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Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

By: Nart Bouran

For: Abu Dhabi Television
23 January 2003
(Translated from Arabic)



Abu Dhabi TV: Your Majesty, King Abdullah II ibn Al-Hussein, thank you, Your Majesty, for allowing us this interview - with Bouran. At this difficult phase the region is passing through. Allow me, Your Majesty, to start with the Iraqi issue. How does Your Majesty evaluate the present situation especially in light of your recent warning that chances to avert war are minimal?

King Abdullah: Any war in the region will have adverse effects on the entire region, especially at this stage through which the Palestinian cause is passing. In Jordan, we have done our best in order to maintain dialogue between Iraq and the United Nations, and to find a peaceful settlement which will prevent people in the region from suffering the repercussions of the war, and its devastating effects.

Abu Dhabi TV: Your Majesty, You recently launched the "Jordan First" slogan. Will this slogan affect your regional policies, in terms of priorities that Your Majesty has given to regional issues?

King Abdullah: "Jordan First" to us is not a mere slogan, but rather a main base on our national course, at present and in the future. It is also the reference, which provides assistance and inspires our positions, vis-à-vis all the issues and challenges facing our national course, internally and externally.

In Jordan, we wish for the "Jordan First" slogan to be a common denominator, on which all Jordanians meet, irrespective of their intellectual, cultural, or political differences. At the same time, it is a plan of action, translated by each citizen through his/her work and participation in our national course, irrespective of their positions or the size of responsibility, shouldered by each. To clarify, "Jordan First" means that the interest of Jordan must be placed above all other interests and considerations. "Jordan First" is in our opinion, the true and firm base for our role in supporting our nation's issues and defending its rights. If we were to allow Jordan the means to support, sustain and defend our Palestinian brethren's rights or if we were to support and defend the Iraqi people's right to a free and honourable life and safeguard their sovereignty over their land, Jordan should maintain its strength, and ability to undertake this role. Hence, we have to start with Jordan. Building a strong, prosperous Jordan will empower Jordanians to assume their duties concerning the nation's issues effectively.

Abu Dhabi TV: Your Majesty, some seem to think that this slogan means giving up Palestine and Iraq at this phase. What is Your Majesty's response to this matter?

King Abdullah: We said from the beginning that "Jordan First" does not mean that we forsake our commitments, and obligations towards our nation's issues, nor our role in supporting and bolstering our Arab brethren in all their just causes. Jordan will remain, as it has always been, an integral part of the Arab and Islamic nation. We in Jordan have been brought up on belonging to the Arab nation. Indeed, the State of Jordan was established on a unionist, Arabist foundation. Our army is called the "Arab Legion" and our Parliament is the "Council of the Nation", not "Council of the People." Every Jordanian citizen – including myself – has been brought up devoted to Palestine and Iraq and to every inch of Arab land. Devotion to Palestine and Iraq flows in our veins with our blood, but the difference between us and others, is that we have launched the "Jordan First" slogan in order to unify our domestic front and mobilise all our energies for development, and for addressing our national issues. Unfortunately, however, concern for pan-Arab issues has mostly been, mere slogans raised to justify the failure of leaderships to address the internal predicaments of their peoples and to achieve development and freedom that their peoples deserve. In most cases, these glittering slogans are used as a pretext to justify the absence of democracy and confiscation of peoples' freedoms and their right to participate in taking their national decisions. We are not like others, who, if a citizen ever thought to ask one day about the role of his/her leadership in addressing the issues of development, poverty and unemployment, would retort by saying: "Quiet! We are preoccupied with pan-Arab issues."

Abu Dhabi TV: Your Majesty, some Jordanian political parties, with pan-Arab orientations, object to this slogan. How can they, Your Majesty, be convinced to accept it?

King Abdullah: We believe these parties should conduct a comprehensive and objective revision of their literature and programmes, whereby Jordan's interests are given top priorities, and above those of personal interests of these partisan leaderships, or any other interests or considerations. We have said, that the time has come, for all political parties in Jordan to unite in two or three main groups, in order to be convincing and effective in our political life. The recently-formed committees, charged with proposing mechanisms for implementing the recommendations of the "Jordan First" document, was entrusted to come up with a practicable plan to unite these parties and invigorate their role. But, for these parties to continue in such numbers and in such dispersal, or if some continue to receive instructions from outside by remote control, it will only serve those bodies that direct them.

