Porschist Magazine 69 - Jordanië

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Magazine for Porsche enthusiasts • year 18 • quarterly • February / March 2022 • 69

NATO HQ PORSCHE TAYCAN IN THE HEART OF EUROPE

PORSCHE TAYCAN SPORT TURISMO 50 YEARS PORSCHE DESIGN • PORSCHIST IN JORDAN


TRAVEL PORSCHIST

Royal

JORDAN ‫ندرألا‬ 2


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text: kathleen van bremdt - photos: kathleen van bremdt & sven hoyaux


TRAVEL PORSCHIST

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n the wake of Lawrence of Arabia, we travel through Jordan from north to south past pink ruined cities, spectacular mountain landscapes, salty seas and undulating deserts. In Amman and Aqaba, we talk to passionate Porsche drivers.

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Roman theatre, Amman.


The Kingdom of Jordan is located in the Middle East and is about three times the size of Belgium. With the exception of a small area of coastline in the extreme south, it is completely enclosed by land. One does not choose one’s family, the saying goes, and this also applies to neighbouring countries. Jordan has borders with Syria, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, not exactly countries that excel in peace and stability. But precisely in this turbulent region, little Jordan is a beacon of peace, even a bridge builder when the need is extreme. In other words: it is safe, and nothing stands in the way of a visit to this versatile country.

A MODERN CAPITAL Amman is the beating heart of Jordan. The evolution that the city has undergone in recent decades is impressive. In less than fifty years, Amman grew from an insignificant provincial town into a multi-cultural and busy metropolis. Jordan has ten million inhabitants, more than 4 million of whom live in Amman today. Amman is an intriguing city with enormous cultural and ethnic diversity. A city full of contrasts where east and west, conservative and progressive, modern and traditional go hand in hand. Historic monuments stand side by side with modern office buildings and next to expensive shopping centres you will find traditional coffee houses. On the street we see both men in western suits and men in long dishdashas; women in jeans as well as women in black chadors. Hazen Makouz, the president of the Porsche club in Jordan, doesn't waste time, and arranges a meeting shortly after our arrival. We meet in the rooftop restaurant of the St. Regis Hotel, a trendy place where seeing and being seen counts. Hazen has also invited three other members of the Porsche club. The atmosphere is immediately warm and of course Porsche is the main subject of our conversations.

Temple of Hercules, Amman.

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The Fairmont Hotel is an oasis of tranquillity where no request is too much.

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Inside view of the Fairmont, Amman.

FAIRMONT: FIVE STARS

When you say Fairmont, you know you're staying in an absolutely world-class hotel. It's no different at the Fairmont in Amman. The modern building towers over the city and is located in one of the best neighbourhoods. From the moment we step into the large lobby with its imposing crystal chandeliers and gleaming floor, we sense the atmosphere that is so characteristic of hotels of this calibre: an oasis of tranquillity with discreet top-level service where no request is too much. We stay in one of the 317 rooms and have a fabulous view of the city: a sea of white and beige block houses interspersed with slender minarets against a horizon of tan-coloured mountains. The Fairmont is also much loved by the Jordanians themselves. They go there for lunch, for high tea or for a night out. The sumptuous ballroom is very popular for weddings. The festively dressed men and women we meet every day in the hotel corridors testify to this.



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AL-SALT: THE TOWN THAT JUST FAILED TO BECOME THE CAPITAL To take the photos of the Porsche of Mazen Hakouz, we go to Al-Salt, thirty kilometres from Amman. Al-Salt thrived during a time when Jordan's current capital didn't even exist. At the beginning of the 19th century, Al-Salt was a prosperous meeting place between East and West, between the desert and the urban centres. The city was located right at the crossroads of trade routes and pilgrimages between the Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula. Travellers stopped there on their way to Jerusalem, Damascus, Baghdad or Mecca, and the inhabitants of Al-Salt did excellent business. That attracted wealthy merchants from different cultural and religious backgrounds. They had beautiful houses built in the typical locally quarried pale-yellow limestone. For two centuries Al-Salt prospered, but then the tide turned. When the new emirate of Transjordan came into existence after the Second World War, the Saltis were very sceptical of the Emir Abdullah, who had been backed by the British. Abdullah did not trust matters, decided to cut his losses and appointed the then insignificant little town of Amman as the capital of the new country. Perhaps the Saltis now regret their erstwhile recalcitrance, because as Amman grew and prospered, the economy in their small town stalled. On the other hand, Al-Salt has escaped modern urbanisation as a result and has retained its late 19th-century character.


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Virtually nothing has changed for a century. We amble through the winding streets and narrow alleys past buildings with arched doorways, carved columns and tall windows. Al-Salt is beautiful, authentic and atmospheric. Like Amman, Al-Salt is surrounded by hills. From one of them we have a beautiful view of the town, an excellent place for our photo shoot. Unexpectedly, we even get two Porsches for the price of one, because Hasan Al-Kayed, also a member of the Porsche club, has joined us. The two Carreras form a wonderful duo. “Dinner at my house tomorrow,” Hasan calls before driving off. Hospitality knows no boundaries in Jordan.

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Al-Salt has escaped modern urbanisation and has retained its 19th century character.

The Porsches of Mazen Hakouz and Hasan Al-Kayed form a wonderful duo.


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TRAVEL PORSCHIST CARS AS A HISTORY BOOK When in Amman, a visit to the Royal Automobile Museum is a must. The museum was founded by Abdullah II - the current King of Jordan - as a tribute to his father, the late King Hussein (°1935 - †1999). King Hussein was an avid car enthusiast. He loved both classic old-timers and glitzy sports cars, liked to get behind the wheel and even took part in several races, some of which he won. The museum has a collection of more than 80 cars and motorcycles. They are all in pristine condition and each tells its own story: about presidential visits, government trips, state gifts and racing adventures. This gives us an unconventional view of Jordan's modern history. King Hussein reigned for 47 years and encountered nine American presidents during his lifetime. For many Jordanians, the museum pieces are inextricably linked to important national events. Of course, the extensive collection also includes a few Porsches, including a special 930 Turbo from 1987, a 911 3.6 Turbo from 1993 and a Porsche Carrera GT from 2005.

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Porsches in the Royal Automobile Museum.

The Royal Automobile Museum pays tribute to the late King Hussein who was an avid car enthusiast.


Sommigen zien misschien een elektrische wagen. Wij zien dat in 2030 al 50% van de nieuwe wagens elektrisch zal zijn. En dat geeft een sterke impuls aan het onderzoek naar een nieuwe generatie batterijen. Onze cliënten profiteren nu al van ons advies over deze beleggingsopportuniteit. En u? Beleggen, dat is zien wat anderen niet zien. Deutsche Bank. De bank voor uw beleggingen.

deutschebank.be/verderzien Bron: Frans atoomcommissariaat 07/05/2021. Deutsche Bank AG, Taunusanlage 12, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Duitsland, HR Frankfurt am Main HRB nr. 30000. Deutsche Bank AG Bijkantoor Brussel, Marnixlaan 13-15, 1000 Brussel, België, RPR Brussel, BTW BE 0418.371.094, IBAN BE03 6102 0085 7284, IHK D-H0AV-L0HOD-14. V.U.: Olivier Delfosse


14 The Pilgrim Mosaic in Madaba.

MADABA: CITY OF MOSAICS Madaba is a small town with an incredible treasure trove of ancient mosaics dating from between the sixth century and the eighth century. In the eighth century, the town was completely wiped off the map by an earthquake. The mosaics disappeared under dust and grit and the site remained uninhabited for over a thousand years. Until new residents arrived in the nineteenth century, who were surprised to see countless beautiful mosaics appear as they built their houses. For archaeologists, this town is a mecca because new finds are still being made. Madaba makes it easy for visitors. A red stripe has been painted on the footpath. If we follow it, we will automatically reach all the sights. Madaba's main attraction is the enormous Pilgrim Mosaic of 6 by 15.5 metres in the St. Joris Church. It is the oldest map of Palestine and offers a surprisingly accurate representation of the Holy Land and the Mediterranean. A large piece of the mosaic has disappeared, but much can still be recognised. The map is fantastically beautifully illustrated. Near Jerusalem is the wall of the city, at the Dead Sea the fish turn around (the water is too salty), bridges arch across the Jordan and Jericho is surrounded by palm trees.

Madaba is home to an incredible treasure trove of ancient mosaics from the 6th and 8th centuries.

Before we get back in the car, we drink a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice at an unsightly stall. We get an unsolicited sesame biscuit with it. A muezzin calls the faithful to prayer through the loudspeaker in the mosque. However, the market vendor cannot make time to pray at this time. The life of a small self-employed person is the same everywhere.


MOUNT NEBO: A GLIMPSE OF THE PROMISED LAND Mount Nebo is located on the edge of the Jordan Valley, a few kilometres from Madaba. The 800-metre-high mountain is an important place of worship for all kinds of pilgrims. A guide offers us his services for fifteen dinars. We give in. Perhaps it would be useful to get some text and explanation here. Legend has it that Moses looked out over the Promised Land just before he died, after leading his people through the desert for forty years. That must have been a bitter pill, we think. Years of toil and hardship and then giving up the ghost just before the finish. This place is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Yes, also for Muslims, because Moses was also their prophet. Three monotheistic religions have their roots here with God, Yahweh and Allah as the Most High respectively. So much kinship, but unfortunately not only in the good (love one another), but also in evil with crusades, jihads, milchemet mitzvot (Jewish Holy war), Al-Qaida and IS ... Or how quickly extreme faith becomes religious extremism. As we ponder this, we look out over the vast landscape. The guide shows us the Jordan Valley, Jericho, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. Despite everything, a ‘’heavenly” panorama.

15 Memorial Stone of Moses, Mount Nebo.

View on the Promised Land.


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Thick salt rims at the Dead Sea.

DEAD AND YET STILL DYING From Mount Nebo it is not far to the Dead Sea. The road zigzags through a canyon-like landscape to the lowest point of the earth, 420 metres below sea level. The Dead Sea is not really a sea, but rather a lake sandwiched between Jordan, the West Bank and Israel. In many places on the rugged shore, we clearly see the thick salt rims. They form an artful colour palette with the turquoise water. The Dead Sea owes its name to the extremely high salt content, no less than 33%. No living organism can compete with that. Although scientists have recently discovered that certain bacteria and fungi are still present in the water. But that's not why the many spa guests come here. They come for the many minerals that are present in the water and which are known for their medicinal properties. They have a deep cleansing effect and are beneficial for skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and vitiligo. Those who suffer from muscle pain or rheumatic diseases are also said to benefit from a dip in the salty water. We do it as it should be done: first smear on a thick layer of mud, let the stuff dry for a while and then into the water. The hard salt crust on the bottom jabs sharply into our feet. We flip over onto our backs and immediately float, a strange sensation. We float in the water like two rubber ducks. Wellness and everything that goes with it has meanwhile become big business with a chain of luxury hotels and spa resorts.


PORSCHIST TRAVEL

Unfortunately, things are not going well for the Dead Sea. Since 1960, the level of the salt lake has fallen dramatically. The surface area has shrunk from 960 to 690 km2. For the past decade, the level has fallen by one metre every year. That's huge. At this rate, the Dead Sea will have completely dried up by 2050. In this way, the Dead Sea dies a little more every year. The governments of Israel and Jordan have backed an ambitious rescue plan: From Red to Dead, a 200-kilometre pipeline that will connect the Dead Sea and Aqaba on the Red Sea. The project was signed in 2013. The work was scheduled to start in 2018 and to be completed in 2021. Unfortunately, a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque, threw a spanner in the works and the project has been on hold since 2017. History shows that a conflict in the Middle East can drag on for a long time, so no one knows what will happen next.

Since 1960, the level of the salt lake has fallen dramatically. At the current rate, the Dead Sea will have completely dried up by 2050.

Floating in the Dead Sea.

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TRAVEL PORSCHIST DANA BIOSPHERE RESERVE With skin as soft as that of a baby and completely relaxed, we continue our journey. Our next destination is the Dana Biosphere Reserve which, with an area of 308 km2, is the largest nature reserve in Jordan and protected for its enormous diversity of fauna and flora. Because anyone who thinks that Jordan only has historical sites and desert to offer is sorely mistaken. The road continues along the shore of the Dead Sea for a while and then leads into the mountains. The rock is irregularly shaped, with bizarre, strikingly large holes. You don't need much imagination to see all kinds of figures in it: a dog showing its sharp teeth, the skeleton of a whale and one design looks just like Edvard Munch's The Scream. It is already dusk when we enter the village of Dana. Or we should say: we had expected a village, but it is rather a ruin. Two small streets with rickety houses whose stones seem to lie loosely on top of each other. A donkey is dozing in front of a wall and somewhere a rooster is crowing. The village is said to be under reconstruction because of its exceptionally beautiful location in the middle of the nature reserve, but we don't notice that much. Fortunately, the Dana Guest House, where we spend the night, is okay. No luxury, but a bed and a good shower. That’s all we need. And when we look

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Panorama of the immense Dana Nature Reserve.

outside, we immediately understand why people want to put this area on the tourist map, because the view of the rugged mountains and green valleys is truly phenomenal. The great asset of this area is that you can take the most beautiful walks here. We venture out on the Wadi Dana Trail, a journey of 14 kilometres to the hamlet of Feyan, situated some 900 metres lower down. We walk along sandy roads through gorges and riverbeds and are treated to one spectacular panorama after another. Apart from the crunch of the gravel under our soles, there is absolute peace. We feel alone in the world in the midst of untouched natural beauty.


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TRAVEL PORSCHIST PETRA IS HER NAME We will do anything for a wonder of the world. So, we get out of bed at five o'clock. This way we can be sure that we are one of the first at the site of Petra. Mahdi Nawafleh owner of the travel agency Go Jordan - will accompany us today. Our plan works. We are alone in the Siq, a 1.2-kilometre-long narrow gorge enclosed by sky-high pink rock walls that is the only access road to Petra. This place alone is worth it. Halfway along, an elderly Bedouin sits on the floor with the typical checkered keffiyeh on his head. In his hand he holds a rebab, an ancient string instrument. When we get near, he starts to play. A plaintive melody fills the space. When the gorge opens out and El-Khazneh or the Treasury appears in front of us like a mirage. Our jaws drop. What monumental splendour. A pink-red facade of about 40 metres high with imposing columns, niches and bas-reliefs. We are deeply impressed by this age-old grandeur. We experience the same feeling as at the Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu and Angkor Wat. Although we have already seen so many photos of it, it is only now that we are actually standing in front of it, that we are really aware of its enormous beauty. There are places on earth that are much more than a landmark, places where you feel something special, places that touch your soul. This is one of those.

