Saturday, July 28, 2012

The King and the People

I don't normally like to post twice in a day, but this is a really interesting debate about Jordan's political system. The speakers debate the monarchy, freedom, and Al-Jazeera's newest focus: reform vs. revolution. It's intriguing to watch, especially having been here among the people themselves. The monarchy here is well established and seem to be rather endeared to the Jordanian people. Pictures of the royal family are hung in every restaurant, posted on the sides of buildings, the King's picture is often seen taped inside taxi windows and countless cars tout crown stickers on the back. At the same time, while most are not anti-monarchical, Jordanians want deep reform. They want the monarchy to institute reforms, and if King Abdullah were to implement more democratic policies, the monarchy could possibly secure itself a future. And yet, public demand is weak; while there have been demonstrations for the past 18 months, they've been relatively sporadic and public involvement is lacking.

It's intriguing to watch this and listen to these highly-educated, high-profile people discuss these issues. With that in mind, I love being able to go out on the street and talk to the taxi drivers, the doctors in the clinics, the restaurant workers, and our neighbors in our apartment. In the five weeks living here in Amman, the capital city, I haven't felt or seen the "ethnic tension" so widely described by the media. In fact, the people are most concerned and upset about tighter water rationing than anything else. 1000 syrian "guests" arrived in Amman two days ago, and we continue to accept more every day. The kingdom is allocating services to them - electricity, water, medical care - and the Jordanian citizens are feeling neglected. If there's any tension, it's over these basic services....or at least, that's what we've observed.

The situation is complex and multi-facited. There are many perspectives, many demands, many voices wanting to be heard from a multitude of ethnicities, demographics, and religions. I'm not a journalist and I'm not here to investigate, but having lived among and worked with both Palestinians and Jordanians these past few weeks, I haven't felt tension to the extent the news is claiming. I don't discredit or doubt the words of the people at the table. I want to explore what they say more and research the subtleties of the situation. Yet I believe, as in many situations, you cannot apply blanket statements - especially to Jordan; a patchwork country of so many different kinds of people.

This may be naive and simply because I've been fairly protected here, but again and again, the Jordanians present themselves as hopeful. The people I talk to speak of freedom, of possibilities, of trying to work make a better life for themselves and their families. They're optimistic. It's an interesting dichotomy: listening to the educated elites who describe political/ethnic tension and the need for reform, and the every-day, mostly poor, people who love to smile and want to survive.

I find the difference between what you hear and what you see fascinating. I think it's all true. I want to know more. I don't want to leave. 


  1. Either way, it's bad, but, did she say 16%, or 60!% of Jordanians live under a "poverty line"!? Also hair raising to hear Mr. Tahat say "Being alive is not a virtue; it is my RIGHT." That a people might fear punishment for being outspoken sends a chill [...ponders Patriot Act; realizes we're not far from a fear state here, either...] As for bathing suits, I can't wait for the bikini to become a shameful byword, not from the iron fist of government, but from plain common sense. There should be a PR firm dedicated to just that... ergh.

    It has been incredible travelling with you these five weeks, dear Risa. THANK YOU for posting so AMAZINGLY faithfully. What excellence. Your whole gifted family is a treasure.

    We'll hope you get your wish and find a new NGO w/ which to serve. Or a cafe in which to wait? And "keep on blogging on."

    - - ED

  2. As of 2008, 13.3% of Jordanians live under the poverty line (about 57JD per person, per month). Unemployment is a real problem here, the unofficial unemployment is a little over 30%. It's pretty sobering.

    Glad you've liked it. :)

  3. I'm finding the media portrayal of Spain quite different from that being reported. We recently got mail from concerned friends who had become alarmed by the news and our living in such an impoverished place whose economy might be on the brink of collapse. While this may be a possibility it isn't so much more for Spain than for so many other countries.
    Spanish husband wrote this as part of his response:

    I would like to reassure you in regards to the rise of the IVA. It's true that it's unpleasant for taxes to rise (and I am of the opinion that it is damaging to the economy) but the truth is that Spain was one of the European countries with the lowest IVA. Only Latvia, Malta, Cyprus and Luxembourg had lower rates than Spain. With this rise we are a little more on par with the rest of the European countries, although they are also planning on raising the IVA. You can look at the page on this link:

    With respect to the statistics on the Spanish economy you have to remember that they're not really comparable to the US. There the statistics are real. Here they are not. Here over 20% of the economy is "submerged", or people are paid under the table, or through bartering systems. . . unfortunately. But, fortunately, because if the statistics were real Spain would be in ruins. But, that's not the case. Cafes remain full, people still go on vacations. . . life continues. If it weren't for the news we wouldn't even know we were in the middle of a crisis.

    I may also write something on the subject soon on my blog. Who controls the media one might ask? And to what purpose are certain things being reported?
    Thanks for your own insight here.
    Love this blog.

  4. Amazed Observer August 2,2012 11:37 PST

    I want to thank Risa for a most excellent blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed your adventure, through your eyes.

    I'm glad that you posted the discussion that took place. I think that a main thing to remember, is that they are speaking in English. This is for western consumption. The real question is Sharia Law. You will notice that they talk about democracy, but you don't hear the word freedom. The Muslim Brotherhood wants their Caliphate. That means that you live by their dictates. One of the fellows said that, if the majority of the people want a certain government, that is the way it should be. I think that the people of Jordon are used to the freedom they have right now, under a secular government. That is probably why they are having more problems in fermenting unrest. If they have any sense, they will look at Egypt, and say no.

    It is a shame that Americans do not understand, or really appreciate what we have. We are not a Democracy. We are a Republic. A Democracy runs amok over individual rights. Our founders understood that concept. That is why they were so adamant about the Bill Of Rights. Our form of government is not compatible with Islam.

  5. Let's hear it for Jeanne Nevins. If the media reported THAT, we'd be in far better shape (bathing suits, excepted!)