Tag Archive | "Jordan"

Aftershocks Of The Egyptian Revolution


From Saudi Arabia Corespondent Eman Al Nafjan…

With what’s going on right now in Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Tunis and Egypt, I get a lot of questions about how Saudis are taking it and what’s the reaction. The short answer is they are shocked and captivated but haven’t made up their minds about any of it.

The long answer is Saudi Arabia is a country where 40% of the population is under 14 years old, unemployment is rampant and the conservative religious approach is the key to the majority. These three ingredients are a dangerous mixture and add to that the now available social media tools and you have a bomb waiting for detonation. So why has nothing happened?

We have been faced with defeat over the last three generations. First it was with the Ottoman’s and I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve heard stories about how my great-grandparents generation faced off with the Turks in Qaseem. There are even walls still standing with bullet holes from then. Then my grandparents’ generation faced the creation of Israel. Every family knows a Palestinian refugee or had someone in their family killed or injured, my own grandfather was maimed in 1948 when Israeli forces bombed the hospital he was being treated at. Then my parents’ generation witnessed the fall of Jamal AbdulNaser’s high hopes and grand plans. After that every country in the region had its own version of dictatorship and people suppression evolve so that in the end you had different countries with different names but all sharing the same tactics and the same system. People have lost hope in being represented politically and have adapted and figured out other ways to move forward in life.

This is the context and the lenses through which our young people are watching what’s going on in the region. And this is why that the fact that there was an uprising is not as important as the aftermath of that uprising.

They are watching, though. All over the country, all these Saudis who rarely watch or read the news and their only interests in doing so are for more local social openness or conservativeness (depending on their background), are now carefully observing what’s going on in neighboring countries. Saudis who didn’t know what the channel number for AlJazeera News was on their receivers now have it saved on their favorites list. University and high school students are now watching the news and social media feeds in their study breaks instead of a rerun of Friends. It’s a new atmosphere. The thing lacking is analysis or a discussion on what it means for us.

The only tangible effect is more outspokenness in their criticism of how the Saudi government was ill-prepared for the Jeddah floods. In just three days from the first Friday after the floods to last Sunday, there were one hundred and ten opinion pieces in Saudi newspapers condemning what happened and criticizing how the government handled things. Also Shiekh Salman Al Ouda broadcast an unprecedented episode of his MBC show where he spoke about how the government must listen to Saudi’s demands for more transparency and spoke highly of the movements in Tunis and Egypt. And then Ali Al Olayani, a popular TV presenter also dedicated a frank and brave show where YouTube videos uploaded by citizens in Jeddah were shown. And the most recent were reports of protesters in Jeddah and some being arrested and there was even a video that was taken down a day later of the protest where you can see men and women marching down a Jeddah street.

We are only at the beginning and the only thing that has been determined is that Arabs are fed up and that we won’t back down.


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Nuclear Ambitions: Iranian Swagger Vs. Jordanian Reason


From David Anthony Hohol…

The Iranian political regime (and not its citizens who we have supported in their fight for democracy ) have been the self-declared enemy of the West since the 1978 Islamic Revolution, when the Mullahs took over the country. They’ve repeatedly spewed hatred, issued threats and sounded entirely unstable as a result. The crazy, corrupt, election-rigging hobbit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has talked about his plan to deliver a “telling blow” to the world’s leading powers, has mocked Obama’s attempts at dialogue, and openly expressed his desire to “wipe Israel off the map.” Even Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed regret over such a statement when he declared:

 “I reject his comments (Ahmadinejad’s). What we need to be talking about is adding the state of Palestine to the map, and not wiping out Israel.”   

This writer’s all time favorite quote from the Iranian Hobbit includes his thoughts on the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden:

“I heard that Osama bin Laden is in Washington DC…Yes, I did. He really is there. Because he was a previous partner of Mr. Bush. They were colleagues in fact in the old days. Everybody knows that. They were in the oil business together. They worked together. Mr. Bin Laden never cooperated with Iran, but he cooperated with Mr. Bush because they are friends.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei , Khomeini’s successor as the country’s “spiritual” leader, chimes in with his own rants from time to time, recently promising that Iran was set to deliver a “punch” that would stun world powers during the anniversary celebrations of the Revolution. No much happened by the way.

