Fighting talk from the thorn in Jordan's side

"THE Military Prosecutor wants to see you - I don't know why." In the front row of Jordan's State Security Court, I had been talking to Laith Shubeilat, on trial for "elongating his tongue" or, more prosaically, slandering His Majesty King Hussein and Queen Noor.

Mr Shubeilat - a bespectacled, bearded engineer, former member of the Jordanian parliament and self-declared Islamist - had been saying the king should obey the constitution, and that peace with Israel should be made not out of weakness but only when Israel "abandons Zionism". And all the while, the military prosecutor's men had hung around us, trying to understand Mr Shubeilat's almost flawless English.

"What did he say to you?" the military prosecutor, Major Mahmoud Oubeidat, wanted to know. Sporting a black moustache, the 39-year-old prosecutor was troubled. "Did Mr Shubeilat criticise his prison conditions?" the major wanted to know. "Did he criticise the State Security Court? What did he talk about?" Islam, I replied, which - up to a point - was true.

Officially, Mr Shubeilat's sins were contained in two speeches he made last November and December, in which he questioned Jordan's peace with Israel and criticised Queen Noor for publicly weeping at the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, the assassinated Israeli prime minister, while failing to express grief at the assassination by Israeli agents of the militant Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Fathi Shkaki.

"Tears overflowed from the Queen when she personally attended the official condolence ceremony of Rabin... who had expelled the wife of the martyr (sic) Shkaki from Jerusalem a few months earlier," Mr Shubeilat said. "Yet she (Shkaki's wife) was unable to find a helping hand to wipe her children's brows."

For the King, this was too much. Shubeilat was arrested on 9 December and imprisoned with 1,600 other inmates - accused murderers, thieves and debtors - at Joueida jail, from which he now regularly emerges to appear before the military court. Arab academics and journalists have expressed support for him - the celebrated Egyptian journalist Mohamed Heikal and the Palestinian writer Edward Said have written to his family and Amnesty International has called him a possible prisoner of conscience.

Sitting in the court last week, however, Shubeilat, who at 53 has been re-elected head of the engineering union while still in prison, seemed far from cowed. "I represent the people," he said. "Every person in Jordan knows what I say is right. I support this regime but it must be a constitutional monarchy, not an absolute monarchy. We must have real democracy here. In this court, it is not me who is on trial - it is the government."

Shubeilat's real crime appears to be his opposition to the 1994 peace accord between Jordan and Israel, a treaty made, in his view, out of weakness rather than strength.

"When Crown Prince Hassan (King Hussein's brother) called the unions together two months before the treaty, he looked at me and said: 'Shubeilat, give me your opinion.' I said: 'Look, if you want to have peace because we are weak, then say so and we will oppose you - but we will not be enemies. But if you start selling us peace because Zionism is not racist, then of course we are going to have a clash with you.'

"Do you understand why I said this? I don't say 'no' to King Hussein if he says we must accept defeat - but I do say 'no' when he tells me that this defeat is the dream of our fathers and our grandfathers."

The King, needless to say, claims that peace rather than defeat was the dream of his forefathers. But it remains a fact - despite the support of a parliament whose Islamist opposition was deliberately weakened by changes in electoral laws - that Jordanians are not happy with their new peace and that an ever larger number of the comparatively wealthy middle classes have grown suspicious of a treaty which appears to favour Israel rather than Jordan. If Mr Shubeilat's own opposition is Islamist and - in the view of the government - mischievous, it may nevertheless represent a real and growing sentiment among Jordanians.

"This is why I am in court," Mr Shubeilat says. "Jordanians did not like to see our Queen crying publicly for Rabin on CNN. My reaction was the reaction of every Jordanian. This is enough, I said, this is insulting."

In 1992, Shubeilat was convicted of forming an illegal Islamist group and importing weapons, given a death sentence then mysteriously released only days later under a royal amnesty. The chief prosecution witness, Ali Shekarji, later retracted all his evidence, stating in a signed affidavit that he had been blackmailed into concocting his evidence against Mr Shubeilat by named officers in the Jordanian intelligence service.

There can be no doubt that he is a thorn in the King's side - which may be why Hussein once offered to make him a royal adviser, an offer he turned down, according to his wife, Rima, because he insisted on two conditions: that he and his fellow advisers would be unpaid and would not be offered any future posts in the government.

After criticising the government's policy towards Iraq - because the King called for democracy in Baghdad but not in Riyadh or Bahrain - Shubeilat says he was summoned to the Royal Court.

"The King personally warned me," he says. "He said 'do you want what happened to you before to happen to you again? Because this time I won't interfere.' But what can I say? I must be free to speak. If they keep me in prison, it will become a nightmare for the government. If they assassinate me, my blood and soul will topple the King." Was he really suggesting that he might be murdered? Jordan, I said, was not Iraq and nobody in the West was going to believe differently.

"I'm not seeking it [death]. But I'm not escaping it. I have a destiny I have to meet." This seemed a little melodramatic, I said. Was life that bad? "I'm having a ball in prison - I had my best Eid feast ever [at the end of Ramadan]. I know what I'm doing. I am happy." The court resumes this week.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas