Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. Makram Mustafa A. Queisi

A Key Player for stability at the heart of the Near East

While the regional context is deteriorating, Jordan stands out as an island of stability and promotes an interfaith dialogue among people. Facing a massive influx of migrants, the Hashemite Kingdom has to handle the strong tensions on its infrastructure and resources, and more broadly on its economic activity. Nevertheless, Amman is looking forward to maintain­ing a dynamic growth, particularly through measures to attract foreign investment. Besides the major reforms aiming to strengthen the democratic transition, H.E. Makram Mustafa A. Queisi, the Ambassador of Jordan to France, shares also his thoughts on the priorities of his country’s regional diplomacy and economic strategy, as well as on the potential for deepening its ties with France.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr Ambassador, located on the front line of the main Middle East conflict, Jordan is an essential partner in the stabilization of the region. Sixteen years after the enthronement of His Majesty King Abdullah II, how would you define the factors explaining the resiliency capacity of the Hashemite monarchy? How is the political reform process initiated by the head of state set to continue?

H.E. Makram Mustafa A. Queisi: Jordan is located in the middle of a volatile region, yet it is a key player and a corner stone to the stability and security of the Middle East. It enjoys the best of relations with the 57 Arab and Islamic states as well as with its friends and allies all over the world.
Most importantly, His Majesty King Abdullah II is the epitome of moderation and the Hashemite family has always governed Jordan based on a conviction that they are not a ruling power, rather an integral part of the Jordanian society.
Since his accession to the throne in 1999, H.M. King Abdullah II has been committed to an all inclusive and consistent reform. Jordan’s reform process started by amending more than one third of the Constitution. The new constitutional provisions widen representation, strengthen political parties, protect civil rights and freedoms and enhance the separation of powers. As a result, a Constitutional Court, an Independent Elections Commission, an Anti Corruption Commission and an Ombudsman Bureau were created. The King also introduced a series of discussion papers that aim to facilitate a national debate on Jordan’s reform map and democratic transformation. The Arab Spring wave has only strengthened Jordan and helped speed up the reform pace in the country to realize the vision of H.M. the King.
In 2013, Jordan held parliamentary elections that were described by international monitors as transparent, fair and representative of all society segments, building a robust political party culture that parliamentary government requires. Women’s participation is growing. The last election saw them succeed in winning 18 seats, exceeding the quota of 15 seats. The quota of minimum 15 was set to ensure that females are well represented in the Parliament, but it is not limited to 15: the electoral system is open to having a parliament of female MPs. Islamists on the other hand won 18 seats out of the 150 parliamentary seats, while 33 seats returned from previous legislator. In addition, we have a team of five female ministers in our most recent cabinet reshuffle.
Evidence has shown throughout the world that sustained economic growth is linked conclusively with the development of the nation’s human resources. Thus said, Jordan’s investment in human capital originates from the fact that human development leads to sustainable development and economic growth.
Reform is not limited to the above, it also includes Private – Public partnership. We believe that reform is a lengthy process, to which we are seriously committed. We take pride in our King’s vision and our prudent leadership and we aspire to set a model of modernity and moderation in the region.

