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Commentary :: International Relations
Report from Amman, Jordan woth 11 photos. Current rating: 0
13 Apr 2005
This is a 2,700 word article about my impressions of Jordan and the impressions of others who have lived here for a while.
Click on image for a larger version


I have spent the last week in Amman, the Jordanian Capital. I arrived via Egypt on the `fast boat` from Nuweiba in Egypt to Aqaba on Jordan's very short coastline – all of 26km. I then made the five-hour bus ride to Amman.

Jordan has an area of 92,300 sq. km, which compares to the UK area of 244,820 sq. km or France, which is 547,030-sq. km. Remember all the confusion about how big Iraq, was? – first of all it was two thirds the size of France then it was three quarters the size of France then it was the size of France and then it was twice the size of France. Jordan is about 17% of the size of France or about a third of the size of Britain and has a population of around 5.6million. Jordan has land borders with Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel and the West Bank. Remarkably over half the population of the country are Palestinians- around 3 million who live in 19 camps around the country.

For most of its history since independence from British administration in 1946, KING HUSSEIN (1953-99) ruled Jordan. A pragmatic ruler, he successfully navigated competing pressures from the major powers USSR, UK), and US, various Arab states, Israel, and a large internal Palestinian population, despite several wars and coup attempts. In 1989 he reinstituted parliamentary elections and gradual political liberalization; in 1994 he signed a formal peace treaty with Israel. King ABDULLAH II - the eldest son of King HUSSEIN and Princess MUNA - assumed the throne following his father's death in February 1999. Since then, he has consolidated his power and undertaken an aggressive economic reform program. Jordan acceded to the World Trade Organization in 2000, and began to participate in the European Free Trade Association in 2001. After a two-year delay, parliamentary and municipal elections took place in the summer of 2003. The Prime Minister and government appointed in October 2004 declared their commitment to accelerated economic and political reforms and the new cabinet includes unprecedented four women as ministers.

My first impressions of Jordan were favourable – there was no fee for the entry visa in contrast to the $15.00 entry fee to Egypt. The port/resort of Aqaba is pleasant holiday town, which is Jordan's only outlet to the sea on its 16-mile coastline. On my arrival I was besieged by taxi drivers who wanted to drive me to a great variety of places including Damascus, Amman, Baghdad, Petra and Jerusalem. I was tired and stayed the night in Aqaba before catching the afternoon bus to Amman on Wednesday 6th April. The fare was less than 4 Jordanian Dinars, which is about two pounds fifty in British money. This is for a journey of over 300 kilometres or around 200 miles. Imagine travelling from Edinburgh to Inverness or London to Liverpool for that price. I found my way to the Al Monzer budget hotel where ensuite rooms are available at just $10.00 a night. Famous residents who have stayed here include Ramsey Clark the former US attorney general.

I saw the usual tourist sites of Amman, which include the King Abdullah Mosque, the King Hussein Mosque, the Roman Amphitheatre and the remains of the Umayya palace of Amman.

There were several Americans staying at the Al Monzer and I asked Joe who is with Christian Peacemakers for his views. Joe, who is 24, is from Kansas City, Missouri and has been to Palestine three times. He was present when Rachel Corrie was murdered by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza strip and knows Alice Coy who was a friend of Rachel. He was recently refused entry to Israel as his name is on a growing black list of activists. I asked Joe for his advice about entering Israel and how rigorously the Israelis were likely to search me. "It's a crap shoot," he said, meaning they could search me very thoroughly or maybe not at all. I asked him what he thought of the current peace process and he said it was a propaganda ploy. Israel and the US have all the power. I asked what could be done to educate ordinary Americans who are so badly informed about world affairs. He said that the majority of Americans are now opposed to the occupation of Iraq. He opined that the size of the peace movement had taken the administration aback and they are now fearful of attacking another country.