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Petra is not only made up of silent stones. The connection to the past is still tangible.

HIGH AND DRY Mahdi leads us up to a small platform 50 metres high from which we have the best view of the treasury. This unbordered spot is not for someone with a fear of heights, but life is about taking risks. A Bedouin has made it cosy with kilims and pillows. Over a cup of sugary black tea, we wait for the sun to dip far enough into the valley to cast its rays on the Treasury. Meanwhile, Mahdi explains to us why the building is called the Treasury. “See that urn in the middle of the top floor? For a long time, the story circulated that a pharaoh had hidden a treasure in it. Bedouins have often tried to shoot the urn in hopes of receiving a shower of gold and valuables, but that never happened. You can still see the bullet holes.” When finally, the first rays of sunlight illuminate the bas-relief, the miracle happens. The colour changes from deep pink through red to gold. A breath-taking spectacle.



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View from the gorge on El-Khazneh or the Treasure House, Petra.


The King's Tombs, Petra.


PORSCHIST TRAVEL

Soon we have been on the road for more than eight hours. There is so much to see and discover that time flies. The domain is much larger than we expected. Petra has approximately 850 monuments spread over an area of 100 km². Fortunately, tomorrow we have another day to explore Petra further. Then we will climb the thousand stairs to The Monastery. Here too, the name misleads the visitor, because it was never a monastery, but a mausoleum.

There are places on earth that are much more than a landmark, places where you feel something special, that touch your soul. Petra is one of those.

Regretfully we leave our eagle's nest, but Mahdi would like to show us much more. Most tourists often do not get further than the Treasury, which is a shame because the old town has so much more to offer. In the Street of Façades, Bedouins with donkeys and dromedaries go to and from. If you don't feel like walking, you can take a ride. A heap of rags and folded blankets serves as a saddle. The drivers are Bedouin boys. They all belong to the Bduul, the only tribe allowed to work here. With their black kohl-rimmed eyes, they are all Jack Sparrow lookalikes. And they are all equally bold. Further down the valley we see the open-air theatre that once held 8,000 people. Opposite this are the impressive Royal Tombs. We think the Silk Grave is the most beautiful. Inside, the sandstone is variegated with brown, pink, yellow and grey stripes. Often, nature itself is the greatest artist. The Avenue of Columns is a remnant from Roman times and must have once been the main road to Petra. The palaces, baths and temples have disappeared, but it is not difficult to bring the city to life in your mind. Petra is not only made up of silent stones. The connection to the past is still tangible.

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Bedouins of the Bduul-tribe.

WHO DOES SUCH A THING? It is undeniable that Petra is truly unique, but who were those master stonemasons? We hear that they were the Nabataeans, an Arab nomadic people who gave up their roaming existence four centuries before Christ and settled in Petra. Petra was then an important hub of several trade routes, and the Nabataeans were shrewd traders. They became rich by charging tolls. In addition, they knew the desert like the back of their hand and the caravans gladly used their services for a safe journey. Without water there is no life, so the Nabataeans built an ingenious water system with underground channels, aqueducts and cisterns. From the rocks they carved houses, triumphal arches and tombs in a masterly way and with unprecedented precision. A beautiful city arose. During its heyday, an estimated 25,000 people lived in Petra. However, nothing great lasts forever and in the year 106, the city was conquered by the Romans. Initially, the new inhabitants still used the city and even added beautiful elements to the architecture, but when the trade routes changed, all the inhabitants moved away. Petra fell into complete oblivion. It was not until 1812 that the Swiss traveller Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered the ruins of the city. Now Petra is a World Heritage Site and one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. According to archaeologists, only 20% of the city has yet been excavated. It is therefore quite possible that Petra has many more surprises in store.



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Jagged rock formations in the Wadi Rum desert.


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TRAVEL PORSCHIST WADI RUM: WILD DESERT The Wadi Rum desert in Jordan is without a doubt one of the most beautiful deserts in the world. Unlike many other deserts, Wadi Rum is much more than a vast expanse of sand. From the red sand rise innumerable, erratic rock formations of sandstone and granite. Some are real mountains and reach a height of 1700 metres. This is another planet. The moon? Mars? Everything is possible. For a moment, we are space travellers. The unique desert landscape has been a protected area since 1998. Six Bedouin tribes still live in the desert. Tourism is now their main source of income.

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You can explore Wadi Rum in two ways: by jeep or by camel. We choose the first. A camel is nice for a short ride, but from experience we know that longer trips are bad for our delicate bottoms. Nasser is our driver. He points to the cargo bed. Really? Do we have to go in there? Like sheep on the way to market? But after the first few metres we know why. Unobstructed by the edges of a car window, we have an open view of the vast desert. The dust and wind are a small price to pay. Nasser speeds deftly through the fine sand as the wondrous landscape glides past us. Some rocks are so eroded that they form bridges. We can't help but climb them, although we have to watch our step carefully. Due to erosion, many stones have been polished to a mirror-like finish. The panorama at the top is priceless: a rolling, vast desert as far as the eye can see in myriad shades of red, pink and orange. It is quiet except for the rustle of the wind. An enormous power emanates from this landscape. Occasionally Nasser drops us off at the beginning of a canyon and picks us up again on the other side. It feels good to be free from the relentless sun and to walk for a while in the shadow of the high walls.


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The desert police in their traditional uniforms, Wadi Rum.

We stumble upon the desert police. With their long khaki tunics hung with revolvers and daggers and their red and white Bedouin headscarves, they seem to have come from another era. High on their dromedaries, they traverse the desert to keep an eye on things. In the past, their task was mainly to keep things in order between the different Bedouin tribes. Now they mainly monitor the cocaine smuggling route to Saudi Arabia.

The Wadi Rum desert is without a doubt one of the most beautiful deserts in the world.


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Wadi Rum is inextricably linked to David Lean's masterly film Lawrence of Arabia. WADI RUM AS A FILM SET

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Wadi Rum is inextricably linked to David Lean's masterly film Lawrence of Arabia. The biographical adventure film about the British officer Thomas Edward Lawrence who managed to expel the pro-German Turks from Aqaba during the First World War with a Bedouin army, is one that belongs in the series Ben Hur, Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago: a classic that you must see at least once in your life. The film was released in 1962 and won seven Oscars. Peter O'Toole interprets the complex personality of T.E. Lawrence with verve. With his steel blue eyes and straw blond hair, he has an almost electrifying presence. Omar Sharif as Sheriff Ali is his perfect opponent. This film marked the international breakthrough for both actors. Other roles went to Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins and Anthony Quayle. But perhaps the most important role was played by the desert, beautifully captured by David Lean with unparalleled widescreen photography. You feel the scorching heat, the relentless drought and the whip-

ping of the sandstorms and gaze at the enormous vistas with as much adoration as Lawrence. Add to this the beautiful music by Maurice Jarre, which gives every scene of the film extra strength, and you have an epic to say the least. After David Lean, there were more directors who found the perfect film set in Wadi Rum. The eccentric landscape and the red sand colours serve especially well as a backdrop for Hollywood productions about Mars. Just think of Mission to Mars, Red Planet, The Last Days on Mars and The Martian. Aladdin and the recently released film Dune were also shot here.


