Overwhelmed by Syrian refugees, as it has already been by the Palestinians for half a century, the Hashemite Kingdom is on the front line of the Syrian crisis. War in Syria, terrorism, refugee crisis, Eastern Christians Alain made the following interview with the peacemaker and humanitarian:-

What’s it all about? Citizenship and a broader form of patriotism.

We exchange personal pleasantries and then, with his usual kindness, HRH immediately jumps into the subject of citizenship. In the context of his forthcoming meetings in Rome – ‘The Third Summit of Christian and Muslim Religious Leaders’ hosted by the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, and in Tehran – ‘The First International Conference on the World Against Violence and Extremism’ which is to be inaugurated by President Hassan Rouhani in the wake of his address to the 69th UN General Assembly and the subsequent UNGA resolution. HRH emphasises the call for justice; justice as the enabling and empowering of people.

A Syrian refugee boy in Jordan.

A Syrian refugee boy in Jordan. BBC News.

How are you?

I am beginning to feel that voices from the region have some traction. On 2nd December I am going back to Rome, having already met the Holy Father earlier this year, for a meeting of the Pontifical Council, where there are going to be Anglicans and Catholics, Shia and Sunni. So I am beginning to feel that the call for justice, which basically is a call for enabling and empowering people for citizenship, is beginning to receive the support of the ecumenical community as broadly defined. Last Summer in London I also called on Archbishop Welby, and tomorrow I am speaking at the House of Lords on this topic. So the British Parliament, decades after the Balfour Declaration, said they recognise the State of Palestine, and so do the Swedish Parliament. You might say that this is not only too little too late, but it is also a gross irrelevance, because the problem is not to recognise different sectarian and ethnic groupings, the problem is the citizenship deficit that these citizens suffer from. I mean for example the Arabs of Jerusalem are living on a residency at the discretion of the Israeli Minister of Interior, and I am afraid to say that, like the Arabs of Palestine before them, Christians Jews and Muslims of Arab culture, citizenship is not yet a common denominator, and certainly not first class citizenship.

What does it take for peaceful coexistence?

What does it take for peaceful coexistence?

The traction I feel I am beginning to get is that for the first time in a long time authentic ideas are coming from the region and are being listened to. Some years ago we established the West Asia – North Africa Forum and today we are in touch with the international Bar Associations of the world. People are beginning to develop the content of the rule of law, and the rule of law is not simply the ballot box, the rule of law is not the conventions which come undone where you cherry pick that this convention suits me and that convention does not suit me, but the rule of law is to recognise for the first time the difference between the mobility stakeholders and the development or national stakeholders. Peter Sutherland, Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN for Migration and my colleague on the Trilateral Commission, says that in some ways, this is a story of Mars and Venus. It sometimes seems that migration stakeholders are from one planet – and development stakeholders from an altogether different one. They see migration very differently. And as I said on SKY News yesterday 45 million Egyptians are going to have to move from the delta region. With global warming raising the Mediterranean the delta will be flooded by the water of the Mediterranean, and that threatens the life of 45 million people. And I don’t see anybody, but anybody, who is interested in building the infrastructure or who cares about crisis avoidance.

The Nile Delta as seen from space. How will global warming affect it?

The Nile Delta as seen from space.
How will global warming affect it?

Nobody cares?

Shifting the emphasis from bombs and oil to citizens being the vector of stability or instability may be, just may be, the way to propose a stabilisation architecture for the region. And the region I am talking about is West Asia to South Asia, East of Suez, from the days of the Baghdad Pact in 1955 when it was Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Iraq – and for a short time India might also have joined. So you would have had a situation which as Nasser put it would detract from Arab nationalism, but in reality what we need is citizenship and as Churchill put it in his 1946 speech, I paraphrase, “a broader form of patriotism.” Don’t tell me that Washington or Brussels or Rome knew what a Yazidi is, what a Malachite Christian or a Maronite Christian is, until five minutes ago. You can’t cherry pick the community you want to protect because you want to protect minorities. You have to protect the minority and the majority. In terms of existential threat it doesn’t stop there. Iran has the same figure of 45 million people potentially on the move by 2030, because the water they get is from the Zagros Mountains, where like the Himalayas the ice is shrinking. The water is deoxygenating and when you deoxygenate water you can’t grow anything. So where will this 90 million people go before you can say, “Aleikum Salaam”?

