‘Reform — an approach and a way of life’
Following is the unofficial translation of His Majesty King Abdullah's interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper published on Wednesday:
Question: In an interview, you said that you had been waiting for the Arab Spring for 10 years. Have you benefited from the Spring?
Answer: Since the start of the Arab Spring, I have had open and public stands. What I meant, more specifically, was that the Arab Spring had an impact on the pace of all aspects of reform in Jordan; add to that the general climate in our region, which constituted another catalyst for development and modernisation. The pace of reforms in the last decade in Jordan has often been described as progressive, but "two steps forward, one step backward". The reasons are many and complicated, including the existence of certain powers that deem reform a threat to their interests. Other reasons included lack of a clear agenda and scale of priorities pertaining to reform or consensus over it, in addition to other factors and the regional developments that we all know. The situation today, mostly due to the Arab Spring, is better in Jordan in terms of clarity on the reform agenda and priorities, in addition to a general conviction among large segments of the population that reform is essential and inevitable. I am with my people, on the same boat when it comes to the belief that comprehensive reform is our ultimate goal, which we shall not give up. God willing, we will achieve our goals.
Q: Has Jordan overcome the risk of chaos contagion?
A: As you know, Jordan has been living in a turbulent region since its establishment. We are accustomed to facing difficulties and challenges. We have been there on many occasions and I am fully confident that Jordanians are aware and enlightened enough to realise what stability and security mean to their future and the future of their children. This is the basic premise we uphold to protect our country and preserve its achievements and assets. Our people have demands, which will not be met through slogans only, but through actual participation and engagement in the political reform process. This is the goal of the entire reform drive: to enable each citizen to participate in decision making and building the future.
We have frequently warned against the region sliding into more violence and tension as a result of the absence of justice and development opportunities. Back to your question, there is no country or society that is immune against the danger of chaos. But thank God, chaos has never been part of Jordan’s approach to address challenges and difficult circumstances. We can build immunity against chaos and its repercussions through maintaining a solid internal front and political stability, which has given Jordan an edge and has been a top national priority under the difficult regional circumstances and fragile stability in the area. In such a situation, the cohesion of the internal front hinges on our ability to go ahead with the comprehensive reform process in all its political, economic and social dimensions, which ensures all Jordanians a better future and leads to the modern state they aspire to, setting a regional model.
Q: What are the limits of political reforms in Jordan?
A: Honestly, I have a problem with such wording, especially the term "limits of reforms". It suggests that the logic governing reforms is a process of orchestrating compromises, distributing power in accordance with a set quota and that some reforms are off-limits. The essential premise in such logic is that the reform and democratic transformation process are neither natural nor genuine.
Having said that, allow me to assert that I personally believe in reform as an approach and a way of life. The reform process in Jordan is not restricted and has no ceiling. The logic governing reform in Jordan is that there should be home-grown and evolutionary transformation that stems from conviction and trust. This will lead to a political matrix that represents the will and the aspirations of the people and ensures a balance between fast-paced consensual reforms and understanding of the demands of the various groups on the one hand, and the need to preserve stability and avoid jumping into the abyss, on the other. To be achieved, such balance requires an open reform workshop. We have gone a long way so far, starting with the constitutional amendments, which yielded historic changes like the establishment of the Independent Elections Commission and the enactment of laws on the Constitutional Court and Political Parties, while work is under way to come up with an elections law that ensures the highest degree of fair representation, under which national polls will be held before the end of this year in all transparency, neutrality and fairness.
Let me cite this example to illustrate that we reject any pre-set limits to our reform process. At the beginning of the Arab Spring — and our Jordanian Spring, which will keep blossoming, God willing — there was talk about constitutional amendments, with demands to go back to the 1952 version. If the process of reform were governed by the "logic of limits", quoting your term, it would have sufficed to us to go back to the 1952 Constitution. But I firmly insisted that the review of the Constitution be comprehensive and lead us to a more progressive version than what the public demanded at the time. This resulted in changes to 42 articles of the Constitution. Thanks to the new version, we now have in place a matrix of institutions and constitutional principles that guarantee reforms and democratisation, foremost of which are the Constitutional Court, the Independent Elections Commission, enhanced freedoms, consolidated separation of powers, especially between the executive and legislative branches, as in restrictions to the dissolution of Parliament and the issuance of temporary laws, so that no branch of government would encroach on the other. We have asserted on more than one occasion that such constitutional amendments are only the beginning and that the political environment has now become open to reform, modernisation and positive change, consistently and decisively. This proves that we are not after putting limits and that this is not part of our way of thinking. To make a long story short, let me assert that there is one constant in the reform process in Jordan: maintaining Jordan’s success story as a regional model of genuine democratic transformation.
