A Message from Aqaba

Aqaba was the final destination of our five-day foray South– a resort town carefully positioned at the northernmost point of the aptly named Gulf of Aqaba, a splinter of ocean that juts off from the Red Sea at the tip of the Sinai peninsula, in doing so creating a natural divide between the nations of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. This is the edge of Jordan, as far South as you can venture while still remaining within the country’s borders, and as with all other places in this part of the world weighted by its own unique history– among other events, it was the site of one of the largest battles of the Arab Revolt, being a principle strategic city during King Hussein’s campaign against the Ottomans during the First World War.

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Aqaba, with the flag of the Arab Revolt raised above

We came here for the same reason that many others come to Aqaba today: to relax and reenergize from our expeditions in the South, to sit on the beach of a resort and, if only for a day, bask a little in luxury and privilege. We felt that we had deserved it– three weeks of intensive arabic and four days of constant hiking and traveling through the South had stretched many of us to our mental (and to some, physical) limits, and we needed nothing more than a day to simply enjoy and let pass slowly away by the sea.

We found ourselves on a boat close to evening, watching the sun dip slowly towards the mountains on the Egyptian side of the Gulf, snorkeling above long-ruined ships, and enjoying barbecued chicken and vegetables when we heard about Orlando. The day grew darker from there– though the sunset was still beautiful, the reefs still spectacular, there was a shadow over the entire event, a constant reminder in the back of your mind that something horrible had happened back home, even if at the time we didn’t know the magnitude of the event.

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Sunset over the Gulf of Aqaba

It wasn’t until much later in the night, upon returning to our hotel and launching ourselves onto the wifi-networks to hurriedly check BBC and CNN did we fully understand what had happened. 50 dead– the worst mass shooting in American history, and the worst terror attack since 9/11. We had seen Paris happen on the news, listened on the radio to the events in Brussels and Istanbul and Beirut, but this hit home. This was our home, our people, and just like Sandy Hook, or Virginia Tech, or 9/11, or any other mass atrocity that occurred on U.S soil, it struck a special, intimate place with all of us– all the more so because we were far away, unable to be in our home country and to help it through its healing and recovery.

 

There was something else, too: the man who committed this crime was a Muslim. He was also a homophobe, an instigator of domestic abuse, a narcissist obsessed with his own importance– but we knew what would stand out the most was his religion. In an age of Trump, of far-right nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment, we knew this would be the defining fact, the thing that would divide Americans at the very time that they need to be brought together in solidarity against hate, against extremism, against violence.

 

Which compels me to write this:

I can’t give an answer to stopping gun violence. It is an epidemic that is unique to my country, a country I love dearly, despite its faults and its failings. But I know the answer isn’t what we see on the news: I know it isn’t Trump, it isn’t facing hatred with hatred, it isn’t excluding others from the promise of inclusion and tolerance and liberty that my country represents.

I know what it is to be afraid. And I know that Orlando, and San Bernardino, and Paris and Brussels all are reasons to be afraid. But, if there is anything to learn from what I’ve tried so hard to share with all of you through this blog, it is that these people- Jordanians, Iraqis, Syrians, Arabs, Muslims– are not to be feared.

They are loving, welcoming, hospitable and kind. Like in the South, my home, religion is incredibly important to them, but in a way that is beautiful, wholesome, tolerant and compassionate, not the extremism we see from this so-called Islamic State. They are cab drivers, construction workers, teachers, farmers, politicians, bankers…they are fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles and sons and daughters.

The people of the Middle East are more like Americans than Trump is telling you. They believe in dignity, in kindness, in love and in helping one’s neighbor– all values that we, as Americans, also hold dear.  And, though they may not agree with our government, they hold no hatred for Americans– not a single Jordanian, or Palestinian, or Iraqi or Syrian I have met here has done anything but welcome us with open arms to their country upon hearing our own nationality.

Whenever you hear Trump, or any other politician speaking hatred and intolerance in our country, think of what I’ve said here, what I’ve spent so much time trying to show all of you through this blog. These are not your enemies, and they do not see you as enemies themselves. These are good people, people who are no threat despite what some may do in some perverted shadow of their religion. If anything, they deserve to be welcomed into our own country with the same openness and compassion that they extend to us in theirs.

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I am frustrated, my friends and family. I am frustrated because, for all people like me who come to the Middle East, to try to understand those who live here and to accept them for who they are, there are other voices- louder voices, more powerful voices- who preach ideas that only serve to divide us, and in doing so weaken us, not just as Americans but as an International Community of human beings.

Yet I hope that some of what I have said here has gotten through. That some of my thoughts shared with you through these travels can shed a little bit of light on this part of the world that is so vastly misunderstood, and in doing so perhaps lessen- if only in a small way- the impact that those very divisive voices have on my country.

This is how I end my time in Jordan. Thankful, for the experiences and opportunities I have been given. Frustrated, for how little it seems my own words can change a national phenomenon of hate and intolerance. And Hopeful, hopeful that this will not be the future of my country, that we, as Americans, will prove to be more open, that we will be more understanding, that we will be more tolerant.

That we will show the world that we can be better than we are now.

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South of Amman, Part 2: Petra and Wadi Rum

If Dana stood at the edge of the Arabian desert, than Petra and Wadi Rum lie firmly within the sahara‘s grasp. Here, there is no green, and no blue aside from the ceaselessly cloudless sky above– just endless shades of brown and red, a landscape of mud and stone and sand.

From Dana we traveled further south, ever closer to our final destination found at the bottom most tip of Jordan- Aqaba, along the Red Sea. This is the “Holy Triangle” of Jordan, where visitors from around the world flock to to see the natural and manmade wonders of Wadi Rum and Petra, or to relax in luxury among the several Red Sea resorts of Aqaba. Yet tourism isn’t what it once was– regional conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq, as well as terrorist attacks in Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon have crippled a once vibrant tourism industry, characterized by a “Grand Tour” of Cairo, Damascus, and Jerusalem, with Jordan being a mere stopover on a much longer journey. Today, the tourist sites that once drew thousands stand nearly empty, with locals who rely on the tourism trade often remarking how bad business has become.

Yet, even if they no longer draw the same crowds as they did five or ten years ago, Wadi Rum and Petra have not lost a single bit of their absolute beauty. In my travels, I’ve been lucky to see many a gorgeous vista, city and village– from the jagged edges of the Rockies in Colorado to the streets of Sarajevo to the seaside Italian towns of Cinque Terre– yet even they are rivaled by the spectacle of these two sites.

I’ll post mostly photos this time around– there is history to these places, and stories to be told, but these are things you have to discover for yourself, things that can’t be fully appreciated by merely reading the impressions and experiences of someone else.

 

Petra

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The valley entrance to Petra. Once this was a natural river that cut through a canyon, but the river was diverted by the Nabatians to form this natural, easily defendable entranceway 
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The Treasury, in fact a tomb to one of the most revered Kings of the Nabatians. This is the first site a person sees upon exiting the canyon
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The tombs of “lesser’ nobles– less regal than that of Kings, but moreso than the simple caves of the common Nabatian
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Climbing the 900 steps to the Alter of Sacrifice
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Atop the Alter of Sacrifice, looking onto the hidden valley that Petra lies within. The Monastery lies in the hills in the distance
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The Monastery, another tomb later converted into a church by the Byzantines. To reach it, one has to hike another spiraling mountain staircase even steeper and more rigorous than the 900 steps to the Alter of Sacrifice

 

Wadi Rum- the “Valley of the Moon”

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Atop one of the many cliff faces that rise above the desert
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Camels wandering through the desert beneath us
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Desert visas at sunset
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Another view
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Camel riding the following morning

One more post to come, and then back to the States for a time– to rest, recuperate, and prepare for the next journey abroad.