T.D.L. : On an official visit on December the 5th, 2014 in Washington, H.M. King Abdullah II stated that the fight against the terrorist organization Daech was a “third world war”, and your country has initiated air strikes against Daech after the barbaric execution of a Jordanian pilot, on February 3rd, 2015. Just before, Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah visited Paris on the 11th of January 2015, to support France after the terrorist attacks that hit France. Promoting an interfaith dialogue, as illustrated by the official visit to Amman in May 2014 of His Holiness the Pope Francis, how does your country perceive the struggle against religious fanaticism and, in particular, against jihadism?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: Jordan has always been in the forefront of all efforts to fight terrorism, extremism and extremist groups. This commitment is inspired by the founding principles of the Jordanian state: tolerance, moderation, acceptance and respect of one another.
Their Majesties participation in the republican March in Paris, sets another example of Jordan’s modernity and moderation, H.M. the King’s participation in this rally on the January 11th 2015 not only shows our solidarity with the French leadership, government and people, but also intends to send a message to the world, that the King, a Muslim leader, is against using Islam as a pretext to terrorism, and to also support Muslims and Islam in France, Europe and the world. Jordan, led by H.M. the King is considered a well representative of Islam and its peaceful message.
We did not launch any war, and the war we are in right now is our war, it is a war against terrorism and terrorists. Remember that a Khawarej group (outlaws) targeted Jordan ten years ago, in the heart of Amman, where 60 Jordanian citizens were killed and more than 100 were injured. They attacked again, this time by brutally murdering a Jordanian pilot, which displayed the barbaric, inhumane ideology of this group. Jordanians stood united in strength, resolve and commitment. Daesh has nothing to do with Islam or any religion, not even humanity. Jordan has an unwavering commitment to eradicate terrorism and fanaticism, and the murder of our pilot will only make us more united and determined. A global war, as described by H.M. the King implies that there are more than 80 nationalities fighting against terrorism and fanaticism. In conclusion, terrorism has no land or time, they attacked Europe, the United States, Africa, Australia and even Asia, and we lead a good fight that would further prevent further escalation and suffering, not only in the Middle East, but worldwide.
Jordan has introduced a series of initiatives that aim to promote tolerance and harmony and has launched a number of global interfaith and intra religious initiatives that includes, but are not limited to “The Amman Message”, “A Common Word” and “The World Interfaith Harmony Week”.
Our country is a constant advocate of interfaith dialogue, thus the coming of Pope Paul VI in 1964, has set a norm for every Pope who assumes this holy position to conduct a visit to the sacred land where Jesus Christ was christened, and where Jordanians – Muslims and Christians – live in complete harmony. Last year, 2014, we welcomed His Holiness Pope Francis in his first visit to the region, at the very time where Amman and the Vatican celebrate 20 years of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Received by H.M. the King and enjoying the warm Jordanian hospitality, Pope Francis’s visit is yet another proof of Jordan’s pivotal role in the interfaith dialogue and commitment to finding a common platform to universal harmony and peace.

T.D.L.: As a member of the “Friends of Syria” group, your country is in favor of a political solution to the Syrian crisis. What does it consist of?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: Due to its geographic location and the family ties between the two countries, Jordan deals with the Syrian crisis with great sensitivity, especially those in the northern part of Jordan, living close to the borders. Our foreign policy aligns itself with the Arab League decisions and has always called for a comprehensive political transition that would end the bloodshed in Syria and that would meet the aspirations of the Syrian people.
I would also like to reiterate that the absence of a comprehensive solution to the Syrian crisis, would fuel the sectarian strife in the region.

T.D.L.: As a result of the Syrian crisis, your country is facing a massive influx of Syrian refugees, currently estimated at more than 600,000. How do you assess its impact on the economy and Jordanian society? How does your government manage these populations?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: Our country currently hosts an approximate of 1.4 million Syrian refugees. Furthermore, there were already 750.000 Syrians in Jordan before the crisis erupted.
There are around 85.000 Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp, and more than 105.000 Syrian refugees in other camps. Moreover, there are a big number of Syrian refugees, residing outside refugee camps making some of the northern governorates, among the most populated in the kingdom, further pressuring our infrastructure and our scarce resources, as well as affecting the labour market.
Jordan, under the directives of H.M. the King, has not closed its borders in front of the Syrian refugees. Jordanians have shared their houses, schools, hospitals, job opportunities and even the already scarce water with their Syrian brothers, which caused a huge burden on our national economy.
To manage this burden, Jordan has drafted a three year National Resilience Plan (NRP) with the aim of prioritizing attracting investments, particularly in the following fields: education ($539 million); energy ($118 million); health ($470 million); housing ($5 million); livelihoods and employment ($136 million); municipal services, including solid waste management ($206 million); social protection ($342 million); and water and sanitation ($671 million). In addition to these investments supplementary budget support totalling $758 million for the first year and $965 million for the second year and $87 million for the third year is sought to compensate for additional subsidies and security costs as well as transport and aviation income losses borne by the government as a direct result of the Syrian crisis.
The NRP will help mitigate the potentially destabilizing political, demographic, social, economic, and fiscal effects of the crisis.