I then interviewed Jamil who is a receptionist at the Al Monzer Hotel. He was born in Amman and his family is from Fallujah, Palestine. Fallujah in Palestine is actually named after Fallujah in Iraq. I put it to him that the destruction of Fallujah, Iraq was a hideous war crime, which would make the Nazis puke. Jamil agreed saying while Saddam was a dictator at least there was security and people had electricity and children could go to school etc. I told Jamil of my trip to Iraq in 2001 and he said that Ramsey Clark and Kadouri Al Kaysi who were both present on that trip had stayed at the hotel before. I asked Jamil what he thought of the human rights situation in Jordan and he said that after 1999 when King Hussein died things had gone down hill. After September 11th the internal security in Jordan had become much stricter. This brought back my memories of my bus trip from Aqaba to Amman when the police stopped the bus several times which had puzzled me at the time as we were not crossing any borders. The US pays around $700 million to Jordan every year mainly to maintain internal security. I asked if Jordanians were free to criticise their government and have demonstrations but Jamil said it was very difficult. Most Jordanians were strongly opposed to the attack on Iraq but it was very hard for the ordinary people to demonstrate. I asked if it would be possible to write a letter to King Abdullah criticising the attack on Iraq and asking him to speak out against it but he said that would not be possible. There were 25,000 US soldiers in Jordan at the time of the war on Iraq and the US still has 10,000 troops stationed there. I asked about the Jordanian Parliament but Jamil says it has no real power. Jamil opined there is no real democracy anywhere in the world citing the examples of the huge worldwide demonstrations of February 15th 2003 when governments simply ignored the wishes of their people and went to war anyway.
I asked what the police were like explaining that as a tourist they were polite and friendly towards me. Jamil amazed me when he told me that some 2 million people in Jordan were involved in surveillance of some kind – that's over a third of the population! The situation is thus similar to that under Saddam's Iraq when around a third of the population were informers. I suggested that the overall situation was better than say in Saudi Arabia. In Jordan women are allowed to vote and to drive cars. I asked if it would be possible for a Jordanian girl to walk down the main street wearing a mini skirt and Jamil said that wouldn't really be a problem. Most girls in Jordan dress modestly which is due mainly to culture and tradition.
The majority of Jordanians are Sunni Muslims with just a few Shia and Christians. There are quite a few Iraqis living in Jordan but they pale compared to the number of Palestinians who live in Jordan, which is some 3 million, over half the population. Most Palestinians are Sunni Muslims with some Christians. I enquired as to the difference between Sunni and Shia and said that I had once heard Imam say that Sunni and Shia were 90% the same. Jamil disagreed saying the differences were greater than that. I asked if the two were able to get along and he said that in Jordan yes they did.

There were two Iraqis at the hotel, one from Baghdad and one from Irbil in the Kurdish north. I asked what the electricity situation was like in Irbil and he said it was bad with frequent power cuts. The security situation is somewhat better than in Baghdad however and he said it would be fairly safe to go there. I asked if people from Irbil considered themselves to be Iraqi and he said most certainly.

I also interviewed an American called Harris Balcom who has worked in the media for many years. He was initially a photographer for the Kentucky Post and Time Star, which was in Covington, Kentucky which, was just opposite Cincinnati, Ohio. He worked in production on a children's programme and also worked in advertising in St Louis, Missouri. He worked in Hollywood for a few years on a few minor films. We drifted slightly into geography; the state capital of Missouri is Jefferson City. There was an old film called `Meet me at St Louis, Louis` starring Judy Garland. I teased Harris by asking him what Judy Garland's real name was - he now knows it was Frances Gumm. However back to more serious matters – we talked about the ownership of the mass media by big corporations and Harris informed me that the Jerusalem post is owned by none other than the old `Prince of darkness` himself Richard Perle. Donald Rumsfeld, US secretary of sate for defence is reputedly worth $200 million so why does a man in his 70's with that kind of money not simply retire to Florida and live it up with the chicks? What are the crazies after? I suggested it was pure greed. I said it was difficult to understand and Harris said it was impossible to understand. He said he didn't know what motivated the crazies. He was a little sad at turning 48 recently and I pointed out that made him 25 years younger than Donald Rumsfeld. He said "But Donald Rumsfeld doesn't count, the man is an automaton"
I said he was 15 years younger than Richard Perle was and 3 years younger than Tony Blair was. I also said that he was 32 years younger than literary icon Gore Vidal.
The level of mendacity in the media in the Middle East was incredible. His experience in Israel was a nightmare – he had his front teeth broken by Israeli police.
He spoke warmly of the hospitality of the local people and he said he had fallen in love with this part of the world. In particular he liked the Sinai and said don't let anyone tell you the Red Sea is red – it's as blue as any sea you can see. I asked him about Taba where there was an Al Qadea attack last year. Harris suggested it could have been committed by an Israeli agent provocateur.

