Alumni Profile: Marwan Jamil Muasher
Posted: 15-Aug-99
Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States of America

American University of Beirut, 1972-1975

B.S Electrical Engineering Purdue University 1977

Ph.D Electrical Engineering Purdue University 1981

Honorary Doctorate of Engineering honoris causa Purdue University 1999

The life of Marwan Muasher is rich with diverse experiences and far reaching consequences as Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States. His path to the highest-ranking representative position of one government to another winds its way to and from the Middle East. His innovative blend of political awareness, personal accountability, and applied electrical systems engineering resulted in his developing the means to build currents of agreeable forces to peace that are unshakable now. The fact that he has traveled this path by the age of forty-three is a separate but applaudable achievement that Purdue profiles with pride.

His journey begins in his birthplace of Amman Jordan, and abruptly shifts to Beirut, Lebanon, where he spent his early college years. Four years in Beirut and he moves on to West Lafayette, Indiana where he completes his baccalaureate and Ph.D in electrical engineering. Starting his career in Saudi Arabia as a university researcher he returns home to Jordan as a businessman (Director, Computing Center for the Jordan Electric Power Company), senior consultant (Special Systems Company), and political columnist for the Jordanian Times. His work results in various contributions including designing improved information systems, introducing computer technology into Jordan's secondary school system, founding the Jordan Computing Society, and shaping complex political dynamics into reasonable recommended forms of action. The Jordanian government recognizes his skills and invites him to serve as Director of the Socio-Economic Information Center within the Ministry of Planning. Since then, he has been a steadfast, but versatile representative for the Jordanian Government. He moves on to serve as Press Advisor to the Prime Minister of Jordan, and then as Director of the Jordanian Bureau of Information in D.C. This journey accelerates to include sizable roles as Jordanian Spokesman and Member of the Jordanian Delegation to the Middle East Peace talks, co-master of ceremonies for the signing of the Israeli/Jordanian Peace Accord in 1994, and Jordan's first Ambassador to Israel - Muasher was only the second Arab ambassador invited to work with the Israeli government. In 1997 he was named Ambassador to the United States of America and moved to the Jordanian Embassy in Washington D.C. along with his family of two children Omar and Hana, and wife Lynne.

Let's be frank. Graduate school does have its pressures and political challenges - enough to offer an astute student skills and wherewith-all to manage many of life's demands. However, the context in which Marwan Muasher has had to work forces the lessons accrued at Purdue onto a more complex level of management since his political challenges are steeped in lengthy histories, multi-layered cultures and differing world views and epistemologies. Still, Muasher attributes many of his management and diplomacy skills to his parents, life in greater Lafayette, Indiana, and graduate school at Purdue.

Coming from a large extended family, Muasher was encouraged by his parents to apply himself to whatever studies he preferred. His parents encouraged their three sons and one daughter to obtain the best education available, and in the fertile crescent region, the best education in sciences was found at the American University in Beirut (AUB). However, due to civil war in Lebanon, Muasher was forced to move out of the country and region. He selected Purdue University for its reputation in engineering. With encouragement from his family, he moved from the cosmopolitan and internationally regarded "hot-bed" of political activity to the smaller, more rural town of West Lafayette, Indiana where he made his home for six years. "It was a BIG transition! I arrived in the worst blizzard, when it snowed for 2-3 months....And, yes, I thought of the USA as being right out of Hollywood, so my first semester was a time of transition. But, I grew to love the place: it is down to earth, friendly, refreshing. 'Till today, I consider it my second home."

Although Muasher felt he had a calling for public service throughout his life, he accepted the responsibility to pursue public service while at Purdue. Struck with the lack of awareness among Americans about issues in the Middle East, Muasher actively wrote about them to the Purdue Exponent, and spoke publicly while with the Organization of Arab Students - first as a member and then as its president. International dinners and guest speakers were made available to the greater Lafayette public and such events occasionally hosted over 500 local people. These kinds of events created the means to enable people to develop awareness, understanding and subsequent empathy for the issues plaguing the Middle East. Doing this is essential to the peace process, notes Muasher, and again, he contends that having exercised diplomatic skills at Purdue helped him speak about the need for cultural awareness, roots, and courage to face differences, with solid experience behind him. "Two elements must be put into balance. (in order to collaborate on peace) First, people must be aware of their cultural roots, for without (roots) one is not able to maintain balance in face of others. Two, at the same time, one must 'speak the language of the other cultures'. Doing that ensures that you, to some degree, understand those with whom you work, and that (understanding) conveys trust. If people are not able to address these two elements, empathy, development and peace cannot be strong. Balance must be maintained."

The government of Jordan actively strives for collaborative partnerships in economic development and Muasher contends that putting into practice these two approaches will lead to thriving regional development that is productive for both Arab nations and Israel. "We are now attempting these two approaches in the Middle East. We must move, despite our history, to make the region survive. It is now accepted in the international community that the issues in the Middle East are not black and white. People recognize the complexity of the issues....including the fact that the Palestinians do exist and have rights. The U.S.A. has now also realized the need to play a more balanced role in the Middle East."

Both the roles of diplomat and engineer require making connections, building new paths of constructive currents and thus, making communications possible and their rewards probable. Muasher's doctoral program in electrical engineering under the guidance of Professor David Landgrebe was a solid connection. "Engineering helps structure the mind in very positive ways and can be directly applied to diplomacy and politics." Muasher describes. "You develop systematic ways of thinking; organizing your thoughts and mind in logical ways that allow you to control your emotions. These skills have a big place in politics!"

