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Sunday, October 27, 2013

English translation of Her Majesty Queen Rania's interview with Al Arabiya Network - Part 1

Muntaha: Your Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah first of all I would like to thank you for giving us this opportunity to meet, finally.

HMQ: It is my honor, thank you.

Muntaha: Thank you, 14 years ago the wife of Jordan's King Abdullah II became Queen in Jordan. Jordan is a small country with few resources but it still has its weight/significance on the international stage, where do you think Jordan has gained this weight and global gravitas from?

HMQ: It could be that the world's interest in Jordan stems from Jordan’s interest in the world. I mean, we have never been a country closed onto itself, we have always believed in coexistence and engagement with societies, civilizations, and religions. This is part of our heritage and our history. In the interconnected world that we live in, the era of globalization, it’s best that we reinforce this culture. A Jordanian likes to interact with the world around him. Maybe we are famous for our Jordanian frown. The Jordanian frown is famous -

Muntaha: It’s not always correct

HMQ: But behind that frown is a kind heart, a hospitable people who love welcoming others to their country, love to engage with the world around them and learn from their experiences. Also, Jordan’s geographic location, its neighbors’ situations and the political role it plays – all of these reinforce the world’s interest in Jordan. We are also proud that since (Jordan’s) inception, the Hashemites have always been experienced and astute politicians. They carry a message that unites, not separates, a message of openness, moderation and coexistence, of protection of human rights and peoples’ dignity. This has been the guarantor of security and stability in Jordan despite its scarce resources. And then for its neighbors and brethren, I think 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 vigor that knows no limits. Regarding our neighbors, when the world closes in on them, we shield them even if our own circumstances are difficult.

Munthaha: Your Majesty as we are talking about Jordanian politics, let’s talk a little bit about what's happening to the Arab world. Your Majesty you were one of many voices in the world who have long called for reform in various aspects of life, starting with education, health, good governance and there was a focus on supporting youth. Then the Arab Spring came, the youth perhaps came out to follow their fate or to change it but violence happened and chaos happened. What do you think is happening in the Arab world?

HMQ: Sitti, in all honesty, and just like the rest of the Arab population, I really don’t know. Sometimes I feel that the situation is beginning to improve and is on track toward stability, then I see it regressing again. We are in a mode that is swinging between here and there. While politics is not my field, I can say that everyone is observing cautiously and trying to build an impression on the extent of the success of the Arab reform experience. But perhaps this is difficult to ascertain now because the outlook is still foggy and the political scene has not yet fully evolved. 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. The democracy we aspire to is one that is built on consensus which, in turn, is derived from harmonious assent. Perhaps it is impossible to agree on everything but we want to agree on how to manage disagreement. When we say assent, we mean a dialogue that is inclusive of all parties, a dialogue that is calm, purposeful, constructive, impartial, where there is negotiation and compromise by all sides. Perhaps democracy gives the ballot boxes legitimacy but it's not an absolute legitimacy. After winning the seat comes the ‘legitimacy of achievement’ and that is more important. 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 labor of generations and it has to take its time.

Muntaha: That’s why maybe we can talk about youth and education in a bit, so we understand from what your saying is that with everything that has happened, you are with change and with reform in different aspects of life or have things changed?

HMQ: The vision hasn’t changed, the situation has changed in the Arab world, but, on the contrary, what is happening has strengthened our faith in the ability of youth. And as we were talking you mentioned the youth. When we talk about youth, I think that part of the reason behind the frustration they feel which, to some extent, led to some of the revolutions we are seeing in the Arab world, is that 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. He then feels disillusioned and disappointed which leads to frustration which, in turn, sometimes leads to violence. Therefore, the priority is to bridge the gap between these two realities so that there is a smooth transition between them… How do we bridge it? By arming our youth with the skills, capabilities and tools that provide them with more options. In my opinion, having options is the basis of freedom and independence. As a result, he will have a wider margin of participation and of changing the reality around him.