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SLEEPING IN DESERT IGLOOS

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The Memories Aicha Camp is as otherworldly as the desert itself. The camp is located in the heart of Wadi Rum and is surrounded by rugged mountains. The panoramic tents can best be described as desert igloos: spherical structures, one half of which is bright blue and without windows (the side that faces the rest of the camp) and the other which consists entirely of a glass wall (the side that faces the desert plains). In contrast to the futuristic exterior, the interior of the sphere is exuberantly oriental with lots of colour, velvet cushions and a monumental bed. In addition, there is no shortage of luxury. The camp offers the same amenities and facilities as a first-class hotel. Two heavy pelt Bedouin coats hang on a coat rack. Now, in the blazing midday sun, they seem totally out of place, but when a guide takes us outside after dinner and explains all about the Milky Way and the Little Dipper, they come in handy. During the day it is sweltering in the desert, but in the evening, it cools down considerably. Once we are in bed, we look up regularly. Through the glass roof we look at the soft yellow moon and the thousands of stars that glimmer like sparkling diamonds

The spherical tents of the Memories Aicha Camp resemble desert igloos.

The futuristic desert igloos of the Memories Aicha Camp, Wadi Rum.


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Sarah Amrouni en Florent Ferrey, film crew TF1.

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Lunch break Galopps of Jordan.

GALOPPS OF JORDAN In the camp we meet Sarah Amrouni and Florent Ferrey, a TF1 film team that is making a report in Jordan for the programme 50' Inside. The programme has been a fixture on Saturday evenings for years and provides an insight into the lives of the rich and famous with portraits, interviews, dream destinations, exclusive hotels and a range of subjects that allow the viewer to dream away. We immediately start talking. There are clear points of contact between what they do and what we do. The duo is in Wadi Rum for a report on the Galopps of Jordan, a sort of Paris-Dakar but on horseback, a 200-kilometre journey over 5 days through the imposing desert. Gallops was founded in 2014 by Bady Kebir and Benoît Perrier and is now in its fourth edition. Previous locations have been Oman, Morocco and India. The participants ride in teams of 5 to 6 people and are only given a GPS to figure out the route. It is not a competition in the strict sense of the word. The teams must complete each stage within a set time, the so-called 'optimum time'. Most important are the well-being of the horse, team spirit and endurance. The unique concept attracts riders from all over the world. This time there are 133 participants from 18 different countries at the start. Sarah and Florent know where the teams take their lunch break. They are going to film, and we can go with them. Some participants have already arrived and are busy taking care of their horses, others we see coming from afar towards camp. Enthusiastic faces everywhere, sweaty and dusty, but full of healthy adrenaline. It must be a great experience to ride in complete freedom in this spectacular landscape. We are amazed by the flawless organisation. The logistical support is enormous because the participants spend each night in a different place in the desert. The schedule is simple: ride during the day, party at night. That pattern sounds familiar to us… Tour Amical. Correct!


Belgian team of participants.

EMELINE PARMENTIER: A YOUNG HORSEWOMAN WITH AN INCREDIBLE COURAGE FOR LIFE Among the participants is also a Belgian team with Emeline Parmentier as the most remarkable team member. The 23-year-old woman from Liège lost both her legs in a car accident in 2019. Thanks to her unstoppable perseverance, she is here today and is the first disabled person to take part in this special adventure. She is a bundle of energy and joie de vivre. After such a dramatic event, how strong do you have to be to find the courage and strength to turn the switch and embrace the future? “I've been through something terrible, that's true,” she says, “but I don't want to let that stop me. I have always ridden horses and am very happy to be back in the saddle. It's unbelievable how horses sense my handicap and adapt. I know I set myself a tough challenge with this race, but I want to prove I can do it. Not only for myself, but also for others who are in a difficult situation. I want to show that you have to keep chasing your dreams.” Eternal respect for this exceptional woman.

Belgian rider Emeline Parmentier.

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OLD RAILWAY On the way to Wadi Rum, we noticed a small train station a few kilometres before the entrance to the protected area. The railway was used a hundred years ago to bring minerals and ores from Wadi Rum to Aqaba and was part of the Hejaz line. During the First World War, this railway was the target of numerous attacks by the Arab guerrilla army led by T.E. Lawrence. In the film Lawrence of Arabia, the attacks were popular material for some spectacular action scenes. The old diesel locomotive and some wagons are the perfect setting for a photo shoot. Bilal Tabbaa, one of the Porsche club members we met over dinner at Hassan's, drove his 911 all the way here from Amman, a four-hour drive. Driving a Porsche is of course never a punishment, but it does prove how happy he is to participate in our report, for which we are very grateful to him.

The Hejaz Railway was used a hundred years ago to bring minerals and ores from Wadi Rum to Aqaba. Porsche 911 at an abandoned railway station, Wadi Rum.

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View of the Revolutionary Flag, Aqaba.

AQABA: WINDOW TO THE SEA The port city and resort of Aqaba is located at the extreme tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, the 180-kilometre-long and up to 25-metre-wide north-eastern arm of the Red Sea. The city centre looks fresh and modern with palm trees lining wide avenues. The city is the only window to the sea for Jordanians and very popular. The beautiful beaches are enticing, and the climate is always mild. When the mercury drops below 10 degrees in Amman in the autumn and winter months, it is still pleasantly warm in Aqaba with temperatures around 25 degrees. Foreign tourists - both Arab and European - also like to come to Aqaba, especially for diving and snorkelling. Beneath the surface of the Red Sea lies a colourful, exotic world. We are amazed at how close this place is to the Israeli seaside town of Eilat. At night, the lights of both cities form one long ribbon.

Aqaba, Jordan's only window to the sea, is a popular seaside resort.


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Kempinski Hotel Aqaba Red Sea.

We stay in the Kempinski Hotel Aqaba Red Sea, by far the most beautiful hotel in the city. From the terrace on the seventh floor, we have a phenomenal view. In the distance on the other side is Egypt, a few kilometres away Saudi Arabia and to the right Israel. On the nearby Square of the Great Arab Revolt, the huge (15 x 30 metres) Revolutionary Flag flies. The 132-metre-high flagpole was the tallest in the world for a long time. The flag commemorates the expulsion of the Turks from Aqaba by King Faisal and - here he comes again - T.E. Lawrence during World War I. Just when we are on our way to the seafront for a last evening stroll, a golden Cayenne stops in front of the hotel. The photo of the Porsche in front of the Kempinski Hotel logo is literally the golden end to an enchanting journey.

Thanks to: Amazing Destinations • www.amazingdestinations.be


INTERVIEW PORSCHIST

Bilal Tabbaa: there is no bigger Porsche fan.

I

f anyone has Porsche blood running through their veins, it is this sympathetic Jordanian. We have met many enthusiastic Porsche owners in the past, but Bilal comfortably comes top of that list. He has an endless admiration for the brand and extends this to everything that has to do with Porsche. Even as far as Germany. His 911 is the star of a photo shoot in the desert of Wadi Rum.