In the end,  such statements are little more than desperate attempts by the nation’s rulers to distract attention from their domestic issues and instill hatred of the West into as many of their citizens as possible. Iran, with its incessant ramblings, has managed to unite even the United Sates and Russia (a difficult task these days) along with virtually the entire international community, in their call for Iran to stop enriching uranium in its pursuit of nuclear power.   

Even if you disagree with the concept that those outside a sovereign nation can control what happens within it, one can, at the very least, see why there are those who would want to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.  

The Kingdom of Jordan, on the other hand, is a different story altogether.  

Recently, a new enemy of Israel has been slowly rising. King Abdullah II has been more critical of Israel that at any other point in his reign. He open declared that Jordan was better off before his father, King Hussein, signed the now infamous 1994 peace treaty with the Israelis. In a straight forward statement this past spring the King also stated, “The political trust (with Israel) is gone.”

He was also recently quoted as saying:

“I have to say that over the past 12 months, everything I’ve seen on the ground (in terms of the Israeli / Jordanian / Palestinian relations) has made me extremely skeptical, and I’m probably one of the more optimistic people you will meet in this part of the world.”

Just last month even Queen Rania,the wife of King Abdullah, offered harsh criticism of Israel in regards to their attack on the Humanitairn Flotilla headed for Gaza – the kind of criticism that rarely emanates from the state of Jordan.   

“The attack stunned the world because of its blatant and absurd disregard for anything resembling international law, human rights, and diplomatic norms. Its glaring outrageousness stunned, but didn’t surprise, me. It cannot be viewed in isolation. It is another upshot of a dogma long fermenting on Israel’s political landscape. It is a doctrine that lives for itself and off others. It survives by tapping into the subliminal and cognizant levels. It implants into public consciousness a set of tenets that see Israeli’s very existence as eternally under threat, to be defended through any means preferably through use of force to show the enemy who’s boss.”

Now what does this all have to do with Iran?

Jordan is a terribly poor country, with almost no natural resources of which to speak. The nation imports 95% of its electricity to the tune of billions of dollars per year.  A recent geological discovery however, could greatly help the tiny country with its economic woes. Nearly 70,000 tons of uranium ore was found in the deserts of Jordan, and suddenly the impoverished nation finds itself laying claim to the 11th-largest deposit of uranium in the world.

Jordan is now excitedly receiving bids from the international community to build a 1,100-megawatt reactor. This would only be the first in a series of plants that would not only allow Jordan to fulfill its own energy needs, but eventually export power, at a very tidy sum, to its neighbors.

The international community, headed by the United States, is in the habit of convincing countries, most especially those in the Middle East, not to produce atomic fuel. Why? The fear is that uranium enrichment, even at its lowest levels, would lead to enrichment of high-level bomb-grade materials. Worse still, this could trigger a regional arms race within a region filled with corrupt dictators that answer to no one. By extension, American diplomats are trying to prevent Jordan from receiving the necessary technology to enrich uranium.  

The United States wants Jordan to agree to the same deal the United Arab Emirates signed. Set to open a 20 billion dollar nuclear reactor, the UAE has agreed to buy uranium on the international market, as opposed to enriching it themselves. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are also set to sign similar agreements. Why doesn’t Jordan fall into place? The difference is none of these countries have their own uranium deposits, and in the end have no other choice. Jordan does and as mentioned earlier, is sitting on top of one the largest uranium deposits in the world. Enriching it will have a great economic impact on a state in desperate need of a shot in the arm.     

King Abdullah has been extremely angered by the attempts to block nuclear development and most especially, because they have no doubt resulted from Israeli pressure on the United States.  The King’s recent willingness to criticize Israel is directly connected to these circumstances. The effect could very well be the destabilization of the Israeli / Jordanian relationship and by extension, the region itself. From this angle, it would in fact actually serve Israel’s best interest to support Jordan’s call to enrich its own uranium.

Jordan is a pro-Western, politically stable Arab country. They are the only Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel, albeit symbolic at best. Most importantly, however, Jordan signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which in turn, under international law, allows participants to enrich uranium for peaceful power production. Through all the discussion, King Abdullah has expressed his complete and utter willingness for transparency on anything related to the process.  