Management of emotions and logical, systematic thinking are essential in the context of Muasher's professional life since it places him squarely in front of the political, economical, regional and international issues of the Middle East. Two primary strategic orientations compete for support among the Arab nations and demand making connections and balances by diplomats. The primary difference between the two orientations concerns how Arab states relate to one another given the common language, culture, and similar historical backgrounds shared by them. The grandfather of the late King Hussein repeatedly tried to unite Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon into a single unity. The occupation of Palestinian lands by Zionist forces became the only issue the nations agreed required consolidation of them and resulted in the unification of Jordan with the West Bank for 17 years. Even after Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 the unification arrangement continued for another 21 years. However, the unification dissolved when the Palestinian Liberation Organization desired its own independent state. Jordan now considers the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

The confederal view, on the other hand, strives for cooperation by recognizing autonomy of the different Arab nations. Historically, the confederal view has prevailed but, according to many, with serious analysis of its efficacy in ensuring peace in the Middle East. In this political context, the country of Israel was carved into the territories settled by Palestinians hundreds of years ago. Much like the apartheid system in South Africa, the Palestinian people were divided and separated from their own homeland. Such injustice led to persistent animosity between Israeli and Arab cultures. The question of seeking peace, and then how to obtain it, between the two also divides Arabs and Jews among themselves. The road to a realistic peace, consequently, festers with distrust, anger, and perpetual fear. These feelings, especially fear must be faced, according to Muasher. "We cannot build peace unless each person involved, from diplomat to citizen on the street, faces them honestly. "Few Arabs in Israel can live as equals. I had the opportunity to when I lived in Israel for one year as Ambassador. I witnessed the average Israeli in the street feeling fearful and overwhelmed by the number of Arabs surrounding them. Arabs feel the Israeli military might since they occupy three Arab territories. No side is really acknowledging the fear that exists on both sides. Until we address the existence of fear, peace will not come about. Netanyahou played on people's fear for three years. Jordan is trying to counteract that by building on peoples hopes."

Is the road to peace in the Middle East a useful model for other regions in the world to follow as they struggle with similar constellations of issues, such as in the Balkans and South Africa? "Perhaps. The refugee problem that emerged since the 1948 war and the persistent question of the state for the Palestinians remains complex. Despite the length of the conflict - the healing of wounds that are over one hundred years old, leaves me still believing that peace can come. Basic and general strategies can be used even though a magic formula can not be followed. We have to have a willingness to make peace. That is the starting place and the rest takes time; it cannot happen overnight. Secondly, we have to generate confidence-building measures. For example, the Oslo accords. We have to keep taking confidence building measures.....these (measures) then, gradually lead to realistic forms of peace."

Do prospects for peace in the Middle East lie in deeper educational collaborations with the U.S? "Not necessarily. The USA is not the only place for training. I have worked with many very capable policy-makers who have not had a formal education in the United States! Where-ever one gets an education, it is important to be able to learn to be pragmatic, to take initiative, be innovative, and do your research!"

What experiences have given you a deep sense of satisfaction and hope for obtaining peace in the Middle East? "I am not sure I can point to anything specifically.... I believe it started when I began serving as spokesperson in Madrid. It is difficult to forget the past. It is a slow and gradual evolutionary process. You have to constantly remind yourself that what you are doing breaks down fear and lends to the overall process. (It) is in itself part of the confidence-building process that is so essential to peace."

Does the new King of Jordan plan to continue with confidence building measures? Jordan is a country in which over 50% of its population are under 15. "The new King of Jordan reflects that population trend with his own youthfulness and, thus," Muasher explains, "hopes for a strong future. He has provided continuity of policies in a very smooth way, reflected in smooth institutional management transitions. (The king) combines this with the reflection of a new age: combining respect for cultural roots and an eye for the future and modernity".

Those on the front lines of negotiating a livable partnership between the Palestinians and the Israelis have had to meet, head-on, the issues and needs of the Arabic and Jewish communities found in the Near East and the West. In this context, Marwan Muasher emerged as a courageous and articulate spokesperson and engineer of diplomatic negotiations. What kind of advice does he give students, who like himself, feel called to blend their political interests with their academic training? "One must follow their instincts. Do not be inhibited! Try not to be confined by your training. You can excel in any field and take what has been learned and compliment it. Learn to communicate ideas in a clear way and (learn to) develop relations with differing ways."

Although Purdue's students assist in the process of development, it is with Purdue alumni that long-term developmental efforts are visible - leading to growth and stability of a county, country, or region of the world. When Purdue alumni make such contributions through the world of science, letters, or business we applaud loudly. When Purdue alumni makes contributions in science, letters, business, and world peace, Purdue gives a standing ovation. For his work in computerizing Jordanian government services and promoting diplomatic solutions to political problems in the Middle East, Purdue's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering awarded Marwan Jamil Muasher the degree of Doctor of Engineering honoris causa (in recognition of distinctions not received in course degrees) in 1999. His commitment to Jordan is unquestionable, and his future will remain tied to its development. "It is difficult to say (what I will do next)....I want to return to Jordan and I may pursue constituent politics, or return to the private sector."

The Office of International Programs at Purdue is proud to reflect on the efforts of Marwan Jamil Muasher, whose application of technologies and methodologies, honed at Purdue, have pragmatically positioned him as bridge-builder and peace maker for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States of America. His next steps will unfold after he completes two more years of contractual duty as Ambassador, and with perhaps the option to stay on in that role. His contributions to growth and peace in the Middle East are tangible. Like the basics of electrical engineering, his future contributions will, no doubt, build from the blend of positive and negative currents to produce a systematic process of recovery of the resources, the people, and their hopes, for that dynamic region of the world. And, no doubt, Purdue will continue to give Marwan Jamil Muasher standing ovations.

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