Today the king of Saudi Arabia visited Jordan. Even if you didn’t have access to television, radio, or any of the newspapers you knew he was in town; every major road was shut down. Public and private transportation ground to a halt and no one seemed to know when things were going to open up again—not the hundreds of people sitting in the shade of the bus stops or the scattered, not the policemen, and not even the rifle toting soldiers. A short trip of 10 miles to the neighboring town of Zarqa’ took almost three hours as we had to walk two miles before reaching an open road and then waited another 10 or 15 minutes until an empty cab came by.
Jordan simply cannot afford any sort of international terror incident these days. With the quasi-civil war raging in Lebanon, the constant strain between Israel and its territories to the west, the lack of stability in Iraq to the north and east, and the rather tyrannical regime in Syria to the north, Jordan is surrounded by instable nations with problems that threaten to spill over the Jordanian borders. While Jordan is still relatively stable, it has already absorbed waves of Palestinian and Iraqi immigrants—millions of people that first drive up the prices as they bring their wealth into the country and then flood the job market and put the lower-middle and lower classes out of work by taking the low paying jobs for less than native Jordanians are willing to work.
Over the past month I’ve concluded that stability is one of the most cherished virtues among Arab people. For example, the majority of Jordanians admire Saddam Hussein. While they may not completely agree with his internal policies, they all think that his reign was thousands of times better than the current situation of instability, strife, and internal conflict. I’ve been consistently told that what the Middle East really needs is a strong leader who can unite the Arab people; a leader with the wisdom and the strength to solve the numerous problems plaguing the factions, tribes, and sects in the area. The average Ahmed is taken aback whenever I ask about change on the grassroots level. They don’t think of themselves as responsible for changing and influencing their country, but look instead to a great leader to make all things welll and all manner of thing well.
Of course it will take more than a great leader to change these people; it will take a change of heart, and most likely a modification of value systems as well. There is much that the West has to learn from the Middle East, but tonight, I remember that the West has a lot to offer as well—government by the people, for the people, being somewhere near the top of the list.
Other posts on my travels in Jordan: