Not just a pretty face: Jordan's Queen Rania tackles the Middle East's problems
Her Majesty on Sunday told Al Arabiya that it was too early to judge the transitions that have swept the Middle East over the past three years.
“The outlook is still foggy and the political scene has not yet fully evolved,” said the Queen in the wide-ranging interview. “However, what is clear to everyone, and without any doubt, is that democracy is the solution. But it is not easy and there is no short cut to it; it is a cumulative process, each phase builds on the one that precedes it and no single phase can be skipped without paying a price.”
Her Majesty underlined the need for consensus building and dialogue, one that is “calm, purposeful, constructive, impartial, where there is negotiation and compromise by all sides”. She noted that while “democracy gives the ballot boxes legitimacy, it's not an absolute legitimacy”. What is more important, she added, is “the legitimacy of achievement”.
She further stressed that building viable sustainable democracies in the region will take time.
“The transitional phase we are currently witnessing in the Arab world is a point in history, but building a democracy that is deep-rooted, viable, sustainable, one that is rooted in our heritage, history, principles and values, that is the labour of generations.”
On Egypt, Her Majesty — who spent four years of her life there as a student at the American University of Cairo — expressed solidarity and compassion and the need for unity and autonomy.
“It (Egypt) is tired and it deserves that we stand by its side until it has recovered and reclaimed its leading position among nations… I know the Egyptians’ pride, their passion for their country, and their conviction that their affairs are theirs alone. Egypt is magnanimous, it encompasses everybody.”
Polarisation and violence
She maintained optimism in the region’s capabilities and potential, but warned that the region was not in a zero-sum game; the vicious cycle of violence, polarisation and incitement risks the entire region’s future.
“… the state of polarisation, tension and incitement that is dominating the Arab scene today benefits no one and harms everyone. We are not in a “Zero Sum Game” … we either all win together or we all drown together. No one is going to win at the expense of the other. And I think the biggest threat the Arab world is now confronting is that of being torn apart from the inside through fragmentation or loyalties to sub-identities.”
Asked how, and if, the Arab world can overcome the current state of chaos, violence and extremism, the Queen noted that in addition to complex political and economic solutions, there are values that are critical to any country’s success; values such as “an open mind, level-headedness… methodical and competent work, professionalism and not personalising matters, accepting others’ opinions, patience and hope”.
Her Majesty issued an impassioned plea to end the bloodshed in the Arab world and respect the sanctity and value of human life.
“When we see these scenes of bloodshed in Arab villages and capitals, don't we deserve better than that? And we shouldn’t look at the figures (casualties) as just numbers because behind each number, a life is being destroyed, there is great pain and grief. If we regard them as merely numbers and get accustomed to them, this would be a betrayal of our conscience. Therefore, we need to re-emphasise the credence of the value and sanctity of life, and underscore the sacredness of Arab blood. Our blood is not cheap. Our children's blood is precious.”
Asked by Ramahi how Jordan has weathered the storm around it, Queen Rania noted that optimism and moderation have always seen the country through difficult times. “We have to believe that no matter how difficult our problems, they will be solved… And the best way to solve our problems is through moderation.”
While some may not be satisfied with the pace of reform in the country, Her Majesty reiterated His Majesty King Abdullah's assertion that "reform is a continuous process that has no end. What is important is for it to be achieved with the participation of all segments of society”.
“Today, the Arab world has changed,” she explained. “The Arab world does not want slogans and ideologies that will move it, all of a sudden, a few miles forward. What we need are incremental practical steps that, collectively, will gradually move us thousands of miles ahead. This is something I learnt from His Majesty who, in turn, learnt it from his father. So we don’t want delusive promises and populist speeches. Today… if there is going to be mobilisation, it serves us best if the rallying is behind solutions, behind programmes and initiatives that are implementable.”
Speaking about the regional role the country plays, Her Majesty noted that Jordan “represents stability, clarity and consistency — our principles don’t change. Maybe the country matures, but its features remain the same. These are the characteristics of a reliable friend, who can be depended on: clear in his positions, moderate, small in size but with a vigour that knows no limits. Regarding our neighbours, when the world closes in on them, we shield them even if our own circumstances are difficult."
Her Majesty also touched on the frustrations of youths in the Arab world, highlighting the dichotomy between their participation, freedom and choices in the real world as opposed to the online world.
“… our youth today are living in two distinctly different worlds — the real world and the virtual world. Today, the Internet has broadened our young people’s horizons, opened the world to them, raised the ceiling of their expectations. When one of our young people sits in front of his computer, he enters his virtual world. In this world he has formed a personality, a distinct identity. He interacts with others, he expresses himself freely and comfortably and influences others’ opinions, he sees how others live, what options are available to them. Then he leaves his computer and returns to the real world where he finds himself with no opinion or leverage, with no freedom. His hands are tied, he doesn't have options.”
Her Majesty, who focuses much of her work in Jordan on education, emphasised that quality education is the greatest equaliser and is “the most important factor that can create a qualitative difference in our future as Arabs”.
“I believe if there is one answer, one fundamental solution that can resolve most of the challenges and problems the Arab world faces, it is education. Each one of us is born into certain circumstances that are beyond our control or choosing, whether social, economic, or even geographic. Some people are born in the city, others are born in the village, some are born into rich families, others to poor families. However, these circumstances must not determine a person’s future and chance in life.”
Despite Jordan’s historical leadership in education in the Arab world, Her Majesty acknowledged the recent deterioration in the education sector as a result of limited resources and the refugee crises. However, she noted that, today, new technologies and tools, if embraced, can leapfrog education reform in the country.
“We must realise that today, in this day and age, there are opportunities and possibilities that have never been available in the past. We have methods, tools and technologies that are inexpensive, easily accessible and within everyone’s reach, that can enable us to make a huge difference and to take a big, impactful, effective and qualitative leap in education.”
Queen Rania went on to call for an education revolution across the region, one that would meet Arab parents' aspirations for their children.
“I'm sure if you ask most parents in the Arab world about their priorities for their children, they would say education is one of the most important, if not the most important. But, unfortunately, this insistence and belief in the importance of education hasn’t been reflected in our policies as countries. Perhaps the dominant debate in the current atmosphere is focused on political and economic reform. There are intellectuals, thinkers and researchers who talk about the importance of education but unfortunately, their voices are drowned out. Therefore, it is essential to focus on education because I think it is part and parcel of political and economic reform in the Arab world. What the Arab world needs today is an educational revolution; we need a fundamental change that will fulfil every parent’s ambition to provide their child with a quality education.”