Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Fayeq Hijazin
Petra Director General
Jordan News Agency (Petra)
30 January 2021
(Translated from Arabic)

Jordan News Agency (Petra): First of all, Your Majesty, allow us to extend our best wishes on the occasion of your birthday, and to congratulate you and ourselves on the occasion of the centennial of our dear state.
His Majesty King Abdullah II: Thank you. I wish you and the sons and daughters of our nation continued prosperity, health, and security.
Petra: Your Majesty, the world witnessed an exceptional year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jordan, like other countries, was impacted by it. What is your message to Jordanians as we move forward into 2021?
King Abdullah II: Our consistent message is that the health and wellbeing of our citizens is the priority. As is the case of other countries, Jordan is going through difficult and exceptional circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the onset of the pandemic, the necessary measures had to be taken to safeguard our sons and daughters, but these measures also impacted our citizens’ livelihoods and our economy. Therefore, the necessary governmental decisions have been taken to mitigate their impact on various sectors and protect the most affected social segments. I have given directives to the government to balance safeguarding public health with protecting the national economy, and work to turn challenges into opportunities.
We must remember that the battle against COVID-19 is not over yet. It is our duty to commit to wearing masks and maintaining social distance, and to continue abiding by other safety precautions. The more we commit to these measures, the faster we will be able to overcome this pandemic, God willing.
Petra: Your Majesty, where does Jordan stand on the international ramifications of the pandemic across various levels?
King Abdullah II: We continue to engage with regional and international efforts to counter the pandemic and its economic, social, and health-related implications. Jordan stood with its neighbours and friends just as many of them had stood by us, and for that, we thank them. We invested in our international relations to be among the first countries in the world to secure vaccines. And here, let me say that our country made it a point to include our refugee brothers and sisters in the vaccine distribution plan, giving them the same treatment as all Jordanians, keeping true to this nation’s humanitarian principles. The first refugee in the world to receive the COVID-19 vaccine was in Jordan.
Petra: And what about the domestic level, Your Majesty?
King Abdullah II: As you are aware, we have been working systematically and institutionally, with cooperation among all our institutions, to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. The challenge was to enhance performance and working mechanisms amidst rapid changes. When comparing data with others, it becomes apparent that Jordan, with God’s blessings, rose up to the challenge to avoid the threat of shortages in hospital beds and medical equipment necessary to counter the virus. A number of field hospitals were also set up in record time.
With the grace of God, we were able to bolster our national food reserves, and promising opportunities materialised in the food industry sector. While some countries suffered a shortage in masks and personal protective equipment, we were able to produce and export them. This, and the pharmaceutical industry, are promising sectors.
Our main concern continues to be safeguarding people’s livelihoods and sources of income, and protecting the middle class, which is the backbone of the economy. Without a strong middle class, no economy can grow or thrive. That is why I have tasked the government with facilitating the establishment of small- and medium-sized enterprises to safeguard and develop the middle class, and encourage harnessing the capabilities of our youth in vital sectors such as ICT and quality vocational training, as well as to bolster and institutionalise public-private partnership, which is key to reviving the economy.
Petra: Are Your Majesty satisfied with the results so far?
King Abdullah II: There is always room for improvement, but we must acknowledge the efforts exerted by public institutions, the army, security agencies, the medical and services sectors, and the private sector. First and foremost, this would not have been possible without the cooperation of citizens with institutions, each carrying out their duties. In the same vein, we thank all national public and private media institutions for their efforts to raise awareness and shed light on shortcomings, professionally and objectively.
We also pay tribute to the great sacrifices by first responders and medical personnel who worked diligently. We pay our respects to our fallen brothers and sisters, doctors, nurses and all those working in the medical sector, who died of COVID-19 while carrying out their duties. May their souls rest in peace. They are a source of pride to me and to every Jordanian. In appreciation of these sacrifices, I have directed the relevant authorities to honour this distinguished group in a manner befitting their dedication, national service, and humanitarian work.
Petra: Your Majesty have spoken about the importance of administrative reform. Has its objectives been met?
King Abdullah II: Frankly, not yet. A number of steps have been taken, but there remains much to do. Therefore, I have given my directives to the government to set up a programme to achieve tangible progress in enhancing and developing the efficiency of our administrative apparatus. Clear criteria must be set for evaluation and performance assessment to incentivise innovation and hard work, and to prevent negligence, or a few who do not undertake their responsibilities from standing in the way of progress. Training programmes must be planned to hone skills and keep up with various developments, while restoring the lustre of our administrative apparatus, which has always had a good reputation.
