Interivew: Crispin Blunt
To what extent are you concerned by the seeming movement toward greater sectarianism within the region, in particular the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Al Sham (ISIS)?
CRISPIN BLUNT: Too many regional players have used sectarianism for political purposes, including Bashar Al Assad in Syria and Nouri Al Maliki in Iraq. ISIS is the most extreme display of this trend to win over discontented Sunni Arabs, exploiting their grievances. It bears some resemblance to the European Thirty Years’ War, which laid waste to much of the continent with people killing for their faith. Unhappily, the use of force against ISIS is proving necessary given the requirement for states to deliver security and stability to their citizens. Piecing back together the ethnic and sectarian fabric of these countries may prove to be the toughest challenge of all. Kurdish separation is something that looks as though it will have to be accommodated, which arguably is part of the move towards greater sectarianism.
Given Jordan’s geographic location, what strategic role can the kingdom play when working with its international partners on conflict resolution?
BLUNT: Jordan finds itself at the centre of crises in Palestine, Syria and Iraq, with massive numbers of refugees from all three countries. The implications for this small but traditionally stable kingdom are enormous. Its historic role has been as a key Western ally and a source of wise counsel. The seriousness of ISIS’s threat to Jordan can be measured by the decision to participate in airstrikes in Syria even though there is a risk of making Jordan a target, while its stability is threatened by the vast numbers of refugees inside the country.
Can Jordan serve as an example of peace and progress in a region awash with conflict?
BLUNT: Jordan has a proud record of relations between Muslims and Christians going back centuries. This is continued by the excellent work on interfaith dialogue by eminent figures like Prince Hassan bin Talal. However, we risk overstating the ability of a small country, such as Jordan, to influence the outcome of major rifts in larger regional states, including Syria and Iraq.
How are Jordan’s allies assisting with administering to the financial costs of the growing number of refugees within the kingdom?
BLUNT: Jordan already has over 618,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees with perhaps over 1m Syrians in total. The overall level of UN funding for Syrian refugees is running at 44% of the ask ($1.6bn out of $3.7bn). Given this shortfall, it is vital that every donor country fulfils its fair share. According to Oxfam, the UK is doing just that with 141% against GDP, whereas the US is doing 60%, France 33% and Russia 1%. However, given its close relationship with Jordan, I hope the UK will do even more. We should appreciate the enormous strain on UN agencies and non-governmental organisations operating in Jordan. The Syria crisis is also taking place alongside other crises in Iraq, South Sudan and Gaza. The sheer number of refugees has strained communal relations within Jordan, affected employment and rental prices, as well as depleting crucial water resources.
The 2002 free trade agreement between Jordan and the EU is due for review. How can it be strengthened beyond a basic free trade package?
BLUNT: It is welcome that Jordan is the first Mediterranean partner country with whom the EU has concluded technical negotiations leading to “advanced status” within the European Neighbourhood Policy. An essential part of Jordan’s stability will be the growth of its economy. With unemployment at 12%, according to official Jordanian figures, and regional turbulence, this is crucial. The kingdom needs a healthy trade agreement with the EU to assist its economy and cater to a young population. In 2013 total trade with the EU amounted to €3.3bn, and the union was Jordan’s second-largest source of imports (17.6%) after Saudi Arabia (23.6%) and the fifth-largest destination for exports (4.5%).
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