Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Ghassan Sharbel
Al Hayat
22 March 2014
(Translated from Arabic)

Al Hayat: Your Majesty, this interview comes ahead of the Arab Summit in Kuwait. What priority issues are there on the Jordanian agenda for the summit?

King Abdullah: The summit comes at a time when the Arab world is facing critical challenges against a backdrop of ongoing regional and global changes, most notably the tensions and competition among key world powers and enormous economic and security challenges. It is necessary to employ this pivotal Arab platform, and every other global platform, to bring the positions of Arab countries closer together as we deal with these challenges. Let us remember that some powers have taken advantage of the fragile Arab solidarity to influence the crises faced by Arabs to serve their interests.

The summit also coincides with Arab countries’ dire need to restore the momentum of joint action as a framework to address the challenges at hand. Individual states looking inward and focusing on internal problems and priorities have become the main form of Arab action. We hope that this summit will be an opportunity to address this situation and focus on Arab integration, which is the real solution to our political, security and economic challenges.

At the summit, Jordan will also focus on the Palestinian cause, which is a central issue to Arabs and the region. We will highlight the need to support the peace process, in line with the Arab Peace Initiative and relevant international resolutions, in a way that meets the aspirations of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state on their national soil with East Jerusalem as its capital, thereby ending the conflict in the region. At the same time, we need to ensure that Jordan’s rights and higher interests related to final status issues are safeguarded.

We will focus as well on the Syrian crisis and its consequences on Jordan, the region and the world, and the need to facilitate a successful political solution. We have consistently reminded the world that such a solution is the only way to end violence and bloodshed, as it leads to a comprehensive transitional phase, where the armed conflict is ended and the repercussions of the humanitarian disaster and the spread of extremism are contained. These issues affect the future of the region and the world.

Al Hayat: Your Majesty, you have recently held a long summit meeting with President Barack Obama? Is it true that America's interest in our region has declined and that it gives priority to negotiations with Iran, ignoring the interests of its allies? What did you advise Obama regarding Syria and Palestine?

King Abdullah: The length of the meeting reflects a deep US interest in the issues of the region. President Obama was clear in his emphasis on the historical and strategic relationship between the United States and its friends among Arab states, and his commitment to the security and stability of the region.

The US administration is in contact with Iran currently, through the 5 +1 group, in order to address the nuclear issue. I sensed the seriousness and firmness of President Obama and administration officials in this regard. The US is being realistic by giving Iranians the opportunity and sufficient time to demonstrate their seriousness, goodwill and change in approach. The US administration is clear in conditioning the dialogue with Iran to a set timeframe and results.

As for our position in Jordan on the Iranian nuclear issue, we support diplomatic efforts and peaceful solutions that seek to spare the region any military action and its consequences. I emphasize the need to realize a Middle East free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction, while respecting the right of states to possess peaceful energy programmes. This principle, which Jordan has always advocated, should apply to all parties in the region. There are also several files linked to Iran's relations with Arab states, which need to be addressed through diplomatic means as well. As for the security and stability of the Middle East, Jordan is keen on the security of Arab states in the Gulf, as our national security is integrated into one shared destiny.

Regarding the Palestinian cause and the peace process, in my meeting with President Obama, I focussed on the centrality of the issue and the link between security and stability of the region and beyond with a just and comprehensive solution. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the longest-lived in the region, and so the ensuing injustice continues. Solving this conflict will be a prerequisite to addressing several other challenges in the region.

In fact, a considerable part of the meeting, which lasted for more than two and a half hours, was dedicated to talking about the Palestinian issue. I re-asserted that that there is no alternative logical and practical solution to the two-state formula and that the window of this solution will not remain open forever. The alterations to the situation on the ground regarding the territorial contiguity of the Palestinian state require accelerated efforts to achieve a just and comprehensive peace under US auspices and umbrella that ensures justice.

I also stressed the importance of upholding Jordanian interests in final status issues because in order to have a just and sustainable solution, the higher interests of Jordan, related to final issues, must be guaranteed, especially for Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water.

As for Syria, I warned against the threats ensuing from the continuing crisis, which has entered its fourth year. I highlighted the impact of such a prolonged crisis on the region and the world, particularly rising extremism and terrorism and the apparent spillover of sectarian conflict and terrorism to some of Syria’s neighbours, let alone the increasing flow of refugees, and the tremendous pressure they place on the capabilities and resources of Jordan and other neighbours of Syria. I underlined the importance of providing relief and humanitarian aid to the refugees in host countries and inside Syria.

Al Hayat: Do you expect significant results from Obama's visit to Saudi Arabia since the ties between the two countries have been strained recently?

King Abdullah: Yes, we do and we support that. We hope that the visit will be another positive point in the historical and strategic relationship between the United States and our brothers in Saudi Arabia.

In my last meeting with President Obama, I sensed how highly he values the importance of the Gulf States and their leaders and how keen he is to strengthen the strategic and historical ties between the two sides.

As far as Jordan is concerned, strengthening relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States and bringing their views closer together, is of vital importance for the stability of the region and efforts to work out solutions and initiatives that can promote security, stability and prosperity. We should emphasise the important role of the Saudi leadership and its ability to influence Arabs and Muslims, led by my brother, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, who represents wise statesmanship, in a constant quest to protect the interests of Arab countries and the region and their peoples’ future.

Jordan is keen to keep the channels of communication between Arab countries and the United States at optimal levels in order to ensure that the region's issues and concerns of its peoples and the strategic challenges they face remain on top of the international agenda in the world’s decision-making capitals. I have always sensed from the Saudi and the US sides keenness to overcome any misunderstandings or differences in viewpoints.

I hope that President Obama's visit will provide an opportunity to achieve positive progress on issues related to the peace process and the situation in Syria. It is necessary and useful to listen to the views of the US administration and those of our brothers in Saudi Arabia, which is the most influential Arab state.

Al Hayat: Can the US cope with the war in Syria if it continues for several more years? Can Jordan live with such a situation?

King Abdullah: Can any of us, or even the entire world, live with a protracted open conflict? I do not think so. The Syrian people will pay the heaviest price for the prolonged conflict.

Besides, I do not think that Syria is able to continue in a conflict at this pace and intensity of violence for many more years because it threatens to tear apart the social fabric of the country and completely destroy its structure and institutions, sliding further into a "failed state" scenario, God forbid.

The United States, as well as the majority of the international community, is aware of the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on international peace and security, particularly in the Middle East. The issues of immigration and asylum, the rise of extremism, the failed state scenario and Syria becoming an arena of violence and terrorism, are all problems that concern everybody. If the conflict drags on much longer, it threatens to reach a stage of international fatigue towards the Syrian cause.

Therefore, we must not allow this conflict to persist. All Arab countries, concerned neighbours and the international community should exert sincere and concerted efforts to end all aspects of the conflict, address the tragedy of Syrian refugees and work for a successful political solution, leading to a comprehensive transitional phase agreed upon by all components of Syrian society, thus ensuring the unity and sovereignty of Syria and representing the entire spectrum of the Syrian people. This process must be based on home-grown re-building efforts.

For Jordan, our national and humanitarian stand towards our Syrian brothers and sisters is constant. The people of Jordan have always opened their arms to their fellow Arabs in their times of distress, including Syrians, but the pressure on our resources is enormous and is limiting our capabilities.

The main challenge posed by the implications of the Syrian crisis is not that the conflict may spill over to Jordan because we do not have a demographic makeup similar to that in some neighbouring countries to be affected by these repercussions. Rather, the fundamental problem we have lies in coping with the waves of refugees. Jordan is currently hosting more than 1.3 million of our Syrian brothers and sisters, only half of whom are registered as refugees, while 80 per cent of them live in cities, benefiting from subsidized services such as health and education in addition to energy and basic commodities. The pressure on the infrastructure and services is enormous, especially since 40 per cent of the residing Syrians are children in need of care and services.

The cost of hosting refugees on the national economy will amount to at least $3 billion for this year alone, according to various estimates and in collaboration with United Nations bodies. The Arab and international assistance Jordan has received is appreciated, but does not keep pace with the growing needs and the scale of the crisis we face. More assistance is required and should be channelled to three levels: the governments of the hosting countries, in return for the essential services they provide, the local communities hosting Syrian refugees to empower and support them and inside Syria, where displaced people are in dire need for aid.