Our administrative apparatus must also be free from adverse practices such as favouritism and nepotism, which are a form of injustice and corruption, and administrative and legal measures must be taken to fight it, such as automation and providing e-services to ensure efficiency in performance. Tools for oversight in state institutions must also be bolstered, to ensure the availability of systematic methods for assessment that guarantee efficient and transparent performance, in line with the law and on track towards set goals.
Petra: What is required, Your Majesty, to achieve this?
King Abdullah II: Frankly speaking, economic growth requires resources and investments, which may not always be available. However, administrative reform requires only a will and clear programmes and plans, which must be available. The goal is to provide the best possible services to citizens. All state institutions must hit the ground running by setting up programmes to enhance their mechanisms of providing services to citizens. Meaningful goals need to be set to enhance the quality of services and ensure fairness in distribution. There also must be periodic evaluation to assess effectiveness.
The codes of conduct at the government, the Senate and the House of Representatives provide a framework to set clear standards for operation, but they would not be effective in the absence of mechanisms for monitoring, implementation, and accountability. This practice must also be implemented across state institutions and agencies, since there can be no economic progress without proper administration. Therefore, we need exceptional and integrated economic and administrative performance. The time to take action is now, and all must pitch in, in service of Jordan.
Petra: This year marks the centennial of the Jordanian state and its 75th Independence Day. What do these dear occasions mean to Your Majesty?
King Abdullah II: We are proud of our independence, and celebrating it means the renewal of our determination to consolidate and build on achievements, in pursuit of self-reliance; capitalising on opportunities; believing in the potential of our people and the strength of state institutions; upholding the rule of law and justice; and continuing to move towards further progress, and economic, political, and social development.
As for the centennial, it is 100 years of achievement and consolidation of a Jordanian model of determination, resilience, dedication, and progress, despite ongoing challenges. The occasion of the centennial is cause to be proud of Jordan, which was built with the resolve and determination of Jordanians, who rallied around the Great Arab Revolt and supported Al Hussein, Talal, Abdullah I, and Sharif Al Hussein—may their souls rest in peace—to defend the principles of the nation, in line with the teachings of our ancestor, Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and to ensure the progress and continuation of the state and its institutions, and serve the nation and its people.
We must also remember that challenges and setbacks are part of every journey, and delays are not always the result of shortcomings. Our nation, since its inception, has faced dozens of challenges, including multiple waves of refugees and migrants. The ramifications of these challenges require, at times, many years to cope with. However, with God’s blessings, the determination of Jordanians, and the steadfastness of national institutions, we have always been able to adapt quickly to difficult conditions.
And today, we need to revitalise the spirit with which Jordan was built 100 years ago. I therefore urge Jordanians today, as they embark on the second centennial, to always remember what brings us together as a people who launched the strongest institutions, and built a state, against whose survival some hedged their bets. I urge them to remember what we have gone through and the challenges, difficulties, and—at times—the injustice our ancestors faced, and the price we paid for our principled Arab positions, in line with our Jordanian identity, which is a melting pot of all backgrounds and origins. We are all children of this nation, the worker, the farmer, and the academic, and the residents of the Badia, the villages, and the cities. We are all the soldiers and guardians of this nation. And those young Jordanians studying and excelling abroad with many innovations and achievements to their names, we owe them our support and encouragement, so that they return to their homeland and utilise their skills and qualifications in its service, just like their creative peers studying and excelling in our universities and colleges.
With God’s grace and with the determination of Jordanians, this precious nation will remain a safe haven for those seeking help and a homeland for those seeking freedom, for we Jordanians have never closed our doors to those distressed or seeking shelter. We have stood by them, welcomed them to our homes, schools, and hospitals, and shared our livelihoods with them.
I am proud to be part of a great people who do not know the impossible, and I hope that in the state’s second centennial, we would celebrate a country that grows with its people and by its achievements; a state with a productive, self-reliant economy; trained and qualified human resources; a streamlined, vital public sector that serves the people; and a strong, active private sector that works as a true partner with state institutions. I wish to see Jordan continuing to uphold its national and Arab principles, with an army steadfast in defending the land and the causes of its nation. I want to see a Jordan where all have access to the best health, education, and transport services, a country that is an example of excellence. I have great faith, optimism, and hope that our second centennial will be one of advancement, progress, and achievement.