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Your love for Porsche is extremely great. How did that happen? I think it's just in my genes. I have been a huge Porsche fan since childhood. I really love everything that has to do with Porsche: the models, the style, the design, the colours, the technology, the driving pleasure, the logo, the marketing, just everything. I bought my Porsche in 2010, a 911 Turbo. A dream that finally came true. You mentioned the logo? That's something we haven't heard before. What do you find so special about it? It is beautiful, stylish, powerful and does justice to the brand. It is a logo that also has a lot of history. The colours refer to the roots of the company, to Stuttgart, and the prancing horse reflects the dynamism of the brand. The Porsche crest is also unique. It is the ultimate mark that every Porsche fan recognises from a great distance. Every time I see it somewhere, it makes me happy. That may sound strange, but it is true. Like a child getting his favourite toy. What is your opinion on the electric cars? It would be a real shame if the petrol era came to an end. For car enthusiasts of my generation who grew up with petrol engines, it will be very difficult to part with the fantastic driving experience that petrol engines provide. I know that all car brands, including Porsche, are currently fully committed to electric cars. There's a lot of talk about it, but the world isn't ready yet for that conversion. Electric cars require a new mindset, a different driving culture and, above all, an infrastructure that does not yet exist. Not a single country has enough charging stations. That is something that will take a very long time. I believe that the automotive industry should have both: electric engines and petrol engines.


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“I just think I have a certain responsibility to represent Porsche. I am an ambassador.” Bilal Tabbaa


INTERVIEW PORSCHIST

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So, is the Taycan - the fully electric Porsche - still a Porsche in your eyes? Oh yes, the car still clearly has its Porsche DNA. That was not tampered with. I've also driven it and that was quite fun, but of course it's a completely different experience. The car gives me less driving pleasure, I miss the metallic engine sound, playing with the gearbox, and the technology under the hood is completely different. I was amazed how much power the Taycan has. That is a huge asset. But for me it's not just about speed, it's about the total package. When I drove the Taycan, I felt like I was driving a toy, some sort of PlayStation, not a car. By the way, I would not only find it a shame if petrol cars disappeared, but also the manual gear shift. Because that too is at stake. I am currently teaching my niece, who will soon be seventeen, to drive. Well, she only knows cars with an automatic gearbox. She had no idea that there were also cars with a manual gearbox. For her, driving is accelerating and braking. That in itself is a pity. So much driving pleasure is lost that way. For me, nothing beats changing gears manually. That makes a car trip so much more intense.

“There is a difference between being able to drive and being able to drive well.” Bilal Tabbaa


You drove all the way from Amman to Wadi Rum to participate in our photo shoot. Why were you willing to do that? Because I knew no one else in the Porsche club would be crazy enough to do that. (laughs) No, kidding aside, I just feel like I have a certain responsibility to represent Porsche. I am an ambassador. The opportunity I was given to work with you was something I couldn't pass up. In addition, I met you both at Hasan's during dinner and we clicked immediately. I feel that you do your work with love and passion, and I am honoured to be able to contribute. If we had known that you live in Amman and not in Aqaba as we wrongly assumed, we would never have asked the question. We just thought it was an original idea to take pictures in Wadi Rum and when you agreed with that, we concluded you lived in the area. It is only today that we understood that you drove here all the way from Amman, especially for us. So basically, this is all based on a misunderstanding. That doesn’t matter. I see it as a unique experience, an adventure. And it will certainly make for some fantastic photos. Bilal, you are truly one of the most avid Porsche enthusiasts. I am glad to hear that. That makes me proud.

“Just like I love Porsche, I love Germany. Perhaps because of the link between the two.” Bilal Tabbaa

Now for a completely different question. With your blue eyes and light skin colour, you don't really look like a Jordanian. I hear that often. My distant ancestors were Syrians, and many Syrians are light-skinned in appearance. My mother and almost all my aunts have blonde hair. I often go to Germany and there I am invariably addressed in German. Why do you travel to Germany so often? I regularly participate in Porsche Experience Days. I took lessons in Leipzig as well as in Hockenheim. There is a difference between being able to drive and being able to drive well. The better you drive, the more you enjoy your Porsche and the driving itself. During the lessons I get to know the Porsche better: its driving characteristics, its sporting possibilities and its limits. I want to be able to get everything out of my Porsche that is in it and that is only possible if I have complete control of my car. I travel to Germany three to four times a year. Not always for driving training, but also for holidays. Just like I love Porsche, I love Germany. Perhaps because of the link between the two. I have been all over Germany and know all the major cities. In the meantime, I have also made a lot of friends in Germany and it's always nice to see them again. Bilal, thank you very much for your cooperation. Porsche could not wish for a better ambassador.

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INTERVIEW PORSCHIST

An evening among like-minded people. Hasan Al-Kayed and Mazen Hakouz: two fervent Porsche enthusiasts.

I

t is always said that Jordanians are very hospitable. Well, we can definitely confirm that. We are honoured when Hasan Al-Kayed invites us to dinner at his home. Mazen Hakouz - the president of the Porsche club in Jordan - and three other club members are also present. It is cordial and friendly. We are among friends.

46 Hasan lives with his family on the top floor of a stylish apartment in an upscale neighbourhood in Amman. “Welcome!” he calls out from the top when we ring the bell. He is waiting for us with his lovely wife and three young children. The other guests have already made themselves comfortable on the large roof terrace and are enjoying an aperitif. The view of the city is magnificent. Hasan has a surprise in store for us. He wants to introduce us to the typical Jordanian cuisine and has arranged to serve mansaf, a dish that is only served on special occasions. On the table is a huge bowl of steaming rice, pieces of braised lamb and roasted pine nuts. The dish is accompanied by a warm yogurt sauce. It's delicious. For dessert we are served another Jordanian specialty: kanafeh. It consists of fried string dough, a creamy cheese filling, sweet syrup and crumbled pistachios. A whole lot of calories, but the combination of sweet, savoury and crunchy is heavenly. Over coffee, we make time for a chat with the host and the president of the Porsche Club.

Dinner at Hasan's with some members of the Porsche club.


47 Hasan Al-Kayed.

HASAN AL-KAYED, OUR HOST Hasan Al-Kayed is one of the younger club members and if you ask us, he is the one who brings the most cheerfulness to the group. The man is full of energy and his booming laugh is very contagious. He is only 37 and already holds a managerial position at GIG, Jordan's largest insurance company. A man with ambition who will go far. “I love being a member of the club,” he starts off, “you can see, we're all friends. I have already had a lot of fun at our events. You know we even go to the cinema together? If there's a Porsche in it, we need to see the film. That reminds me of the last Bad Boys film with that beautiful Carrera 4S in gentian blue. Awesome! I love cars, I love Porsche and I love the lifestyle associated with them. We want to know where his passion for Porsche comes from. “From my uncle. My uncle bought a white Carrera Cabrio in 1982, a car he still owns, by the way. And beautiful cars in Jordan - certainly in the 1980s - were extremely rare. When, as a little boy, you get to drive in such a great car that everyone looks at, it makes an indelible impression, and that awe has remained. I even used my uncle's car at my wedding. A Porsche is a dream

car. For many fans of the brand, the speed or the adrenaline are the most important, for me it is the style and the timeless design. My Porsche is a 2010 model. It is now 11 years old, but still looks brand new. Other car brands have models that age. When a new model comes out, the last one is passé. But every 911 is a 911. Period. Of course, Porsche does not sit still, and new versions are constantly being released that are more efficient and equipped with more technical gadgets, but they all retain the original Porsche DNA. That distinguishes Porsche from other car brands. I use my Carrera daily. That way I get the most out of the car. I don't want to use it just on weekends for a fun ride. I want to enjoy it every day.