Muntaha: So can I ask if the events of the past two years influenced your vision?

HMQ: In the past two and half years we have witnessed a storm of confrontations, revolutions, and wars sweep through our region. This made me appreciate something; that for any nation there is nothing more valuable than security and stability. Because in their presence, peoples’ lives, honor, and assets are secured. So the most important thing is to fortify the principle of the rule of law and not to defy it in any way, as well as to enforce the authority of the state. What we are witnessing today in the Arab world, the horrific scenes and the bloodshed every day, till when? When we see these scenes of bloodletting in Arab villages and capitals, don't we deserve better than that? And we shouldn’t look at the figures 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 start getting accustomed to them, then this would be a betrayal of our consciences. Therefore, we need to re-emphasize 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. And, as I said, politics is not my field but I know one thing - that the state of polarization, tension and incitement that is dominating the Arab scene today benefits no one and harms everyone. We are not in a “Zero Sum Game” where there is a victor and loser. In our current situation, 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. You know, many people say that what's happening in the Arab world is the implementation of an external conspiracy. In my opinion, we cannot control who is conspiring against us and who is not.

HMQ: But whether or not the conspiracy succeeds is 100% in our hands. For example, we all know that such conspiracies find fertile ground where there is weakness, they search for weak spots where they take root and flourish. Therefore, confronting any conspiracy is achieved by fortifying our internal front. By uniting behind one banner, by bridging the trust gap between the citizen and state and by applying the law equally on everyone, by allowing everyone the same rights and freedoms, and by not turning to sub-identities, because if we do, the project of state (-building) is doomed to failure.

Muntaha: Your Majesty to support what you mentioned, a report was aired on Al Arabiya a couple days ago about Tunisia. The percentage of Tunisians that preferred stability and security over democracy, of course I am not with or against, was 81%. It is a very high percentage. This is an indicator that security and stability are a priority in our lives.

HMQ: Democracy is what achieves stability but sometimes we should not focus on the 1% that separates us and forget the 99% that bring us together. Therefore, we have to focus on our commonalities, highlight what unites us and realize that solutions come about through dialogue, not confrontation and conflict.

COMMERCIAL BREAK

Muntaha: Do you have a personal vision on Egypt specifically and the reason I am asking about Egypt is because Egypt is a special place for Her Majesty Queen Rania, a country you lived in, studied in, and spent some time in.

HMQ: Of course, of course, Egypt has been exhausted in the past three years. The truth is, it is tired and it deserves that we stand by its side until it has recovered and reclaimed its leading position among nations. Egypt is the seven thousand year old civilization. Egypt is art and ancient culture. Egypt is Al Azhar. And like you said, I lived in Egypt and I know its people well and 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. It is the mother that embraces all Egyptians. We are all praying for Egypt to regain, as I mentioned, its vitality, luster, allure and its sense of humor.

We miss the Egyptians sense of humor - and to regain its positive spirit and liveliness that truly inspires us all.

Muntaha: During this time Egypt’s role is very important. I mean it must resume its regional role.

HMQ: of course.

Muntaha: Ok Your Majesty is there any perception/vision - we spoke about the entire Arab world being in a transitional phase in one way or another. In some countries, we saw violence, in others we saw chaos and some countries began reinforcing various types of extremism. Do you have any perspective - we understand Your Majesty said that politics is not your area, but we express our opinion as observers of Arab affairs. Is there a vision of how, what are the means, to get out of this situation?

