Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Mikhail Gusman
ITAR TASS News Agency
13 February 2018

مقابلة جلالة الملك عبدالله الثاني مع وكالة "تاس" الروسية للأنباء وقناة روسيا 24 الإخبارية

Mikhail Gusman: Your Majesty, thank you, very much, for the opportunity to meet with you and conduct this interview. just ahead  of your visit to Russia. What do you expect from this visit, and your discussions with President Vladimir Putin?

King Abdullah: Well, first of all, I’m delighted to have you back. We have a long history and I’m really pleased to see you here in Jordan, and to see an old friend.

Mikhail Gusman: Thank you, Your Majesty.

King Abdullah: I go to Moscow to see my brother, President Putin, as a friend, a dear friend of his, as well as a friend of Russia. I have known the President for almost 20 years. I think the relationship has been built on trust and confidence.

We are obviously there to talk about some bilateral issues, but the main issues are the challenges that we face around the world, and specifically in the past year, the work that Russia and Jordan have done in southern Syria to bring stability to the south. It’s a very good story. I think this has elevated the level of discussions and confidence between our institutions, but more importantly, how do we move the process along in Syria to a political outcome, specifically on the issue of the constitution and elections.

So we are a small voice, but with Russia, this has been a very good 12 months of cooperation, and we are looking forward to discussing how do we move forward aggressively in a positive way for the next 12 months.

Mikhail Gusman: Russian-Jordanian cooperation is developing in a variety of areas—trade and economy, military, investments, science, and education—where do you see major progress and where do you notice unrealised potential? What should be done to intensify bilateral relations, Your Majesty?

King Abdullah: You know, we’ve always had, and this is based on His late Majesty King Hussein, my father, who had an outstanding relationship with many of Russia’s leaders over that period of time, so the political relationship is built on trust and friendship. The military one and the intelligence one has been moving in the right direction because we have this global challenge against terrorist organisations from all over the world. I am personally gratified to see the military cooperation, because in my old job, I had a special contact and relationship with the Russian Spetsnaz, and… some very wonderful memories of how we built that relationship.

Economy could be better. We are at a distance, but how do we get trade going. Tourism is something that we will be discussing. I’ll have the honour of seeing Patriarch Kirill tomorrow morning, where we talk about the harmony of Islam and Christianity. I’m also seeing the Muslim clerics in Moscow, so that we can talk about interfaith and the challenges that we all face. And then tourism here in Jordan—at least for Christian tourism—is a tremendous opportunity, as I think you may be aware… where Jesus Christ was baptised there is a pilgrim house that was built by the Russian Orthodox Church, and so I think that tourism is going to be an expanding sector in the near future.

Mikhail Gusman: Your Majesty, you have spoken about the situation in the Middle East, and this is something you are going to discuss with President Putin. What about cooperation in fighting terrorism? What concrete steps can Russia, Jordan and other countries take to eradicate the global threat of terrorism and establish peace in the Middle East?

King Abdullah: Well, look, my friend, this is a long-term issue, and it is a global issue, and I think both the President and myself coined it in slightly different ways, but we have both been on record early on saying that this a Third World War by other means, in a way. It’s not a challenge just for Russia or for Jordan, or for this country or that country. This is a global [phenomenon] where the rest of us, we Muslims, Christians, Jews, and other religions are standing on one side against these barbaric, what we call the khawarej, the outlaws of Islam. And we have to work in what we in Jordan term the holistic approach, where we’re tackling it from all different angles. So, if you see success against ISIS or Daesh in Iraq or Syria, it doesn’t mean that—you know you’ve defeated, but not necessarily destroyed these people. They will move out; we’re seeing trends into some of the “-stans”, we’re seeing trends into the Philippines, Africa, Libya, Boko Haram, Shabab.

So, the future, and I think the discussion and coordination between—especially between Jordan and Russia—but all of us, is how do we cooperate and work together to make sure that we stop them wherever they are. We can’t sort of think of Syria this year, and then we’ll think about Africa next year. It has to be in a holistic approach that we combine all our efforts to try and stop these people wherever they may be.

Mikhail Gusman: Your Majesty, Jordan is situated between three holy cities—Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem—and it also features numerous biblical sites. You have a unique experience in inter-faith harmony and bringing people together in dialogue. What can we do more to establish harmony and peace in the region and how can you contribute to this?

King Abdullah: Well, I think we have been—all of us—and again, having known the President for almost 20 years, we talked about these challenges at the beginning of our relationship. At the end of the day, we are all in this together—all of us around the world, from whatever religion you are. When it becomes between Islam and Christianity, unfortunately because of these horrible people, there is misconceptions out there that we have to fight. And these are discussions, again, that I’ve had with the President on many years, and he’s given me his view and advice of how Russia looks at it.