Jordan, which has been coping with the Syrian crisis for the fourth year, has proved strong, solid and resilient in the face of these exceptional circumstances. The fact that Jordan has remained an oasis of security and stability over the decades, due to the awareness of its people, and by the grace of God, makes it a safe haven. Jordan has always been able to adapt and direct its capabilities to ensure that any challenge is addressed, thanks to the dedication and professional performance of state institutions, security services and armed forces, as well as to Arab and international support.

However, the longer the conflict in Syria continues, the further extremism is entrenched, Syria’s institutions weakened, and the social fabric ruptured. This poses a danger to the entire world, and everyone will pay the price. The longer the conflict carries on, the greater the cost will be to address all its aspects.

Al Hayat: Your Majesty, is there a serious risk that Syria will be divided as a fait accompli? Have efforts to reach a political solution in Syria failed? What is your advice to President Bashar Al Assad at this stage?

King Abdullah: In my assessment, which is based on the history of the area and the reality on the ground, any division of Syria will create serious problems for the Syrian people and the region as a whole.

All division scenarios will have a catastrophic impact on Syria and the region. Although the continuation and longevity of the conflict make room for a de facto partition on the ground as part of splitting areas between the warring parties, this would be followed by endless waves of violence, extremism and hatred, which threaten to deepen the sectarian and ethnic civil war, whose waves will cross borders and pose a formidable threat to regional and international peace. The division and disintegration will result in unstable entities that will constitute a security and humanitarian burden on Syria's neighbours and potentially fuelling dangerous separatist tendencies in the region.

A sustainable political solution to the Syrian crisis lies in ensuring the country’s unity. The political process will take time, and may require several more rounds of international meetings a la Geneva I and Geneva II. It may take a long time, up to a Geneva V or Geneva VI! However, we need to work to achieve a political solution and a peaceful and comprehensive transition process that saves Syria and spares it and the region further violence, strife and damage. The political solution option must not fail, but the longer such a solution is delayed, the greater the cost will be on Syria and its people.

My advice for all Syrians, especially those who are able to influence the course of events, whether they are in power or in the opposition, is to be God fearing, for your country and people, and embrace a genuine dialogue for the sake of Syria and the future of its generations that ends the armed conflict and saves the unique Syrian mosaic based on diversity and plurality.

Al Hayat: Does Jordan fear the return of Jordanian extremist jihadists who are fighting in Syria?

King Abdullah: In fact, those, most of whom are young people, were not originally holders of this hard-line thought. What happens is that most of them suffer from difficult economic and social conditions, blamed on poverty, unemployment and lack of equal economic and social opportunities, making them easy targets for people to lure them and transfer them to conflict zones, where a process of brainwashing begins to transform them into extremists. These young people are in fact victims of a situation where a group of people who exploit religion to recruit youth use them as fuel for the ongoing conflict. We have to fight poverty and unemployment and uphold social justice to curb extremism and its advocates.

The rise of this trend is not a Jordan-specific phenomenon. There are more than 60 nationalities fighting in Syria, and this is a challenge faced by Muslim and non-Muslim countries alike. What is happening in Syria fuels extremism and endangers the future of an entire generation. The conflict there must end if we want to succeed in containing extremism and preventing it from spilling over to neighbouring countries and the world.

Jordan is committed to controlling its borders with utmost responsibility. Besides, our laws are capable of criminalising and deterring any act of terrorism, protecting our citizens and ensuring their security and safety. We also have institutions that are capable of dealing with and addressing such consequences. However, we must not forget that the basic problem is the existence of an ongoing situation in Syria, which resulted in the rise of such currents and their ideologies.

Jordan boasts a positive model in dealing with and addressing extremism, and rehabilitating its victims. One such effort is the Amman Message, among other initiatives based on its thought, which confronts the ideological sources of extremism. There is also an ongoing series of reconciliatory religious meetings, such as the recent conference of The Royal Aal al-Bayt Foundation for Islamic Thought, which refute extremism through evidence and proof, with the aim of overturning and reforming it.

As part of Jordan's efforts aimed at addressing extremist ideology is its keenness to protect the Christian Arab minority, a historically deep-rooted component of our societies. Jordan has recently hosted a conference on "Challenges Facing Arab Christians," which was held to address these challenges in line with the Jordanian model based on our time-honoured values of brotherhood, compassion and respect for diversity and integration, which give us confidence and strength in the face of extremism.

