SESAME: Opening a scientific door for co-operation in the Middle East

New scientific research centres are a fairly common event these days, but in January 2003 a facility with a difference will see the light of day in Amman, Jordan. The international backers of the new research centre, called SESAME, are determined that scientific collaboration will help open the door to greater co-operation in the Middle East.

So far, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Oman, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey have formally decided to join SESAME. Other member states of the interim council are Egypt, Greece, Israel, Morocco, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates. Countries with observer status are Armenia, Brazil, Cyprus, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, the Russian Federation, Sudan, Sweden, the UK and the US.

SESAME was inspired by scientists working closely with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, whose founding in 1954 in Geneva, Switzerland also had the twin aims of advancing scientific and technological knowledge as well as fostering stability through co-operation. Since 2001 the new project has won the full backing of UNESCO, which has virtually adopted it as one of its flagship projects.

One major hope, as UNESCO’s director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, has stressed, is that SESAME “will work against the brain-drain by attracting scientists based in the Middle East and also those originally from the region who now work abroad.” Clearly, an opportunity for the young scientists of the region for whom the Middle East has always been synonymous with conflict and war. Mr Matsuura suggested: “Through their scientific rapprochement they will be in the vanguard of the political rapprochement that this region so badly needs.”

The scientific aspects of the project are promising too. SESAME – whose name stands for Synchrotron Radiation Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East – is a so-called third generation light source. There are about 45 synchrotron-light sources in use around the world today. They operate by whirling particles, generally electrons, around a ring at a tremendous speed. Light sources are used in a wide range of research, from unravelling the structure of viruses to understanding the detailed behaviour of the semiconductor materials that underlie much of modern-day life. Synchrotron light covers a broad range of the electromagnetic spectrum (infrared to hard x-rays). It is the best available source of x-rays, providing a valuable source of information for scientists working in many fields, making it a uniquely multidisciplinary facility.

Demand for these essential light sources is growing. Europe, France, Spain and the UK are currently building new facilities. Across the Atlantic, new light sources are also being made ready in Canada and the US. Some Middle East countries have jumped at the opportunity, Jordan being selected to host it. SESAME will carry on work using components of a light source in Berlin that was closed down in 1999. Scientists from Stanford, US and Hamburg, Germany had suggested that the old core German facility be recycled as a new laboratory and soon after, SESAME took shape.

Not all Middle Eastern countries have bought in, though others have expressed an interest in joining when the political situation in the region stabilises.

Still, funding has not been a major problem. Thirteen interim council member states undertook to provide US$50,000 per annum each for three years from 1 January 2000 for preparatory work, and the US State Department and Department of Energy contributed $200,000. A training programme for young scientists and engineers is an essential part of the project. Workshops and seminars have been organised and several experts have been sent to laboratories in Europe for more than a year. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and other sponsors provided funding. Brazil has offered fellowships that will allow SESAME scientists to spend time working at a light source in Sao Paolo.

The European Commission is set to provide €7 million for installation of the new facility along with extra funds for training once it is up and running. This is dependent on SESAME demonstrating that a viable scientific programme has been established. Several proposals have been put forward, and these will be formalised soon. Several laboratories have offered equipment, and financial support is being sought from the IAEA and from US agencies. Meanwhile, the Jordanian government has agreed to finance construction of the buildings that will house the centre at a campus of the Al-Balqa’ Applied University in Allan, 30 km from Amman. Running costs will be borne by SESAME’s member states, with some voluntary contributions from observers.

SESAME will formally be opened by Jordanian King, H.M. Abdullah II and UNESCO’s Mr Matsuura in a special ceremony on 6 January 2003. After that, the political support for SESAME will grow.

*The author was director-general of CERN from 1981 to 1988.

©OECD Observer No 235, December 2002

Economic data

GDP growth: +0.6% Q1 2019 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% May 2019 annual
Trade: +0.4% exp, -1.2% imp, Q1 2019
Unemployment: 5.2% July 2019
Last update: 8 July 2019


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Subscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To order your own paper editions,email

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • MCM logo
  • The following communiqué and Chair’s statement were issued at the close of the OECD Council Meeting at Ministerial level, this year presided by the Slovak Republic.
  • Food production will suffer some of the most immediate and brutal effects of climate change, with some regions of the world suffering far more than others. Only through unhindered global trade can we ensure that high-quality, nutritious food reaches those who need it most, Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, and José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, write in their latest Project Syndicate article. Read the article here.
  • Globalisation will continue and get stronger, and how to harness it is the great challenge, says OECD Secretary-General Gurría on Bloomberg TV. Watch the interview here.
  • OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría with UN Secretary-General António Guterres at the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in New York City.
  • The new OECD Observer Crossword, with Myles Mellor. Try it online!
  • Listen to the "Robots are coming for our jobs" episode of The Guardian's "Chips with Everything podcast", in which The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, and Jeremy Wyatt, a professor of robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Birmingham, and Jordan Erica Webber, freelance journalist, discuss the findings of the new OECD report "Automation, skills use and training". Listen here.
  • Do we really know the difference between right and wrong? Alison Taylor of BSR and Susan Hawley of Corruption Watch tell us why it matters to play by the rules. Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview here.
  • Has public decision-making been hijacked by a privileged few? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Stav Shaffir, MK (Zionist Union) Chair of the Knesset Committee on Transparency here.
  • Can a nudge help us make more ethical decisions? Watch the recording of our Facebook live interview with Saugatto Datta, managing director at ideas42 here.
  • The fight against tax evasion is gaining further momentum as Barbados, Côte d’Ivoire, Jamaica, Malaysia, Panama and Tunisia signed the BEPS Multilateral Convention on 24 January, bringing the total number of signatories to 78. The Convention strengthens existing tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Visit the OECD Gender Data Portal. Selected indicators shedding light on gender inequalities in education, employment and entrepreneurship.

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2019