Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Margaret Brennan
Face the Nation
19 April 2020
(Via teleconference)

مقابلة جلالة الملك عبدالله الثاني مع شبكة سي بي إس الأمريكية

Margaret Brennan: Of the populations most vulnerable to a COVID-19 outbreak, the world's 26 million refugees are at the top of that list. They often live in close quarters, with access to only basic health and sanitation facilities. An outbreak of the virus could be devastating. The country of Jordan is home to at least 3.5 million refugees, and also the world's largest Syrian refugee camp. We are joined now by the King of Jordan, His Majesty King Abdullah II. Good morning to you, Your Majesty.

His Majesty King Abdullah II: Good morning, Margaret.

Brennan: Social distancing is next to impossible for—for refugees. How do you plan it—to limit the spread?

King Abdullah II: Well, we acted quite early on, and that helped us flatten the curve quite, quite well, and we created, obviously, some tough measures and a lockdown and quarantines over the whole country, although we're in the process of opening that up slightly. The challenge with refugees, obviously, they're about 20 per cent of our population; the majority are not in refugee camps, so that is a challenge, but we, sort of, treat every person inside of our borders, whether you're a Jordanian citizen or a refugee, in the same manner. Excessive testing has helped us figure out what our challenges are. But definitely, a country with a 20 per cent increase of its population to refugees, it's a major challenge as we go into the future.

Brennan: So given that not all refugees live in camps, what kind of sense do you have of the degree to which the virus has penetrated that community?

King Abdullah II: Well, again, we do random and targeted testing throughout the whole country. Refugee camps, because obviously people are much closer together in living conditions, was something that we looked at earlier on, so there is a lot of testing. The lockdown on the quarantine has helped Jordan, sort of, flatten the curve quite quickly. The cases that we've had over the past week are under 10 people every day. We average 15, give or take, on a weekly basis. So it seems that we've got things under control and within the capabilities of our medical and health establishments. But, again, there's always that question out there: is there a gap in society that you don't know of? And so, again, testing at a massive scale is how we're relying on, hopefully, getting the right figures

Brennan: This pandemic is global, and the UN has called for a global response. But frankly, Europe is struggling with this virus; the United States is. The US president just cut funding or froze it, at least, to the World Health Organisation. Who do you see actually leading a global response?

King Abdullah II: Well, I think this is a challenge that took everybody by surprise, by the impact and the magnitude of this pandemic. And I think the question is, nobody is going to get a perfect score on this issue. Each country has different ways of handling it, nuances of their societies and what their country faces. The question that I think you're alluding to is where are we four months, six months, a year from now? Do we understand that this is a new world that we're living in? This is a disease that, or a virus, that crosses borders. It's an invisible enemy. It will target developed countries, undeveloped countries, whatever your religion, creed, colour or race. Unless we work together, we will not be able to overcome this in the way that we need to. So our enemies of yesterday or those that were not friendly countries yesterday, whether we like it or not, are our partners today. And I think the quicker we as leaders and politicians figure that out, the quicker we can bring this under control, because it's not just COVID-19 that we're worried about. It's what does it bring for us on the world in 2021, 22, 23. Are we going to be prepared for the next wave of this? And that could only happen if we reach out to each other.

Brennan: Well, the IMF has said that if countries don't handle this right, that the virus could destabilise countries, in particular because of the economic strain. Are you worried about instability in Jordan? Are you worried that this could be exploited by extremist groups?

King Abdullah II: Well, I think all over the world, extremist groups and the usual suspects will obviously try and take advantage of that. We as a country that have come out of the regional shocks of wars with a massive surge of refugees that we've had, plus being a poor country on a very strict programme with the IMF and trying to get the economy back and running, obviously, this is a major concern. Having said that, we have seen areas of our society where actually we can be supporters for the region. But it's, I think, a challenge that all countries are facing—of whether or not we get the economics right. So here's the risk. I mean, obviously, we are now slowly, gradually opening up, understanding that it could really move us back a couple of paces. But I think with this type of challenge, we've got to be very light on our feet. So mistakes, I keep saying, that are made yesterday, as long as we get them right today and keep our institutions and our people flexible enough to be able to take on the challenges that we may not have foreseen tomorrow.

Brennan: Have you spoken to the president of China or asked him for help?

King Abdullah II: No, I have not. I have been in touch with leaders around the world. At the beginning, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the leader and my dear friend in the United Arab Emirates, he got in touch with me and asked what could he do to help. And again, we had a problem with test kits. Jack Ma of Alibaba gave us 100,000 test kits that almost tripled our capability overnight. Many individuals and countries have helped us, as we have, in turn, been helping them. And this is, I think, the flavour I hope that people will get. I mean, to be really honest, Mother Nature gave us a big kick up the backside. And are we smart enough as a race and as a people to understand that we've got to get it right, and do we now serve humanity in the right way to be able to make sure that everybody is looked after. Because those that have not are going to suffer as much as those that have. And if we don't reach out to those that are in need, even though we may have limited resources, it is, at this stage, doing what's right to help all of us because we're all in the same boat.

Brennan: Your Majesty, thank you for your time.

King Abdullah II: Thank you very much, Margaret.