they bring to the (coffee) table. Almost every one of them has a story to tell straight from their political portfolio. For instance, Majali was one of the chief architects of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan in 1994. So next to some keen political analysis, you get to hear some personal stories that apply to the topic at hand. And the topic will always digress to another before being forced back on track. So there’s always something new to learn, out of the pages of history that tend to omit the untold stories only the participants of that history can tell.