Petra: Your Majesty, after 100 years since Jordan’s development process began and since the establishment of state institutions and political life, where do you see the country today, and what are Your Majesty’s aspirations?
King Abdullah II: Since its inception, Jordan has been taking serious and ongoing steps towards comprehensive development, especially political development, which requires the participation of all social segments in decision-making. The builders of this nation set the greatest example of this democratic process, which has produced the legislation and strong institutions we have today.
And today, out of our keenness to maintain our heritage and our belief in continuous development to promote political participation and increase the participation of political parties and youth in Parliament, we must revisit laws regulating political life, such as the election, political parties, and local administration laws, and continue political development efforts. Our goal for many years has been to reach a platform-based political party scene that reflects the ideology and leanings of Jordanians, and carries forward their concerns and national causes, and works towards achieving their aspirations by conveying their voices and bringing their representatives to Parliament.
Petra: Allow me, Your Majesty, to move on to the regional domain. Jordan has always played a dynamic role in enhancing joint Arab action. How do Your Majesty describe Jordan’s efforts and its regional relations?
King Abdullah II: Jordan was built on principles of Arab unity and cooperation, and this is our approach. We are proud of the relationships we have with our Arab brethren, and we continue to stand by them under all circumstances, in deeds and words. We will continue to bolster our partnerships and coordination with all our brothers, and we have held a number of meetings, in addition to exchanging visits and communication with them, to strengthen cooperation in various sectors. Institutionalising joint Arab action requires more coordination and consultation, as we pursue expanded economic cooperation, and it is a top priority for us.
Our region and our world cannot achieve the security, stability, and peace we seek without reaching a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian cause, that meets all the legitimate rights of the brotherly Palestinian people, based on the two-state solution that guarantees the establishment of an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living in peace and security alongside Israel, in accordance with international law, recognised terms of reference, and the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Palestinian cause is central to Jordan, and we continue to stand alongside our Palestinian brethren with all our power and capabilities as they seek to gain their just and legitimate rights. We are constantly communicating and coordinating with them in this regard. Our martyrs have given their lives to defend Palestinian soil, and our ongoing efforts to reactivate the peace process will continue, in pursuit of the two-state solution—the only way to achieve just, lasting, and comprehensive peace.
We also continue to bear the honour and responsibility of safeguarding and maintaining Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, in line with the historical Hashemite Custodianship over these holy sites, and to utilise all capabilities to preserve and protect their Arab, Islamic, and Christian identity.
Petra: As the leader of Jordanian diplomacy, can Your Majesty outline the principles of Jordanian foreign policy?
King Abdullah II: Jordan has built regional and international relations on a solid basis of honesty, clarity, and transparency, that ensured the credibility of our nation and earned the respect of others. We speak clearly and frankly to all; we confidently express our positions and principles. Jordanians have every right to be proud of our nation’s standing and the immense international appreciation it receives.
Our policy seeks building and bolstering regional and international ties based on cooperation and good neighbourly relations. We do not intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, nor do we allow others to intervene in our internal affairs. We play our part in efforts to resolve regional crises, overcoming joint challenges, and achieving just peace as a strategic choice. We provide suggestions, proposals, and initiatives that are in line with our principles and interests, and we engage with the proposals of others, accepting what is in line with our principles and rejecting what contravenes them. This clarity and engagement has gained international respect for our country and given us a diplomatic role that exceeds our size and resources.
We have a pioneering role in promoting moderation and encouraging interfaith dialogue in the face of extremism and terrorism, as evidenced by several initiatives that illustrate the true image of Islam, at a time when voices of hatred and Islamophobia were growing louder. And now, Jordan has a role to play in the international efforts to chart the path forward in overcoming the humanitarian and economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Petra: Your Majesty, if we may ask one final question, you have received the COVID-19 vaccine recently, could you elaborate on the experience?
King Abdullah II: Yes, I received the vaccine, in line with public health recommendations. And I made it a point to take the vaccine in front of cameras so that everyone realises that it is a safe and easy process. I experienced some mild side effects, and I felt tired and had trouble sleeping for a couple of days after receiving the shot, but that is a small price to pay compared with actually catching the virus. With more Jordanians receiving the vaccine, we will be able, God willing, to begin recovery and to work towards restoring normalcy, and we thank God for all His blessings.
Petra: Thank you, Your Majesty, for this insightful conversation, and our best wishes to you and Jordan on your birthday.
King Abdullah II: Thank you very much.