Interview with His Majesty King Abdullah II

Ghassan Sharbel
Al Hayat
11 November 2009
(Translated from Arabic)

Al Hayat: Your reign has witnessed seven prime ministers. Are these constant changes considered to be a way to absorb crises?

King Abdullah: No, not so much to absorb crises but more as a response to the requirements and priorities of a certain period. There are objectives and programmes for each government to implement in a way that positively reflects on citizens and achieves the country's progress and development goals. Change occurs in order to meet these requirements. Sometimes there's idleness or laxity or an inability to execute policies and programmes, and sometimes the objective of change is to pump in new blood or introduce a new mechanism to deal with the requirements of a particular stage. Change is a way to help rectify errors and achieve the goals we want for Jordan's interest. It is not a goal in itself.

Al Hayat: Is it possible to say that regional and international relations are foundational to the stability of Jordan and for preventing any solutions at its expense?

King Abdullah: Jordan enjoys strong relations with other Arab and Islamic states, and we also have solid and advanced international relations. These relations reflect the international community's respect for Jordan, its policies and its role. We use these relations to Jordan's advantage and to open horizons for our economy and youth. We also use them to serve Arab and Islamic issues, specifically the Palestinian cause, which is a priority for us. The international community has a big role in achieving justice for the Palestinian people and their aspirations, and we always seek to mobilise the required support for Arab issues in all our international relations.

Jordan enjoys a great deal of credibility in the international community. This is my father's legacy, and we are proud that we were able to preserve this legacy and build on it for the interest of our nation and our causes.

Al Hayat: Is it possible to distinguish between your relationship with Hamas and the tests it has undergone and your relationship with Islamists inside Jordan?

King Abdullah: Yes, because Hamas is not a Jordanian party and our policy is not to allow any non-Jordanian movement or party to operate in Jordan. As for the Islamic movement, it is part of the national fabric and political landscape, and we encourage all political currents and parties in Jordan to join the path to progress and serve national interests in accordance with the law. What we want in general is to develop political life in Jordan so that everyone can contribute to our journey. Our criterion in dealing with everyone is commitment to the law and serving the national interest.

Al Hayat: Does the King always play the role of police officer in the struggle between reformists and conservatives? Is it true that the political role of the security establishment has receded in recent times?

King Abdullah: I prefer to avoid these terms, because I welcome diverse viewpoints, as long as differences are about how best to serve our country. If differences are over personal goals and agendas serving narrow interests, then we oppose this, because in the end it obstructs Jordan's course.

My priority is Jordan and achieving my people's interests. I am open to all points of view and opinions that set the national interest as the top priority. I have long called for the development of parties and mechanisms to facilitate the formation of groups on the basis of platforms that can agree and disagree within the law. I look forward to the day when competition in legislative elections is between parties with clear political platforms and ideas. This enriches the process and provides the pluralism that is necessary for any society and leads to the development of all work mechanisms in Parliament and government. Unfortunately, we have not reached this stage yet, and my hope is that in the coming years we will witness progress in this direction.

As for the security services, they fulfil their role very well and according to the tasks assigned. The establishment's role is not diminishing. On the contrary, there is continuous development, and I believe that all Jordanians appreciate the important role of this institution in protecting Jordan, its security and stability.

Al Hayat: On 7 February 1999, the late King Hussein was pronounced dead, and hours later you were sworn in as King of Jordan. What was your feeling as you assumed a responsibility of this size and succeeded such an exceptional personality?

King Abdullah: Indescribable sadness, a heavy sense of loss … no matter what I say, I will not be able to describe my feelings of sorrow and pain on that day. I had lost my father, and I had lost my king. And by right of my upbringing and values, I who had spent long years in the army, the impact of losing the King of Jordan was no less than losing a father. Like all Jordanians, I lost my king and an iconic leader. It was a difficult day, and as you know there was an overwhelming sense of sadness among all Jordanians. There was also a sense of fear in the country. My main concern was to live up to the huge responsibility that he lay on me, to be able to fill the big void he left behind, to face the challenges and to continue the work he started … I was determined not to disappoint him and not to let down my people.