The Zagros mountain range in South Western Iran

The Zagros mountain range in South Western Iran

But tell me something, we have not talked together since this time last year. What has changed since then, and what are your major concerns now?

Well, a major concern in the region, with the possible exception of Tunis, is rampant corruption, alongside a lack of governance and of institutionalism. So I am talking today about the importance of the triple helix of political, economic and social and civil society coming to talk together. You see the problem we face is that all the slogans of the Arab Spring in 2011 were just that, they were slogans. Democracy. Freedom. Rather than democracy, I think that what people are asking for is equal opportunity. In the last year, since we last met, in the Arab Thought Forum we have produced a charter. Thousands of young Arabs have developed a charter proscribing discrimination at all levels; that means the handicapped, the elderly, all the things that are not written into constitutions, with the exception ironically of the Egyptian constitution which is explicit. The rest of the countries write it into emergency laws, and emergency laws don’t have the power of good governance.

In my country, when we last met we were about 7-8 million people. Today we are 11 million. Since 2011, 32,000 Syrian children have been born in Jordan, so, in the absence of policy to ensure their ability to participate, in several years’ time these children will be the foot soldiers of the Da’esh. Obama wants to find a way to destroy the Syrian airforce capability within 75 kilometres of the borders with Syria, he puts in Patriot missiles. This is not the question. My point is it’s not a question of 70 kilometres, or 20 kilometres in Gaza, it’s a question of groundwater and economic free zones, so that you get citizenship. When will people understand that citizenship is the basis of stability or instability? But instead we are all driven by populist factors.

The Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 5 miles from the Jordan-Syria border.

The Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 5 miles from the Jordan-Syria border.

ISIS, now they call it Da’esh, all these half countries, how can they give citizenship? How does it work?

It works by stealing from banks, exacting ransoms and exploiting resources.

Yes, but is ISIS now a major problem for you?

It is about the absence of identity. If everyone gets 1,000 dollars or whatever it is, and if people are unemployed and humiliated. Because the Da’esh has three or four components, one of which is the former Baath army which was disbanded. The second component is the Salafis, which is a sort of rejuvenation of the first Wahabi movement in British India – the second was in Qatar. Remember that a percentage of the population of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, and a percentage of Oman is Shia; a large percentage of Iran is Shia, so this is a sort of rejuvenation of a Sunni balancing factor. Some people say that there are those in the military establishment of the US who thought maybe they can make amends for Bremer now, by bringing the Sunni into a balancing role with the Shia. But what are they turning to? They are turning to these iconoclasts. Then you also have the Naqshbandi Sufis who try to protect their own identity and to stop the excesses of destroying the shrines and tombs.

The Baghdad shrine of Abdul Qadir Gilani.

The Baghdad shrine of Abdul Qadir Gilani.

In Iraq, the actual administration and actual training is being done by the old regime, but in terms of northern Syria and northern Iraq it’s basically a holding position. This is why I think that Staffan de Mistura’s comments are so important concerning making Aleppo an open city. I think also for Mosul, Aleppo should be an open city so that all the minorities have a chance to breathe as citizens. There is a difference between domination and pluralism. You can refer to a sense of authority, but the federation should not be a federation of clear cut lines between us and them.

What will happen in this region? Are you the only stable state? Lebanon, Syria, Iraq – what is going to happen?

Today is 1914 all over again. Margaret MacMillan at Oxford University has written a brilliant book: The War that ended Peace and Pope Francis has made a very important remark, we are not actually at World War III but the world is at war because every region is in conflict. The question is that between 1914 and 1918 and the Versailles Conference they had to go through a world war to get to a peace conference. Is there a possibility of seeing a regional conference, and this regional conference focussing on West Asia? Because of the five countries that have seen military intervention, four are in our region – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran and then we have Nigeria. What has foreign intervention achieved? According to the terrorism index it has not achieved anything.