Abu Dhabi TV: Your Majesty, have the priorities changed in the light of the growing tension in the West Bank and Iraq?

King Abdullah: We said from the start that our priorities are to continue our quest for building a new modern Jordan, an institutions-based State, and fostering a society that enjoys justice, equality, equal opportunities and respect of human rights. These quests are vitally linked to the achievement of a comprehensive renaissance, at the forefront of which is economic development, whose effects are reflected on citizens' life, and their standards of living. Personally, my main concern is to provide a free and dignified life for each and every Jordanian. With God's help, our trust in the future is substantial.

Abu Dhabi TV: Your Majesty, your call for invigorating political life in Jordan coincided with propositions for preventing professional unions from their involvement in the political life. Does Your Majesty support such propositions, in light of the weak performance of political parties in Jordan?

King Abdullah: The bases of professional unions' work and mission is to develop and advance the profession, serve union members, safeguard their rights, improve their professional standards, and contribute to community service. The law is clear and candid in defining the nature of professional unions' work. What happened in Jordan, and let us be more open here, was that the absence of political parties in past periods and of their influential and effective role during this stage, has left a vacuum in our political life. Therefore, some of these unions have turned to political activity in order to fill the vacuum resulting from the absence of the role of political parties. This, however, is inconsistent with the laws on the basis of which these unions have been established. Naturally, action on the political side has been at the expense of the professional side, which is the root and basis of professional unions work. Inevitably, this situation becomes conducive to a retreat in professional standards, negligence of the rights of workers in these professions, and regression of the unions' role in community service. Accordingly, this state of affairs has to be rectified out of concern for these professional unions themselves.

Abu Dhabi TV: But Your Majesty, what is the harm of the unions' involvement in political action?

King Abdullah: First, reference should be made to the provision for compulsory membership in the bylaws of some of these professional unions. The question is to what extent does this provision harmonise with the principles of freedom and democracy in the political arena? A physician or an engineer, for example, is obligated to join the union in order to be allowed to practice medicine or engineering. This is understandable, but, why are political statements declared and political positions adopted in the name of those professionals who have become union members in the first place for professional purposes and who do not have any relation to or wish to be involved in political action? We are not against the right of any citizen to be involved in political action, but certain channels and areas, defined by law for such practice, should be observed. The field for this action is political parties and parliamentary life. Thank God, we have more than twenty political parties in Jordan. Thereupon, why this shuffling of papers and overlapping of roles? In short, yes, there is a problem and this situation has to be dealt with in a legal manner that restores matters to their proper context.

Abu Dhabi TV: Your Majesty, there are those who claim that democracy is falling back and public freedoms are receding. For example, the trial of Toujan Faisal, the closure of some newspapers, the detention of some unionists, etc. At the same time, we have a Royal pledge to actually hold parliamentary elections next Spring. Where is Jordan heading? Will the elections take place on time?

King Abdullah: Voices fishing for any opportunity or pretext to weep over democracy and public freedoms are but well known to us. We know their goals, objectives and agendas, which are not nationalist agendas in any case whatsoever. I believe that Jordanians recognise, through their nationalist awareness that the advocates of these peculiar agendas, and their loud voices, seek only to obstruct our progress, destroy democracy and cry over it at the same time.

Let us ask advocates of these agendas: When was the Higher Media Council formed? To limit government's control of the press and the other media. Is this a receding act from democracy, or an enhancement of freedoms? When sub-committees are formed to pursue the "Jordan First" initiative, and one of their main tasks is to lay down an action plan for unifying political parties and invigorating their role in our political life, isn't that an enhancement of freedoms and consolidation of democracy? When one of the main tasks of these committees is to mobilise effort and prompt citizens to participate effectively in the upcoming parliamentary elections, is this a regression from democracy? Let us also ask: Is there a country, where the head of state personally strives to unite political parties, invigorate their roles, including those in the opposition?

Regarding the parliamentary elections, we are earnestly striving to hold them during the period we have stated, spring of this year. God willing, regional conditions and circumstances will be favourable for that end. We shall issue our orders to this effect.