Q: Some are demanding a constitutional monarchy. How do you respond to that?
A: I tell them simply and clearly that anyone who is familiar with the Jordanian Constitution knows that the system of government in Jordan is parliamentary with a hereditary monarchy. Our constitutional experience is decades old in a state of institutions that have been in existence for more than 90 years. Those who look at Jordan’s reform map would realise the volume of our achievements.
I refer here to a set of checks-and-balances as a result of the recent political reforms, which I just described. The powers to dissolve Parliament, postpone the convening of its sessions, and issue temporary laws have been strictly limited. So that no one thinks I am evading the question, I tell those who by constitutional monarchy mean the mechanism of forming governments that I have spoken about representative parliamentary government on more than one occasion since assuming my constitutional authorities. You will find that I have repeatedly stated my conviction regarding the need to work towards parliamentary governments. I have also emphasised that, after the coming elections, the majority blocs or coalitions in the new Lower House will have key input in the selection of the prime minister and forming governments that win the confidence of the elected House. Developing this approach on parliamentary governments hinges essentially on Jordan’s ability to establish a mature political party system. This requires political parties and parliamentary blocs that represent the majority of citizens and a partisan culture in which political parties are the main channel through which people can express themselves politically, economically and socially.
Q: The relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood has become more tense over the past years. Why this tension? Has the old alliance fallen apart?
A: The Brotherhood is one of the components of Jordanian society that we are proud of. Their political party is part of the political fabric and its existence in Jordan’s political life is an indication of the diversity that we have always sought to enrich. As to their position on the political reform process, it has become dictated by subjective considerations and regional inputs. This is the political reality in the region.
I wish all parties and political powers would upgrade their political performance to step up to this critical and defining stage in the reform process. I call on them to exhibit positive stands and participate in the process as required by the current stage, away from special and narrow interests.
In this context, I would like to highlight a few important points: the political maturity that the nation needs from all political powers in Jordan means that no one should view political participation in terms of gains, power-sharing or monopoly. Rather, it should be seen in terms of partnership in the making of our present and future. Therefore, focus should be on the participation of all powers in the parliamentary political process.
We should bear in mind that the political presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is the result of the open and pluralistic approach that Jordan has historically adopted. Such approach has allowed the Brotherhood to be engaged in public activities for long decades without hurdles. This is something that we are proud of. Therefore, what is required and hoped is that all political powers, without exception, participate in and contribute to reform from within the political system and from under the Dome. The coming elections will be a test of intentions and plans.
Q: Is Jordan as an entity facing a threat in light of what we witness in terms of disintegration of states?
A: Jordan is a country with deep and solid roots, so are its people and our national institutions are an example of strength and cohesion. The awareness of our Jordanian people is the fence that protects the country and its assets. I, like every Jordanian, have unshakable confidence in the outstanding ability and readiness of our armed forces and security agencies to protect the country. As I said earlier, what makes us immune to the repercussions of regional developments is the solid and cohesive internal front in the face of all kinds of challenges. Jordanians, who have patiently built their country with sweat and toil, would not compromise the stability and security of the Kingdom under any circumstances. It is in their blood, and their long history testifies to that. Besides, our people are aware of what is going on around them and would never accept to leave the future of their children to chance. We are determined to proceed with reforms and we are not giving up on that. Only with reform can we protect the country and move forward.
Q: You have asserted that parliamentary elections will take place this year, but arrangements on the ground are still slow. Are there any fears of postponement?
