A week ago it was Independence Day in El Urdun, or Jordan in transliterated Arabic. This year 2016 is extra special as this month it will be exactly 100 years after the beginning of the so-called Arab Revolt. This uprising was immortalised in the cinematographic classic Lawrence of Arabia on T.E Lawrence, the British diplomat, military officer and spy, who fought with the Arabs in the Levant against the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 1910s, midway the First World War. This whole episode was romanticised in Lawrence’s autobiography and literary classic Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in which he described the desert of the Wadi Rum in the south of the country in most lyrical fashion.
What’s in a Revolt
After the First World War the Ottoman Empire imploded and instead of gaining independence the Levant and the Arabian peninsula got new masters in the form of the French and the Brits. These ‘victors’ carved up the region, as if it were a piece of juicy meat. As determined by the Sykes- Picot agreement all areas were officially called ‘protectorates’ not being entirely clear what these areas needed protection from. The French claimed Lebanon and Syria and the Brits the area that is currently known as Israel/ Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. The region known as Palestine was promised as a fiefdom to the zionist movement in 1917 by means of the Balfour declaration in exchange for US support in the war. But that is – obviously- not how we learn it in school. The British mandate of Trans- Jordan was ruled by a puppet leader in the form of Abdullah bin Hussein, who became Abullah I King of Jordan after the country gained ‘independence’ in 1946. He was the second son of the emir of Mecca and was considered a suitable puppet ruler due to his ties with T.E Lawrence. As the Arab revolt and its centenary are a big deal in this region I have the idea that Abdullah bin Hussein is considered a hero and the architect of the ‘great uprising’ against the Ottoman Empire. Every state and especially post-colonial states, need(s) their heroes. It’s just very often- let’s just say always- white-washed from history that these heroes have very strong links with their former colonisers. Like I just mentioned Jordan, like many other colonial states, gained fake-independence after the Second World War and the royal ruling class remained in power when Jordan was proclaimed an independent state in 1946.
Oasis of Refuge
Jordan has remained a remarkable oasis of calm in a volatile region forming a place of refuge for several hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Palestinians fled to the country when Israel was bombed into existence in 1948 and after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Around half of all Jordanian citizens are of Palestinian decent and many thousands still live in refugee camps without having any citizenship. After US and British hell-raising since the mid-noughties and the proxy war in Syria after the Arab spring, several thousands of Iraqis and Syrians have sought refuge in Jordan putting significant stress on the country, which it citizens seem to undergo with calm and dignity. It is unclear what Jordan’s ‘lucky charm’ is and why neighbouring countries seem to lack it.
To work or not to work
Official unemployment figures are high as almost 15% of the working population is out of work. I heard from a few people that this unemployment is self-inflicted as many jobs in hospitality and tourism are filled by foreigners, as (some) Jordanians consider themselves too good for certain roles. Just like in London Town back in the days (before the crash), when almost all non-managerial roles in hospitality were occupied by foreigners and if there was a Brit among them, he or she would most likely to be an actor. Some things seem the same all over the world.
A hotel I recently stayed at employed two young women from the Philippines. The owner told me it would be much easier and cheaper for him to employ Jordanians, as he needs to pay several thousands a year for working visas and residency permits and the like, but they seem hard, if not impossible to find. As I know what being stranded in the Land of job-hunting frustration feels like, I know it can be hard finding employment that you are happy with. It is a fine balance between making compromises and sticking to your guns. You didn’t do that degree course, internship or what-the fuck-ever to wait tables, clean toilets or any other jobs few locals seem willing to do. That’s when one moves to Malta or other places of economic and meteorological refuges I guess.