Official website of His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein
Speech of His Majesty King Abdullah II
At the World Economic Forum
Davos, Switzerland
26 January 2003

In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate,

Thank you, Professor. It is a pleasure to join you, once again. Rania and I deeply appreciate being part of this remarkable event. I am especially pleased that beginning this year, Rania will also be serving as a member of the forum's Foundation. Let me say that I know she will bring to this new role as she does all her work immense ability and insight. She is giving a voice to the hopes and values of millions of Jordanians and Arabs.

Professor, this is the third year we have attended the forum. For us, it is much more than just another conference. It is a chance to sit down with old and new friends, friends who are seriously interested in bridging the world's divides. And this year, it is a chance to put our great partnership to work, to confront one of the most critical issues of our time: the issue of trust.

The 21st century has opened billions of minds to the possibilities of a better life – freedom, prosperity, and hope. And people are demanding leaders who will get them there. In business and in government; in neighbourhoods and nations, in every culture of the world, people want leadership that listens; leadership that serves; leadership that works. In short, people want to know that those they trust with their futures, have their futures at heart.

Today, the eyes of the world are on my region. And, again, the issue of trust is paramount – about words; about intentions; about commitments. World leaders are asking the people of my region to trust in their judgment and good will. People around the globe are debating about who can be trusted, and how far. It is no exaggeration to say that millions of lives are at stake.

Yet while our attention is being focused in one direction, the real trust-buster may lie somewhere else. For half the 20th century, and now, into a new era, the Arab-Israeli conflict has brought instability and danger not just to the region, but worldwide. After all the progress at the negotiating tables, and there have been successes, the reality remains: a deadly cycle of violence. Years of hostility have stalled regional development. Millions have been left to believe that the powerful West is indifferent, or worse. Despair, hatred and division have helped extremists recruit for global campaigns of terror.

In all these ways and more, the Arab-Israeli conflict has eaten like acid across the pages of history. What is left is a record of failure, moral and political. It is time to open a new volume and write a new future.

Let me speak plainly. We, who believe in peace, must now succeed. Not only for the sake of those who are suffering from this relentless cycle of pain and violence. But for the sake of the world we live in, a world that is indivisible, a world that must achieve peace and justice if it is to be open and free.

To re-build trust – perhaps, the thought that we can do this, seems daring. But diplomatic daring is exactly what the present crisis needs. A clear road to a stable, lasting peace now exists. With clear, committed leadership from Washington, the vast majority of Palestinians and Israelis will choose coexistence and peace.

Such a peace must, at a minimum, give the Palestinians a viable, contiguous state, capable of providing land and employment for three million people. It must include a commitment to rebuild their shattered infrastructure. It must provide security for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Only then will extremists, on both sides, be deprived of the support that keeps violence alive.

No where is an end to this conflict more important than in the region itself. The Middle East desperately needs peace, development, and modernity. A recent UN report shows that over the last 20 years, per capita income in the Arab countries has shrunk. Indeed, it is now at a level just above that of sub-Saharan Africa. One of every five Arabs lives on less than $2 a day. Fifteen percent of the labour force is unemployed. Productivity is declining, R&D is weak or nonexistent, and science and technology are dormant.

Our region needs to put its energy into change, not conflict. Arab states have a basically young population. Within the next few decades, the overwhelming majority of our people will have been raised and educated in a world where democracy, human rights, and market economies are the norm. And they will accept nothing less for themselves.

Meeting those expectations will require structural change. The capacity of the Arab economies to grow must increase, if it is to absorb the expanding labour force. Growth is also essential in meeting important social goals – reducing poverty, improving the quality of life, enhancing health, and more. Perhaps most important, we need to re-build trust – the foundation for a civil society that is open, modern, and responsive.

Can we do it? I believe we can. The roots of success go back deep in our culture. Today, much is said about the Golden Age of Islam, but less is known about how it came into being. In fact, the Golden Age was the work of a group of enlightened Muslim thinkers who emerged in the 9th century, early in Islamic history. They pioneered a rationalist, liberal tradition, a tradition that supported social developments that were ahead of their time. The period witnessed milestones in science, philosophy and medicine. It was an era of tolerance and respect. Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars worked together in the royal courts.

Only in the 14th century did a new kind of orthodoxy come to power. It championed predestination and revelation, over reason and free will. It closed the door on debate and discovery. Many historians trace the frustration of democratic values in the Muslim world to that period. They record that Muslim states began to stagnate – just as the rest of the world began opening up to the ideas of the enlightenment, ideas that gave birth to modern civil society.

Centuries later, the Arab world still suffers from the detour we took at that time. Yet the age-old, positive traditions of Islam provide another path. They are a source of strength and flexibility, to create innovative, knowledge-rich, opportunity-enhancing societies. Societies that reach out to the oppressed, respect men and women alike, and promote acceptance and tolerance.

Today, we face a three-fold challenge: bolstering the mainstream peaceful Muslim majority, draining the resources of the extremist movements, and addressing the grievances that animate them. Clearly, a lasting peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict is a core requirement. And we must go further. We must offer real hope to the young minds of today, men and women who seek freedom and deserve dignity, opportunity, and above all, a meaningful role.

In Jordan, we have realised that waiting for the more-than-fifty-year conflict to end, before embarking on a process of political and economic reform, would only imperil us further. Our motto is Jordan First. Our country must be the first priority for its leadership and it must be the first to act, for peace and prosperity, without waiting for others to make their move.

As a result, we have embarked on a process of gradual and sustained reform – transforming economic, social and political life. Early on, we realised that for reform to last, democratic consent must be built in. Today, Jordan's progress towards democracy and pluralism is irreversible, and we are committed to it. Our fourth parliamentary elections since 1989 will be held later this spring.

Through laws and independent institutions, we are ensuring freedom of expression, speech, and thought – including a free media, responsible in its outlook, and aware of its role. And, to continue Jordan's leadership in human rights, we have established an independent Centre for Human Rights. The centre will oversee the promotion and protection of civil and human rights in Jordan.

We have also made considerable progress in liberalising our economy, and in allowing the private sector to be a full participant. Most important, we have invested heavily in the development of our greatest national asset – our people. In a knowledge-economy world, human resources are the real advantage that will sustain our economic drive. And that capability will, I believe, be the source of Jordan's future and a foundation for the new Middle East.

Friends, democracy is of necessity a homegrown crop. It can be inspired by universal ideas and principles, but its institutions and priorities must be established domestically. To accomplish this, we must devote ourselves, individually and collectively, to building better futures for our people.

But the process starts with trust. And trust starts with respect. The people of the region, Palestinians, Iraqis, Israelis and others, are entitled to the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Only then can the international community expect modern democratic civil societies to emerge in the Middle East. Only then can we sustain human development in the region. Only then can we build trust in a future of promise.

Thank you very much.