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Speeches
Remarks by His Majesty King Abdullah II
At the Opening Session of the World Economic Forum
Dead Sea, Jordan
15 May 2004

Thank you, Professor, and thank you all. Rania and I, and the people of Jordan, are honoured once again to host the World Economic Forum. It is a pleasure to welcome so many friends from all over the world. Professor, I thank you again for your engagement in our critical region. And I thank everyone here for your continuing commitment – to dialogue; to partnership; to the future.

When we met a year ago, deep crises were facing our region. And they still face us today. The Arab-Israeli conflict; the situation in Iraq; the challenge of human development; the rise of extremism: all remain obstacles to peace and prosperity – here in this region and ultimately, across the world.

Last year, I urged that there be no more missed opportunities. Well, my friends, our world has missed some opportunities. And we have seen what a great price is paid - human, political and economic – because of continued tensions and instability.

Yet as we are honest about the challenges, so must we be equally frank about the region's progress and promise. The Arab world is poised to achieve significant growth in the coming period. Throughout our countries people are creating positive change. Here in Jordan we have been working tirelessly for reform, development and peace.

For our region, there is clearly further to go. And progress will demand more than simply renewing our efforts. We must renew our spirit as well. It is time for a fresh commitment to shared values – equality, human dignity, tolerance and freedom. It is time to re-energise our global partnership – a partnership of ideas and relationships that can help our region achieve its potential.

Perhaps most important, it is time to find new approaches to achieving the future we seek – effective new approaches that provide answers to Palestinian children who are asking about their future; that rekindle hope among Iraqi mothers; that fuel the energy of Arab youth. Approaches that will reverse the scepticism of Israeli society and build bridges across divides.

That is what the World Economic Forum in Jordan is all about – an inclusive, regional and global dialogue; a dialogue focused on results. In the spirit of that dialogue, let me say a few words about the opportunities that lie ahead.

Today, I believe that the Arab world is in a unique position to forge a new, consensus-driven vision – a vision of change by the year 2010. The approach I suggest looks forward, not to a remote and distant future, but to an attainable new present. And it is a comprehensive approach; one that deals with the region's core needs: peace based on justice; progress based on reform.

This vision is, in one sense, not new. It rests on Islam's age-old humanistic values. Our heritage teaches us that human potential prospers where there is freedom, tolerance and mutual respect. Indeed, the recent attacks on innocents in Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Spain, and the attempted attacks in Jordan and elsewhere, should unite us all against the culture of terror and destruction.

In stark contrast, true Islam supports a democratic environment that respects human life, human rights and the rule of law. It upholds accountable, transparent governance. These are the values that make people shareholders in, and protectors of, society.

As we move forward with a regional consensus on reform, we must keep our eyes on the prize: real and effective improvement in people's lives. Elements of a successful plan should include clear goals, a definite end-game and practical steps that can be benchmarked, measured, and assessed.

Governments and business, civil society and the media, all have a critical role to play. Significant work has already been done by the UNDP Human Development Task Force, the Arab Business Council, the Alexandria Library conference and at the Sanaa meeting on Democracy and Human Rights. Soon, some of the best and the brightest in the Arab world will begin defining a more specific “Vision of the Middle East in 2010.” They will be guided by a group of leading members of Arab civil society. I hope their main conclusions can be presented at next January's meeting of the World Economic Forum.

The friends of peace and reform speak for millions of Arabs, who know that positive change is vital. Most Arabs agree on the need for reform. They also agree that for reform to succeed, it must emerge from within our societies and not through external influence. Recently, there has been a great deal of focus in the West on the issue of Middle East reform. But, quite simply, there is no trust in the region for a blueprint of reform that does not address people's concerns as they see them – including a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

While we do not need outside leadership on the issue of reform, we do hope for international support. Next month, the G-8 Summit is expected to respond to our reform process with a statement of support. That can help bridge Arab and Western views and contribute to global partnership.

It is just as important to have the international community's active support for regional justice and peace. This must include peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, and the creation of an independent Palestine. Ten days ago, President Bush assured me of his continued commitment to this goal. The failure of the international community to help make that commitment a reality will only nurture more division. Let the world's leaders demonstrate, once and for all, that they are serious about Palestinian freedom.

It is also urgent for the international community to be an active partner in building a legitimate, inclusive and effective political process in Iraq. Questions ab out the credibility of that process will encourage extremism and obstruct the process of regional reform. Iraqis deserve the world's wholehearted support in their quest for stability, sovereignty and freedom. We must respect the national identity of Iraq, and never forget Iraq's historical contribution to human civilisation – from the time, more than thirty-eight hundred years ago, when it established the world's first legal code.

Professor Schwab,
My friends,

We who seek reform are inspired by deep and noble goals: justice; equity; opportunity; peace. Our new, practical approach will match the vitality of these principles. The people of the Middle East deserve all the benefits of this century. To make that real, there is no substitute for having clear goals, specific plans, and a meaningful timeframe.

In Jordan, the process of reform is well underway. We have taken specific measures to boost economic growth and make the economy open, innovative and fair. In education, new standards of excellence are giving our young people the skills they need to participate in today's global economy. Last year, Jordan held parliamentary elections and the new Parliament is sitting. We are implementing an aggressive programme of civic initiatives – providing for judicial independence; political participation; gender equality; human rights; and a thriving media.

Our reforms are designed to create better lives and futures for our people. But we chose our road, not only for our own country's sake, but also to set an example of what it is possible to achieve. We have opted for positive change, for optimism and for tolerance, and for peace.

Our region is more than capable of peaceful, democratic civic life; it is capable of being a worldwide model of innovation and greatness. It is in our hands to create a world of prosperity and peace; a world in which every human being can thrive; a world in which all can share in the promise of the 21st century. It's time to forge ahead on the road of reform and progress. It's time to think out of the box about the real challenges – for the sake of our region, our youth and our future.

This is the hope, indeed the right, of men and women throughout the Arab world. With God's blessing; with faith in humanity; and with a collective will to act, I ask you to help us answer their call.

Thank you very much.