Al Hayat: Did King Hussein leave you a written or verbal will?

King Abdullah: No, he did not leave a written will … his legacy is my testament. He left me a verbal will. We often sat together before, and in the final difficult days of his life we sat and talked about his vision and his goals for Jordan's future.

Al Hayat: When were told you would become the next king?

King Abdullah: I was never told I would be the next king. My father, God rest his soul, invited me for a talk and he told me he would name me crown prince two days before I assumed that responsibility. He told me: "You know, I am very sick, and I have to return to Mayo [Clinic] within 24 to 48 hours and the chances of surviving the surgery I will have are very limited." And during this very emotional conversation, I realised that the issue is not only about the responsibility of a crown prince, because he was basically telling me: "I am naming you crown prince, and I may not have long to live." It was a shock to face the truth that I would soon lose my father, our King and the greatest of men.

Al Hayat: Your father considered the profession of King of Jordan as difficult. Have you reached the same conclusion after ten years as king; and what is the most difficult part about it?

King Abdullah: Yes, it is difficult, because it is tremendous responsibility. As I said on day one, I had a family of four and suddenly I had a family of four million. It's a great responsibility as it includes everyone: women, children and all members of my big Jordanian family.

I have a vision for Jordan and its future, and I will not accept anything less than the best for my country. I am not convinced and not satisfied with performance that is not the best. I know my people, and I know the great things they are capable of achieving.

The biggest challenge is related to the character and culture of many Jordanians, and Jordanians know what I mean. There is this negativity when working to change things or to achieve large goals. You hear them say: "No, it won't happen, this is not going to work." The challenge is to look at the glass as half-full, not half-empty, and continue to fight this negativism. We are always so hard on ourselves, and there is always a lot of scepticism, a lot of negativity, and this is harmful. The challenge is to keep morale high because it is easy for some power centres and circles to affect and weaken morale. So, when I visit the military and the people, and I see the extent of their pride and the smiles on their faces, I tell them that I didn't come to lift their spirits but I came so they would lift mine.

Al Hayat: In what way is your style of governance similar to that of your father, and how is it different?

King Abdullah: Each historical era has its own circumstances. During the reign of my father, God rest his soul, political issues were the priority and what occupied the public, and there were various external and internal challenges. I also give political issues priority and the attention they deserve, but circumstances now are different. The economic conditions in our time impose themselves strongly. The future is linked with economics and economic prosperity; this is what makes or breaks countries.

Therefore, it is possible for the outlook to be slightly different. His Late Majesty also led a country with a smaller population, and so the relationship was more paternal, which is more difficult with a population of almost six million. Maybe I have more of a hands-on approach due to the different nature of the challenges. Another difference may be my method of moving from A to B, with timeframes and benchmarking. This is perhaps due to my military background. It is the way I was raised.

Al Hayat: How do you view the role played by Her Majesty Queen Rania?

King Abdullah: It's a team effort. Rania has a big role to play, especially concerning Jordan's image abroad and changing stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims, and pursuing important issues in Jordan such as education, children's rights and other concerns. I encourage every effort that gives a real and positive image of Jordan and contributes to national development. We need the efforts of all Jordanians to serve our nation and relay a favourable image of it.

Concerning the role of women in general, I personally believe that as a small state we cannot ignore half of the working force; even large countries cannot afford to do that, and Jordan especially cannot do that.

Therefore, the role of women in Jordan is of utmost importance, and there are ample examples of women pioneers in all sectors. I personally support women because they make a huge contribution to society. For example I can say - because I sponsor a number of university students - that the highest Tawjihi averages are scored by girls. So it is unacceptable to invest in girls' school education and then completely ignore them in society.

Al Hayat: To whom does the King confide when he is sad or angry?

King Abdullah: Most of the time I don't confide in anyone. It is my duty to protect my people and my family from worry, challenges and difficulties. So I mostly keep things inside; I deal with difficult, disturbing and sometimes worrying issues. A lot of the issues concern security and individuals who want to harm Jordan. My duty and work involve solitude, because you keep matters to yourself to protect your people and family from worry.