Al Hayat: The Kingdom currently hosts a squadron of US F-16 aircraft and a Patriot missile battery. How much does Jordan benefit from their presence?

King Abdullah: We have a responsibility to protect Jordanians, and our people must rest assured that we are doing our best to do that. Better to be prepared now than sorry later.

I am surprised by those who question the right of Jordan to protect itself! How can we feel secure when the region around us is in flames? It is our duty to be highly prepared to protect our people.

Jordan's security is a cornerstone for the region’s security. Jordan is capable of protecting its land and people. Jordan’s friends and international partners are keen on its security and stability and our Arab army is renowned for its experience, professionalism and ability to defend the homeland.

Jordan is living with the Syrian crisis and its implications for the fourth consecutive year. We were one of the first to warn about the risk of uncontrolled chemical weapons, which posed an eminent threat until the recent past. It is true that there are international understandings to address this problem, but such a programme requires time. Until we are assured that this is behind us completely, it is our right and duty to take all precautions and measures to protect our people. This is what we do and will always do because the security of Jordan has priority over anything else.

Al Hayat: What is your opinion of the current tension between the United States and Russia following the crisis in Ukraine? Do you expect the escalation of tensions between the two countries to reflect on the Syrian crisis?

King Abdullah: I would like here to reassert Jordan’s position calling for respecting the sovereignty of Ukraine and international treaties and obligations binding on the various parties involved in the crisis. We have also called for maintaining dialogue and respect for human rights and minorities in Ukraine. Jordan has expressed such a stand as a member of the UN Security Council. Respect for the sovereignty of nations and the will of the people is the essence of Jordan's foreign policy, which has earned us international respect and confidence.

International issues and interests are interrelated, and no doubt that the assessment of the positions and policies of the major powers are done in a comprehensive rather than partial manner. Therefore, since the beginning of the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, Jordan has been in contact with our American, Russian and European friends, to draw their attention to the impact of the Ukrainian crisis on their ability to work together to solve the Syrian conflict, and remind them that any negligence of the Syrian crisis or delay in addressing it will add to its complexity. Without their commitment, the situation will become even more difficult and dangerous and the entire international community will pay the price.

Al Hayat: US Secretary of State John Kerry is working to achieve a framework for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Are you fully informed of the details? Will Jordan accept the idea of the presence of Israeli or US troops on the opposite side of its western border?

King Abdullah: We are aware of these details, and as I said, sustainable peace requires the involvement of Jordan and ensuring its higher interests. We will not accept, by any means, any solution that comes at the expense of Jordan and its people.

Regarding the border issue you have brought up, it is part of the overlapping final status issues related to border and security arrangements, and this will be clarified in the final status negotiations. The US will propose a framework for negotiations and, if agreed upon by the two parties, it will serve as the foundation for negotiating final status issues. With respect to the border, Jordan will support the formula that would be reached by the Palestinians and Israelis under the auspices of the US, as long as it does not affect the sovereignty of Jordan, of course, and ensures Palestinians full sovereignty over their territory.

There is a real opportunity at hand today to work out a just and comprehensive peaceful solution. Jordan is playing a constructive role in bringing divergent views closer and finding solutions to ensure the right of Palestinians to a sovereign state, according to the Arab Peace Initiative, and the necessary security guarantees for the stability of all countries in the region.

Al Hayat: Are there renewed fears of what is promoted by some as an "alternative homeland"?

King Abdullah: I have had a lengthy address recently about this issue, where I called it “illusions of the alternative homeland”. Here, I want to elaborate some points.

The history of the peace process has taught us that the moment we are closer to a solution, a few voices are raised to undermine it. The alternative homeland talk is a manifestation of this.

If what is meant by the alternative homeland is the illusions promoted by Israeli hardliners, who are bent on the possibility of de-populating Palestinian territories of its people, forcing them into Jordan, these are, without a single doubt, illusions. The international situation, the present circumstances, Jordanian nationalism, the Jordanian state and its established institutions as well as Palestinian nationalism are all the rock on which these illusions will collide and shatter.