HMQ: As you mentioned the problems are numerous, interconnected and complex. So, certainly, the solutions are going to be multifaceted. Some are political solutions and some are economic – and these are always complex and difficult and, to be honest, I am no expert in them. However, from my modest experience, I feel that successful countries have certain values - and here I’m talking about values not policies - that are perhaps a reason behind their success. For example, an open mind, level- headedness, the smile, a positive outlook toward the future – despite existing obstacles – methodical and competent work, professionalism and not personalizing matters, accepting others’ opinions, patience and hope. So I feel all these are values that reinforce a country’s success. We need a dialogue that includes all parties, and for this dialogue to be constructive, deep, and firmly based on our self-confidence, confidence in our culture, our Islamic civilization and our capabilities. I am optimistic by nature and I have faith in the capacities of the Arab world. We have enormous potential, we have historical depth, and we have the richness of our past, the authenticity of our heritage. We have tremendous wealth, above and below the ground - a wealth of human resources and a wealth of natural resources - we have our geographic location at the heart of the world. In the past, we have experienced more difficult circumstances but, thank God, we managed to overcome them. So we need optimism and I think the negotiating table that brings together all sides of the political equation is the most appropriate place to forge ahead with well thought-out strategies and a clear vision for the future that will give us the support and big push forward and usher in the promise of brighter horizons that fulfill people’s ambitions and aspirations.

Muntaha: And as you said Your Majesty a little while ago we need to respect, we may disagree with others but we need to respect our differences and engage them in a dialogue.

HMQ: It is important that the dialogue focus on the public interest. And we focus on our commonalities, which are many. So it is better to find mechanisms to deal with our differences. We don’t necessarily have to agree on everything.

Muntaha: It might be prudent to ask a question here about Jordan and especially for Jordan with all that is happening around it, people might ask how Jordan managed to overcome the storm around us.

HMQ: The truth is, it is a storm and we, I mean the Arab world, is passing through exceptional circumstances and it is at a crossroads. But we in Jordan, and over the past decades – both the difficult and easy ones, have always believed in two things. We believe in them always and forever and bet on them to see Jordan through its hardship every time. These two things we learnt from His Late Majesty King Hussein May God Rest His Soul in Peace. The first is optimism and the second is moderation. And today King Abdullah is steadfast and committed to this approach. We have to believe that no matter how difficult our problems, they will be solved, just like everyone else’s. We are no different from other nations around the world. And the best way to solve our problems is through moderation. I mean, in the past decades we lived through and heard resonant slogans that have never benefited us in any way. Today, the Arab world has changed. 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, we need - if there is going to be mobilization, it serves us best if the rallying is behind solutions, behind programs and initiatives that are implementable. We need constructive proposals, we need creativity. Therefore, we want firm and steady steps without self-seclusion, fear or hesitation, steps to actually take us to new horizons Inshallah (if God wills).

And in Jordan, His Majesty has maintained over and over again, that he insists on the path of reform, his position on this has been consistent, even before the Arab Spring. Reform in Jordan is ongoing in a gradual manner but it is programmatic and balanced. For example, we are proud that in the past three years there have been achievements: we amended the constitution, we amended the political parties and elections law, we established the Constitutional Court and the Independent Electoral Commission. Those are all achievements we are proud of. Obviously, they do not satisfy everyone and there are many (many unsatisfied)

Muntaha: But it is on the right track

HMQ: On the right track and maybe some people feel that reform should proceed at a faster speed, but we want to move at an acceptable pace. And as I said these achievements may not fulfill everyone's aspirations, still, and as His Majesty constantly asserts, 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.

And I would like to add one thing. You asked how we overcame this phase. They say that crises test the mettle of men and truthfully we have passed through many crises, and we still continue to. Today, we have the economic crisis and the difficult living conditions that our people have been struggling with for several reasons. And during these crises we discovered how much the Jordanian people have a sense of responsibility and belonging to their country. This is something we truly value. At the same time, we saw how the security apparatus dealt with the demonstrators with a high level of responsibility and professionalism, in a civilized and sophisticated manner. And this is something we value and appreciate. We are grateful to each and every member of these agencies and are very proud of them.

Muntaha: His Majesty King Abdullah and Your Majesty insist and believe that people can have different opinions but to respect differences is what matters, as many people say this idea should be applied at the state agencies level.