A: My firm conviction is that it is essential to hold parliamentary elections around the end of this year. There are political, economic and social reasons that make it necessary to continue the process and achieve the envisioned goals, foremost of which is expanding public participation in decision making. I think Jordan has by now reached a stage of political maturity that is evident amongst all segments and components of society. Such maturity requires us to hold early elections in line with the highest standards of fairness, leading to parliamentary governments that represent the will of the people and are able to take decisions in response to the strategic challenges facing Jordan.
I would like to clarify here that there is a prerequisite to conducting the elections in line with the constitutional amendments; that is, passing a package of laws that should go through constitutional channels.
Such measures need not be taken hastily and they should be in line with best practices. In addition, we need to build new constitutional institutions, including the Independent Elections Commission and the Constitutional Court and develop their capacity in line with best standards — a job that needs quite some time. As guarantor of the reform process, I have had to intervene on more than one occasion to protect the reform roadmap from delays or derailments.
Already, the majority of the legislative package governing political life has been achieved. The latest step was the endorsement of the Constitutional Court and Political Parties Laws. Parliament has yet to enact an important piece of legislation: the Elections Law, under which the polls will be conducted. As I have frequently stressed, elections will be held, with God’s help, in all transparency and fairness, and for the first time in Jordan’s history, under the supervision of the Independent Elections Commission, which was formed last month. Its president and members have been selected from amongst well respected national figures of vast experience and integrity.
Q: What kind of battle are you fighting now? Reforms or fixing the economy?
A: If I may say, the battle today is for comprehensive reform in light of a difficult, complicated and exceptional economic situation. It is very difficult to create awareness and political will around political reform when the economy is the people’s priority. The main challenge is how to convince people that the economy and politics are intertwined and that the prelude to changing the economic situation is political participation and making political choices based on platforms that address issues of concern to citizens such as education, health, job-creation and others.
The difficult economic situation we are living today requires well-studied, comprehensive and long-term economic and social decisions and policies that are supported by the people through their representatives in Parliament, hence the significance of the coming parliamentary polls, which we seek to hold by the end of the year.
Q: Your Majesty, you have said that the economic crisis is worrying you. How can you overcome this crisis?
A: The global financial and economic crisis has clearly taken its toll on us. Jordan is not insulated from the region and the world as they face difficult economic circumstances. We constantly review our economic and fiscal policies because we believe economic reform is essential. Through such reviews, we aim to address imbalances and improve the performance of the national economy, which is facing unprecedented challenges, foremost of which are energy supplies and the huge oil and gas bill. We import 96 per cent of our energy needs and 87 per cent of our food, whose prices are fluctuating all the time, often on an upwards trend. In addition, the situation and political changes around us are placing new burdens on Jordan. We have for example, to cope with increasing numbers of our Syrian brothers crossing the border into Jordan. This is not easy, considering that we are a country with little natural resources in the first place. Trade with Syria has declined due to the crisis there, leaving us with the adverse effects of such a situation on our economy and with even greater challenges.
As part of efforts to ease the burden shouldered by citizens, we have launched initiatives such as the Governorates Development Fund and the National Employment Strategy. We rely on these and other government plans and programmes to improve the process of distributing the returns of development among all of the country’s regions.
As part of strategic, long-term solutions, Jordan also relies on partnerships with Arab countries, particularly member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. We seek to improve our ability to attract more Gulf investments, taking advantage of the political stability we enjoy, as part of the solution to the difficult economic challenges facing us.
Q: How do you describe your relationship with Saudi Arabia?
A: Our relationship with Saudi Arabia is founded on brotherly ties, full cooperation and a strategic and historic partnership based on constant coordination over visions and stands regarding the issues and challenges facing our countries and peoples and other Arab and Islamic nations.
I have a strong and close personal relationship with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz based on cordiality and mutual respect. I highly appreciate his support for Jordan, which has helped us stand up to several challenges and difficulties and implement development plans in various fields. Similarly, we in Jordan have always stood by the brotherly Kingdom under all circumstances. I have recently shared with my brothers in Saudi Arabia their grief for the loss of His Royal Highness the late Crown Prince Nayef Bin Abdul Aziz, may his soul rest in peace and may God grant a long life to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and keep him as an asset and a support to his nation. We are committed to continuing efforts to strengthen the brotherly and cooperation ties between the two countries to serve our mutual interests and Arab and Islamic causes.