Simply put, there is no reason to deny Jordan the right to produce its own atomic energy. Doing so only suggests that no matter what a Middle Eastern leader says or does, he will always be held in suspect. This does not help peace in the region, but undermines it.   

Although it will be difficult, countries need to be dealt with in a case by case set of standards, and not painted with one broad stroke of a unilateral brush. Are the international community’s concerns with Iran’s development of nuclear technology legitimate? Absolutely.

And Jordan? Absolutely not.

Jordan and its King are simply not in the same category as the crazy wacked-out mullahs of Iran and their little wannabe-Stalin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The international community, and most especially the United States, needs to foster relationships, one country at a time, and stop packing the entire Middle East into one simplistic profile. Jordan is as good a place to start as any.        



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Jordan First


From Lama J… 

If you ever visit Jordan, you will definitely notice the signs in the streets that say Jordan First”. This was the slogan launched by King Abdullah the Second a few years back as a way to promote the idea that Jordan is important to all Jordanians, and that Jordanians should work hard to make Jordan the best it can be.

Over these years, the “Jordan First slogan has become to butt of jokes throughout the country. It must be said, Jordan has become First or close to it in almost everything in the Middle East. On the surface, this seems like something set to instill a sense of pride and patriotism. Dig deeper and you might change your mind.

To begin with, regionally speaking, Jordan is first or close to it in terms of the percentage of the population living in poverty.  Jordan is also first when it comes to the lowest salaries, with regards to individual income compared to what one needs to simply survive.  Additionally, Jordan is first among Middle Eastern countries in terms of high sales tax. It is also first in both airport taxes and petrol taxes.  Worse still, the government sometimes doesn’t even bother to identify the reason why some taxes are even being taken. It should come as no surprise then that Jordanians are also the biggest consumers of tobacco, and have the largest number of people suffering from high blood pressure.

Unfortunately and perhaps surprisngly to many, Jordan is also first in what some refer to as honor killingsWith numbers even higher than Saudi Arabia, women are murdered in the name  of protecting family honor and age-old savage traditions. Jordan is also first in the Middle East in terms of emigration, as the young generation is leaving the country in droves in order to make a better life for themselves and in some cases, just so they can survive.  

It makes me sad to see this wonderful country with its rich history and profound link to the storied Holy Land as described in the Koran, the Bible and the Torah suffering the way it is. 

Simply put, Jordanians are hurting. People are lining up in front of embassies, trying to find an escape route to a better life. The ridiculous tax system is destroying the economy and scaring away investors. Although taxes in other countries do indeed yield benefits for citizens, in Jordan we pay taxes and get nothing in return.

There is no health care system, no pension funds, no retirement plans, no free education, no unemployment insurance – no social safety net whatsoever. A small percentage of Jordanians, who many of us call WHALES, are the only survivors.  These WHALES control the vast majoity of the wealth, but make up the tiny minority of the country.

Jordan is first in both telecommunications and technology, in the number of text mesaages sent and is first or close to it in terms of the percentage of citizens with university educations. Text messages, however, dont pay the bills and people with univeristy educations make less than $1000 a month working as dentists or teachers. 

So Viva to Jordan and Viva to all the Jordanians for taking the lead and being first – unfortunately, for many, it’s  first in misery.


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For the Love of Money


From Lama J…

Jordan is considered one of the most educated and flexible societies in the Middle East; the land of the three religions, surrounded by a long history, offering tourist havens such as Petra and Mt. Nebo to the rest of the world. Statistics also show Jordan as having the highest level of educated people among other countries in the same area. With that said, the country still has some outdated ideas about marriage.

The population of Jordan is more than six million, with tens of thousands of women over age 35 remaining unmarried. It’s hard for a woman in her mid-thirties and upward to find a husband, as most men want to marry younger women to start a family. On the other hand, the percentage of single men in Jordan in a 2008 study was about 46%. In this regard, many young men who are willing to marry can’t afford to put gas in their cars let alone pay for a wedding.

The problem here is that not only does Jordan tax its citizens at the same rate or more than most European countries, the average income per household is far too low to even readily afford the basic necessities of daily life. What makes matters worse is the mentality of many Jordanian families regarding finding the perfect husband for their daughters.

