Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Khaled Shogran
Al Rai
24 July 2022
(Translated from Arabic)

Al Rai: Thank you, Your Majesty for granting us this interview, and allow me to start with political modernisation. Partisan action in Jordan is still characterised by cautious optimism—due to past experiences—and modernisation requires qualitative transformations in how political parties operate. How can we reach a mature level of serious partisan action that can gain the public’s buy-in?

His Majesty King Abdullah II: Partisan readiness is a demanding accumulative process. It requires putting public interest before personal benefit, and realistic platforms before personal ambitions. We do not want to repeat past experiences in political life, but we want to learn lessons from them to build our own model that is in accordance with the Constitution.
I believe that the state, in all its institutions, and the national consensus that marked endorsing the relevant laws have all sent a serious message, with legal and constitutional grounds, encouraging everyone’s engagement in partisan life. I will not accept any hindrance to partisan action nor harassment of any political party member, as long as their work abides by the law.

Al Rai: But why did previous experiences fail?

King Abdullah II: Although we have achieved an important round of political reforms in previous years, including bolstering constitutional institutions and developing laws, we did not achieve substantial progress in advancing partisan life over the past two decades, because the laws in place did not provide the necessary tools to achieve that. The political environment was also not conducive to political party work. Therefore, we have moved into modernisation, which entails providing an enabling legislative and political environment that guarantees wider participation in public life and decision-making, starting with realistic, platform-based political parties.
Political parties are not built from top to bottom, and this is important to clarify. The state’s role is to facilitate the work of political parties and provide an environment conducive to partisan action and engagement. However, it is not the state’s job to create political parties. This is the role of society, across the political and economic spectrums, so that party platforms reflect its aspirations, needs, and political leanings.

Al Rai: Then, what is required from state institutions and political forces to mitigate young people’s fears of partisan engagement?

King Abdullah II: It is our collective responsibility to build our democratic model. If we look at the Political Parties Law, it does not only target existing parties, but also the entire Jordanian society. Individual work is no longer productive; we want collective platform-based partisan action that represents everyone and contributes to the emergence of a new elite in state institutions. Dialogue must be the tool used to secure young people’s support for the platforms that reflect their aspirations and ideas, so that they could lead the modernisation process. However, they must not be driven by populism, but engage in realistic and applicable programmes. Our young people, the new generation, know what they want.

Al Rai: And what about those informal political gatherings, commonly referred to as “political salons”, which generate negative criticism and question the state’s seriousness in political modernisation?

King Abdullah II: Difference in opinions is healthy and a right to all. But it is not enough to excessively criticise the status-quo; we must work to change it in order to achieve the goals of modernisation. We are in a transitional phase that has lasted for far too long, and we cannot continue like this indefinitely.
Our hope is that some of our political elite would choose to abandon the culture of political salons and engage actively in partisan life instead. Positive change will not come about without utilising democratic tools, and participation will not be realised in the upcoming phase without organised partisan action.
We have taken important and historic steps in political modernisation for Jordan’s future. The political modernisation system was built on the highest levels of national consensus and is now being implemented. 
Modernisation was not launched reactively under pressure or due to an emergency. It simply embodies our national Jordanian will as we foresee the future and work towards mature democratisation. The success of political modernisation cannot be realised by denying achievements and undermining our progress.

Al Rai: Jordan has lately witnessed difficult years, from the COVID pandemic to the ramifications of the Ukrainian crisis. How has Jordan handled, and continues to handle these challenges?

King Abdullah II: At a time when the world is going through a difficult and unprecedented economic crisis of inflation, price hikes, potential recession, and a food and energy crisis, we must come together and heed all national voices to overcome these conditions and mitigate their impact on our people.
What sets us apart in Jordan is that we have historically been dealing with endless crises, old and new, in a crisis-ridden region. Jordan’s experience and efficiency have always enabled us to deal with challenges and maintained the state’s resilience and progress in this turbulent region.

Al Rai: The economy and price hikes are top concerns for Jordanians; how can this impact on citizens be alleviated?