At the end of the day, what binds the three monotheistic faiths together—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—is to love God and love thy neighbour. But I find that many religious people love God, but then don’t agree about loving thy neighbour, so then, do you really love God? For us, as a Muslim, and I’ve said this on many occasions, the most said sentence throughout the day from the minute, for example, I wake up to the time I go to bed at night, is to say to Muslims and non-Muslims “assalamu alaikum”, may peace be unto you. This is the true essence of Islam. And if you look at the synergies between Islam and Christianity; we believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, we believe in the Virgin Mary as being the most holy of all women, we believe in the Torah, we believe in the Bible. And that is the true Islam; not the Islam that, unfortunately, the khawarej, the outlaws of Islam, have [perverted] throughout the world. And so, I think this is the challenge that we have to do—how do we come closer together, and, you know, we have an issue which I’m sure we might talk about which is Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a city that binds everybody together. If we are going to move forward, are we going to look at our future with hope? Or are we going to start putting up walls against each other? The future of Jerusalem, the symbol of Jerusalem, of Muslims, Christians, and Jews—it is an eternal city for all of us, so let us reach out to each other and bring everybody together. That is how we defeat the extremists on all sides.

Mikhail Gusman: Your Majesty, next year, it will be the 20th anniversary of your reign as the King of Jordan, with what feelings do you approach this date? I’ve got a book that includes my first interview with you 15 years ago, Sir, and I would like to ask you what do you see as the major achievements so far, and what is planned for the future for your nation and your people?

King Abdullah: Well, look, I mean, I think in the first year of the loss of a great man, His late Majesty King Hussein, having to fill very big shoes, and, I think on the first interview I’ve ever had, I said, you know, we are a family of four, but now, I’m a father of a family of 4 million, and, obviously, Jordan has grown. And so, I look at my role is to safeguard our citizens, I mean, as you’ve seen, unfortunately, in the past several years, there’s been shock, after shock, after shock. What can we do to protect our citizens, but also be the voice of moderation and hope to others, not just in the region, but further afield.

The challenge that we have today, and I think this is the burden that we’ve carried; I’ve always said that because of the shock of Syrian refugees, because of the war in Iraq, because of the Arab Spring, and the instability that’s around our region, it’s the Jordanian person has paid the price, and especially on economic challenges, and this is the same in countries all over the world.

So the frustration I have, in coming up to our anniversary of 20 years, is how do we protect our people and move them forward. I do feel that the international community has let down our people, who have paid and shouldered the burden of responsibility of 20 per cent of our country of Syrian refugees, of other refugees that have come through. Life for Jordanians today, is very, very tough, and I wish the world was more sympathetic to their plight.

So, you know, every time I wake up in the morning is... can I make today a better day for my people, and that’s hard work. You have good days and bad days, but, you know, we have a lot of challenges here. I am optimistic at the future, but I wish the world would maybe be a bit more sympathetic to the plight of Jordanians, and help us be able to see the light better.

Mikhail Gusman: You belong to a great dynasty; the Hashemites have done a lot for the Islamic world, and I see portraits of your family here. How does this family heritage impact you and your work?

King Abdullah: Well, it is a tremendous responsibility that weighs heavily, not only on me, but all my ancestors. I remember being a young man about to start my career, and my father saying to me, you know, ‘your job is to serve’. And that sounds like a cliché, but you have to put yourself in a position where you’re not only looking after your people, and when I say the people of Jordan; the people of Jordan come from all backgrounds, some from your part of the world, Muslims and Christians, people of great diversity, and that was something that Sharif Hussein, my great-great-grandfather said at the start of the Arab Revolt. He told his four children—that ended up being the kings of Iraq and Jordan, and [their] two brothers—that all our peoples have to be treated as if they were your children, whatever background they were. So I think that’s the spirit of the Hashemite dynasty—to be there for everybody, to never put up walls, to break down barriers between people, and to be of hope.

And, again, I think you’ve been here enough time to Jordan to see the Muslim-Christian model of coexistence here in Jordan is very unique around the world. When it’s time for Christmas, you know, Muslims celebrate with their Christian brethren, and when it’s a Muslim holiday, the Christians come and say congratulations and also share in our festivities. And I think that’s the secret of Jordan, that, I hope, permeates to other parts of the world—that we’re there for everybody.