INTERVIEW PORSCHIST MAZEN HAKOUZ, PRESIDENT OF THE PORSCHE CLUB JORDAN

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Mazen Hakouz is a man who radiates a natural authority. He has recently retired but is still full of plans and ideas. For years he was a property developer and co-owner of a Jordanian cinema chain. So, a busy man. His father was a military attaché in the United States and Great Britain, so Mazen spent his childhood years abroad. He has been living in Jordan again for the last fifteen years. “I wanted a 911 since I was seven,” he says. “I saw the car in a television commercial and immediately fell in love with it. I got my first Porsche two years before I graduated. It was a black 1979 Targa SC. I was really fond of that car. In 1983, I bought a 930 Turbo, which unfortunately I wrecked the car. After that I searched for another 911 for a long time, but because there was no Porsche dealer in Jordan, it was very difficult to find a good one. That changed when Nuqul Automotive started selling Porsches in Jordan. My dream car was a 1972 911 Carrera 2.7 RS, an iconic model for me. I didn't manage that, but I did get a 911 Carrera 4S that I am still very happy with. The car is now almost 14 years old, but you wouldn’t say so from looking at it. I tell you in all honesty, every time I start the engine, it's like starting it for the first time. It also only has 35,000 km on the clock. That Porsche is here to stay, I'll never sell it. Which does not mean that there is not another Porsche on my wish list. That would be my big favourite: the GT3 RS. But the import duties in Jordan are a bit too high for that. A basic version GT3 RS costs 450,000 dollars here. That's a bit too much to spend, I think.

Mazen Hakouz.

"Every time I start the engine on my Carrera 4S, it's like starting it for the first time." Mazen Hakouz

PORSCHE-CLUB JORDANIË Since 2010, Mazen has been president of the Porsche club in Jordan. The club has 200 members and is quite active. Due to Corona, all activities are currently suspended, but as soon as possible, there will be a programme again. We ask Mazen what the club means to him. “It is an association where like-minded people can find each other, where Porsche enthusiasts share their passion and knowledge with each other. The activities we organise are very diverse. This ranges from cosy dinners, happenings in which the whole family can participate, to rallies and autocross meetings. I have been chairman for eleven years now. I would really like to pass on the torch, but none of these men here (points to the others) wants to take it.” Mazen shrugs resignedly. “Once you're on the throne, you cannot get off it.” But we think he doesn't really mind too much. It's time to wrap up the evening. We have really enjoyed the hospitality, the atmosphere, the delicious food and the conversations. According to a Jordanian proverb, a guest is a gift from God. That's how we felt. Thanks, Hasan! Thank you, Mazen!



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© Robin Mues – KB Airbase


PORSCHIST INTERVIEW

A candid conversation with Lieutenant General Claude Van de Voorde,

Permanent Military Representative for Belgium to NATO. text: kathleen van bremdt

elcome,” says Claude Van de Voorde warmly as we enter his office in the NATO building. We're a bit impressed. The Lieutenant General is not just anyone: a former F-16 pilot, former commander of the 31st Tiger Squadron, former commander of the air force, adjutant to the King and now Permanent Belgian Representative to the NATO Military Committee. An impressive CV. However, the top official himself remains very down to earth. “I just did my job,” he says laconically. The no-nonsense style completely typifies the man. He turns out to be a born storyteller and brings us into his world.

Were you destined for a career in the military, following in the footsteps of your father? I spent my childhood in Germany where my father was a captain in the army. Unfortunately, he died early. I was only twelve years old. After the death of my father, we came back to Belgium. I wanted to be a pilot from an early age. My mother was not very well off financially and said: “That's fine, son, but you will have to get there through the army.” And that's how it went. I went to the Royal Cadet School when I was fifteen and then to the Royal Military Academy. In 1985, I completed my pilot training. I was lucky. Medically it all has to be in order and that is something you can’t control. Colour blindness, minor back abnormalities or problems with the ears and becoming a pilot is a no-go. After my training I was able to choose between C-130, Mirage or F-16. I chose the latter. Isn't that the crème de la crème of airplanes? Yes, it would seem to be reserved for the top achievers. (laughs) With the F-16, take-off and landing are actually secondary. Of course, this has to be done in complete safety, but what counts is what happens between those two actions: performing manoeuvres, attacking targets, engaging in a fight, and so on. The full F-16 training takes about a year. After that year, you are combat ready and go to one of the squadrons. Currently, there are four that are still operational: two in Florennes and two in Kleine-Brogel. I ended up with the 31st Tiger Squadron. I quite quickly followed the fighter weapons instructor course, sometimes called the Top Gun course. In military school you have the system of parrainage, or sponsorship. As an apprentice pilot, you choose a mentor who in turn was mentored by another pilot, so that you form a whole family in the long run. My mentor crashed in a F-16. That hit hard. But it was part of it. William Drieskes, my instructor at the time, brought me the bad news. But he immediately added, "Claude, listen, he's not the first and he won't be the last." And the next to crash was William himself. (shrugs resignedly)

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INTERVIEW PORSCHIST And in spite of all those fatal outcomes, you continued to fly. Flying is fun. It gives you a fantastic feeling. (The Lieutenant General's eyes sparkle.) These days there are also fewer casualties than in the past. You must not forget that the F-16 was the first aircraft to exceed the human limits. When you fly in an airplane, you attract G-forces. When you take a turn or do a loop, you will be pushed all the way to the outside of your aircraft. A F-16 can handle 9 G. This means that your 2 kg helmet suddenly weighs 18 kg and you become 9 times heavier. Your body then has a very hard time pumping blood to the brain. In the beginning we didn't know how to deal with that enormous physical load. There have been flights where the pilot lost consciousness and crashed. But through additional insights and special techniques, we have learned how to cope with those physical difficulties. In addition, it was the first aircraft with which we flew so low. In the Nevada desert where we practiced that was no problem, there you always had good visibility, but here in the European weather it was different. An F-16 is an aircraft that you actually sit on, rather than in it. You have a huge field of view which is a big advantage but being in the clouds and completely surrounded by grey can quickly disorientate you. It's called space

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“Every decision within NATO must be taken unanimously.” Claude Van de Voorde

disorientation. We also had to learn to deal with that. The only thing you can do is rely on your onboard instruments. I once flew in a formation - I remember it very well - we were already in the landing phase and were coming down quietly. But the weather was bad, it was snowing, and I flew into and out of clouds, and at one point I thought we were flying backwards in a left turn which wasn't right at all. Pure disillusion. At that moment, you must have the presence of mind to reach back to your instruments and believe in them and ignore what you are feeling. What military actions have you taken part in? Among others, Operation Allied Force, NATO's military operation against Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War in 1999. I had just become commander of the 31st Tiger Squadron. I also participated in the missions over Bosnia in 1995. And later in my position as commander of the air force I led the operations over Libya, Iraq and Syria. That was under former Defence Minister De Crem. What is your role today? I have been the Permanent Military Representative for Belgium to NATO since 2020. NATO's strength lies in the fact that it has both a political and a military pillar. The political pillar headed by Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is responsible for political decision-making. The military pillar provides advice from a military point of view so that politicians can make the right decisions. I represent Belgian interests in NATO's highest military forum, the Military Committee. The Military Committee is the link between NATO’s political decision-making and its military structure.


© Royal Palace, Belgium

© Royal Palace, Belgium

53 Can you be a little more specific? If there is a problem somewhere, as is the case with Ukraine now, it is the task of the Military Committee to estimate what the different scenarios could be and how we can or should respond to them. We analyse, evaluate and develop strategies. We make sure that when we go on a mission, wherever we are, our soldiers are optimally trained, can work in optimal safety and can work together optimally. The latter requires standardisation so that our people are interoperable. But our task goes further. What does the future look like? We have space, cyber, hybrid, disinformation, and so on. How do we deal with that? What tools do we need for it? How are we going to organise that? These are very important questions that we deal with intensively. There are a lot of projects underway. Society is becoming more and more complex and certain things are still relatively unknown. Such as the use of space for military purposes. I'm not saying we're already in the space wars phase, but we should think about it. There are so many satellite systems that could and are already being used for military action, which could themselves become targets of advanced missile systems. How can we limit something like that? What legal framework can we create around this? Our field of work is really very broad.

NATO now has thirty member states. How does that collaboration work? Thirty members, that's a lot. Every decision has to be made unanimously. If an operational order is issued, all thirty countries agree to it. The more of you there are, the more difficult it naturally becomes to arrive at a consensus. Every country has its own priorities. You have the East-West relationship, the countries around the Mediterranean that have to deal with illegal drug and human trafficking, terrorism, the position of Turkey, which is a member of NATO but not of the EU, and so on. The world used to be much simpler. The new countries added after the fall of the Berlin Wall are closer to Russia. Those countries have a different sense of security or rather insecurity than the Western European countries. The Baltic states in particular are feeling the Russian threat. They have no air force to defend their airspace and therefore explicitly ask for support. That is also the reason why we currently have four F-16s permanently stationed in Estonia. These are also all things that are discussed within NATO. We want all countries that are part of


INTERVIEW PORSCHIST NATO to have equal weapons, both figuratively and literally. We are not supposed to have A and B countries, so to speak. It is not all that obvious, but, and that is of course the most important: NATO is functioning. How critical is the situation in Ukraine today? It is a crisis that we have rarely experienced. As Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently said, “the worst since the Cuban Missile Crisis”, so it is serious. From a purely military point of view, you can't ignore the fact that there is currently a build-up of battle groups with more than 190,000 men, which is quite a large number.

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What can NATO do about this? Well, that's the whole point. Putin is, of course, well aware that Ukraine is not a member of NATO and that Article 5, which says that if one member of NATO is attacked all other countries will support it, cannot be used in this situation. A different type of answer will therefore have to be sought if Russia invades Ukraine. But of course, it is true that when such an invasion happens, the Russians also come closer to us. The countries bordering Ukraine, such as Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, will end up in a precarious situation and they are members of NATO. Everything must now be done to de-escalate the situation and that is diplomacy or a mix of diplomacy and military muscle. The additional assets and troops that NATO is sending to its eastern flank are intended as a deterrent and as a defensive support for the countries involved. We will show clearly that we are united and determined to intervene if necessary.

"Perhaps in the future we should also put on a different pair of glasses and ask ourselves how the average Russian views the situation." Claude Van de Voorde

Of course, in the future we may also have to put on a different pair of glasses and ask ourselves how the average Russian views the situation. It is a fact that the West is expanding further and further east. For years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia had to watch as that great Russian empire crumbled. We have actually paid too little attention to Putin’s frustrations, who had to watch with great concern how his country fell into disrepair. On the other hand, countries such as Poland and Hungary have themselves asked to join NATO. Those countries were suddenly liberated from the Soviet yoke and subsequently turned to the West. So, you also have to place everything in the right zeitgeist. Were we a bit too fast then? Perhaps. But it is always easy to form a different judgment from the comfort of your home afterwards. We couldn't leave those countries whose economies were on the brink of collapse, could we? Because that is of course one of the foundations of NATO: each country is free to choose its future. That also applies to Ukraine. In any case, the invitation from NATO is still open to discuss the current situation within the framework of the NATO Russian Council.


What exactly does the NATO Russian Council mean? It was founded after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In NATO's 2010 strategic concept, Russia is still regarded as a partner and not as a possible enemy. Now, in the new strategic concept that will be released this year at the Madrid summit, that is changing because of what has happened in recent years: the violence in 2008 in Georgia, the annexation of Crimea and the more aggressive stance in the general to the West. We are also affected by a lot more hybrid cyber-attacks, there is more espionage activity on our territory, attempts to influence elections, spreading of misinformation, it's all going on. Some even say we are already at war, but it's not a conventional war where tanks shoot each other, but an under-the-radar showdown that's much harder to manage. That is why I also think that our Prime Minister is right when he says that we should pay more attention to the fight against cybercrime throughout our infrastructure. Ports can be shut down, railway installations sabotaged, everything can be hacked, and we have to be able to defend ourselves against that. And for that we need very specialised people. The link between industry, defence and academia must be strengthened. That model really needs to be launched. The Belgian army is quite often portrayed in a negative light by the media. Why is that? Because we are not chauvinistic. We are a small army, but wherever we deploy people, in the sea, in the air or on land, Belgian soldiers are praised for their capabilities. We are always a welcome partner. We are multilingual, plan-makers with a can-do mentality, we always try to find a solution and always deliver quality. We also see this in international courses: the Belgian student is always at the top. We also see this on international courses: Belgian students are always at the top. And that is not being highlighted enough. We're not doing badly at all, but we are far too modest. Do you have a passion for cars? My wife always says I change cars too quickly. (laughs) But I've driven a lot of kilometres in my career and once I got around 200,000 kilometres on the odometer, I thought it was time for a different car. I like beautiful cars. Engines appeal to me less than the line of a car. The 911, for example, is an incredibly beautiful car. That vision, that continuation of that line, how Porsche manages that, I take my hat off to that. Put a 911 from the 1960s next to a 911 from today and you'll see that consistency. That's what makes this car so iconic. I don't own a Porsche myself, but I have driven one and what impressed me the most was the braking power. That fascination probably comes from flying, because there it is always said: It's not the speed that kills, but the sudden stop. ♦ We will keep that in mind. Many thanks for this fascinating chat!

© Robin Mues – KB Airbase

Editor's note: This interview took place on 8 February 2022.

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PORSCHIST WOMEN AT THE WHEEL

Behind the scenes at NATO's Public Diplomacy Division. text: kathleen van bremdt

©NATO

Interview with Ambassador Baiba Braže, Assistant Secretary General Public Diplomacy Division.

t NATO's immense headquarters in Brussels, some 4,000 people are working in a wide range of functions and fields, from political-military strategy, defence, security and diplomacy to functional disciplines such as administration, engineering and information technology. At the head of the Public Diplomacy Division is Latvian Ambassador Baiba Braže. She is the ideal candidate for our Women at the Wheel column. We talk with her about her job, her impressive career and the many themes that are so close to her heart.

