Core conflict and core values: King Abdullah II on youth and prospects for peace

Op-Ed by His Majesty King Abdullah II
Oxford Business Group Magazine - The report 2007
05 September 2007

As I write, Jordan and the Arab world are looking ahead to a “youth boom” that promises to transform our region’s history as much as the oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s. Of the region’s 325m people, more than 200m are under the age of 24. The share of the population held by youth is growing and will not peak until after 2040. This means that in the next four to five decades, the Middle East, a region of great but still largely untapped potential, will be populated mainly by citizens at the prime of their productive lives. These young men and women can achieve for themselves and their societies the standards of living enjoyed throughout Europe, North America and much of Asia.

But their success will depend on what is done now to empower them, through education, opportunity, and a role in progress. In Jordan, the private and public sectors and NGOs are working together to meet that need. Our country has already made difficult decisions for structural and economic reforms, to ensure the coming generations inherit a stable economy with long-term, international competitiveness. Jordan’s sound fiscal and economic policies and our commitment to private-sector, trade-led growth have already produced results: a more open economy, growing diversity in exports and investments, more opportunities and higher standards of living for Jordanians, and seven years of economic growth averaging almost 6 per cent per year (6.4% in 2006).

Such results reflect a process that lets government concentrate on governing, lets the private sector drive economic growth and brings both together to maximise the impact in areas of critical national need. One area of cooperation is education.

Jordan’s educational system has earned global recognition for equal access and achievement, from kindergarten through university. We want to build on that history to meet 21st century needs. This requires broadening the knowledge and skills sets of our youth, to prepare them for the contemporary labour market, and supporting their creativity and talents. Public-private sector efforts such as the Jordan Education Initiative have introduced the latest information communication technology into the classroom. Curriculum reforms are targeting technical and vocational skills and training opportunities are being expanded. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Labour, the Jordan Armed Forces and private-sector enterprises initiated a unique jobs-skills programme that will give young Jordanians on-the-job training in the trades needed by the booming construction industry being driven by record levels of investment in Jordan. We know that human creativity and leadership is at the heart of development in the 21st century – and it is the catalyst for the success of Jordan’s business and cultural communities. We want to encourage and involve young people at every level. I’m proud to say that the King Abdullah Fund for Development has a designated fund promoting student innovation and excellence. Policy- makers and business leaders are also helping young Jordanians develop the decision-making abilities needed in the modern economy, such as the INJAZ program, which builds skills in areas such as communication, entrepreneurship and problem-solving. And Jordan’s cultural leaders have sparked a new humanities initiative, to open new opportunities for young Jordanians to excel in film-making, design and the fine and performing arts – enriching national life and reaching out to a global group of peers and audiences.

Hard opportunities are also being expanded through pioneering development initiatives such as the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ). ASEZ takes advantage of Aqaba's competitive attributes, tourism and logistics – and growth is fuelled by decentralised governance and world- class investment incentives.

A single-point development body is in place to create an economic environment conducive to investment, innovation and job creation. The initiative has succeeded beyond expectations, and in the past year, we began bringing the model to other communities.

Similar areas are being created in an underprivileged area of the Mafraq Governorate and in the university city of Irbid, and we are also studying their application in the Jordan Valley and Wadi Araba. These and other efforts are not simply creating new jobs but new horizons for young Jordanians, enabling them to create, innovate and share in building the future that they deserve. Yet, we also recognise that the future for us and the entire region depends on achieving regional peace.

As history has proved in other regions as well as our own, ongoing conflict is a tremendous barrier to trans-border cooperation, knowledge and technology exchange, investment, trade, and all the other elements of sustainable, dynamic regional economies. The threat of violence also deeply distorts the confidence, security and law that stable, thriving communities depend on.

Arab and Israeli young people, Muslim, Christian and Jewish, must be empowered by peace. Ensuring that this is so is the greatest calling of today's generation of leaders, and it must begin with a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

This is the core conflict in our region; one that affects life and attitudes across all generations. And now is a critical time for action, to prevent the serious spread of division and violence in the region and beyond. In fact, an opportunity to achieve a final settlement to this historic conflict exists. Last March, Arab leaders unanimously renewed the Arab Peace Initiative. It provides a framework for negotiations towards a comprehensive and lasting settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, beginning with the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Implementation will create two states living side by side in peace – Israel and, at long last, a viable, sovereign and independent Palestine – as well as an agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee question, and collective security guarantees for all the countries of the region, including Israel.

Jordan has taken a lead in seeking a renewed international commitment to the hard work of Middle East peace. In this, as in other approaches to the future, we see a major role for leadership from across society – not just government but business, academia, humanitarian organisations, and others. All must be involved in raising the issue as a global priority, in building the framework for success, and in creating the post-peace world.

Our partnership will create a new beginning for millions of people, especially young people, who need and deserve the 21st century advantages enjoyed by so many of their peers around the world: a good education, rewarding work, and security to raise their families and live lives of dignity. Jordan is committed to that goal.

I have every confidence that as our young people are empowered – with knowledge, with opportunity, with peace and security – they will transform our region in ways that we cannot even imagine.