Good morning, and thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you for inviting me here today. I know I'm the first Jordanian to talk to you about the subject, and I thank you for the invitation. Also allow me to voice my admiration for the comprehensive approach your committee has taken on this subject, which we attach great importance to in Jordan, namely Bill C-23, the Canada-Jordan Economic Growth and Prosperity Act. I shall try within the allocated 10 minutes to shed some light on certain areas that were not covered in the previous sessions.
Jordan is partner to eight free trade agreements, four of which are multilateral regional agreements with regional economic groupings such as the Arab countries and the European Union. We also have economic agreements and arrangements relating to trade, investment, and double taxation with 77 countries, including Canada.
For its part, the Jordan-Canada free trade agreement is a concrete example of Jordan’s striving to support its economy through a viable partnership in international trade while at the same time building on a long history of close ties with a like-minded country. We consider Jordan and Canada to be very close in our positions internationally in other arenas and we see eye to eye on many subjects.
The following are some examples to put to you here today. Jordan is the only Middle Eastern member in the Human Security Network, and our two countries contributed in the development of the International Criminal Court. Jordan was also one of the first countries in the Middle East to sign and ratify the anti-personnel mine ban convention in 1998. By next month, we will be free of all known land mines in Jordan, ending an operation of demining that started in 1993 to clear over 300,000 land mines.
For decades Jordan has been the largest host to Palestinian refugees. Our country of six million people hosts about half a million Iraqis, and with the recent Syrian situation, our records show that over 80,000 Syrians have passed to Jordan through border crossings. Eight per cent of those newcomers are students who have been admitted to Jordanian schools. Canada’s history in positive involvement in refugee issues in the Middle East includes support to UNRWA and having been once the gavel-holder of the committee on refugees during the multilateral peace talks with Israel.
The Honourable Lester Pearson is considered the father of the peacekeeping concept. Since 1989 over 100,000 of our troops have participated in more than 32 United Nations peacekeeping missions. As of November 2011, Jordan is the largest provider of civilian police personnel and fifth-largest provider of military personnel to United Nations peacekeeping, deploying both men and women.
On the humanitarian level, Jordan dispatched eight field hospitals, covering Afghanistan, Gaza, Benghazi, Jenin, Ramallah, Liberia, and Congo. The two hospitals in Afghanistan have treated more than half a million cases since their first deployment in December 2001, and the hospital in Gaza has treated 800,000 cases since 2008.
Two years ago Jordan began sending imams—Muslim clergymen—and combat-trained women into the villages of Afghanistan. Their mission was to preach moderate Islam to Afghan women. His Majesty King Abdullah II said that the people who he thought really hold the power, those who are going to make an impact, are the women, and nobody is talking to them.
Mr. Chairman, His Majesty King Abdullah II paid close attention at a very early stage to the necessity and urgency of political reform while focusing on the concerns and sometimes frustrations of the youth. In 2009, before the Arab Spring, His Majesty presented the Prime Minister of Jordan with a set of reforms to fight corruption, increase transparency, protect the rights of women and children, and remove all obstacles to the development of a free and professional media industry. Such an open, inclusive, and tolerant political sphere determined that the course of reform in Jordan is peaceful, gradual, and evolutionary.
In the past 15 months, Jordan has witnessed more than 100 protests, marches, or sit-ins per week, reaffirming and enhancing the peaceful character of the Jordanian political discourse.
In 2011 His Majesty King Abdullah II initiated the constitutional reforms. The royal committee entrusted with reviewing the Constitution suggested amendments to 42 fundamental articles of the Constitution to ensure the provision of the constitutional foundations that guarantee the balance between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, established for the first time a constitutional court that will safeguard the constitution, and set up an independent electoral monitoring commission, as stipulated by the National Dialogue Committee.
The government is currently completing the legal infrastructure legislation that will ensure the integrity and credibility of the political process, primarily through a political parties law and a representative election law. With endorsement of the new laws, Jordan will have accomplished most of the legislative infrastructure required for an institutional process to ensure that engagement of the grassroots, of political parties and unions, and of Parliament and government lives up to national ambitions and expectations.
It is true that the King of Jordan appoints the Prime Minister, but this appointment has to gain the approval of our elected Parliament with a two-thirds majority in a vote of confidence. The number of political parties in Jordan exceeded 30, yet due to prevailing voting trends in the voters in Jordan, many parties never made it to Parliament. The maximum majority obtained was 6%, which we admit is very low. It follows that His Majesty names an independent personality as a Prime Minister, the approval of whom remains vested in Parliament during a confidence vote. The aim of the new political parties law and the new election law is to further enable political parties to achieve the required majority to form a government.
Mr. Chairman, for political reforms to be incremental, durable, and sustainable, they need to be made in conjunction with economic reforms that develop the economy so as to reflect on the living conditions of Jordanians. Since 1989 Jordan has been committed to economic and fiscal reforms aimed at decreasing the budget deficit, achieving healthy growth rates, limiting unhealthy subsidies, and gradually moving toward a market economy.
The regional upheavals, armed conflicts, increases in energy prices, population movements, and most recently the disruption of the Egyptian gas supply to Jordan—the gas supply that comes from Egypt to Jordan has been bumped 15 times so far since the Arab Spring, and it costs us about $5 million a day for each day that supply is halted—have forced the Jordanian government to intervene in the economy, at a massive cost to the budget, to limit the impact of such upheavals on the living conditions of Jordanians. This has impacted our progress in economic reforms, since Jordan imports 96% of its energy needs.
Solidifying national political and economic reforms and allowing them to progress and flourish require a conducive regional environment. Democratic transition must be combined with peace and security regionally to avoid the risks of radicalization, derailment, or hijacking, hence ensuring that the transition toward the desired reforms will fulfill the aspirations of the public for freedom and prosperity.
Finding a just, lasting, and comprehensive peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and achieving the two-state solution is the utmost priority of Jordan. The Arab-Israeli conflict is the core issue in the Middle East. It has consumed immense energies and rendered development and reform efforts secondary to the efforts of settling the conflict and stabilizing the region. Peace is a prerequisite for stability and development, and these two are essential to democracy and good governance.
Jordan believes a timelined resumed peace process should be launched as soon as possible, with defined terms of reference and a clear end point based on the original terms of reference. Those terms of reference are the United Nations Security Council resolutions 242, 338, and 425 and the “land for peace” formula; the Arab peace initiative of the Beirut Summit; and United Nations Security Council resolution 1397, which is the two-state solution.
Earlier this year Jordan embarked on a diplomatic effort to break the impasse that had befallen the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, and this culminated in exchanges and direct exploratory talks. Those talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis took place in Amman.
These talks were serious, and we hope that they have enabled us to maintain the timetable identified by the quartet in its September 23, 2011, statement under which an agreement on all issues should be reached by the end of 2012, realizing the two-state solution.
I thank you very much.