King Abdullah II: This is at the core of our daily concerns, and we must bolster the social safety net to protect the most vulnerable segments from these unprecedented global price hikes, as well as mitigate the impact of inflation and the global economic slowdown. These factors combined have had a worldwide impact.
The government has the responsibility of preventing monopoly and controlling unjustified hikes in the prices of some basic commodities as much as possible, as well as enhancing the capacities of the local food industry, and taking all measures to reduce the cost of making goods available for Jordanians. 
I have also directed the government to capitalise on Jordan’s potential and the opportunities before it to expand promising economic sectors, especially those related to food security and bolstering agriculture and the fertiliser industry reliant on potash and phosphates, which have become key strategic resources. We must also capitalise on our agreements with other countries to open more markets for Jordanian industries. This lies at the core of the Economic Modernisation Vision for the next 10 years.

Al Rai: Where does regional cooperation come in?

King Abdullah II: Regional cooperation is extremely important, and we must capitalise on the opportunities in each country for the benefit of all. Unfortunately, crises and shocks are no longer the exception, and no country is immune to price hikes, which include increases in energy prices.

Al Rai: Your Majesty, since you have pointed to the Economic Modernisation Vision, what is needed to put this vision to practice, in order to become a programme for government action?

King Abdullah II: We have a comprehensive economic vision to move towards the future, drawn up by experts and leaders in the private sector in partnership with officials, and its implementation must not be taken lightly. The government has the responsibility of devising an action plan and a clear timeframe for the implementation of the vision’s outcomes, which is a national roadmap that continues across governments.
We want this vision to transform government work from the daily to the strategic. We do not want to have each government start from scratch in the economic file, but to build on what was achieved before it, in order to address the needs of creating job opportunities and expanding the economy to achieve sustainable development and growth, while capitalising on our opportunities and advantages. I believe that the cornerstone of this vision is our qualified and efficient human capital, which demands efficient and real public-private partnerships to unleash its potential. Jordan has always boasted distinguished talents, and they have had their impact on our country and beyond.

Al Rai: What about follow-up on implementation, especially through the House of Representatives?

King Abdullah II: The government’s action plan for the vision must be accessible to everyone, including the House of Representatives, in order for it to undertake its oversight role. The prime minister has expressed the government’s full commitment to implementing this vision, upon its launch.
And since this vision continues across governments, its pillars will be included in the letters of designation of any upcoming government.

Al Rai: The economic vision entails having a follow-up mechanism connected to the Royal Hashemite Court. What is the goal of such a step?

King Abdullah II: The aim is to create a mechanism that complements the Prime Ministry’s Delivery Unit, and delivery units in ministries and public institutions, to follow up on workflow, identify challenges, and recommend action. It is also aimed at following up with the private sector to help mitigate any obstacles facing it, especially since the vision is not limited to the public sector, but is the outcome of a partnership between the public and the private sectors. This mechanism will be a tool to ensure progress in implementing the letters of designation and governments’ commitment to implementation. And this principle also applies to following up on the implementation of political and administrative modernisation.
I have always said that political, economic, and administrative modernisation must proceed in parallel, in order to comprehensively modernise the state.
Past experiences have shown that without an efficient and lean public sector, we cannot move forward to achieve our aspirations. Public administration is central to the functioning of the state, and its efficiency, productivity, and flexibility must be developed, in service of Jordanians and national goals and aspirations. It must also keep up with global trends in administration and the provision of public services.

Al Rai: Did the Aqaba incident sound the alarm for the need to accelerate progress in administrative reform?

King Abdullah II: I agree with you completely, and we pray for those we lost in the incident. It is painful in all its details, and it revealed aspects of administrative shortcomings that must be addressed not only in Aqaba, but also in all public institutions.
However, we must not forget the great efforts exerted to mitigate the impact of the incident. We value these efforts that demonstrated a high level of readiness and speediness in response, which ultimately contributed to saving lives and minimising losses.
Unfortunately, shortcomings in public administration and a bloated public sector have become hurdles that impede progress and harm the reputation of our institutions. We cannot remain in a cycle of diagnosing shortcomings without embarking on a far-reaching process that revamps the public sector’s performance and improves its efficiency to provide better services.
Accountability is key to administrative modernisation, including holding to account those who do not work to serve the public. Public service is an honour and a responsibility, and all Jordanians must be made to feel that their dignity is safeguarded and that they matter. All institutions must carry out their duty in public service efficiently and in accordance with the law and national goals.