South of Amman, Part 1: Dana

With the intensive language portion of the dialogue now over (65+ collective hours of arabic later…), the opportunity finally presented itself to venture further afield from the traffic and bustle of Amman. Previously, we had limited our excursions to day-length trips outside of the capital, which kept us restricted to the North of the country– places like Umm Qais, Jerash, or the Northern Badia. Yet there’s an entire other side of the country that lies to the South, where the cities of more fertile North taper off and the great Arabian desert begins.

Dana is the perfect transition between these two extremes. Known otherwise as Wadi Dana, or the Dana Valley, Dana is a vast scar of a canyon that carves a path from a collection of 1,300 meter mountains to the desert below at nearly -300 meters. As such, Dana is unique in that it possesses nearly half a dozen different types of bioms and climates in little more than a 20-kilometer start-to-finish stretch (although the actual Nature Preserve itself extends outside the valley proper for many hundred more square kilometers).

And if it isn’t beautiful.

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There’s a town that stands on the edge of this valley that gives the Wadi its name: Dana. A collection of 15-16th century homes that remain from and old Ottoman village, the village of Dana lay in ruins for centuries, until the creation of the Biosphere Reserve began to draw attention visitors to the location. Rather than make Dana another walled-off historical ruin, Jordanians began to instead move back into the town, opening a few tiny restaurants and little hotels to catch the scattering of visitors drifting in from Petra or other more well-known tourists sites.

The village of Dana it itself strange: the streets are quiet, deserted, with only the owners of the three hotels, two restaurants, and a single corner store to be found amongst the streets. Walk off the main street, and the rest of the city still remains in crumbling ruins, while at night stray goats or even a wild horse will walk through the empty alleys. It gives the feeling that nature hasn’t yet renounced its decades-long claim over this place, or at the least is slow in realizing that humans have moved back in. It’s eerie, but also peaceful, and a world away from the human crowds of Amman.

It was in Dana village that we met Abu Yahia, our guide through hiking the valley itself, and one of the most interesting and inspiring people we’ve yet met. 65, with a white beard, heavy Arabic accent, and an eccentric way of speaking, Abu Yahia is what remains of the original inhabitants of Dana: a wandering Bedouin people who lived off the land and what animals they could herd amongst these high valley walls. A lifetime of living off the land has kept his body strong and his mind sharp, and even amongst a crowd dominated by athletic ROTC students he bounds between rocks and down trails with an agility and sure-footedness that none of us could ever match.

To be with Abu Yahia is to see a glimpse of a Jordan now long gone: a time when to be Bedouin was a way of life, rather than a matter of heritage. When people still lived side-by-side with the land, rather than massing together in cities. Walk beside him, and he may stop to point out a cave that he and his family once lived in during the winters, or bend down to show a type of plant that used to boiled into a tea, or crushed into a medicine, or cooked as a food.

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A cave once used to pass winter in

And then there was this: spying a single Juniper tree on a hillside, our guide stopped, and pointing to a vine growing intertwined with the Juniper’s branches said one of the most profound statements I’ve every heard. I can’t recreate it perfectly, but I will try my best below:

“See this vine? It and this tree live together, not hurting each other, not trying to kill each other. And that’s how we have to be.

‘That’s the lesson I want to give to you. I’m old, 65 years old, and I only have 5 or 10 years left. But you can learn these lessons and take them to do whatever it is you do– engineers or ministers or anything– because we need people like you to understand.

‘Peace. That’s what we need to learn, and what nature can teach us. When we live beside nature, we understand this, but when we are apart from it, we forget. Peace between man and nature, peace between man and man– that’s what we need, and what we need to learn. We can’t keep destroying nature, and we can’t keep killing ourselves.”