Abu Dhabi TV: The world is now witnessing the emergence of extremist Islamic movements, which advocate violence as a modus operandi. What is Your Majesty's view regarding this matter?

King Abdullah: Unfortunately, there are many movements and factions that claim to be representing Islam, while in reality they exploit Islam as a means to achieve political, partisan, or even individual ends. In the course of achieving these objectives, they resort to violence, extremism and terrorism. These factions distort the image of Islam, and tenets the principles of moderation and tolerance it called for. Islam is a religion of moderation and centrism. Indeed, the Holy Quran says (Baqara, 143): “Thus, we have made of you a nation justly balanced.” Islam is also a religion of tolerance that urges believers to engage in dialogues with others, to argue with reason and evidence. In this context, the Holy Quran (Nahl, 125) says: “Invite all to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious. For your Lord knows those who have strayed from His Path and those who have received guidance.” Other factions advocate fanaticism and abstruseness and do not open up to others, even though the first Quranic word sent down from the Almighty God is the imperative "Read," which implies an invitation to learning and knowledge. Nor are these factions less dangerous to Islam than the previous factions. Most of these factions and movements deceive the Muslim youth, poison their ideas, and, subsequently, overwhelm them and exploit them to achieve objectives that have no relation whatsoever with Islam or Muslims.

Our duty as Muslims is to challenge these suspicious movements and factions and to expose their ways of fabricating lies against Islam. As a Muslim and a Hashemite, honoured by being a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, I believe that it is my duty to be in the vanguard of those who defend Islam against anyone, who tries, in any form whatsoever, to abuse it or distort its noble image.

Abu Dhabi TV: Why do these groups resort to violence Your Majesty, despite the contradiction between violence and Islam?

King Abdullah: Naturally, we have to understand the state of anger and frustration, from which Arabs and Muslims suffer as a result of their feelings of the absence of justice, or of injustice being levied against them. But, at the same time, we have to recognise that crises are solved neither through violence nor terrorism, but rather through careful and logical work, through addressing the world in a language it understands. Killing and taking hostages cannot liberate a homeland or build a state anywhere in this world. On the contrary, these ugly acts have adverse and devastating consequences on the cause of those who perpetrate them, even though their cause may be a just cause.

The question is: What was the wisdom or the benefit drawn by those who hijacked the hostages at the Moscow theatre, or those who blew up Bali, or those who assassinated an American diplomat in Amman? What crime did this human, who was serving our society and people, commit? What logic and what religion would warrant this abhorrent criminal act?

Abu Dhabi TV: But they claim that they are within their rights to defend themselves and to face their enemies with violence?

King Abdullah: Every Muslim knows deep in his heart that killing older people, women, children and peaceful people is a sin prohibited in Islam. We have many honourable examples of how true Muslims deal with non-Muslims. Upon entering Mecca as a conqueror, the Prophet Mohammad pardoned and granted safety and protection to all his enemies, including those who had committed the ugliest crimes against him personally and against Muslims. The directives of the Orthodox Caliphs were: "Thou shalt not kill a child, an old man, or a woman, nor shalt thou cut a tree." Omar Bin Al-Khattab, entering Jerusalem as a conqueror, gave safety and protection to all the inhabitants of the city. When the great Muslim leader Salaheddin liberated Jerusalem from the crusaders, who had even killed Muslim children and women, killed not a man, not a woman, not a child, not a prisoner of war. By the way, murder and violence against innocent people are part of the history of non-Muslims and were committed against Muslims many a time throughout history. These acts were never part of the Muslims' culture or they of the way Muslims dealt with others.

On this occasion, I would like to appeal to my fellow young people, who are enthusiastic in the defence of their nation and homeland. I call upon them to demonstrate a higher degree of awareness and resist being driven behind bright slogans that are being used to deceive and exploit them to achieve objectives that are not related to Islam or Muslims.

Abu Dhabi TV: Finally, Your Majesty, is the loan facilities problem, which has preoccupied the Jordanian public opinion for some time. How far has it gone?

King Abdullah: This case is with the court and it is in good hands. Our continued battle against corruption is a duty, which we cannot take easy. We shall continue with all our resolve to go after any form of corruption and nobody is above the law.

 
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