Immediately after your studies, you chose to work for the government and ended up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in your home country. My story is actually quite typical of my generation. The Latvian republic was founded only 100 years ago, and for half of that time, it was occupied by the Soviet Union. From 1940 to 1941 and from 1945 to 1991, Latvia was in the hands of the Soviets. The pact that Hitler and Stalin made in 1939 led to the terrible Second World War, the division of Europe and the annexation of the Baltic States. When I was studying Law, the Popular Front of Latvia was very active. It was a people's organisation working peacefully for the restoration of our independence. As students, we were very involved in this organisation. Our professors at the Faculty of Law were among the most

active leaders. The most impressive protest we held was on 23 August 1989. Two million people formed a 675-kilometre-long human chain from Tallin via Riga to Vulnius. It was called the 'Baltic Way', one of the greatest expressions of non-violent protest the world has ever seen. I was right there in the middle of it. When I graduated in 1990, many things began to change. The Soviet regime began to lose its hold over Latvia and a year later, the country regained its independence. I had the opportunity to study in the Netherlands for a while. More specifically, in Groningen. There, I learned that international law fascinated me enormously. When I returned to Latvia, there was a vacancy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I jumped on the opportunity, and that is how it all started.

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WOMEN AT THE WHEEL PORSCHIST

58 ©NATO

Latvia had then only just regained its sovereignty. Those must have been very challenging times politically. Yes, absolutely. When Latvia was back on its own feet, that's when the real work started. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I was in my element. Foreign Affairs is at the crossroads of virtually all fields: security, defence, economy, culture, artificial intelligence and so on. You are working for the common good, and that is something I value greatly. It gives everything you do an extra dimension. I am proud of what my country has achieved. We are a free, democratic society and are now part of the European Union and NATO. Those are landmark achievements. In 2003, you became Latvia’s Ambassador to the Netherlands. By that time, I had already put in ten years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Just like in the army, it is a steady climb up the career ladder. It is a process of growth, and I evolved from one promotion to another. I immersed myself in international law, international trade, security, European integration, I worked for the UN in New York and so on. And then I was offered the position of Ambassador to the Netherlands. That was such an honour. I was Ambassador there for five years, after which I returned to Foreign Affairs in Riga. From 2016 to 2020, I was posted abroad again and was Latvia’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. I think I was lucky in a way, because I always found and got the jobs I was interested in. (laughs contentedly) People still call you 'Ambassador'. It can sometimes be confusing for outsiders, but Ambassador is not only an official position of the person who represents the government of their country in another country. It is also a rank, and once you have earned it, you keep it.


59 ©NATO

You are now Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Division at NATO. What exactly does this position entail? It is a unique position. I am the head of the Public Diplomacy Division. This division is responsible for ensuring that NATO's policies are properly promoted to opinion leaders and to the general public. It is also responsible for building support for the Alliance's activities world-wide. I advise the Secretary General on matters within my remit, oversee the coordination of all of NATO's strategic and political communications activities – both civilian and military – and I direct public diplomacy activities. That is quite a workload. It is a challenge, indeed. In order to ensure good communication, we must first have a good understanding of what is happening in the world. We constantly have our ear to the ground and monitor all the information that is circulating, both here and in the other wing of the headquarters where the military staff resides. What are people talking about? How are NATO's

communications being received? What are journalists talking about? What information do they provide and what questions do they ask? Because journalists have sources of their own. Analysts in turn provide another type of information. Then you also have the Member States and our external partners. What information do they communicate, and how? Are there threats? What about disinformation? Russia has its hands in quite a lot of that at the moment. It is all quite complex. How does your division collect all this information? We use every tool and technology available. It's not like the old days, when you only had one major news channel with the evening news. Today, information comes from everywhere and in real time. We also work closely with our colleagues from the various intelligence services. You have to remember that NATO has 30 Member States, all of which are monitoring what is happening nationally and internationally, too. Here, at NATO headquarters, all that information is pooled and channelled.


WOMEN AT THE WHEEL PORSCHIST

All communication that goes out through your division will have to be weighed very carefully. That goes without saying. Our audience comprises 1 billion people. It is up to us to communicate NATO's policies, activities and functions as clearly and transparently as possible. That is why the interaction between the civilian and military sides of the Alliance is so important. It ensures that our communication is coherent and consistent. Everyone must know that all members work together, that no Member State stands alone. It is this solidarity between Member States that guarantees peace and security and allows Member States to function at their best.

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Your division also organises a great number of public events. That is what we call our proactive communication. 'We tell the story of NATO'. Our proactive communications are always factual, and we use all tools to achieve our main objectives of communication to contribute to the implementation of NATOs core tasks - collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security - and raise support for NATO among our publics. Many of our activities have an interactive two-way nature. We inform, listen and learn. We like to engage with others, we organise conferences and seminars on security, artificial intelligence, metadata and so much more. We invite experts, academics and universities to international debates and sponsor think tanks, NGOs and other relevant civil society organisations if they contribute to the preservation of peace and security. How many people work in your division? I can count on a strong and motivated team of 90 employees. Even though you are active in many fields, is there a particular subject you would like to put in the spotlight? That is a difficult question, but why don't I focus on women. Because, in every country, we see the same phenomenon, namely that women are the least aware of NATO and the least interested in its activities. This means that there is still work to be done for this particular audience. As a woman, I am of course even more motivated to get involved. It is women in particular who consider peace, security and defence very important, and these are the core values for which the Alliance was created. Women don't want to see their sons go to war. That is why it it is important that they too understand and support what NATO does. Do you have a message for young women? Certainly. Believe in yourself, invest in knowledge and try to achieve that which is within your potential. My message is always: don't think about the fact that you are a woman, but rather that you are a competent individual. You shouldn't rely too much on external feedback. I don't wait for someone to pat me on the back to say I did well. I have an inner compass, a personal reference point for success, and I let myself be guided by it.

At the moment, we are facing a crisis in the Ukraine. Do we have a war on our hands? It is not a Ukraine crisis, it’s a Russia crisis. At the moment, there is no immediate military threat, but we must be vigilant. NATO has all hands on deck at the moment. NATO is a defensive alliance and will always favour diplomatic solutions over conflict, but this does not mean that we are prepared to compromise on core values such as freedom and security. Dialogue and debate are crucial. If you begin a military conflict, you don't know how it will end. It is always a gamble and can turn out very badly for the aggressor. The cover of this magazine features a photo of the Taycan. What is your opinion on electric cars Without a doubt, electric cars play an important role in a future in which we drive sustainably. However, I am not convinced yet about the current gene­ ration of electric cars. Factors such as operating radius are not important to me – they are constantly impro­ ving. But at the moment, I am still concerned about the environmental impact of the batteries. The process of extracting the raw materials necessary for the production of lithium-ion batteries has consequences for the environment, and there is currently no good way of sustainably recycling the batteries. However, I know that they are working on it and that they will certainly find solutions to these problems. Once we have them, I am all in favour of the electric car. ♦ Thank you so much for your time and for this informative interview, Ms Braže!

Editor's note: This interview took place on 8 February 2022.


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