When it comes to personal affairs and some other issues I confide in my family. But invariably, a lot of the subject matter is sensitive, so I have to keep it inside. In other words, my job is not to complain … I speak my mind to my people; I talk to them about my vision, programmes and plans, and I discuss challenges with them and listen to their views. I always seek to increase their participation in decision-making. But I insulate them from concern or frustration.

Al Hayat: Do the concerns of governance leave you time to take care of your family; for the King is father and husband as well?

King Abdullah: I try as much as possible to create family time; it's always a challenge to be there for your children and family. I try as much as I can to put my children to bed every night together with my wife, and to have dinner with my family. I try my best to spend enough time with the family but as you know, the responsibilities are big.

Al Hayat: Does the King of Jordan ever have time for his hobbies and what are they?

King Abdullah: Sometimes. I try to do my hobbies on the weekends and I try to keep active in sports. Sometimes I go out on my motorbike and I practice shooting. I also make model vehicles and study weapons systems to introduce them to the army. I spend a lot of time studying ideas on this subject. It is a hobby that has developed into an institution in the form of the King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB), which has grown into a leading industrial defence institution that contributes to strengthening the national economy and meeting the needs of the Arab Army.

Al Hayat: Do you miss your military uniform? How would you describe your relationship with the army?

King Abdullah: Of course. Life was much simpler when I was in the army. I miss the camaraderie of being with my soldiers, because people in the army are much more straight and honest. Unfortunately, this is not the case in politics. I also miss the dangerous aspect of being a paratrooper, something which only those who served in the armed forces can understand. And I am envious sitting behind my desk of that lifestyle. You asked how I would describe my relationship with the army. The army is my family with whom I spent 20 years of my life, and I'm still in contact, they are the essence of my pride.

Al Hayat: How do you spend your day?

King Abdullah: Working. There are a lot of complex and diverse responsibilities that require different programmes. Each day is different from the next in terms of circumstances and priorities. Perhaps the only thing that's fixed is that there aren't enough hours in the day to finish the work. There are meetings with officials visiting Jordan, following up on different programmes, economic, social and political, talks and discussions with officials to develop programmes and get the work done as well as steady contact with citizens and constant thinking about ways to enable them to live the best life they possibly can.

Al Hayat: Your Majesty, I met you ten years ago. Since then the world has changed? Have you changed?

King Abdullah: Hopefully, no. Of course there have been a lot of changes and experiences I have learned from. I can say that the challenges in some aspects today are harder than they were ten years ago.

Al Hayat: You mean when you ascended to the throne?

King Abdullah: It was calm then.

Al Hayat: And Saddam Hussein was the President of Iraq?

King Abdullah: But, there was calmness.

Al Hayat: Your Majesty, what is your favourite colour?

King Abdullah: Red.

Al Hayat: Red. Is there a specific reason?

King Abdullah: Red is the colour of the Hashemite Family flag. It is the colour of the heart, and Jordanians' sense of dignity comes from their hearts. It is the colour of the Jordanian kouffiyeh. It also means a red line, a warning. And we Jordanians can withstand pressure, we work as a team and confront the challenges when things reach a red line.

Al Hayat: When does the King feel sad?

King Abdullah: With everything that is happening around us, I feel sad every day, but I tend to keep that feeling inside me. I have learned, ever since I saw my father descend from the plane after his return from Mayo Clinic and people were watching me, that any show of despair will affect their spirit. If a leader fears any problem, he should keep that fear within him.

Al Hayat: There were reports of an attempted attack on you a few years ago while you were outside Jordan.

King Abdullah: We were on vacation in a European country, and we were on a friend's yacht. On the second day, we received information that Al Qaeda was planning an ambush on one of the islands, so we returned to Jordan.

Al Hayat: What books interest you?

King Abdullah: I usually read history books as well as works of fiction and non-fiction.