On the other hand, if the talk about alternative homeland is being used to spread the poisonous idea of a political quota system in Jordan and divide people to incite them on the basis of origins and regions, then the Jordanian people from all backgrounds will reject such a destructive discourse because our national identity is inclusive. Over the years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and even in years following Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, Jordan has been committed to positions and policies supportive of the Palestinian people and their continued existence on their lands in freedom and dignity and the right to establish their independent state.

Here I want to emphasize that the right to return is one of the constants of the Jordanian state, but this does not contradict at all with the concept of citizenship and the rights and duties it entails. Citizenship is the framework governing the relationship between the state and the individual and society.

As for the future of the relationship between the Jordanian and Palestinian peoples, and as I have said repeatedly, this awaits the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with full sovereignty on Palestinian national soil. Then, the two peoples and two states will decide the nature of the relationship that achieves their mutual interests. Those who know how much Jordanian and Palestinian peoples embrace their Arab identity will rest assured that the relationship between them will strike an advanced example of cooperation and integration.

Al Hayat: Is Jordan’s opening up to Iraq of an economic nature only (i.e., gas and oil pipeline) or political also?

King Abdullah: Jordan, in principle, is open to all, and is proud of our relationship with all brothers and friends. We consider the principle of good neighbourliness as integral to joint Arab action.

Jordan is very keen on Iraq's stability, unity and harmony among all of its people, regardless of where they are situated in the political landscape. We are on equal footing with all shades of the Iraqi political spectrum. Our dealings with Iraq are carried out through formal institutional channels, enriched by close social relations between the two peoples.

No one has interest in reviving violence in Iraq, a spillover of violence from Syria to Iraq or the expansion of violence, God forbid. We want Iraq to be a strong and active partner in the Arab world and to play a constructive and supportive role in Arab and Islamic issues. We want all Iraqi people to be partners in nation-building and comprehensive development efforts.

Jordan and Iraq desperately need to deepen economic cooperation and the progress achieved with respect to certain energy projects that comes within the openness that you have described. Diversification of sources is part of our national energy strategy, while Jordan is a vital economic gateway for Iraq. To translate this ambition into actual prosperity for both countries requires an atmosphere of calm and stability, and this is what we hope and work to achieve.

Al Hayat: Are you concerned about the situation in Lebanon if the Syrian war continues?

King Abdullah: We have consistently warned of the repercussions of the Syrian crisis on its neighbouring countries. We have always stood by Lebanon in all Arab and international forums to mobilise relief assistance so that it will be able address the humanitarian consequences of the crisis in Syria.

The security and political situation in Lebanon is delicate, and it is trying hard to prevent itself from being drawn into the Syrian crisis. Lebanon’s demographic composition cannot tolerate any Lebanese party to interfere in the Syrian crisis, because it will pull the entire country into this crisis and expose it to its repercussions.

There are really worrying signs like the series of sectarian-motivated bombings and armed clashes, the bombing of a Lebanese border town and tensions between political circles as a result of the interference of certain parties in the Syrian conflict.

Out of concern for the security and stability of Lebanon, and its sovereignty and unity, we stress the need for refraining from unconstructive interference by any Lebanese party in the Syrian conflict.

Our heart goes out to Lebanon because it is the most affected by the Syrian crisis in light of its demographic makeup. There must be awareness of the critical situation in Lebanon and the impact of the waves of refugees on its stability.

Al Hayat: How do you see the current situation in Egypt, and the future of this Arab country?

King Abdullah: We do not interfere in the internal affairs of any of our fellow Arab countries. This is one of the pillars of Jordan's foreign policy, but my assessment of the situation in Egypt is based on the importance of restoring security and stability to this country. There can be no stability in the Middle East without Egypt, and anyone who claims otherwise does not know the region and its history. Egypt is the largest Arab country in terms of population, accounting alone for 25 per cent of Arab society. Its security and its central role reflect positively on the region as a whole.

Arabs and Muslims need Egypt to be strong and effective once again, and to be able to protect all Egyptian people. Egypt lies at the heart of the Arab and Muslim world, bridging Asia and Africa, and plays a pivotal role in achieving security and stability and promoting moderation.

