Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tahrir Square (rhetoric of a revolution)

For the Eid Al Adha (Islamic religious festival) I travelled down to Cairo...here are my first impressions of the post-revolutionary city through street graffiti around Tahrir Square

Mubarak is the cow...

Cow) بقرة حاحا
English Translation

All the sobbing weepers wept
At the fate of the fighting cow
And that cow is milch; she exudes a gallon’s milk
But she is robbed; by the members of her own house
And the house has its owners and eleven doors
And underground tunnels and a sea of wolves
The ogres of the house stand by day
But on a known set date; the Romans did the deed
They pushed the locks; the guards fled
The outsiders came and sucked the milk
And the cow yells and screams “O My Children”
But the children of shame, were fast asleep
The cow was oppressed, by oppression, overwhelmed
She fell into the well; the bystanders asked
“Well, why did she fall?”
She fell from fear
“From where does this fear come?”
It comes from blindness
She fell because of hunger and because of idleness
That dark fighting cow
The crying tunes of the weeper wept
At the fate of the fighting cow

Arabic Original

ناح النواح و النواحة
على بقرة حاحا النطاحة
و البقرة حلوب .. تحلب قنطار
لكن مسلوب .. من أهل الدار
و الدار بصحاب .. و حدعشر باب (11 باب )
غير السراديب .. و بحور الديب
و غيلان الدار .. واقفين بنهار
و ف يوم معلوم ... عملوها الروم
زقوا الترباس ... هِربوا الحراس
دخلوا الخواجات .. شفطوا اللبنات
و البقرة تنادي .. و تقول يا ولادي
و ولاد الشوم ... رايحين ف النوم
البقرة انقهرت .. م القهر انصهرت
وقعت بالبير .. سألوا النواطير :
طب وقعت ليه ..؟
وقعت م الخوف
و الخوف يجي ليه .. ؟
من عدم الشوف

و قعت م الجوع و م الراحة
البقرة السمرا النطاحة
ناحت مواويل النواحة
على حاحة و على بقرة حاحا


Super recent additions...jailed human rights journalist

Toppled King!

Monday, October 24, 2011

BREAKING NEWS - Change of Government in Jordan

My apologies…this WOULD have been breaking news had my blog not taken the backseat this past week due to Arabic midterms! لحمد لله all done and off to Petra and Wadi Rum to stay in a traditional Bedoine camp...posts to come!

So here’s the deal…for the past couple months there have been protests downtown after Friday prayers. Despite scattered incidence of violence (including a burning car that forced a road closing and canceling of our weekend hiking plans :( ) The protestors have been demonstrating peacefully against government corruption, the high living costs in Amman compared to the wages that people make on average here, and these bogus redrawing of municipality lines. The main consensus was that the government was uncoordinated, incoherent with its policies, couldn’t handle any issue that would come up. As I mentioned in a previous entry, the people of Jordan LOVE their King and the royal family is looked at like beloved celebrities – the criticism of the governing structure is thus all directed at the Parliament.

On October 24th, appeasing the people’s demands, King Abdullah asked the Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit to resign. The task of forming a new Cabinet, to take a fresh approach to the issues facing a Middle Eastern country amidst increased cries for democracy and government accountability, is now entrusted to Awn Khasawneh.

This is an interesting choice, for Khasawneh has no past political career, in fact his most recent work was for the International Criminal Court. The lack of “experience” may actually bode well for him, because he isn’t touched by the corruption rampant in the past government, and his law background gives people hope that he will abide by the rule of law and institute just reforms in the Jordanian political system.

In the King’s Letter designating Khasawneh as the new premier (which was published in the Jordan Times) he stated that: “The primary mission of this government is to implement a political reform process with clear milestones, not just arbitrary timetables. The government must also draft legislation and laws and conduct municipal elections. This demands coordination between the legislative and executive branches, and neither must encroach upon the other. It also necessitates drawing a roadmap to achieve political reform based on clear foundations and criteria. Citizens must be kept abreast of achievements at each stage, as they materialise, for the challenges facing Jordan at this time are both great and complex.”

When I first saw the headlines in the Jordan Times that the government had been dissolved – I expected riots in the streets, or at least some good, old-fashioned stone throwing! However, making it to school in one piece, I learned from my professors that this is a fairly routine transition, actually the second time it’s happened this year! Accordingly, the transition is going fairly smoothly and the Jordanians that I’ve talked to, for the most part, have a positive outlook and believe that progress and reform is soon to come with this legitimate new premier taking the reigns in the government.