Throughout the 8 years I lived in Jordan, I watched on as many young females who were perfectly willing to marry and share their lives have their hopes dashed. These women did not care about how much money her husband made, as they wanted to work and share the expensive cost of living with their partner, and all they wanted was a family.

Nevertheless, many families push these young men who want to marry their daughters towards the door with their non-stop over the top demands – a fully-furnished house, a car, gold and diamonds, imported designer wedding dresses, engagement parties and wedding receptions at the most expensive five star hotels in Amman – and don’t forget, this is in a relatively poor country!  The result is that men often find themselves unable to meet the conditions and the father of the bride refuses to give his blessing to the marriage.

It should be noted that getting married and having children are top priorities in Jordan and most marriages are arranged by the father of the bride. And with arranged marriages still the norm, most couples will not even get to know each other until after they are engaged.

The result of all this financial and social pressure is that men, after being asked for the impossible several times over by fathers, get turned off from the idea of marriage altogether, as do women. What follows is more and more single women (and to a certain degree men) who are depressed and unhappy with the whole process. In a traditional culture like Jordan’s, most women simply can’t say anything about the unreasonable demands of their fathers or mothers, and end many up being single for life, isolated and abused by society as a result.

In the Middle East, men usually pay for the majority of what’s required to establish a family, but this way of thinking is changing. More and more, women are taking a page from Western Society and sharing in the financial responsibilities of the household. Young women in general these days in fact want to do so. The needs of what are no less than greedy parents however are still lagging behind any form of modernity.

I’ve seen many friends who never wanted anything from the man they wanted to marry and who were ready to help their men meet the family’s non-stop demands, but this creates even more stress in the end. Many young couples find themselves in deep debt from day one, because of the financial pressures placed upon them by their parents. I know this is common in North America too, as weddings can be expensive anywhere, but keep in mind the low incomes in Jordan. Dentists, teachers and other working professionals make less than a thousand dollars U.S.  per month, so being in debt in Jordan means being in debt, and under pressure, for much longer.

The blame cannot always be squarely placed on the families either, as there are those women in the Middle East who are very demanding in terms of marriage. They want the biggest wedding, the best DJ, in the grandest hotel and most expensive dress and diamonds. The poor guy will often borrow to pay for all this and sometimes, the marriage won’t even last a year.

I know of these frustrations firsthand, as my family is currently on a mission to find my brother a wife. The only son of four children, he is 38 years old and couldn’t marry the girl he loved because the conditions he needed to meet in order to satisfy the father were too much. My poor mom and dad are meeting families and trying to help, but every time they get rejected if they are unwilling to meet a ready-made list of demands.

A potential father-in-law recently told my brother he would have to sign over ownership of his own apartment to his daughter if he wanted to marry her. Can you believe this?! Another told him to buy gold and furniture from specific places considered to be the most expensive in Amman!! Specific honeymoon destinations, famous DJs and more just kept coming at both my brother and my parents and so… he’s now decided he doesn’t want to marry a woman from Jordan or even the Middle East at all!

In the end, what do we get from all this? A happy life for our daughters and sons? Never, as the divorce rate for new marriages in Jordan is a staggering 70%.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said “If a good Muslim came to you and asked your daughter’s hand in marriage, help him to marry. If you don’t, it will be a loss for both you and society.”

Declining marriage rates, sky-rocketing divorce rates and falling birth rates…. and for what? It’s time to change our priorities.


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The Politics Of A King


jordan-obamameetskingabdullahFrom David Anthony Hohol…

Earlier this month, on the eve of his trip to Washington, Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned if peace in the Middle East cannot be achieved, then Israel’s long-term future is in jeopardy.  

The young Monarch declared, “I think the long-term future of Israel is in jeopardy unless we solve our problems. I think wasting too much time is something that we all have to be very concerned about because there is tremendous tension in the region.”

“Over the Israeli-Lebanese border; if you spoke to some Lebanese today they feel there is going to be a war any second. It looks like there is an attempt by certain groups to promote a third intifada, which would be disastrous. Jerusalem as you are well aware is a tinderbox that could go off at any time, and then there is the overriding concern about military action between Israel and Iran,” King Abdullah said.