T.D.L.: As a non-permanent member for the period 2014-2015, your country has submitted in late 2014 at the UN Security Council, the Palestinian plan, setting a time limit of one year for the recognition of the Palestinian State. With the resumption of diplomatic relations between Jordan and Israel since 2 February 2015, peace agreements between the two countries for over 20 years, how can the Jordanian diplomacy contribute to a revival of the negotiation process in the Middle East?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: As a non permanent member of the UN Security Council, and on behalf of the Arab states, following a consensual decision, Jordan has submitted a Palestinian draft to end the Israeli occupation. The U.S. administration has been committed to this process, and its involvement as an honest broker is appreciated by both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
I would like to note that Jordan has never suspended our diplomatic relations with Israel. We have a 20 years old peace treaty with Israel to which we are committed since it was signed in 1994. We strongly believe that the Middle East Peace Plan is the core issue and that a two state solution that ends the conflict by meeting the needs of both sides is the only way for a secure and lasting peace. We consider this as a national priority which also serves the interests of the region and the international community:
– We call for a viable, sovereign, independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, living side by side in peace and security with Israel.
– We are also committed to a comprehensive settlement to the Arab – Israeli conflict in accordance with the UN resolutions, the Madrid Principals and the Arab Peace Initiative which provides Israel with guarantees of normalization of relations not only with the Palestinians, but also with 57 Arab and Muslim countries.
– The unilateral actions by Israel derail the process and the continuing settlement activity and excavation under Al Aqsa mosque, further hinder the process.
– Negotiations must go forward and all sides should show commitment and goodwill to resolve the FSI, particularly Jerusalem.

T.D.L.: France and Jordan enjoy excellent bilateral relations. With a forecast of 4% growth in 2015, while the problems are increasing in the region, how would you describe the political and diplomatic relations that Jordan and France have? What is your view on their economic cooperation?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: Jordan and France do enjoy excellent relations, and we affirm our shared commitment to promoting peace, development, education, inter-faith dialogue and understanding to counter extremism and violence against believers of all religions by spreading messages of tolerance and moderation. We are committed to deepening our partnership with France on all levels, particularly our economic cooperation and our private – public sector relation in both our countries. France is the number one Foreign Direct Investor in Jordan, after the Gulf States, and we aim to elevate this partnership to the next level at all fields.

T.D.L.: The Jordanian economy is in “good health” according to the IMF, despite a difficult regional context. Considering the key role of the technology sector of information and communication (ICT), what are the measures envisaged, including in terms of training, in order to foster innovation? Just like the new investment law introduced in October 2014, what new initiatives are likely to promote the attractiveness of the Jordanian economy?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: We have a formidable, ever growing ICT sector, our country produces more IT graduates each year than any other country in the region and we also manage more than 75% of all Arabic language internet content from the region. We are also ranked amongst the world’s best 10 places to launch a tech-start-up.
Jordan is considered the Silicon Valley of the Arab world and we are committed to enhancing and developing this field, after all we have a young population that is fascinated by this sector in particular. Despite the current regional unrest, Jordan has a good economic growth pace, our investment law is attractive, and we also have a very able new Investment Commission, created by a royal decree in the last quarter of 2014. We offer a one stop shop, where investors are treated to full service assistance, consisting of licensing and registration services for companies in addition to after-care services in order to ensure investor satisfaction in a continuous effort to enhance our investment environment. The Commission is also responsible for policy advocacy through surveying any challenges faced by investors and forwarding these concerns to relevant parties.

T.D.L.: Lacking significant oil resources, Jordan has put the development of renewable energy at the top of its priorities. What are the projects implemented and planned in this regard? How would you describe the progress of the project to build a nuclear power plant? Given the cooperation initiated with France in the field of energy, how do you see greater participation of French companies in this sector?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: On energy, Jordan import more than 96% of our energy needs. Due to the frequent interruption of gas flow from Egypt, cost of production of electricity has spiked up to 600% and is costing our government more than $ 2bn annually. Renewable energy is a priority, Jordan has a competitive advantage in the wind as well as the solar energy sector, we look into diversifying our energy resources including nuclear energy, benefiting from the French expertise in this field.
Building a nuclear power plant for peaceful purposes will help our industry giving our national economy a boost. In addition, we would promote regional cooperation as we envisage exporting electricity generated from the nuclear power plant to our neighbouring countries.