You mean the bombing?

I mean the bombing on the one side and also the special forces and the Special Operations, this is the sad point. People cannot even think, they cannot focus anymore, because of continuously being hit on the head. These are the zombies that ISIS wants. As we say, the dead-hearted.

Entrance to the Citadel of Aleppo.

Entrance to the Citadel of Aleppo.

Do you talk to the people of ISIS?

Do I talk to them? I believe in talking to everyone. As the Arab Thought Forum we invite anyone from the region who is willing to engage in conversation. But when the vernacular of governance breaks down then these communities become ghettoised. As one of your Italian sociologists said to me years ago, “There is a big difference between cosmopolitan and convivial.” If they are all living in ghettos, not communicating. The idea of a census does not exist. The last census in Lebanon was 1932. What I would like to see next year is the international community, after 70 years of the multi-lateral system, adopt the enabling of citizenship. Millions of our finest minds are emigrating.

There has to be an understanding of the fact that this West Asian region cannot be protected by armies and navies focussed solely on gas and oil. Let’s face it, Israel today is 5th in the world in gas.

Israel's Natural Gas Resources

Israel’s Natural Gas Resources

So it is all about the merchandise of oil and gas. It has nothing to do with the millions of habitants of this region? What about the regional conference that never comes?

At the regional conference in Switzerland we meet with the Israelis and the Iranians and we talk nuclear. We meet in Montreux at a technical level on water. When we come close to the point of a Helsinki Process the Israelis say we have to go back to our government because now we have to negotiate. And I say, “Before you can negotiate you need a vision.”

How is it possible that for Iran they have to solve a huge problem tonight? What is the issue?

The issue is that the Americans feel they shouldn’t remove sanctions totally, and the Iranians want to get as many of the sanctions removed as possible. Desalination for example is one of the things that makes their request justified, as their country is going to be unmanageable if they can’t get the possibility of desalination. It is not about beneficiation for military reasons. If there is a real nuclear confrontation and retaliation we are all finished. I think what it’s all about is last minute arm twisting. The German foreign minister Steinmeier said he would join the meeting if there was progress. Some kind of a benchmark of progress will be defined, so they will go to an extension towards March, “Where else is the political leverage for Obama to turn in his last two years to his body politic and say I have achieved something?” The Israelis are not willing to support this, calling for the movement of Arab-Israeli citizens out of Israel to the occupied territories or to us, as if we need more people.

Turning it from a nationalist issue, which I have my reservations about because I am not keen on nationalism, in 1918 Weizman and King Faisal I, my great uncle, the two of them agreed on an Arab federal state with equal rights for every cultural grouping. This is the concept. The hatred that is generated today is as much the hatred for the former colonial power, Britain in this instance, as it is a hatred for each other. I mean the Sephardic Jews have no problem with their Arab identity, whether they are Moroccans or Iraqis, though others do.

This mask of religion, what is horrible is that there are lots of English and French who join. Do they love to kill?

Yes, that is exactly it. It is unbelievable.

It is depressing to see this horrible violence everywhere, to kill children, to decapitate people, to kill rabbis. Why is there such violence in this specific place, in other places too, but here there is such a violence? When you see people who do that and ISIS pretend they are religious and they kill, I cannot understand the Christians who don’t react enough. Priests are killed, and the Pope is like Pius XII, he says a little bit but he doesn’t say enough. It looks like we couldn’t care less. It’s terrible. It hasn’t been like this always. Where does it come from this deep inhumanity that has suddenly arisen? What do you think about this?

I think it is an accumulation of the horrors of every ten years. Every decade there has been a war in our region, 1967 and its aftermath, 1973, 1981 and the Iraqi war, thousands of people lost and killed and people seem to forget that somehow. We talk about the remembrance of the First World War but what about our region? The massacres and pogroms that have taken place in the post-Ottoman era. Then we had the 1991 war, the 2000 war, not to mention the Moroccan-Algeria war. There has hardly been a period of time when the emergency laws have not applied, apart from short periods of time where the ballot box has been invited. Central government wants to intervene in everything regional, governance and corruption are antonyms, so when you have a breakdown of governance on that triple helix, political, economic and social, then you have corruption.

