Fisher: Revolutions, Jordan, and MeWritten by Betsy Fisher | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I have been incredibly privileged to have a front-row seat observing what has been referred to as the ongoing ‘Arab Unrest.’ I’m spending a year in Amman, Jordan, serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. As such, I have been able to hear Jordanians’ opinions on successive revolutionary and reformist movements throughout the Arab world. I’ve witnessed several demonstrations, and I’ve followed closely as Jordan navigates its own peaceful path of reform.
Having studied and worked here for six months in 2009, I quickly noticed a shift in Jordan’s political atmosphere when I arrived in September. For one thing, parliamentary elections were impending on November 9th, so talk of the political process was more widespread than I remembered before. In the run-up to the elections, what I heard most often was not why one candidate was better but why the election process itself was flawed. Ultimately, though voting rates were much higher outside the major cities, only one-third of registered voters in Amman participated in November’s elections. This in itself demonstrated a feeling of alienation and disinterest in politics-as-usual here.
Tunisia’s eruption in protests in January captured the Jordanian political imagination captured in a way that the Jordanian elections had utterly failed to do. Tech-savvy Jordanians tweeted in support of the Tunisian people, others organized vigils outside the Tunisian embassy, and all celebrated President Ben Ali’s departure. As Egypt, too, saw widespread protests, the waves of solidarity multiplied. As violence broke out in Cairo, thousands of Egyptians and foreigners fled across the Sinai and then the Red Sea to Jordan’s southern port town of Aqaba. But after the initial influx of refuge-seekers, more and more tourists to Jordan began to cancel their trips, sending negative ripples throughout an already- cash-starved economy. And I found myself stranded in Morocco, scheduled to return to Amman through Cairo after a wonderful vacation (eventually, I returned home safely via a new ticket that avoided Cairo).
Despite the negative economic impact of the Egyptian revolution, Jordanian support for the Egyptian people was unwavering. Colleagues at my school discussed at length Mubarak’s billions siphoned from the impoverished people of Egypt – which they call Um al-Dunya, Mother of the World. And when Omar Suleiman made that 15-second speech announcing Mubarak’s fall, I grabbed my jacket and headed directly to the Egyptian embassy, where thousands of Jordanians, Palestinians, and Egyptian migrant workers gathered. Egyptian and Jordanian flags were waved, sweets were passed, chants from Tahrir were repeated, and the Egypt’s national anthem was sung with gusto. It was an incredible historical moment to share. This attitude of support has continued as Libya appears to be in an all-out civil war, and as folks in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, etc., also demand human rights and political reform.
Of course, these events have also inspired reformists in Jordan. For over two months, Friday afternoons have seen peaceful demonstrators making demands for an increased political voice, and end to corruption, educational reform, etc. The calls are not for the fall of the regime but the reform of the regime. And, led by King Abdullah II and newly-appointed Prime Minister Maarouf Bakhit, the government is moving. In February, the government announced that public assemblies would no longer require a permit to be legal. Instead, organizers ought to simply notify the government of the gathering or demonstration. A judge recently deemed a temporary law illegal, potentially increasing parliament’s role in the legislative process. It seems likely that Jordan will achieve real reforms without the revolutionary martyrs of Tunisia and Egypt.
I’ve posted innumerable messages reassuring my family and friends of my safety, and I reiterate that here. Jordan is safe, and I’m proud of the peaceful approach taken both by demonstrators and security forces. I’m thrilled to be here, watching the revolutions from the heart of the Arab world, all the while assured of my safety. But the ride’s not over – and I’ll be blogging at BetsyInJordan.blogspot.com.