Sometimes it’s just that simple, and to have it told by a man who has lived his entire life in this valley, who spent years shepherding sheep and many other years showing groups of visitors like us the hidden wonders of this beautiful space, drives home the simplicity of it all. We can’t keep killing ourselves. We can’t keep killing our natural world. What we need to strive for– individually, as a person, and collectively, as humans– is peace.

In a classroom, that very drive towards peace is bogged down in politics and intricacies and terminology. In much of the real world, peace is retarded by long-set hatreds and grudges, or simple intolerances and ignorances. But here, in the Dana Valley, the concept seems a little more simple, and because of that, a little more attainable.

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On Women in the Middle East

Another hot-topic issue that’s been in the news recently is the perception and treatment of women in the Middle East. From controversies surrounding the use of the headscarf or niqab to the prevalent idea that Islam, or Arab culture, represses and degrades women, Arab women are, like it or not, now of the front lines of a decades-long discussion of the place, rights, and inequality of women in our world.

In Jordan, most of our interaction have been in fact with Arab women rather than men. From our teachers at Qasid to our Jordanian friend, Ayya, who accompanies us on every excursion and to every lecture, women in this country have not only been our friends but, for me at least, a primary lens to view Jordan and the greater MENA region and Arab World.

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My language class and our two Arabic teachers (left)

Of all the conversations we’ve had with Jordanian women, one in particular stands out: a lecture given by Professor Al-Saud of the Islamic University of Jordan, a former Dean, parliament member, and current candidate for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Al-Saud began her speech by claiming that the perceptions of women from the Middle East an West is often seen as different, but stressed that they both spheres of the world share many commonalities: that all men and women are derived from the biblical Adam and Eve, and that in this way all men and women’s lives are inherently equal, with no one gender’s life being worth more than the other’s.

That being said, Al-Saud made the case that, due to her religion, certain religious restrictions must be followed to pursue a moral life: among them, the restriction of shaking hands with the opposite gender, and the necessity of wearing a Hijab that covers the head (Al-Saud also claimed that the more concealing Niqab, which covers most of the face, is not a necessity according to Islam and is rather a cultural phenomenon passed off as religious, a claim that would probably be disputed as one travels further South to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf). But the former parliament member also stated that these restrictions did not in and of themselves create inequality, and that Islam says nothing of putting a women’s role as secondary to that of a man. Namely, she criticized the so-called Islamic State (here known as “Daesh”) as “abducting” the sayings Islam has about women and perverting them to their own purposes outside that of Islam.

On the contrary, Al-Saud claimed that the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which among other things claimed that all humans are born “free and equal in dignity and rights”, that “all are equal before the law” and that men and women are entitled to “equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and dissolution”, itself mirrored many of the ideas expressed in Islam about women, which were put down in written form nearly 1,000 years earlier.

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Two Northeastern students in the traditional Abbayya dress (right), alongside two members of the Bedouin tribes (center-left) and another, male student dressed in traditional clothes (far left)

Mind you, this is merely a perspective, and one in which I don’t agree with all points. For example, most women in the Arab World see homosexuality as perverting the fundamental values of family, and as such don’t promote LGBT rights, a view that I don’t personally share. But one thing stuck out of me from what Al-Saud had to say: “We’re all ladies, and we here in Jordan don’t tell women in the West how to live their lives. So why are they so insistent on telling us how to live ours?”

To be clear, Al-Saud considers herself a feminist, but sees the problems related to women in Jordan to be economical and socially exclusionary, rather than because of religion. For example, while nearly 75% of students in Jordanian schools are women, only 20% are in the workforce, and of those half are in education. This, Al-Saud said, prevents women from having the fully equal role in society that they deserve and are supposed to have under the teachings of their religion, and is the primary struggle for Jordanian women today.

Again, while I did not agree with all Al-Saud had to say, to listen to a prominent, feminist member actively involved in education and government and hear her perspectives was immensely valuable, and articulated many of the thoughts I’ve heard expressed by other women here in Jordan as well. Jordanian women see themselves as underrepresented and undervalued in government, education, and the workforce, and have problems with their own society that they are actively trying to fix– but they do so while upholding their own religious and cultural beliefs, which they believe empowers them, rather than oppressing or degrading them.

This is important to keep in mind. Too often with the human rights or feminist movements of the West, we believe our ideas- by nature of being American or European- are inherently superior. But people all over the world, especially women, are both adapting their own culture and beliefs with a real effort to achieve true equality beside men. That is a phenomenon not only unique to Jordan, but across the entire Arab world.

While we may sometimes disagree with some ideas and beliefs held here in the Arab World (which is fair, as everyone has their own opinions and ways of thinking), what is most important is that we support the women of this country and this part of the world in their own fight, rather than dictating what we see as the “best way”. Jordanian women are amazing, strong, intelligent and brave, and carry a unique sense of style that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world. Those are the things that should be focused on, despite cultural differences, and we should keep those very traits in the forefront of our minds whenever we view women in the Arab World and Middle East.

 

The Future is Between our Hands

Important post today, and one with a lot of thoughts that I’ve been sitting on for a while now. Last Friday, we traveled back towards al-Mufraq, to the edge of the Syrian border, where a week prior we visited members of the Bedouin tribes of the Badia (which I wrote about in that week’s post, “An Orchard on the Edge of Jordan”). I previously touched upon the realities of the Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan in that post, but to reiterate, Jordan hosts somewhere over a million Syrian refugees, to say nothing of refugees from Iraq or other fragile states in the MENA region. Altogether, the country’s population today is  around 30% refugees, a number that doubles if one still considers Palestinians in Jordan refugees.

Let me say this out the gate: the Syrian refugee crisis is the greatest moral failing of our time. Syria represents one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in recent memory, comparable to if not in some ways greater than the the conflicts in Rwanda, Bosnia, or Somalia in the 1990s. Yet rather than taking a collective stance as an international community, or as simply human beings, we have let petty politics and hate mongering divide us.

Europe and America– the very centers of the world where modern human rights and humanitarianism was born– have closed their doors to those who are suffering out of fear, ignorance, and intolerance. Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are perhaps even worse, using the conflict to further their own political gains at the cost of prolonging a brutal civil war that is now going into its sixth year and has displaced millions.

Perhaps thirty minutes from al-Mufraq, past the tiny town Za’atria where one of the largest refugee camps in the world now resides, a small farm not too far from the likes of the Bedouin orchard we visited previously rests but a few miles from the Syrian border. This farm in particular, though, is something unique: it’s a refuge, a place where 150 Syrian families can live, work, and make a salary as laborers all under the patronage of one Jordanian farmer who was willing to open his arms to the refugees flooding across the border.

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Looking onto the camp from above

As such, this farm presents a rare opportunity: to sit down beside, interact with, and talk to the very Syrian refugees we so often see on our newsfeeds, and have been taught to fear by the likes of Trump and other hate-mongering voices of the far right. Although we are too large of a group to enter Za’atarie, here we have the opportunity to hear these people’s stories, listen to their hopes for the future and try to understand how they keep on going after three, four, five years estranged from their homes.

A quick aside: yes, we did enter one afternoon on an air conditioned bus, and left later in the evening aboard the same bus. Yes, we could go home to showers and beds while these people would continue to sleep in tents. And yes, there is a fair amount of guilt to be had in doing so– I won’t say that I’m changing the world simply by talking to some families or playing soccer with some kids. I’m not. But I can relay to the rest of you what they had to say to us, and that itself is valuable.

