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Interview with director Mayssoun Zein Al Din: Official opening of the North Rhine-Westphalia Academy for International Politics

Interview with director Mayssoun Zein Al Din : Official opening of the North Rhine-Westphalia Academy for International Politics

On Monday, a first workshop was held and on Wednesday, the North Rhine-Westphalia Academy for International Politics officially opened. The long kept secret seems to now be picking up momentum. GA reporter Bernd Eyermann spoke with managing director Mayssoun Zein Al Din.

Ms. Zein Al Din, the North Rhine-Westphalia Academy for International Politics. Isn't that a bit too big for the state?

Mayssoun Zein Al Din: Not at all. We have the United Nations and many important international institutions in Bonn. Bonn is the center of North/South politics in Germany and a city of science. With the academy, we would like to strengthen this international location even more.

What are your plans for the academy?

Zein Al Din: We want to bring excellent scientists from around the world to Bonn, who can conduct independent research using their ideas for a certain period of time in order to work on solving questions that can only be addressed in a global perspective.

Do you have any particular areas of focus?

Zein Al Din: Yes. The first is artificial intelligence and international politics. We have a lot of catching up to do in Germany. That's what our Summer Academy is all about. The world's pressing issues should definitely be answered by major economies.

An NRW academy that is supposed to represent the whole of Germany?

Zein Al Din: Our aspiration is even greater. We want to gather knowledge for Bonn, the region, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, but also the world, by bringing together people from all parts of the world and different disciplines who might not otherwise come together.

For example?

Zein Al Din: At our Summer Academy right now, we have a diplomat from Israel, a researcher from Iran and representatives from the USA and Russia working side by side. We have scientists from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kosovo, Mexico, Ghana, Singapore and India. Our goal is to talk to each other instead of about each other, to create knowledge and enable new perspectives that have relevance around the world. But we also want to offer fellowships for non-scientists, i.e. people from the real world, for example artists, representatives from business or culture.

The academy is based in the former Pakistani embassy on Rheinallee. Is that your permanent location?

Zein Al Din: Originally, the site of the old Kinderklinik (Childrens’ Hospital) was earmarked for it. But it is in poor structural condition and needs to undergo extensive renovations. Before waiting for five years, we decided to rent the interim property in Bad Godesberg. We are setting up the academy there for the time being.

How many employees does the academy have and what is the overall budget?

Zein Al Din: So far there are seven employees, two more will probably be added. The state budget has earmarked 2.9 million euros for the academy.

The academy was already a topic in the 2017 black-yellow coalition agreement and in State Premier Armin Laschet's government declaration. That was four years ago. Why did it take so long for the idea to be put into practice?

Zein Al Din: The year 2020 was marked by the pandemic and our Fellows were unable to travel. I'm glad it's starting up now.

You worked closely with Laschet and now run the academy. Is this to be a mark he leaves behind in North Rhine-Westphalia when he goes to Berlin to pursue national politics?

Zein Al Din: The academy is important for the open-minded and cosmopolitan state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The fact that the State Premier's idea is now being implemented for the (NRW) state anniversary is a good signal. The fact that Armin Laschet is interested in international politics has been a great help to our work.

What does Bonn get out of the academy?

Zein Al Din: My wish is that in a few years it will be said that if people in international politics have something important to research or say, then they should be able to do it in Bonn or from Bonn. Our aspiration must be this: Personalities from all over the world come to us with relevant questions and new scientific perspectives. That can be incredibly enriching for Bonn.