Remember the Cardinal of São Paulo, remember the street children of São Paulo, he was told you don’t talk to the militants by the Catholic church. But he said if I can’t talk to the militants in these neighbourhoods, favelas, how can I talk to the children and run soup kitchens? The militant theology is not dissimilar to the liberation theology of the so called Muslims. The people who carry the Muslim creed on their flag, now we learn it is Danes or Swedes or whatever, it is a new anarchist movement which seems to have international connections, from Nigeria to Afghanistan. Boko Haram stands up and holds the holy book and says books are forbidden, women are chattel. What has this got to do with Islam? We Muslims believe in the Divine, for those of us who believe. This is not Islam, for those of us who believe in the Divine. They, by contrast, believe in the war and their selective interpretation of the law. It amazes me that a Kurdish tanker can’t sell oil off the coast of Florida and yet these people can sell oil very easily, and with the support of Turkish buyers can sell oil off the coast of Turkey.

You talked about the First and Second World Wars, but they started and become terrible wars and then they finished and there was a peace treaty. Now things start suddenly and then just as suddenly finish. Like Gaza, you don’t know why or how. It’s such a fluid thing, there is no beginning…..

I was with Shimon Peres and he said to me, “I have a problem. I am surrounded by enemies.” I said, “You think you have a problem. I am surrounded by friends.” The problem is that after the Second World War Churchill talked about the broader patriotism, but we are not allowed to talk about energy and water for the human environment. We are represented between the SDG and the NDGS by four countries in Africa, which are Arab countries, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, and then by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, so all the countries that Da’esh claims to represent, including us, including Lebanon, have no representation whatsoever. What we need to get out of this mess is a regional policy. It’s all very well saying bring the money of the Gulf to the UK and the US, to so-called Islamic banking. Why not bring the money for a social cohesion fund for the region, where you bring in the Chinese from East Asia who have masses of money to spend, and bring in the Russians into a conversation over the threat of Islamists? Obama says, “I have led the fight on Ebola, and I have led the fight on ISIS and I have led the fight on Ukraine.” But to what end? I mean where is the world view?

Egypt Gas Pipeline

Egypt Gas Pipeline

You only need to look at the water pipelines, the gas pipelines, the oil pipelines, the strategic waterways. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to find out where the next explosion is going to be. But people are cannon fodder. This is why I am focussing on human dignity not triumphalist architecture. I am talking about social cohesion. 70% of the world’s refugees are Muslims. So why don’t you get the Muslims who can to do something do something about it?

The Ottoman Empire held all these people together with a philosophy of inclusion?

Exactly. This is exactly my point. There is no inclusionism. Diversity is a good thing. The President of Syria and his father represent 11% of the population. I mean, I like to think we have survived so long because we are not partisan. Certainly we should not be partisan, apart from this ghastly Jordanian-Palestinian thing, which should be put to rest. It is very clear that no people under occupation can be forced to recognise a representative until that occupation is withdrawn.

And Jerusalem?

Never mind the flags, my point is that there should be a special status for holy places. There should be a return to the status quo ante of 1947. The Israelis can’t have it both ways. Either these people are occupied or they are not occupied, in which case the concept of Benelux should be developed on the basis of a federation, if not in name at least in fact, of interests, of regional commons, between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Because inclusionist peace means everybody. It’s not just peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that matters if you want to stabilise the region.

Map of the Ottoman Empire 1798 - 1923

Map of the Ottoman Empire 1798 – 1923

What is the position of Jordan?

Unfortunately, in the days when we were negotiating the peace treaty, everything went wrong following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and then there was the untimely death of my brother… Our position was very much one of let’s pick up some of the initiatives which have been disregarded, let’s involve everyone in a regional solution. If this had happened I don’t think we would be in the mess that we are today. So yes, Palestine is the basis, but notice that ISIS does not talk about Palestine. The other day I was sitting with some Palestinians and somebody stood up and said, “Look, anyone who raises a flag and says we are going to liberate Palestine, we will support you. All you Arab leaders are responsible for the non-achievement of the Palestinian cause.” I asked him, “But aren’t you Arabs? What about your own leadership, what have they done for you?” The Palestinian leadership have been courted by the governments of the world for so long that they have forgotten the point:- a comprehensive peace, regional stabilisation. The country needs a regional peace because everything is interconnected.

