Last Friday, the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences hosted the annual Omar Aggad Memorial Lecture, an interview featuring H.E. Karim Kawar ’87, president of Kawar Group and former Jordanian ambassador to the United States and Mexico.
Moderated by Professor Kathleen Bailey of the Political Science Department at Boston College, the discussion centered around the political climate in the Middle East and the various challenges faced by Jordan and other players in the region.
When asked by Professor Bailey about the impact of Jordan’s geographical location and the possibility of Turkish alignment with Russian and Iraqi interests, Kawar credited King Abdullah II with the joke that Jordan “is caught between Iraq and a hard place.” He acknowledged that Jordan’s position in the Middle East certainly makes life there eventful but stated that the country continues to be “an oasis of peace in a desert of turmoil.”
Kawar explained that the Middle East’s abundant resources, especially its large supply of oil, attract the attention of powers like Russia, China, and the United States and contributes to the struggle for control among regional powers like Iran and Qatar.
As Kawar pointed out, a lot has changed since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993; the expansion of Israel, regular regime change, heightened competition, and increasingly intertwined fates of local and international powers makes the region unrecognizable from 25 years ago.
As a consequence of the violence and chaos that plague the region, much of which stems from the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Syrian Civil War, Kawar noted that Jordan suffers from “brain drain." With no resolution in sight for either conflict, the former ambassador suggested that the immigration of younger generations outside of Jordan is likely to “get worse before it gets better.”
Kawar also expressed serious reservations about President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century,” designed to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Although the details of the plan are still unclear, the major concessions that have been made thus far over the statuses of Jerusalem, settlements, borders, and refugees lead Kawar to describe himself as “very cautious” about the deal.
Citing the construction of a massive border wall to isolate Palestine, the continued establishment of illegal settlements, and a withdrawal of U.S. funding from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees, Kawar suggested that the United States has turned a blind eye to the plight of Palestine.
“Where is the moral compass of the United States?” the former ambassador asked a silent room.
The crisis in Syria has even more severe repercussions for Jordan, which takes in more than its fair share of refugees. The Jordanian population numbers some 10 million, yet the nation has accepted 1.5 million refugees. As the Syrian Civil War rages for its eighth year now, Jordan hopes for an end to the conflict and the possible return of refugees to their homeland.
Jordan has its fair share of internal problems, too. Kawar explained that the influx of refugees from Syria has created competition for jobs that Jordanian citizens want. At the same time, the bureaucracy has been inflated in order to remedy unemployment, leading to inefficiency. Finally, a significant education gap, compounded by the brain drain, hinders the country’s development.
Despite these challenges, Kawar remains optimistic about the future of Jordan. “Crises happen across the globe," he concluded. “It is how the issues are dealt with that matters.”
The views expressed by H.E. Karim Kawar are not necessarily the views of the Jordanian government and the current ambassador.