Allow me Your Majesty to go to a short break then come back to talk about a topic that you love and are passionate about. We will take a short break now and continue our conversation.

Muntaha: Dear viewers, welcome again, we are with Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, welcome again Your Majesty.

HMQ: Thank you Sitti.

Muntaha: When we look at other first ladies, most of them - not all, we notice that they focus on health, family, children and other social issues in general, but Your Majesty has chosen something a little bit different, which is education, why education?

HMQ: I think my interest in education stems from the impactful imprints that many teachers have left on various junctures, perhaps every stage of my life. I think each one of us remembers a teacher that influenced us, most of the time we remember them fondly but sometimes in a negative way. 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. So a quality education achieves equality of opportunities. And, of course, there is a broad-based discussion on social justice but the way I see it, the starting point for social justice comes with a child’s first step into the classroom. What is the environment and learning opportunities afforded to him? Therefore, quality education should be the greatest and fairest social common denominator. Ideas, skills and talent must not be constrained by wealth or poverty. The right to hope must be available to all, irrespective of nepotism, favoritism or position. So, because education underpins justice, I have a strong conviction that we all must fight for it. The most important factor that can create a qualitative difference in our future as Arabs is education.

Muntaha: Your Majesty mentioned quality education, is there a specific definition for quality education? Or what is your vision for quality education?

HMQ: It has been estimated that the quantity of knowledge in the world doubles every five years, and by 2020, it will double every 72 days. Therefore, what a child learns today might not necessarily benefit him after a few months. Today, thanks to technology, information is available and easily accessible, but we still insist on spoon-feeding it! Poor children, how are they supposed to memorize all that information! When a child enters the classroom, we teach him the answer, we make him memorize the answer instead of teaching him how to ask the question. We limit him, we restrict him to the assigned text and book instead of teaching him how to conclude and research, how to create and how to innovate. So we always test children on how much they have memorized and not how much they have understood. And this, in short, is the problem we face in the Arab world. We teach our children how to memorize not how to think, and that starts before the age of 6. All studies indicate that early childhood education is the most important investment in children because it lays the foundation for the stages that follow. But unfortunately, the percentage of children who receive an early childhood education in the Arab world doesn't exceed 20% compared to developed countries where it reaches 85%. And by early education, I don’t mean going to school and studying, I mean learning through play, learning social skills, independence. Quality education promotes a love of learning in a child, it makes him curious, creative, it broadens his horizons, it teaches him how to use technology, how to work within a team, all these qualities enhance his chances of success in the future, so it's very important to focus on them.

Muntaha: Your Majesty launched educational initiatives and initiatives related to education in Jordan, let me mention as an example Al Aman Fund for the Future of Orphans, Madrasati, Children's Museum and other projects specialized in education, we also have the Award for Excellence for teachers and principals and others. How much do you think these initiatives have positively affected education in general in the country?

HMQ: We hope they had a positive impact, and I do not launch – I mean we focus that we don’t launch any initiative without building in monitoring mechanisms for measuring success. However, the most important thing is to speak to the initiatives' beneficiaries and participants. For example, talk to the students, teachers, parents, did you benefit from these projects? How did they affect you? Identify weak points so we can address them, and identify points of strength so we can scale them up. Therefore, feedback is very important and we must respond to it. In addition to the initiatives you mentioned, there are many other initiatives in Jordan set up through the efforts of individuals, groups and civil society organizations, which demonstrates the importance that Jordanians assign to education and their appreciation for it.

And I don't consider any of the projects you mentioned as personal initiatives or personal achievements, but they are a small part of a larger effort by the education sector in Jordan. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who supported education in Jordan, whether from inside or outside Jordan.

Muntaha: If we want to evaluate education in Jordan, how does it rate?