We compared notes about our impressions of Cairo and Taba and how a camel which weighing in around 1,000kg is about twice the size of a horse. He spoke of the beauty of Arab women with their dark eyes and glistening black hair.
We discussed the alternative media especially Indymedia, which was formed shortly after the Seattle protest of 1999. I told of my experience of watching the American TV in the run up to war on Iraq in 2002 and he agreed that the so-called news was blatant cheerleading.
I asked Harris what the human rights situation was like. He talked of the Israeli situation.

He told of the Israeli special police with their `Uzi` guns, which are more powerful than AK47s. When he explained he was an American they would apologise and leave him along. He told me of Shabak which is the Israeli equivalent of the CIA. So what is MOSSAD? He thinks they are overrated and their capture of Mordechai Vanunu was achieved because he walked in to a trap.

Harris says that Israel has had the atomic bomb since 1961, which is actually three years before China got the bomb. Harris called Ariel Sharon the ultimate `crazy` and his dream of a greater Israel will include Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as well as part of Egypt. He apologised in advance for his profanity; 'These people are out of their fucking minds." I said there was no need to apologise.

Harris thought the Israelis should go back to the 1967 borders. I asked what he thought of the so-called `disengagement plan` and `roadmap`. Sharon is just playing with people there are only 7,000 or so settlers in Gaza as opposed to a quarter of a million in the West Bank.

I suggested the possibility of a one-state solution with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side and he said he thought that might be the only answer. I enquired what the so-called `viable Palestinian State` might look like. He thought it would just be a series of Bantusans with corridors controlled by Israel. How long would it take to travel from end of the West Bank to the other – a distance of 50-60 miles. He thinks around 14 hours. By comparison a similar journey in Scotland would be like Edinburgh to Dundee which could be done by bus or train in just one hour and the round trip journey could me made 6 or 7 times in one day.
I told him of my bus journey from Aqaba to Amman where I took off one of my shoes and whacked a picture of Bush and Blair to great applause.

What about freedom of speech in Jordan? He said that it was still `very dicey` to speak out. There have been disappearances in Jordan and he criticised the Jordan Tines for being too pro government though by comparison with say the Sun or the Star it looks like the Socialist Worker! There are elections about every two years in Jordan although King Abdullah cannot be voted out of power. I suggested Jordanians were reasonably happy and the regime while not democratic is far less brutal than say the Saudi regime. Harris said there was something in that. In Edinburgh pubs are open 24 hours a day. Alcohol is available in Jordan and drinking hours are roughly 10am to 10pm.

I asked about going to Petra and the Dead Sea which I believe are both well worth seeing.
I'm told regarding crossing the border to Israel it would be better to say at the immigration that you want to visit Israel and not Palestine. As far as the Israelis are concerned Palestine doesn't exist.

I asked Harris for his opinion about what I should take with me to Israel. He said I was unlikely to be searched. If I was searched I was on my own though I could ask for a lawyer. I suggested the possibility of saying to the Israelis that I was a writer and thousands of people would read my report and wouldn't they like me to say nice things about Israel? Harris told me quite bluntly that that line of approach would probably do me more harm than good. The Israelis don't care as they know their big brother America will back them all the way.
He advised me to just say I want to visit the Holy Land. He told me that Tel Aviv was very like Miami. I asked about railways in Jordan – he doesn't know of any. Israeli railways were infrequent and unreliable he said.
He also gave the standard advice of asking the Israelis not to stamp my passport.
He said that to him as an American US policy was `unfathomable`. He apologised for his country's overseas policies. Harris finished by saying that he felt much more comfortable living in Jordan than he did living in Israel.
Harris asked me if he had been informative and I said very much so. I now feel more confident about visiting Israel and the West Bank.

The Arab side of things has been given a very raw deal by the Western media. The Arab contribution to Western culture has been immense and greatly undervalued by the West.

So all in all my impression of Jordan has been a favourable one though of course it is largely seen through tourist eyes. My next port of call will be Jerusalem in a few days and I'll keep you posted.

11 labelled photos are attached

word count 2,748 words
Jordan Map.bmp
King Abdullah Mosque Amman.JPG (25 k)
King Hussein Mosque.JPG
Roman Amphitheatre Amman.JPG
Declaration of rights 1948.JPG
Yasser Arafat and President Nasser.JPG
Click on image for a larger version

Paul with Harris.jpg

This work is in the public domain

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Re: Report from Amman, Jordan woth 11 photos.
Current rating: 3
14 Apr 2005
Great job Paul! Thank you so much!

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