“So with all these things in the background, the status quo is not acceptable; what will happen is that we will continue to go around in circles until the conflict erupts, and there will be suffering by peoples because there will be a war.”

King Abdullah also stated that the Arab World cannot always count on the United States to solve thier problems, most notably due to the fact they have many other priorities at the moment, with rebuilding the econony being most important to America at present.

“The economic challenges have also not helped in prioritizing the peace process. Having said that, I know very well that Obama and his administration are extremely committed to the two-state solution and moving the process forward. But they’ve had other things to deal with,” he said.

The King claimed the next few months are to be as important to the peace process as any other time in recent memory. “It is Jordan’s job is to keep common sense and keep hope alive until America can bring its full weight on the Israelis and the Palestinians to get their act together and move the process forward,” he decalred.

He went on to state events over the last two years have made him “extremely skeptical and concerned” about Israeli policy. He also claimed that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “does not mean that this evil will evaporate, but definitely, it will take a big chunk out of the challenges that we have in this region.”

It should be noted that Kind Abdullah is roundly considered to be an incompetent and self-righteous leader by most Jordanians. If a stranger asks them for their thoughts on Abdullah, they will sing his praises however, as there is a zero tolerance policy when it comes to criticizing the King. Jordanian citizens have been jailed, tortured or worse for offering negative commentary on Abdullah’s leadership.

This fear generates the false apotheosis of Abdullah. Pictures and billboards of the King are every in Amman. Shops are named after him and photos of the King adorn the walls of even the smallest businesses. To the outsider, once again it appears that the people love their King, but this is also done out of fear. Further still, all those businesses who name their shops after the King and display his pictures and photos are given a tax break for doing so.

Lastly, throughout the Middle East, King Abdullah’s family are seen as traitors. Jordan is the only Arab country to sign a “peace deal” with Israel – a deal that amounted to little more than Kind Abdullah receiving payments from the Israeli government, so Jordan could be pointed to by the Israelis as an example of a “cooperative” Arab country. This deal was signed by his father King Hussein , while his grandfather, King Abdullah I, was killed by Palestinians for working with Israel to secure Palestine as their own. While Egypt and  Saudi Arabia are considered the other two betrayers by Palestine, for Palestinians, there is no greater traitor than the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.      

The King recently stated that Jordan was better off financially before the peace treaty with Israel, which some have called tough language. In reality, it’s just politcal pandering to the recently tough stance on Israel by Obama’s administration.  Abdullah sat in silence, as did much of the Arab World, during the Bush presidency and most notably didn’t make so much as a sound during the slaughter in Gaza. What made his refusal to engage at that time so remarkable is that two thirds of the Jordanian population is made up of displaced Palestinians. The current falling out between the US and Israel has led to Abdullah jumping on board and this is why so many of his people  despise him – he will go whichever way the wind is blowing, just as long as it is good for him; whether it is good or bad for his people comes second.

Abdullah just returned from a trip to Washington where, for all intents and purposes, he left a good impression of himself.  Despite what anyone might think of him, he is a a strategic thinker,  extremely artculate, and well spoken. He said all the right things in terms of Israel, Iran and Palestine and to his credit, projects an affiable and moderate image of the Arab World to the West. 

With that said,  some of Abdullah’s attrubites make him a typical Arab leader, ruling with an iron fist and not tolerating criticism of any kind from his people. He just does it as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a rather Western concept as most Arab World leaders don’t even bother pretending they’re being fair with their people.  It seems his expensive American education, a Political Science Degree in International Affairs from Georgetown University in none other than Washington DC,  has truly paid off.  Make no mistake, Abdullah is as smart as they come and in the end, he is showing himself to be more an accomplished politician than a King. Think of him what you will, the 48 year-old Monarch is a new breed of Arab World leader and one that will undoubtedly survive for decades to come.


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Photo of the Week: An Undying Pride in Jordan



Photograph taken by David Anthony Hohol

Photograph taken by David Anthony Hohol

Pride can often be both seen and felt, as in the photo above. Taken in Jordan’s capital of Amman, in the Eastern side of the city, the merchant sits in one of the many outdoor fruit and vegetable markets scattered throughout the impoverished end of town. While the West End is home to Starbucks, Movie Cinemas, and Shopping Malls, the East, almost entirely made up of uprooted Palestinian refugees, represents the true soul of Amman.