T.D.L.: Like energy, water, and local sustainable development have been at the heart of the agreements reached during the official visit of H.M. King Abdullah II in Paris in September 2014. How do you deal with the challenge of water? What will be the future sectors that will contribute to strengthening bilateral relations?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: The mega projects that Jordan is undertaking now are strategic to our national interest. We have introduced an ambitious water desalination project, the Red Dead water conveyance that not only promises to address water scarcity in the country, but that also promotes regional cooperation, particularly with the Palestinians and the Israelis. France is a leader in this business and we hope it engages seriously in the first phase of this project. It has numerous success stories in projects related to water and waste water management in Jordan and we hope this cooperation continues.

T.D.L.: With the implementation of new projects in the city of Aqaba and its Special Economic Zone, Jordan aspires to consolidate its role as a logistics hub and a multimodal transport in the region. Please outline the most significant projects in the zone? Among to you, what could be the opportunities opened for French companies in this context?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: The Aqaba Special Economic Zone was created in 2001 as a translation of H.M. King Abdullah II’s vision of creating a world class business hub and a leisure destination on the Red Sea, acts as a development driving force for Jordan that improves the quality of life and prosperity for the community through sustainable development. It is also considered as the only decentralized body in the Arab World where more than 70% of its residents are expats.
Over $20 billion have been invested in Aqaba since 2001 when the Special Economic Zone was established. Along with tourism projects, Aqaba has also attracted global logistic companies to invest in logistics, which boosted the city’s status as a transport and logistics hub.
The dry port is a starting point, from which we look for more French investments in key sectors that include: energy, marine training as well as coastal and environmental security. The environmental aspect of the development projects in Aqaba lies in its ability to preserve more than 250 marine species as well as 28 coral sites with 90.000 colonies.

T.D.L.: With a rich and ancient cultural heritage, Jordan has five sites inscribed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO, the Nabataean caravan city of Petra. How is it that heritage valued in your country, both culturally and touristically? In your capacity as the Permanent Delegate of Jordan to UNESCO, how do you see the role of this organization, 70 years after its creation?

H.E.M.M.A.Q.: Member State to UNESCO since 16th April 1950, Jordan has developed an excellent partnership with UNESCO in promoting its mandate in Jordan, and through Jordan to the region and worldwide. Yes indeed, Jordan has inscribed five sites at the world heritage list, one of them is the “old city of Jerusalem”, as I mentioned earlier, Jordan and H.M. King Abdullah II as the custodian of all Islamic and Christian sites in Jerusalem, is continuing its efforts to preserve these holy sites and to work with the UNESCO on different projects and implementing its decisions. Also the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, as well as Omayyad desert castle Quseir Amra, Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa’a) an ancient site contains remaining from the Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods, and Wadi Rum Protected Area, which is both a natural and cultural site. Jordan is also nominating the Baptism site to be inscribed by the next meeting of the world heritage council.
Jordan’s role in protecting world cultural sites is seen as a role model and has supported the organization in fulfilling its mandate to preserve the world heritage elements. Moreover, Jordanian expertise in this field has benefited other neighbouring countries in raising the awareness for preserving and protecting the heritage. Jordan is also keen in developing projects in all UNESCO-related fields of interest, in education: Jordan is a leading country, for example, Jordan is hosting big number of Syrian refugees including more than 150 000 Syrian school students in Jordan public schools.
The organization’s role in the 21st century stems from its founding constitution “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed”, and despite the unprecedented challenges we face today, the organization has succeeded in many of its missions.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to invite all the French people to visit Jordan, its archaeological sites along with the warm hospitality of the Jordanian people will leave lasting wonderful memories. I would also would like to reassure them that despite the current unrest in the region, Jordan remains an oasis of security and stability and I encourage all of you to indulge in a lifetime adventure in an open sky museum, where East meets West and which is as well home to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the rose-red city of Petra.      

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