King Harald and Queen Sonja started their three-day long state visit to Jordan on Monday. That first day consisted of a welcome ceremony and focus on business and economics before it ended with a grand banquet at the Jordanian royal palace. The Norwegian royals have been in Jordan since Wednesday last week on a private holiday.
The second day of the state visit began when King Harald and Queen Sonja visited a project for the integration of Syrian children through education and football. In the town of Salt, 30 kilometers west of Amman, is the Nusaibah girls’ school bint Ka’ab. This is also one of the schools that has had a football field built through the NFF project. A total of 134.000 Syrian children attend school in Jordan. Norway assists the effort financially, and also supports two projects under the auspices of the Norwegian Football Association. The goal is to help children to integrate through sports.
King Harald and Queen Sonja could learn about Jordan integrating many Syrian children into the school and about the cooperation between the Norwegian and Jordanian Football League during their visit. The King and Queen also got to see the football players in action. The King and Queen saw Norwegian and Jordanian national team players take part in a friendly match with both Syrian and Jordanian girls on both teams.
Then the royals went on to visit the site by the Jordan River where tradition says Jesus was baptized. Jordan and King Abdullah II have a very special role as manager of the Christian and Muslim shrines in Jerusalem. King Harald and Queen Sonja visited the shrine, accompanied by the Jordanian king, queen and Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad. King Harald is himself baptized with water from the Jordan River, as the tradition of Norway’s royal family indicates.
King Harald and Queen visited the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethany. From the church you can see across the Jordan River to Jericho in the West Bank and on a clear day you can see Jerusalem. The church is one of seven churches from different faiths built after His Majesty King Abdullah dedicated this area for the purpose. There the royal couple heard about the ongoing dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders in Jordan. The church is decorated with nine paintings by the Norwegian artist Håkon Gullvåg. Gullvåg was present at the event ant told the royals about his artworks. The main theme of the altarpiece is, of course, the baptismal scene.
The area where the churches stand today was hit hard by the war between Israel and neighbouring countries in the last century. This resulted in, among other things, more than 6.500 landmines being put down in this area. Norwegian People’s Aid contributed to the mine clearance and, in 2012, Crown Prince Haakon took part in the ceremony marking that Jordan was mine free.
His Majesty King Harald then went alone to attend the seminar “Preserving Spaces for Dialogue: What can Jordan and Norway do together?” The seminar was organized by the Institute for Peace Research in collaboration with the Jordanian Centre for Strategic Studies, and discussed what roles Norway and Jordan can have and opportunities for collaboration.
The king spoke at the seminar and praised Jordan’s efforts for dialogue and cooperation. His Majesty said: “Our visit to the Jordan River and the Baptism Site was a reminder of how connected we are as human beings. In many ways, Jordan’s history is also our history. In the highly appreciated company of King Abdullah, we were reminded that our countries’ religious traditions are deeply connected.”
The second day of the visit was concluded when King Harald and Queen Sonja hosted an official dinner for Norwegian and Jordanian guests. During the dinner, Queen Sonja gave a speech. Her Majesty said: “The King and I would like to express our heartfelt thanks to King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, our hosts during these wonderful few days, and to all Jordanians – for a truly unforgettable state visit. Which also marks an anniversary: This is our state visit number 50. So what better place to celebrate than Jordan?”
The visit is the Norwegian royal’s first state visit to the Middle East and marks 20 years since the Jordanian King was on a state visit to Norway. This is also the 50th state visit done by His Majesty King Harald. The state visit will highlight the regional political challenges the country faces and what Norway and Jordan can do together to preserve the room for political dialogue in the Middle East. Norway’s Foreign Minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide and Minister of Trade and Industry, Iselin Nybø, are accompanying the King and Queen during their visit to Jordan as well as a large economic deputation.