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Inside the camp

Many of the men and women we met were from Aleppo, a city north of Damascus near the Turkish border that has endured some of the worst of the conflict’s fighting. Some trecked for 15 days to reach the Jordanian border, braving shelling, gunfire, and hunger while attempting to escape the turmoil of their country. For them, there is no home to go back to– their houses are destroyed, the families and friends they left behind often unaccounted for and feared the worst. That is the reality of being a refugee: sitting, waiting for a conflict to end, hoping to one day be able to go back without knowing if the place you grew up in, raised kids in, and called home still exists, or if your friends and neighbors are even still alive. It is being in a constant state of limbo, with the world continuing on even as your life seems to halt to a stop.

These people were taxi drivers. Construction workers. And now they are displaced, homeless, without hope in the future or of the future of their children, many of whom were born here in Jordan without ever knowing Syria. Those were the things we heard, and one more, very powerful question:

Where is America?

Over and over we heard this. Where is America, where are the United States. If the United States is so powerful, if it can lead armies in Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein in days, if it truly is a power of human rights and democracy, than why hasn’t it stopped what has happened in Syria? Why can’t the United States, in all of its power, let them go home?

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I could tell them about the politics of International Relations and Political Science that we so often hear in the classroom at Northeastern. I could tell them how, in the age of Trump and the current state of the Republican party, nearly half our country sees them not as taxi drivers and construction workers but as Muslims, as foreign, and thus dangerous. I could try to explain how, back home, good, honest people just like them have been misled into believing that, somehow, refugees like them are a threat.

But I can’t. Because no explanation can give them their homes back. No rumination of politics and international affairs could give them hope that their friends and families are still alive. No insistence that not all Americans are afraid, not all are intolerant, can bring back those who have already been lost.

 

Think on that.

 

A wall stands not far from the Za’atarie  refugee camp, painted by the hands of children displaced by the Syrian War. In it, in Arabic, a single phrase is written: “The Future is Between Our Hands”

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On it, children have scrawled notes, and drawn pictures of their memories from Syria: their houses, now probably destroyed, are most prominent. But one phrase and one picture in particular stand out, which I’ll post below.

If anything stands out from my posts here in Jordan, take this with you: we cannot let this continue. We cannot sit idly by when other human beings suffer, especially when we are so aware, especially when the realities of the crisis are constantly shoved in our face. We cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by hatred, or intolerance, no matter their religion, no matter if there are others out there who may claim the same faith but pervert it through death and chaos. We cannot let Srebrenica, or Rwanda, or Somalia or Darfur or Cambodia or the Holocaust or now Syria to ever happen again.

But unless something changes, there will be another Syria. Unless we, as an international community, say enough is enough, we will continue to see this happening again. And again. And again.

That, above all, is our collective moral failure.

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Drawings made by Syrian children of their cars and houses back home– and of tanks and soldiers
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“I have a home, and I will go back to it”

The “Other” Arab Spring: Remembering the Great Arab Revolt

Last Thursday was called as an impromptu national holiday, seemingly out of the blue, by the Jordanian Government. Although rumor has it that the holiday was called mostly for political reasons, it’s not without precedent. Nearly 100 years ago to the day, a little known chapter of the 1st World War known as the Great Arab Revolt would come to change the fate of the Middle East, with consequences that would serve as the root to many of the current crisis now facing the region.

A short summary, first: 100 years ago, the failing Ottoman Empire, which had once felled the Eastern Byzantine (Roman) Empire and conquered the great city of Constantinople (now Istanbul), sided with the German and Austrian Empires in a vain attempt to retain its former power and prestige, and to reclaim break-away states in the Balkans, including Serbia and Greece (and so we come to connections to the Balkans dialogue. Everything in history is intertwined…)

Arabs had long seen themselves as unjustly oppressed by the Turks in control of the Ottoman Empire, and in 1915 and 1916, King Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Mecca agreed to assist the British in overthrowing the Turks, whose command over the Arab World was centered in Damascus, in exchange of a State for the Arabs to call their own. King Hussein’s son, Faisal, and the more well-known T.E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia, anyone?) would go on to wage a campaign against the Turks that would stretch from the west coast of what is now Saudi Arabia through Jordan and into Syria, where they would later succeed in capturing Damascus itself. King Faisal was crowned King of the Arabs, and for a time, Arab ambitions in the Middle East seemed assured.