Q: What is the latest regarding the idea of joining the GCC?
A: We are keen on building close cooperation with our brothers in the GCC, regardless of the form of this relationship and the term describing it. We constantly seek to maintain our good ties because we have common interests. What is in the best interest of our brothers in the GCC is a Jordanian interest. We care about the security and stability of the Gulf states and the model of cooperation between us is based on the fact that we complement each other. Such a model helps us all overcome the challenges facing us.
As for the framework of the relationship, talks are under way between specialised committees to develop this strategic cooperation and upgrade it to reach a level where it will reflect the depth of our relationship and our shared destiny and goals.
Q: Do you have contacts with Syrian President Bashar Assad? When was the last time you had a contact?
A: Currently there is no personal or direct contact with President Bashar Assad. The last was a while ago at the beginning of the crisis in Syria, when I sent the chief of the Royal Hashemite Court to brief the president on the steps Jordan had taken to launch a national dialogue that served as a basis for reforms. We hoped Syria would benefit from that. But contacts stopped at that point.
Regrettably, we have seen the situation in Syria worsening since then: more violence and bloodshed and the fall of thousands of victims. The accelerating developments in Syria are a source of concern for us, especially since they affect the security and stability of the entire region.
Q: What kind of solution do you support for the Syrian crisis?
A: We back a political and peaceful solution that ends the conflict, the violence and the bloodshed and preserves the unity of Syria and its people. It is a solution that entails a political process that responds to the reforms the Syrian people aspire to. So far, Arab League-UN envoy Kofi Annan is the most able to forge a comprehensive scenario for a solution and we are committed to supporting that within the framework of the Arab League.
We have underlined on more than one occasion during meetings with heads of state and top officials in the Arab world, the region and the world our support for Annan’s mission to find a peaceful solution to the crisis that brings an end to the violence and the carnage and preserves the unity of Syria and its people. Again, we warn against the catastrophic consequences of what is going on in Syria and their impact on all countries in the region.
Q: It appears that Kofi Annan is not optimistic about his plan for Syria. What is Plan B?
A: We and the majority believe that there is no alternative to a political solution because military interference would only complicate the situation and increase the risk of chaos in the region. We have to intensify Arab and international efforts to end the crisis peacefully and, more importantly, to end the human suffering there. But, regrettably to me personally and to all of us, we see that Annan’s plan is stumbling and many of its stipulations have not been even put on track for implementation.
Q: Do you think that the Syrian regime has wasted several chances?
A: The situation in Syria is open to all possibilities. The complicated makeup of Syrian society adds to the complexity and seriousness of the crisis. The window for a solution is narrowing and all should be on the alert to prevent the crisis from sliding into a civil war, which is the most worrying thing as far as the situation in Syria is concerned.
Q: Are the developments in Syria a threat to your country?
A: Lack of stability and continued violence in Syria are a direct threat to all countries in the region. We have started to see the repercussions of the crisis in the form of an influx into Jordan of Syrians seeking a safe haven for their families. The aggravation of the humanitarian situation in Syria places further pressure on Jordan. We have so far around 120,000 Syrians who have crossed the border since the beginning of the crisis. This figure is reflected in the enrolment of more than 7,000 Syrian children into Jordanian schools and the provision of healthcare to Syrians in Jordan, in coordination with international and regional relief organisations. There is also more pressure on services and natural resources, like water.
Jordan needs institutional and sustained international support to be able to carry out this humanitarian duty towards our Syrian brothers.
Q: The “Eager Lion” joint military drills with the US and 17 other states are over. However, they triggered reactions that had to do with what is going on in Syria.
A: There is no connection between these drills and the situation in Syria. They were scheduled a long time ago and they focused on non-conventional war, which includes anti-terrorism, border security, strategic transportation and crisis response. “Eager Lion” was part of routine drills we conduct from time to time, jointly with Arab and international forces.