There is so much hate?

They have turned a national rights issue into a so-called religious issue, which as we know has nothing to do with religion. I mean Rome was occupied by a Holy Emperor and barbarians but ultimately Rome has a curia and a consultation. In Mecca we do not even have a consultation, the leaders of Sunni jurisprudence do not meet in Mecca at the end of Hajj as they should, because the invitation to consultation in Mecca has been allowed to fall by the way. 70% of the world’s refugees are Muslims, what are we Muslims doing about it? If we could sit down and have a discussion on the basic issues, a transparent international Zakat Foundation could put a smile on the face of every Muslim in the world. I call that institutional self-determination.

Mecca and the Hajj

Mecca and the Hajj

You are an international man, you are an Arab – we westerners only see our world. What is your world saying about this?

I want to answer you with poetry. Do you mind poetry? I will bring you a poem.

How can intelligent people, professional people like doctors, professors and lawyers in Baghdad, Amman and Aleppo who work and who want to have a normal life react to this mess? What do they think about ISIS, Gaza, Israel, all this mess?

In response to this I will read a poem from Mahmood Jamal’s Sugar-Coated Pill, entitled: What’s it all about?

It is about
Abu Ghraib

It is about

It is about

It is about

It is about
100,000 dead
Cities Wasted
It is about
Tiny coffins lined up
Upon an Afghan hillside

It is about naked men piled up
Like dead meat
It is about hooded prisoners
Chained to a wall
It is about
Mothers, widows
Limbless orphans
Bombed from the sky
Not knowing why

It is about
Wedding parties
Torn to shreds with missiles
It is about collateral damage
Running into thousands
It is about
War criminals
Wielding death

It is about

It’s not about
Our Way of Life


Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant gunmen seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city.

Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant gunmen.

When ISIS was marching close to Baghdad, taking everything, I said to myself, “My God, will they go to Amman?” They have no mercy and we don’t know how strong they are.

I was one of the very few people standing with my brother in 1970 when we were digging trenches a little north of Amman. We were expecting the Syrian army to advance, so I have seen some pretty horrible situations and in that context I take it as it comes. But as far as the region is concerned what we need today is a new regional architecture. What we need today is to deploy the resources to addressing the needs of the human capital. We need to think about it as a region. In 1988 the Japanese parliament said, “We cannot defend oil at the point of export. You can only defend oil if we build a hinterland.” And our hinterland today can’t just be Canada and North America. These people have to be given a feeling of equal opportunity and that they can participate in building their future. I am not asking for the west to resolve our problems, I am asking for the world to do so. The world today, let’s face it, is not the Security Council.

What do the Muslim extremists want, to conquer the world?

Allegedly they want justice for all, implicitly they want power. They have been excluded for so long and now they want to seize power. They want to exercise domination. So long as the West doesn’t really care about this concept of inclusion by 2018 and hold a conference equivalent to that of 1918 this is going to fall down, because regional commons are not recognised.

Shock and Awe

Shock and Awe

To what extent do you think America in particular tries to make everything flat among people? In America your identity is American, not your tribal background, but in the Middle East that is completely contrary to everything that happens there?