His chin pointed outward and an ever so slight smile stretched across his round face, the man in the photo reveals the undying dignity and pride in the face of hardship that has come to symbolize the steadfast spirit of the Arab World.


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Top Ten Places to See in The World


jordan-2008-300The world is filled with feats of engineering, artistic expression, natural wonder and collectivities of soul.  There are so many places to see and so little time to do it, but the destinations below will enrich the lives of all those who take the time and make the effort to experience them. Some like the Vatican or the Louvre are easily accessible, while venturing into Uganda’s Impenetrable Bwindi  Rain forest takes much more motivation. There are other places in this big world that will do the same, but for us here at RELATIVITY OnLine, these were the top ten places to see we came up with. Take a look through the list and let us know if you think we missed any sites you think are worth mentioning.


  • 1. The Rock Hewn Churches – Ethiopia
  • 2. Petra – Jordan
  • 3. The Louvre Museum – France
  • 4. The Pyramids of Giza – Egypt
  • 5. Kamakura – Japan
  • 6. Machu Picchi – Peru
  • 7. The Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi – Uganda
  • 8. New York City – The United States
  • 9. The Serengeti – Tanzania
  • 10. Easter Island – Chile

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Strangers in Our Own Land


9-lama-jFrom Lama J…

Like many Palestinians, his options were limited. He was forced to leave and he had no place to go. His house was taken from him, his life held hostage, as were his dreams. Nothing was left but his faith and the strong belief that he would one day return to Jineen. That was my grandfather, Adam Jassim. God bless his soul.

  He didn’t have any choice, but to head towards the Jordanian border. At that time, King Hussein was offering the Jordanian passport to certain families in Palestine. Those from Jineen, Nablus or Jerusalem qualified and would be a granted a Jordanian passport, along with the national security number. If you were from Gaza, however, then you would be stuck with your Palestinian ID forever.

            My father was born in 1939, in Al Nasrah. Always filled with enthusiasm, I have been told he argued many times with my grandfather about topic of nationality. My dad always wanted to be Palestinian and nothing but Palestinian. He was ready to carry the ID forever, and didn’t care about not having a passport. He never wanted to be called Jordanian. “I’m from Jineen! There’s no Jineen in Jordan … I belong to my own country, my own soil.” These were his words.

   He was young and didn’t understand all the problems that come not having a passport. Despite my father’s protests, the J.’s family left Jineen and crossed the borders into Amman. The beginning was quite hard. A war in Palestine, an impoverished population, issues of dignity and identity, and so much more – it was a tremendous burden for all Palestinians. My father went on to graduate from Ber-Zeit University with a Law degree. A smart and passionate man, he worked for short time in Amman, but was never convinced with what Jordan offered him. He took his first opportunity to leave Amman and headed to a small tiny desert nation called Qatar. An empty patch of desert no one could even find on a map, Qatar was a brand new country no one had ever heard of. He couldn’t believe that destiny had taken him from the beautiful breezes and green olive trees of Jineen, to an isolated desert in the middle of nowhere. But he did his best, with what God gave him.

            He started his career working for one of the big sheikhs and earned what was considered a good living at the time. The Qataris used to call him the J. sheikh, as not many expats were making the amount of money he made. After establishing himself in Doha, he visited Amman in the summer and decided to find a wife. It was hard to do so at that time, due to the war and old-fashioned Arabic traditions. Further still, during these times it was difficult for men and women to love before marriage. In fact, in some ways, it simply wasn’t acceptable. My grandmother was excited to find him a wife when my father told her he was wanted to marry a girl from his beloved Jineen. My father was not too demanding, as he was ready to share his life with a decent woman. His only condition was that she be willing to live in Qatar.

         After only a short while, my grandmother found a girl she wanted my dad to meet. He was getting ready to visit his potential new bride and her family, when a beautiful young woman came to the room to tell him the young lady in question was ready to meet him. My father couldn’t take his eyes off this beautiful young woman and suddenly, he wasn’t sure if he even wanted to meet the girl my grandmother found for him.      