Q: Is the situation in Lebanon worrying you?
A: We constantly follow up on developments in Lebanon. We are of course concerned over the violence and the clashes that have occurred recently, especially in Tripoli. They came as a direct result of the escalating situation in Syria and its consequences on Lebanon, due to political and demographic factors. We wish that the language of reason and dialogue will prevail and hope that the parties will give priority to national interests over tensions and divisions. The region cannot afford a new hotbed for tension. We always stand by Lebanon and its dear people and support its unity, sovereignty and national accord, which is indispensable at this critical stage.
Q: Are we seeing the signs of a cross-border Sunni-Shiite conflict, fuelled by continued violence in Syria?
A: Allow me to reply to this question with a question: Who would benefit from fanning the fire of sedition, polarisation and division as opposed to commonalities between the peoples of one nation, which has much suffered from discord in its history? We need a genuine awakening that leads the entire nation to unite in the face of challenges. This is especially important in light of the Arab Spring, which was the manifestation of people’s thirst for freedom, dignity and hope for a better tomorrow.
Q: Do you still believe in the Arab League’s role in solving inter-Arab differences?
A: Absolutely. We think that the potential of the Arab League is not fully tapped at this stage in light of the transformations under way in the region and the Arab Spring, which, all in all, would lead to bringing Arab stands and policies closer. This might take time, especially since the Arab Spring has imposed local and national agendas. However, after these priorities are met, focus will shift to the regional dimension and pan-Arab issues. God willing, the Arab League will be the unifying umbrella for all Arab countries.
Q: The issue of peace with Israel has been on the shelf for years. Is the two-state solution dead? What is the alternative?
A: It is our duty as Arab countries that believe that the Palestinian issue is a just cause to maintain pressure to keep the Palestinian cause on the world’s agenda. The two-state solution is facing real hurdles. But there is no alternative to this formula that would meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people and guarantee their rights, while at the same time ensure Israel’s security and acceptance in the region. The two-state solution is about an Israel living in peace, security and acceptance side by side with an independent and viable Palestinian state on its national soil within the pre-1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital and in line with international resolutions and legitimacy and other agreed frameworks, including the Arab Peace Initiative.
Q: How is it possible to pressure [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu?
A: In fact, pressure has not stopped. The Palestinians and the Arabs are placing different kinds of pressure, the most feasible of which is drawing world attention to the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause and the fact that they are not evading the dues of peace. There is a chance available due to the nature of the new coalition government in Israel, which enjoys a solid majority that enables it to reach historic solutions. Let me highlight the exploratory talks between the Palestinians and Israelis held in Amman at the beginning of the year, which were aimed at helping both sides return to the negotiating table. For our part, we support our Palestinian brothers and consider their issue as our own cause and the establishment of a Palestinian state a higher national interest for Jordan. Again, it should be emphasised that one-sided solutions always have adverse results for both sides, especially unilateral measures and the settlement policy, which the world agrees is not legitimate or legal. We consider it as undermining the chances of peace. In addition, partial solutions and the status quo policy will be a blow to the peace process.
Speaking of peace, we should not forget Jerusalem. The situation there serves as a barometer of the peace process’ status. What do we have in Jerusalem today? There are Israeli attempts to change the demographic situation of this sacred city to all followers of the three Abrahamic religions. It is my duty to continue to defend Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem because, as a Hashemite, I am entrusted with protecting Jerusalem. Israel has to change its mind-set and the way it views this sacred place that is dear to our hearts. The importance of Jerusalem lies in the fact that it is holy to all the three religions, but as depicted in Israel’s current extremist and unilateral policies, it is not the Jerusalem of diversity, pluralism, peace, coexistence and freedom of worship. The situation in Jerusalem remains an indicator of Israel’s intentions towards the entire peace process and the idea of coexistence and acceptance in the region. There will be no real peace without just solutions to the issue of Jerusalem and its people: our sons and daughters, both Muslims and Christians.
Q: Is it possible that you revisit the peace process and the ensuing peace treaties as a response to Israeli intransigence?
A: We are committed to the peace treaty with Israel. The open diplomatic channels between us have greatly helped solve political and security issues and facilitated the provision of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip over the past years, especially at times of crisis. The peace treaty also helps us reach out to those who believe in peace within Israeli society. At the end of the day, it is dedicated to serving the Arab nation’s causes, foremost of which the Palestinian issue. We still believe that chances for peace are out there, based on solutions to all final-status issues, especially Jerusalem, refugees, borders and water. However, these chances will not remain there forever. If the stalemate in the peace process continues, a dark unpredictable future will be awaiting the region and its peoples.
Q: Are you bothered by Iranian expansion in the new Middle East?
A: What really bothers me are attempts to trigger tension, destabilise the region and threaten the security of other nations. I also hate to see the wealth and potential of the region squandered to achieve non-constructive or productive purposes that deepen polarisation and tensions. The demographic facts in the Middle East necessitate that all countries and key players in the region think more responsibly of the future generations. Our region needs a huge number of jobs and positive and sustainable economic growth that can absorb the young workforce. It also needs mega investments in infrastructure and basic services like education and healthcare, so that we can achieve prosperity. We need continued regional coordination to work out creative and strategic solutions to the issues of energy, water and food. None of this would be achieved in a charged regional atmosphere where polarisation is the name of the game.
Jordan is concerned with the security and stability of the region. It is against interfering in the internal affairs of Arab countries and it supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries against external threats, regardless of their source.
Q: You have warned against an Israeli attack targeting Iran’s nuclear reactors. Apparently, the threat has resurfaced.
A: The warning we issued came in the context of efforts to keep the Palestinian cause as a priority on the world’s agenda and persuade Israel and the world that Israel can only maintain its security by ensuring justice for its neighbours, particularly the Palestinians. Working out a solution to the Palestinian issue would deprive any party of grounds for manipulating this cause for political purposes and regional power struggle. We are fully convinced that, with the establishment of a Palestinian state, the majority of nations in the region would be keen on keeping peace and stability. That was the logic underlying our approach, in addition to the consequences of such an attack on the flow of energy supplies and the possibility of the outbreak of a regional conflict with unpredictable outcomes. In parallel with such a vision, Jordan is in favour of the peaceful use of nuclear power as manifested in the model of the nuclear programme we seek to build. Transparency when presenting the project to the world and nuclear safety are key in the Jordanian nuclear model. We expect others in the region, with no exception, to follow suit and apply the same approach. Jordan has always believed in a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.
Q: The situation in Iraq has deteriorated recently. How can this country abort plots to dismantle it?
A: Iraqis can do that by upholding their national unity and rejecting division and fragmentation. Through agreement and national accord based on the participation of all components of Iraqi society and political forces in the political process. Iraqis have more commonalities than differences; they have a shared destiny and future. A strong Iraq provides its Arab neighbours with a strategic depth and Jordan has a higher interest in Iraq restoring its active role in its Arab and regional sphere.
Q: How do you evaluate the current situation in Egypt?
A: We are following up with interest the political developments there. We respect the will of the Egyptian people, especially regarding the presidential election. We are fully confident that the Egyptian people are capable of rising again, address challenges, continue the process of building the state and its institutions, entrench democracy and empower Egypt to enhance its status as a key player at the Arab, regional and international levels.
Q: It is reported that Jordan is playing a significant role in building and training the Libyan army. What is the scope of this role?
A: We have stood by the Libyan people since the beginning, helping them overcome the impact of the previous era and build a modern state. In fact, we are hosting Libyan police units for quality training that enables them to carry out their duties and responsibilities in preserving security and stability. This is what the Libyan people need now. Moreover, Jordan was among the first countries to receive injured Libyans and other patients for treatment, in addition to sending military field hospitals to offer Libyans medical care. There are ongoing discussions between us over the possibility of Jordan offering its expertise in various fields to help our Libyan brothers.
Jordan will continue to carry out its duty towards its Arab brothers, whenever there is a need.
Q: A final word, Your Majesty?
A: I have always believed that Jordan’s strength lies in its ability to turn challenges, whether internal or external, into opportunities, and build on them to move ahead steadily and confidently towards a better future. I am confident we will succeed.