JORDAN: ‘We are one country that cannot afford a failure in Iraq’
Jordan is a stable, peaceful and progressive Arab country in the midst of a region of turmoil. To its West, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict grinds on with no signs of reaching a conclusion. This is a conflict that has created so many refugees over the years that Jordan’s population is predominantly Palestinian. To the East, a bloody Iraq staggers towards a hoped-for democratic future while its violence creates waves of the fear of continued regional instability in its jittery neighbors. To the south the highly conservative Saudi monarchy faces growing pressures from radical Islamic elements in its midst, reformers wanting liberalization and a world demanding change. To the north, the ruthless Assad dynasty continues its iron grip on Syria and occupation of Lebanon.
Recently, Jordan’s ambassador to Washington for the past two years, Karim Kawar, sat down with DiplomaticTraffic to discuss the situation in his country, the impact of the Iraq war and Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Jordan, as well as the great increase in US-Jordan trade following the signature of a bilateral free trade agreement. He also shared his vision for the continued democratization of Jordan and prospects for democracy in the region.
He pointed out that while what happens in Iraq is of importance to all that country’s neighbors, because Jordan has a long-standing close relationship with Iraq, what happens there is of particular importance to Jordan. Before the war, Iraq was Jordan’s main trading partner and Jordan was 100 percent dependent on Iraqi oil. “We are one country that cannot afford a failure in Iraq,” he said. “The absence of stability in Iraq, and the security challenges that are faced there, are of great concern to us.”
Jordan is pinning much hope on the elections scheduled for next January. “We hope the situation will allow for the elections to be held on schedule,” he said. “We also hope that those elections will be comprehensive and inclusive, and that all Iraqis will be included in the elections. Certainly, excluding some communities in Iraq could be problematic and lead to civil war.” The ambassador pointed out that the areas that might be excluded because of conflicts, such as Fallujah and Sammara, are all Sunni areas, such that their exclusion would mean Sunnis might be marginalized in the elections. “We don’t want the Sunnis to feel they are being disenfranchised,” the ambassador said.
Jordan is actively supporting the reconstruction of Iraq. The ambassador pointed out that on many occasions King Abdullah has said that Jordan is willing to do 110 percent of what Iraq requests of Jordan. “We have been very supportive of the current Iraqi government,” he said, describing it as “qualified.” For the moment, Jordan has a program to host the training of 35,000 Iraqi police officers over a period of two years. They will be trained in Jordan by Iraqis.
The ambassador said that he thought the expectations of democracy coming to Iraq after the war had been mismanaged. “Democracy cannot happen overnight,” he said. “I am someone who believes democracy is not innate,” he elaborated. It takes education and the building of institutions, something Iraq has lacked. “The shock to the [Iraqi] System will take time to recede,” he said. And, what’s more, “You can’t build democracy on empty stomachs.”
He pointed out that in Jordan there has been a process of developing the 110 seat parliament since 1989, and that there is an educational program to help the people understand the value and function of democracy. Iraq has no such history. If the Iraqi transformation to democracy succeeds, the whole region will benefit, he said, but if it fails, “there will be major negative repercussions.”
Turning to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the ambassador said that the US role is paramount for the resolution of this conflict. He said that Jordan supports the Road Map for peace, and stressed that what was needed is aggressive follow-up so that the steps towards peace that it envisages will be realized on the ground.
Ambassador Kawar pointed out that Israel is as much in need of a solution to the conflict as are the Palestinians and the Arabs. “How have the past four years served Israel or the Palestinians?” he asked rhetorically, referring to the four years since the second intifada broke out in September 2000. “We want a solution for the sake of humanity,” he said.
Coming from a major business family in Jordan, the ambassador has watched with keen interest the impact of two key trade agreements signed between Jordan and the United States. The first, in 1998, established conditions for US companies to use special industrial zones in Jordan to produce for the Middle East and European markets, The second, signed in December 2001, established duty-free trade between the two countries. The impact on bilateral trade has been dramatic. In 1998, Jordan exported $16 million to the United States, where as last year trade had topped $700 a year. Some 40,000 new jobs have been created in Jordan, mainly for women. The social effect has been to improve household incomes and raise the status of women.
Also important, the impact on industry has been “profound,” the ambassador said. Jordanian companies have found competing with US rivals has been difficult, but they have “risen to the occasion,” improving their processes and products. Jordan’s exports to America range from textiles to software, and the ambassador said one county school system in New Jersey was using a Jordan-made product called Eduwave.