I think that the most significant aspect of this government change is that, through organized, peaceful, routine demonstrations, Jordanians were able to voice their concerns and their King seemed to have heard them and responded with a change of policy. Politics driven by the will of the people? Sounds a lot like democracy to me J

Sunday, October 16, 2011

International Diplomatic Bazaar

Yesterday we went to a HUGE bazaar featuring arts, crafts, food, jewelry and pretty much anything else you could imagine from around the world. Each embassy in Jordan had their own table and everywhere from Poland to Azerbaijan was represented! Another example of the rich culture in Amman and the international, modern character of the city.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Makluba and the 'Culture of Cool'

Today I had lunch at my friend’s host family’s beautiful house. We had Maklouba – a traditional Jordanian rice and chicken dish served on a HUGE platter that everyone helps themselves from. It was fun to spend time with them and see a different side of Jordanian society (I’ve been meeting mostly young students). They have a live-in maid from the Philippines and live in a nice, gated neighborhood. Because the Ministry of Public Affairs is across the street from them – there is an M16 - toting guard across the street who Lily (my friend from the program) says gives her comfort walking home at night.

During the course of our meal, Fatima (a stylish, impeccably made-up Jordanian woman) began telling me about her 11-year-old daughter’s obsession with “America.” By this she meant that the kid is glued to Disney channel, idolizes Justin Bieber, and faithfully hangs on Oprahs every word.

 “She wants to be President of America, this one.” Fatima jokes.

Her daughter is only in middle school, but is already thinking of going to America to study and is totally keyed-in to her perception of American life. How many American kids her age could name a single Middle Eastern t.v show?

What does it mean to have one society that is so unilaterally focused on the other – taking cues on how to “be cool?”

I would argue that what we are seeing with the Occupy Wall Street protests sweeping across America and abroad, in the wake of the inspirational ‘Arab Spring,’ is actually a sign of the opposite. For seemingly the first time, it’s “cool to be Arab.” They’re not just greedy oil sheiks and one-dimensional terrorists and any other variation of diminishing camel-riding stereotype – they used massive nonviolent movements and social media to bring down powerful dictators.

They are now the ones worthy of emulation.

These shifting political trends must spill over into the cultural realm – still to be seen how they will manifest themselves especially given that most Westerners are starting from a place of ignorance and misperceptions about the Arab World. However, sitting at the dining room table today, I wondered if in ten years time Leen (Fatima’s daughter) will be listening to Jordanian music (as opposed to the Michael Jackson that she plays now!) on her ipod with her new American friends – who controls the “culture of cool?” 

Weekend Adventures hiking/Canyoning in Wadi Mujib

Wadi Mujib is a canyon that enters the dead sea BELOW sea level, making it the lowest-altitude nature reserve in the world...also one of the best places to walk though a river, propel down waterfalls :) 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Using the weapons of Non-Violence to break stereotypes

The Middle East?

My favorite class thus far is called the Arab Spring - a political science class in which we look at the various political and social roots of the events that that took place in the Middle East this past year. We each have to choose a research project topic for the semester. While I have not fully formed my paper title, I would like to focus on the application of strategic nonviolent action in the recent uprisings. The vast majority of the theorists that we read the past week either overtly stated r more subtly implied that revolutionary violence is a necessary prerequisite to breaking with repressive past and creating a peaceful future. In Revolutions and War Stephen Walt said that “mass revolutions are almost always bloody and destructive” – making the nonviolent component of the recent civil insurrections especially interesting to me because they seem to dispel this notion.

I also find this a good way to challenge stereotypes of Arabs/Muslims. I remember reading in James Zogby’s Arab Voices: What TheyAre Saying to Us, and Why it Matters that one of the big “supermyths” that Americans hold about Arabs is that they’re passive followers or autocratic leaders on one extreme or crazed terrorists. This, plus the image of the Arab as an irrational “bad guy” perpetrated by popular culture and the media (I watched the documentary Reel Bad Arabs which explores how Hollywood has consistently villafied Arabs) stands to be refuted by these strategic, nonviolent movements. On a side note, I wonder if a shifting American cultural perception of Arabs as more than just the “one-dimensional terrorist” but rather a young revolutionary capable of using modern technology (Facebook) to organize a non-violent movement will shape in any way U.S policy towards these nascent Middle Eastern states?

Bagpipes in Jordan ?

Roman ruins, the remnants of an ancient civilization in the heart of the Middle East….bagpipe music? Apparently the British introduced the instrument to the Jordanian soldiers who fought with them during the second world war….our tour guide said that despite our shock at seeing an Arab man in a kilt – it’s not uncommon for festivals and cultural events here…glad to see there are some more lighthearted lasting effects of western imperialism..