Al Rai: And what about the investigation into the Aqaba incident?

King Abdullah II: There was no delay in intervening to deal with the incident, and those found to be responsible must be held accountable in this case, or any other. I have stressed the importance of transparency with the public on the findings of the investigation, and identifying shortcomings to hold whomever found responsible to account, in accordance with the law.
And as you know, the case is now in the hands of the judiciary, whom we all respect.

Al Rai: What is required from the authorities and state institutions for the next phase, especially with regards to Jordan’s comprehensive modernisation effort?

King Abdullah II: As I mentioned to you earlier, we are embarking on a comprehensive modernisation of the state, and all the state’s authorities and institutions must work in tandem, in accordance with the Constitution.
We do not have the luxury of time. Modernisation is our national choice to bolster the state’s resilience in the face of challenges, and ensure that Jordan’s national interests remain above all else.
This modernisation will not bear its fruits without bolstering the rule of law, which safeguards our progress. The rule of law means all must adhere to it. It must apply to all, and serve all, as I have stressed on many previous occasions and in my discussion papers.

Al Rai: Your remarks on an Arab NATO have received much media attention and have been subject to varying interpretations. What does Jordan want?

King Abdullah II: I have been following the interpretations and analyses of my answer to this question in a recent interview. I had been asked on whether a similar alliance would be suitable for the Arab region. Let me clarify that Jordan wants to bolster and activate joint Arab action, in service of our causes and our interests.
Again, these are our principles. Jordan has always been and will always be aligned with its Arab Ummah, its interests and causes. 
Historically, Jordan has been at the forefront of joint efforts to counter terrorist and security threats against Arab countries and their peoples.
We are talking about the need for an institutional Arab defence system. This requires thorough consultations and coordination, as well as hard work with our brothers, to ensure that the mission statement and goals are clear. And let me remind you that this lies at the core of the founding principles of the Arab League. However, the issue of creating an alliance is not currently under discussion.
If we look at the threats facing us today, we will find they threaten all of us, and thus require Arab cooperation, especially the renewed terrorist threat, as well as networks of organised drug and arms smuggling

Al Rai: But some have connected this topic to a regional context related to Iran, and suggested that it comes at the expense of the Palestinian cause.

King Abdullah II: The region does not need more crises and conflicts. It needs further cooperation and coordination. Jordan has always called for building bridges of cooperation instead of walls and barriers. Regional security is our concern, for our security and the security of fellow Arab countries are one and the same.
We do not want regional tensions, and we, and all Arab countries, seek good relations with Iran, based on mutual respect, good neighbourly relations, and respect for countries’ sovereignty and non-intervention in their internal affairs. We believe in dialogue as the way to resolve disagreements, but as I have mentioned on a number of occasions, Iranian interventions have impacted a number of Arab countries, and we now regularly face attacks on our borders from Iran-linked militias. We hope to see a change in Iran’s behaviour, and it must materialise on the ground, because it would be in the interest of everyone in the region, including Iran and its people.
As for the Palestinian cause, let us be clear, it cannot be overlooked. It is our first and foremost cause. It is the key to lasting and comprehensive peace and stability. 
And as I have said many times before, there can be no security, no stability, and no peace in the region without a solution that lifts the oppression on the Palestinian people and fulfils their right to liberty and an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on their national soil, on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
And Jordan, in line with the Hashemite Custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, will also continue to counter attempts to change the historical and legal status quo in the holy city. This is our duty that we will persist in undertaking. 

Al Rai: Since we are speaking about the Palestinian cause, there are some who draw links between regional economic cooperation and the lack of progress on a political solution, suggesting that an economic solution would be replacing it.