Ambassador Kawar said that Jordan’s aim is to be a gateway to the Middle East for business, and through customs agreements with the European Union to offer easy access to those markets as well. He pointed to Jordan’s 23 universities and its long-standing focus on education as giving it a comparative advantage for investors. With a population of only 5.5 million, it is not a major market itself, but its central position can make it attractive for companies wanting to sell to the region.
What’s more, Jordan has worked hard at improving its business environment, from speeding up the time it takes to register a company to setting up the necessary physical infrastructure. The Global Competitiveness Ranking, compiled by the Harvard Business School and World Economic Forum, raised Jordan’s position from #44 to #34 in the world between 2003 and 2004.
Regarding Jordan’s democratization, the ambassador says that his country has moved steadily forward under the leadership of its Hashemite rulers. “We are blessed to have a leadership in Jordan which has been one of the most progressive in the region,” he said. But he added that democracy should not be expected to develop in identical ways in diverse countries. “You have to invest in the people and the process,” he said. This means conducting broad-based education in democracy and the importance of its institutions. “Democracy is a home-grown crop,” he said.
At the same time, he said that Jordan believes its own democratization should be part of a regional process. But he does believe that Jordan can lead the region by setting an example relevant to its Arab neighbors. “We hope we can show the region best practices.”
Mr. Karim Kawar
Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States of America and the Republic of Mexico
Karim Kawar presented his credentials to U.S. President George Bush at the White House on September 25, 2002 and a copy to the Department of State on July 24, 2002. He was appointed Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States of America and the Republic of Mexico on July 1st, 2002.
Mr. Kawar, is one of the youngest of Jordan’s Ambassadors, who has a well established reputation as a prominent leader in developing Jordan’s Information and Communications Technology sector.
Mr. Kawar contributed significantly to the economic development of the country and participated in developing "Jordan Vision
2020", an ambitious initiative that aims to achieve a clearly stated private sector-driven economic strategy to aggressively guide Jordan into the 21st Century.
Mr. Kawar’s vision for developing Jordan’s productive capacity and human resources in the age of information technology has offered an important model and endless opportunities for Jordanian youth and businessmen.
Mr. Kawar grew up in Amman, Jordan. He graduated from Boston College, MA, in 1987 with a B.Sc. in management, finance and computer science. At the age of twenty, Mr. Kawar established his first company and headed an umbrella group that encompassed ten information systems and software companies.
Mr. Kawar was appointed, in 1999, as a member of the Economic Consultative Council, by His Majesty King Abdullah II. The Economic Consultative Council was the first 21 member body that included public and private sector leaders established to advise the Monarch on economic issues. Mr. Kawar served as a member of several Consultative Council task forces on Investment, eGovernment, Public Sector Reform as well as Computer and English Education.
As a pioneer in Jordan’s technology and business sector, Mr. Kawar contributed largely to the development of Information Technology (IT) in the Kingdom. In 1999, Mr. Kawar applied his experience and savoir-faire to lead a team of 40 Jordanian IT professionals under the REACH Initiative. The team worked to develop a strategy to launch the IT industry in Jordan. Mr. Kawar also served as Chairman of the Information Technology Association of Jordan (INTAJ).
Mr. Kawar was selected as a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum and was also selected as an Eisenhower Fellow for the year 2000. He is a founding member of several business associations and NGO’s among which are the Jordan American Business Association (JABA), the Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA) and the Jordanian Intellectual Property Association (JIPA). He is also a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO). He also served as Vice Chair of the Jordan River Foundation, chaired by Her Majesty Queen Rania. The foundation empowers women through its income-generating projects, business development services for micro-entrepreneurs as well as preventing child abuse. Mr. Kawar also served as the Network Coordinator of the UN ICT Task Force – Arab Regional Network.
Mr. Kawar is dedicated to advancing US-Jordanian relations through enhanced economic and cultural exchanges. Mr. Kawar aims to promote Jordan as a high-tech center in the Middle East and an investment hub by sharing his vision of Jordan’s potential and the capacity of its people with business leaders and public officials in the United States of America. Mr. Kawar believes in the importance of the strong relationship of partnership between the United States and Jordan in the pursuit of this vision.
Moreover, Mr. Kawar is committed to work closely and intensively with U.S. officials on issues of regional concerns, particularly in advancing the peace process in the region. This can only be done by working towards bringing an end to current violence and at the same time, advancing the political process necessary for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the achievement of a comprehensive peace settlement within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative adapted on the Beirut Summit in March 2002.
Mr. Kawar is married to Luma and has one son, Faisal, and two daughters, Abla and Alia.