In the Ottoman period there was richness in diversity. They were diverse and they were encouraged to be diverse. In the post-Ottoman period nations emerged. Unlike Morocco, where the French sent Lyautey who was a highly educated man, to Syria they sent Gouraud who was a butcher. So the first imprimateur of foreign intervention there was basically repressive. The British in 1921 for example, the first use of chemical weapons in the region was against the Kurds by Churchill. The breakdown of the basic commitment to my great grandfather, self-determination, led to the search for alternative leadership and led to the Saudis and the Gulf, because they accepted that oil should be exploited. Look at Oliphant, a prominent British foreign service official, Prince Faisal, later King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, called on him, to ask the British to get involved in oil contracts. Oliphant said, “There is nothing to prove that you have oil.” They signed an agreement with Bahrain but that was the moment in which the Americans entered in their place. When my family were massacred in 1958 in Iraq the Baghdad Pact disintegrated, and the first serious financial assistance to Israel only started after 1958 because the West felt they had – unthinkable today – Turkey, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq in a western pact. They didn’t need the land based aircraft carrier Israel. The first serious assistance to Israel started in 1961. The British Prime Minister said at the time of Suez, “I cannot accept that nuclear capability is given to a country that is 8 years old that will never sign an agreement with its neighbours (which I thought was very prescient) and secondly you have not consulted the UN.” Had the British called on the King of Jordan, this is my personal view, and said, “Your Majesty there is a defence agreement that is in effect until 1958,” the defence agreement would not have been revoked. But the defence agreement was revoked. The British would have been obliged to enter if the Israelis had threatened the West Bank. The operational names were Musketeer and Corsaire, the British had trilateral arrangements with France and Israel. So – crossed wires, false promises, all of this came into play. So, it’s not a question of us all being born genetically mad and that we can’t stand each other. The Americans shoot each other as well!

HM King Abdullah of Jordan addresses members of Parliament.

His Majesty King Abdullah of Jordan addresses members of the 17th Parliament in Amman.

You have a King, a state, which many others don’t have. What is your role in this situation? Your Queen said she was really very upset by ISIS.

A good statement I would say.

Do you as Jordan have influence?

We are an oasis of calm, but obviously things can change very quickly. If the focus changes from the Sunni majority region to talking to Iran and so forth this diversity should be understood, which is one of the reasons why I am going to Rome and why on 9th December I am going to Tehran to a conference on Religion and Violence. Sunni and Shia will be there.

You are leading the delegation. In terms of influence is your family still revered?

Yes, even since the days of the Prophet.

But does anyone have any influence on the false caliph you mentioned?

It depends on the realignment of forces in the region, Turkey and Iraq. How do you define influence? Is it funding? It is not about religion.

So religion is a screen, a justification?

Yes, it is a mask, a brand name. Theirs is not a doctrinal wedding to caliphate, they see this as a better economic and empowering option.

HM Queen Rania of Jordan

Her Majesty Queen Rania of Jordan

Your Queen said you need to solve the economic problems of people and unemployment, the same problems as some western countries have?

In 1994 at the MENA (Middle East North Africa) conference some of us proposed, including Shimon Peres and myself, that 24 countries from Morocco to Turkey be included in a strategy designed to sustain human dignity, clean water, solar power, electricity and so forth. We went to Brussels and asked for 35 billion dollars over 10 years as an international effort to make this good neighbourhood policy a possibility by improving social-economic conditions. When the Russians say Eurasian and we say good neighbourhood, it is all the same at the end of the day. Asia is in Europe, Islam is in Europe, Europe is in Islam, Europe is in Asia. I think this kind of forward thinking is so important. But nothing happened. Homeland Security was created a few weeks after 9/11 just by printing money. A regional bank? Nothing has happened. You can’t solve a problem with promises, promises, promises. It is not unsurprising to most Arabs that the bombs and the aeroplanes are bought with Arab money and that the people who are dying are Arabs, so what is this vicious circle of stupidity?

We are witness to only a very small part of history in our lives. But Europe has had two world wars in the last century.

A Spaniard and an Arab were in conversation, and the Spaniard said to the Arab, “We have ojalá, what do you have?” “We have Insh’allah,” said the Arab. “How is it different?” asked the Spaniard. The Arab said, “Insh’allah does not convey quite the same sense of urgency.”


Jordanian schoolchildren

Jordanian schoolchildren singing on a day trip.

Alain Elkann
November 24th 2014


To download What’s it All About please go to: A poem from Mahmood Jamal

Huffington Post: Jordan’s Prince Hassan

To read Alain’s interview with HRH of Jordan  October 2013 please Click here