The next presidential term should be regarded comprehensively. It is a significant milestone for the future of Egypt, which requires strong leadership that enjoys the confidence of the majority of Egyptians and enough wisdom and ability to steer the country and its institutions to safety during this period. It needs to address the challenges of internal security and to contribute to the restoration of stability to countries surrounding Egypt, which are vital for all Arab countries.

We support Egypt's efforts to restore stability and security and to resume its role in fighting and denouncing terrorism. We also rely on Al Azhar Al Sharif to continue playing its historical role in the defence of the true image of Islam and to promote the values of moderation, solidarity and coexistence.

It is also necessary to proceed with a democratic roadmap, with clear reform milestones that enjoy a majority approval in Egypt, which is vital at this critical time. We will always respect the choice of the Egyptian people, and support whoever they choose to vest their trust in to represent and protect their interests. The Egyptian people will decide, and history will reveal those who have worked for the good of Egypt, and those who have worked against it.

Al Hayat: Your Majesty, you have mentioned that Jordan has maintained its model of stability. How do you explain the success of Jordan and its leadership in dealing specifically with the Arab spring? Is there a possibility for the Muslim Brotherhood to return to the heart of political life?

King Abdullah: We in Jordan have chosen a third way: Political life has not remained stagnant, yet we have not leapt into the unknown. Moreover, we have not reduced reform to only elections. Rather, we have established an integrated and comprehensive system of democratic laws, institutions and practices.

Since the first moment the Arab spring started, we adopted it as catalyst to revive and deepen reform, rather than as excuse for procrastination, in spite of the difficult economic situation and regional security challenges. The actual reform achievements are the parameters that identified the features of Jordan’s reform model, which is home-grown and based on an evolutionary approach, consensus building and realisation of active citizenship.

We started with amending the Constitution, and then came the first round of developing the core political laws such as the election, political parties and public assembly laws. That was followed by establishing democratic institutions with strong mandates, such as the Independent Elections Commission and the Constitutional Court. Then we held parliamentary and municipal elections in one year, an achievement that renewed the political process including those engaged in it.

We have also introduced a new mechanism for the appointment of governments based on consultations with members of the Lower House, and so the prime minister was designated on the basis of consultations with parliamentary blocs and independent members. In addition, a democratic empowerment programme was launched to implement projects designed by young people aimed at the development of democratic practices. All of these achievements and the ones to follow form a system of checks and balances to ensure the separation and balance between powers.

The core target of political reform is the Jordanian citizen. All that has been achieved was meant to empower the individual to participate in the decision-making process. Citizens elect deputies, who, in turn, choose the government at the helm of the executive branch. At that point, a cycle of legislation and oversight starts, exercised by deputies, who are overseen by their voters.  Citizens express their satisfaction with the performance of their deputies as they take part in the next elections.

These are the features of the Jordanian model of reform, which is aimed at the development of the existing system rather than tearing it down. The ultimate goal is to entrench democracy and reach an advanced level of parliamentary government. This requires continuous efforts to develop platform-based partisan and parliamentary work. Today, we are amidst the second round of amending key political laws to entrench the democratic approach and render these pieces of legislation consistent with constitutional amendments. They include the Independence of the Judiciary Law and the State Security Court Law, along with an updated package of socio-economic legislation to achieve comprehensive economic growth and promote social justice.

This reform model has not excluded anyone, and does not favour anyone. In Jordan, political opportunity is available for all, including constructive national opposition, to engage in public work and strive to win the confidence of citizens to represent them. Fair competition to assume power is also ensured, without any imposed conditions, provided that the will of the majority is respected.

As to your question about the Muslim Brotherhood, they are part of the political spectrum, just like any of the other many political actors in Jordan. In fact, they have not left the political arena to return to it. What has happened over the past years is that they adopted boycotting as the basis of their political action. Such an approach has revealed miscalculations on the part of the Brotherhood and adversely affected their credibility. At the end of the day, participation or boycotting is their call.

Our reform journey is ongoing and Jordan will keep its arms open to anyone who wants to be an actor in the process of construction and protection of the principles of pluralism, openness, moderation and safeguarding the rights of Jordanians. They should believe, in word and deed, in a level playing field for all political parties to develop programmes and build bases, allowing them to compete within the framework of political pluralism and respect for rights.