HMQ: Sitti, the most important thing is to have thirst for and realization of the importance of education. And thank God, those are available in abundance in Jordan. Not to brag, but Jordan has historically been known for its qualified graduates. And many Arab countries would attest to this. Thank God, we have been able to achieve a great deal despite limited resources. However, in my opinion, the first step to solving any problem is to acknowledge its existence and not to ignore it or turn your back on it. We need to admit that today, the educational sector in Jordan faces major challenges for a variety of reasons; one of them, of course, is the lack of resources, another is the major and sudden increase in population growth, which is partially due to refugees flowing into Jordan. These things combined have increased the pressure on the sector as a whole. However, we must realize 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. It can empower us to make a fundemental breakthrough in education. All that is required is for us to be more open to these tools, interact with innovative experiments and current methodologies. Because educational tools and methods are constantly updated and we need to embrace them and try to implement them in our classrooms. “Teach your children not as you have been taught, for they were born for a time different to yours.” But for that to happen, education must top our priorities as a nation. When we organize our policies and priorities as a country, education must be at the forefront.

Muntaha: Education and health are the two most important factors to any person. Your Majesty did you notice any interest in education and educational reform in the Arab world?

HMQ: Of course there is interest. But there is widespread opinion and perhaps a deep-rooted conviction that youth in the Arab world represent a ticking time bomb given that unemployment rates among them reach 25%, and we have to create 70 million job opportunities in the coming 10 years. But in my opinion, this is the greatest opportunity for the Arab world and we all have to be optimistic and believe in our youth's abilities and believe that they are our future. Our youth are our future. And I'm not talking in the next 30 or 40 years, I am talking about the next four or five years. My belief in our youth is renewed every time I interact with them and see their enthusiasm and passion for their country and their strong will to change their reality if we instill in them an optimistic and proactive spirit. 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 fulfill every parent’s ambition to provide their child with a quality education. Therefore, protracted solutions and slow incremental changes are no longer of benefit to us. Our young people deserve better than this, and our future depends on it.

Muntaha: True.. There are experiences in educational reform in the Arab world as Your Majesty has noted, but are there any indications pointing to the the success of these experiences, or is it standing still?

HMQ: There are unique experiments in different places across the Arab world, however and unfortunately, these remain the exceptions and not the rule. Achievements in education in the Arab world have focused on quantity rather than quality. Each year we witness millions of children and youth graduating from schools and universities, but how many of them are inventors, innovators or creators? So, we have to focus on educational outcomes and not just inputs. Today, the information revolution and knowledge economy have instigated a revolution in the educational process and all its components. But, unfortunately, the effects of this revolution haven't yet reached our classrooms. Today, the biggest challenge we face in the Arab world is the rigidity of our educational systems and their inability to correspond to current changes, especially the requirements of the job market.

Muntaha: If I may Your Majesty, after watching your activities, not just recently, but for some time now, I have an observation, that you have a special interest in the teacher, can I say that you have a bias towards the teacher?

HMQ: You can call it bias. My grandfather was a teacher and I grew up with my family constantly boasting that we have a teacher in the family. In the past, the teacher was an authority figure in his community, he was revered; he was on par with the judge, the preacher and the Sheikh in his community. Prophet Muhammad "peace be upon him" was sent to us as a teacher and an inspirer. Therefore, teaching is a very noble profession but, unfortunately, nowadays we see a deterioration in people’s regard for it. As a result, we must reassert the respect and honor to the teaching profession. There are different components in education; if we want to improve education we can update our curricula, we can incorporate technology, we can improve the physical infrastructure of schools. But, I believe, if there is one factor that can make the greatest difference, it is the teacher. An inspiring teacher who cares about his students and who communicates well with them can do miracles with nothing more than a chalk and a blackboard. Therefore, we must believe in our teachers. Every day we put our future in their hands, our children, we expect them to be teachers, educators of generations, inspirers, motivators, and guides. The least they can expect from us is a little respect, gratitude and appreciation for them and their achievements. And I consider investing in teacher training and arming them with the latest skills is one of the most important reform priorities in the Arab world, because if students are the core of the educational process, then teachers are the catalysts.
 

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