Mikhail Gusman: Your Majesty, here in this hall, we see the portrait of your great father, King Hussein. I understand that your father had been preparing you for the Throne and gave you great advice that became a lifetime  lesson for you. What is the legacy of your father that you are going to transfer to your son, Crown Prince Hussein, and what are you going to transfer to him from your personal experience, Your Majesty?

King Abdullah: Well, I think my father, I have to give him a lot more credit than I thought I did, because I was not—I had no knowledge that I would find myself in this position. So, I think he made life to me, to an extent, difficult. You know, I started as a young officer in the British army, and then the Jordanian army at the age of about 18. And I had my ups and downs through my military career; he never stepped in to help me. I think he wanted me to learn the hard way. And I remember in the last six months of his life, he said, you know, ‘I feel bad, that as a father, I should’ve stepped in’, and I said, well, you know, it was a very emotional moment, but I remember saying to him that, you know, ‘there were a couple of times where maybe I was as a son a bit frustrated that my father wasn’t there, but now, being together, these are lessons that I learnt, and if you had stepped in, I don’t think I’d be the man that I am today’.

So with my son, it’s the same thing. It’s dedication to service, you know, he’s just graduated from Georgetown University; he graduated from the Sandhurst Military Academy which both I did and my father did. That brings you the discipline, the desire to work with people and to move forward. And my son, I’m very happy to see, is very enamoured with the support of youth, youth [activism] and their future in society. He spoke in the United Nations Security Council; he spoke on my behalf at the UN General Assembly, so he’s got the passion to reach out to the youth. And, again, the youth, at least in our part of the world—70 per cent of the country are youth—so they are the future, and they understand where they want to go far better than we do. So, you know, it’s having that father-son bond that, you know, we support each other, and I know in his heart what he wants for the Jordanian people, and that makes me feel very, very good and at ease.

Mikhail Gusman: Your Majesty, after my first meeting with you, I have been honoured to receive the annual family greeting card. This year’s card includes pictures of you, your father, and your son the Crown Prince in uniform. I think this is symbolic. Should we expect the Crown Prince to be accompanying you to Moscow, or when can we await a visit by him to Russia?

King Abdullah: Well, again, I mean, the significance of the pictures is significant to our family, because it is generations of my family that serve for their country, not behind their desk, but out, shoulder-to-shoulder with the people. My son has been with me to Russia several times, and has thoroughly enjoyed his visits there. I’m hoping… he’s doing some work outside the country at the moment, but I know that we are planning for him to come and spend some time in Russia, so that he gets to understand and know the Russian people, and have an affinity for them, like I have, so I don’t know when the next opportunity is for him to come with me. I have a feeling he’ll probably come by himself to work with Russian institutions to get a better understanding of your country and your people. And that’s something that, I think, we’re both looking forward to enjoying.

Mikhail Gusman: Last question: Sir, our programme is called “Formula of Power”, and I have had two meetings with you previously, and I ask you, what is power, what does it taste like? It’s a complicated subject. Today, you may be among the very few people in the world who understand the meaning of this word. What does power mean for the King of Jordan?

King Abdullah: Well, power, and you said ‘what does power taste like’, I think on the philosophical level, you have, anybody has an opportunity for two paths: the path of using power for good, not only for yourself, but the people that you love, but to those that are the stranger, those that are weak, those that need to be defended. I think if you can use power to be a catalyst for good, to make a difference in people’s lives, then power can ‘taste’ good. But I think you have to be careful, and every day that I wake, I think this is an issue, I think, on the practical aspects of being in a position like this, it comes down—you know, there’s an understanding—a misunderstanding in the world about what the word jihad means. Jihad is not for Muslims what you hear as the military jihad; that’s the small jihad that was done for specific historical reasons and in self-defence, not what you hear from these horrible people that are out there that it makes sense to put a bomb and go blow yourself. The true jihad for any Muslim, and you find this in all religions, is how to become a better person; it is how do you deal with your ego, how do you reach out to others, how do you work on yourself. This is the struggle inside that all of us have. So I have a few tricks that I do during the day to keep reminding me of the jihad that is in the heart of, I think, all Muslims and people of all races and cultures; so in the morning, I look myself in the mirror, and, am I happy with the person that’s looking back? Not every day are you going to be happy because sometimes you have to take difficult decisions; you have to take unpopular decisions that people may not understand, but are you doing it for the right reasons? The problem I think will happen, for me—and this is where I remind myself every day—if I look into the mirror and what I see staring back at me is the King of Jordan, and not me, me as myself, that’s when I have to worry. That’s, I think, the way I look at power.

Mikhail Gusman: Your Majesty, thank you, very much for this conversation.

King Abdullah: Spasiba, thank you, very much.