King Abdullah II: Economic empowerment is not an alternative to the political solution. This is a position we have reaffirmed time and again.
The economic side is important, and Palestinians have a human right to live in dignity, but economic development cannot be achieved without a political solution to the conflict.
We are open to cooperation across all fields, and always insist that our Palestinian brothers and sisters are part of regional projects. We are closest to the Palestinian people, and we want them to have a share in all regional development projects. We will not accept marginalising them in any way, as they are facing difficult economic challenges.
Our efforts in the coming days and weeks are focused on reaching out to all stakeholders to create an environment conducive to resuming the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Al Rai: What is Jordan’s role in supporting regional cooperation?

King Abdullah II: Jordan started early on to advocate for cooperation in the region to create regional resilience packs, and as you know, we have a trilateral cooperation mechanism with Egypt and Iraq. There is also ongoing cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the trilateral cooperation with Greece and Cyprus. One country alone cannot succeed in facing all these shared challenges and achieving the ambitious goals we aspire towards, especially in energy, the environment, and food, water, and medicine security, as well as other vital sectors.
We are keen to engage in any regional effort towards cooperation to achieve prosperity and development for the region’s peoples, while countering joint challenges.

Al Rai: Your Majesty participated in the Jeddah Summit, what are the hoped for outcomes from the participating countries, including the United States, with regards to the Palestinian cause?

King Abdullah II: As you know, President Biden met with the Palestinians and the Israelis before the Summit, and this was a strong message from the United States that signified its interest in the region. The US participation in the Summit also reflected the economic and political importance of the participating countries.
We hope that the Summit’s outcomes help create a new vision for the region, rooted in economic integration and working towards political solutions to regional crises.
We have distinguished relations with the United States, which is a key partner and has an integral role in all efforts to revive the peace process. We are constantly coordinating with the Palestinian National Authority, as well as Egypt and other Arab countries on this. And the Jeddah Summit—for whose success we congratulate Saudi Arabia—reflected the centrality of the Palestinian cause as a priority, and the level of coordination among Arab countries.
The current phase will be marked by intensive and effective Arab coordination, for our peoples and our causes.

Al Rai: Allow me to turn to the security challenges we face on the Kingdom’s borders and the near-daily drug smuggling operations; don’t you think, Your Majesty, that these operations do not only target Jordan, but several countries?

King Abdullah II: Drug and arms smuggling operations are a threat to us and to fellow Arab countries. Smuggling operations have reached Arab and European countries. We are coordinating with brotherly countries to counter this threat, and we are all aware that facing it is a shared interest.
As for our borders, I am fully confident in the professionalism of our Armed Forces, who work efficiently to protect our society from this threat. Thankfully, our borders are secure with the efforts of the Nashama of our Arab Army. Our security agencies are alert, professional, and dedicated; and Jordan is capable of thwarting any threat on its borders. We have exerted extensive efforts over the past years to restore calm, but challenges have persisted, and we will continue to take the necessary measures to counter them and safeguard our security and interests.
The Syrian crisis’ ramifications are many and disastrous. Resolving it requires reaching a comprehensive political solution that addresses all its implications, ends the suffering of the Syrian people, creates the conditions to allow for the voluntary return of refugees, and restores security and stability in Syria. This is what we have been working towards, and we continue to do so.

Al Rai: Final question, Your Majesty spoke about a new Jordan. How do you see its future? 

King Abdullah II: We have a responsibility towards current and future generations, and all efforts must be directed to undertaking it. The new Jordan expands on modernity as it builds on past achievements, with a deep understanding of our potential, needs, opportunities, and the importance of investing in our resources, talents, and creative minds.
The new Jordan is moving forward with a strong, productive community, wide public engagement in decision-making, and an economy that builds on our strengths and resilience. And the rule of law and our just judiciary guarantee this, provided that we move forward collaboratively, seriously, and with clarity of purpose.

Thank you, Your Majesty.

King Abdullah II: Thank you.