He asked my grandmother who this exotic young woman was. When she asked him why he wanted to know, he simply answered. “That is the women I want to marry, if she’ll have me.”       

I can’t even to begin to imagine how embarrassed my grandmother was. Here   she was, arranging a meeting with another family in hopes of arranging a marriage, and her son decides he wants to marry somebody else! But this is typical of my father, as he always says what he wants. In the end, his mother has no choice but to discover if this young lady’s family was interested in meeting. After a couple of visits with my mother’s family, both he and this beautiful young girl from Nablus got along quite well. The families did as well, and so, not long after, they were married and moved to Doha. God rewarded them with three daughters and a son, including yours truly, the baby of the family.

 My father’s original plan was to stay in Doha for only two or three of years, before moving back to Palestine. Unfortunately, there were many politically problems that prevented most Palestinians from going back to their land. The so-called options were to return to Palestine and give up your Jordanian passport, or stay where you were. My father would have given up his career in a minute to return to his beloved homeland, but now, with a wife and four children, he knew he couldn’t. He decided to stay in Qatar as long as he could. We ended up living in Doha for twenty-eight years. And so, I, along with my two sisters and brother, grew up in tiny Qatar.

           During those twenty-eight years, I remember him trying many times to get the Qatari nationality. He thought it was his right; he lived in Qatar for even longer than he did in Palestine, his kids were born in Qatar, he helped establish the legal community of the country, my mother built a career that eventually saw her as Branch manager of the National Bank of Qatar – it was our home. I remember all of us telling mom, each and every time we flew to Amman for summer vacation, how much we wanted to go back home. The place we called home, however, never considered us as real citizens. As I grew older, I slowly came to understand the nationality game in my region, and how unfair it is to so many.

           I was young and special, as my mom used to say. She noticed my passion for language and thought I might make a good translator or maybe even English teacher someday. As a result, I was the only one among my sisters and brother to be sent to a British school and was treated like a little queen. My two sisters and brother were sent to a government schools. I was soon like a little parrot and could repeat any sentence from almost any language. She eventually decided to send me back to Jordan to study, because the education system in Amman is much better than Doha. My family was not ready to move at the time, but she sent me to live with my uncle and his wife. I didn’t want to go, but I was 15 years old and couldn’t say anything.

        Although we lived in Qatar, we had a beautiful house in Amman. No one ever knows what’s going to happen in the Middle East, and my parents built it for us in case of an emergency. My dad thought one day we’d have to leave Qatar and he was right. In 1991, a year or so after I left to live with my uncle and at the onset of the first Gulf War, the whole family moved to Jordan.

             This war was a nightmare for Palestinians and Jordanians who lived in the Gulf, especially in Kuwait. Saddam Hussein started shooting rockets into Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. King Hussein and Yasser Arafat were the only Arab leaders who supported Saddam’s actions. The reason? Iraq offered a free and non-stop supply of oil and gas to Jordan, along with millions in cash for Arafat. Palestinians and Jordanians living in the Gulf paid the price.  My uncle and his family were in Kuwait. He told us Kuwaitis used to knock on the people’s doors looking for Palestinians and Jordanians, so they could torture them. They smashed his cars and house windows; they beat him and afterwards, his entire family. He was a Palestinian Jordanian, so in their eyes this meant he supported Saddam. This, however, was not the case. My uncle loved Kuwait, even more than Palestine. Most everyone didn’t like what Iraq was doing. Iraq has no right to control another independent country like Kuwait. Further still, Syria has no right to control Lebanon and of course, Israel has no right to control Palestine. No one has any right to control any one we are born free; at least that’s the way it should be.

Many Jordanians and Palestinians left everything that had worked so hard for in Kuwait and ran to Jordanian borders. It seems like a nightmare when I picture it in my head – it was like judgment day. Since that time, the hatred between Jordan and Kuwait is still there.  After a football game between the Jordanian and Kuwaiti national teams that took a place in Amman, all hell broke loose. The Kuwaiti won the game and afterwards, Jordanians ran around beating the shit out of Kuwaitis throughout every corner of Amman. Jordanian football players were later beaten in Kuwait after the game there. Each side even sent barrages of text messages through to anonymous Jordanian and Kuwaiti TV channels, using language I can not even begin to repeat.