Al Hayat: You have said, Your Majesty, that the monarchy that you will pass over to the Crown Prince will be different from the monarchy that you inherited from His Majesty the late King Hussein bin Talal. Can you please elaborate more on this?

King Abdullah: Vibrant communities are dynamic and constantly evolving. The progress made by Jordan at various levels is remarkable. Our society has changed, so have its ambitions and the mechanisms of expressing them. The foundations of the work of governments and parliaments have also changed. Besides, each leader has his own approach.

What I also meant is that the process of evolution and political reform is continuous. Constitutional amendments have brought about fundamental changes in the structure of the state. They were designed primarily to empower citizens through the elected Lower House to further participate in the decision- making process.

Jordan is committed to reform and democracy as a way of life that will necessarily become more rooted over time. What we aspire to achieve is the development of partisan and parliamentary work so that we reach an advanced level of applying the concept of parliamentary governments, through the successive parliamentary cycles.

Ultimately, we will have a parliament where a majority, with partisan platforms, forms the government, while it is overseen by a parliamentary minority, which also has partisan platforms, to serve as a shadow government that adopts competing visions regarding the management of public issues. The competition and rotation of power take place through the ballot box. There are promising signs in the current parliament to institutionalize the work of the blocs through a limited number of major coalitions, some of which support of the government on the basis of platforms, while the others oppose it, also on a platform basis. This is an embodiment of the evolution and change that I see for Jordan’s future.

What I mean more specifically is that the mechanisms of decision making are in constant evolution, including the Throne. Development, progress and change are part of life. Jordan is evolving as a society, state, institutions and political system, including the monarchy and the Throne. As the leader of this country, I deal with these variables’ development with the necessary and proportionate responsiveness, dynamism and flexibility.

The constant that will not change is the relationship between the monarchy and the people. Our responsibility is to dedicate ourselves to the service of the people, attend to their interests and to be a safety valve in the areas where that is required, especially when defending our national security and maintaining our core values of unity, pluralism, openness, tolerance and moderation. This is our unchanging covenant before God and the people.

Al Hayat: Your Majesty, can you accomplish reform in Jordan in light of the enormous debt? What about the anti-corruption file?

King Abdullah: Certainly, we can accomplish reform, and there are promising indicators. But before that, I want to make it clear that linking reform to the issues of debt and corruption requires accuracy and further explanation.

Regarding corruption, its depiction is often exaggerated and overstated. This has had a negative impact on investment attraction and led to the loss of thousands of new jobs. It is time to restore confidence, through cultivating a culture of integrity. There was a statement by the head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, an independent watchdog, confirming that more than 90 per cent of complaints filed with the agency have been malicious. This example should also be considered in the context of Jordan's ranking on Transparency International index. In 2012, Jordan came among the top 30 per cent of world’s countries on this index, ahead of all non-oil exporting Arab countries. These facts, which we always work to improve, do not receive the attention and analysis they deserve.

In all cases, we are working diligently to curb corruption. There are practical steps that have been taken, embodied in the National Integrity System, which enhance existing measures and others to be developed to deter corruption. We will also proceed with upgrading the capacity of state institutions and agencies to make sound decisions with confidence and stand up in the face of the corrupt, while ensuring that the judiciary will swiftly and justly rule on cases of corruption.

Returning to the point about the mounting public debt, it should be noted that in 2000, debt stood at nearly 105 per cent of GDP. In the years that followed, the Jordanian economy grew at a positive pace and economic reforms were implemented, enabling us to reduce the debt in 2008 to about 55 per cent. However, there emerged a set of factors and events that were beyond our control, such as the global financial crisis, the enormous rise in the prices of essential commodities and energy. Then there was the crisis in Egypt that caused the disruption of gas supplies, sending national energy bill soaring. The Syrian crisis has brought waves of refugees, and we bear the bulk of the cost. All these factors have increased the debt.

My vision is based on the importance of economic reforms because they facilitate the process of political reform. You can accomplish political reforms more smoothly and with more flexibility when the economic situation is favourable and prosperous.

Nevertheless, Jordan has made and continues to make significant strides in the reform process, even under difficult and stressful economic and financial conditions. We will not allow economic or regional challenges to be used as excuses to halt the process of reform, which we, hand-in-hand with the people of Jordan, will translate into democratic achievements, one after another.