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The Flag of the Arab Revolt, still often flown beside the Flag of Jordan

Yet that’s not how things ended up. Behind the back of King Hussein, the British and French created the now-notorious (but then secret) Sykes-Picot Agreement, which gave France control over Damascus and Syria, as well as the then-Christian majority area that we now call Lebanon, while the British sphere of influence covered Iraq, Palestine, and modern Jordan. When the League of Nations convened following the 1st World War, it was this secret agreement that was honored, not the initial promise to King Hussein and Prince Faisal: Prince Faisal would later be pushed out of Syria by the French and would take up residence in Baghdad, serving as a proxy leader under the British (much like the Shah in Iran).

So how does this relate to Jordan? Well, more than you think: while Prince Faisal was being pushed out of Damascus by the French, his younger brother, Abdullah, would lead his own armies North to wage another war in Syria, but was convinced by none other than Winston Churchill to suspend his command and become king of Transjordan. Abdullah, ever the pragmatic, agreed, and today it is only his lineage that remains from a dynasty that once had the potential to control the Middle East. Abdullah’s father, Hussein, would himself be ousted from Mecca by the al-Saud family of Saudi Arabia, while Faisal’s dynasty would be overthrown in 1958, setting the seeds for military strongman Saddam Hussein’s own rise to power. (Again, everything is connected..)

Jordanians take great pride in their role in the Arab Revolt, which stands to them as a unified Arab effort to overthrow tyranny and oppression (in reality, Arabs were more divided between pro-Ottoman and pro-Hashemite, in part because not all wanted to be ruled by King Hussein and Prince Faisal). In this way, the Great Arab Revolt can be seen as an Arab Spring of its own, nearly a century before the events of 2011 lead to the Tunisian Revolution, Libyan Civil War and Syrian War.

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The Jordanian Flag, still retaining the color scheme of the Arab Revolt flag. The seven-pointed star references the Seven Mountains of Amman (Credit: Middle East Monitor)

It is maybe because the respect Jordanians have for their kings’ efforts against the Turks that is behind why Jordanians didn’t stage an uprising along the lines of Tunisia or Egypt. While protests did occur in Jordan, few called for the abolition of the monarchy: instead, they were for more basic rights, like employment, better inclusion in government, and higher wages. Even today, the King is still seen as legitimate authority to the people of Jordan, even if some prefer the policies of King Abdullah II’s father, King Hussein, over that of the current King.

We had the chance to see the consequences of this division of the Arab World, as conducted by the French and British, for our own at the site of Umm Qais, another ancient Greco-Roman ruin. Umm Qais itself overlooks the Golan Heights, a region that lies between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel/Palestine (which was itself also created by the British around the time of World War 1 as part of the Belford Declaration, but that’s a much more complicated and controversial issue best left to another time), and is now claimed by both Israel and Syria. At one point, this land could have belonged to a vast Arab State, or at the very least divided between an Israeli-Palestinian state and a single Arab State– but that’s not how history played out.

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Sunset over the Golan Heights. Jordan lies where the photo was taken, Israel/Palestine is to the West, Lebanon in the far Northern hills and the Syrian-Israeli contested  Golan Heights in the foreground. Lake Tiberius rests between all four.

While it’s impossible to know how the Middle East could have played out had King Faisal ruled a united Arab State, many scholars attribute the division of the Arab World under Sykes-Picot as the root of many of the region’s ongoing problems (others, of course, dispute this, but such is political science). Regardless, the Great Arab Revolt remains a vastly important event to many Arabs, especially Jordanians, and an event worth remembering, especially in the West where few of us were ever taught of its existence.

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Looking onto the Golan Heights