My father initially believed that Qatar would be fine and on the issue of the first Gulf War, it was. A couple of months later, however, a sudden political upheaval changed my family’s life forever. The son of Qatar’s ruler, who on several occsaions tried to take power, staged a coup while his father was out of the country. He took over the government and banished hi father. To this day, the son rules and the father has never returned. As a result of the takeover, my father lost his position. After twenty-eight years, he was forcibly kicked out of Qatar.  It did not matter that he was a pioneer in the legal community of the country. His long history and experience, his hard work and loyalty to a country no one ever heard of, were all flushed in the toilet.

Fifteen years passed since I last saw Doha. I’d been around the world, lived here and there, had married and established a career in banking. I eventually thought it would be nice to visit Qatar, to see our old house that I still remember so very well. I thought I could even visit my old school, see the places where I used to take my little bike for a ride, or visit the beach we went to every Friday with mom and dad for family BBQ day. The more I thought about it, the more I looked forward to going. I decided to apply for a visa and was shocked when I was rejected. I tried many times but was simply told no. Even though I was proud to say I was born there, the answer was, so what if you were born here!  I guess if I was born in Canada I would be treated like a human being with rights. If I were like my cousin Manar, who was born in the United States while her father was on a business trip with his wife, I guess I’d have a golden passport, too.

        On another occasion, just this past Eid, My beloved husband decided to surprise me with a vacation to Muscat. He thought a few days in a nice five-star resort would be a great way for us to relax from our busy lives. He also figured Oman would be an easy country for me to gain access. Most people plan their vacation according to where they would like to go, but in my case my husband always tries to plan for a vacation in a country that will accept my passport. And so, once again I readied a visa application, this time for the Omani consulate.  A few days later, much to my surprise, I was rejected. Their reason? My job title was not high enough. I’d never heard of this in my whole life. I have a good job, great credit, and no outstanding loans, but according to the Omanis, I don’t deserve to vacation in their country. What’s most unbelievable is that my husband, a Canadian, can go almost anywhere he wants in the Arab world, without even applying for a visa… and I can’t! There’s something wrong with that, isn’t there?

             I guess I can’t really be too angry, as my own country of Jordan is treating people from places like Iran, Sudan and Iraq the same way I’ve been treated by Qatar or Oman. In 1999, when relations between Jordan and Lebanon were bad, Jordanians applying for a Lebanese visa was like applying to go to Paris. On the other side, for Lebanese to come to Jordan was like getting the Canadian Landed Immigrant card. People simply could not cross. Jordan’s King Abdullah II eventually took the lead and opened the Jordanian side of the border. Policies can change in a heartbeat as well, so we Arabs have to keep our eyes on the news and watch for updates about whether Jordan will decide to keep relations with Egypt, or fight with Syria, or if Gulf countries like the UAE or Qatar are allowing us to enter and at what cost. The fact is family and friends can sometimes not see each other for awhile and all because of the passport game.

              I often wonder why all these complications are necessary. What kinds of countries make their own people’s lives so miserable? Is this the price of being an Arab? Wasn’t it God who said “I will never change what it’s inside your souls, if you don’t first don’t do it yourself.” What’s happened to our Arab brothers and sisters? Why does each country treat the other so poorly?

       Will we ever be united like the European Union or live side by side in cooperation like Canada and the United States? Will our borders ever simply be open to fellow Arabs someday? I hope so, but I have a hard time believing it will ever happen. And so, I’m not the only stranger here. We Arabs are all strangers to one another, strangers in our own land. I only wish it was different.


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Lama J.


bio-picBorn in the city of Doha and raised in the tiny desert nation of Qatar, Staff Writer Lama J. is one of millions of displaced Palestinians. A Jordanian national, she received her BA in English translation from Applied Science University in Amman, Jordan. Not long after graduating, she left the Middle East for Europe, taking a job in Germany and later, Switzerland. Over the years, she has worked and travelled through places as diverse as Libya, Syria, Holland, Canada, China and Thailand, and currently works as a financial analyst for one of the world’s largest investment banks. Without question, she best represents RELATIVITY OnLine’s benevolent spirit.   


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