I emerged from the desert, lips chapped, hair like straw and reeking of wood smoke. As we rode along on camelback, I was relieved to see the village of Wadi Rum appear across the valley. Only a few days ago the tiny village seemed to be the end of the earth, but after three days in the desert, it felt like a bustling metropolis.
We thanked our Bedouin hosts for their hospitality and headed down the Desert Highway looking forward to the first hot water in a week. I flicked on the TV as we settled into our hotel. The headline scrolling across BBC was a bit of a shock, 'Jordan Government Sacked.' But we're in Jordan... What do we do now?
Travelling off the beaten path has its moments. Last spring, I came to Jordan looking for something different. I certainly found it. Jordan is a seemingly unlikely tourist destination, wedged between Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel. I was well aware of the events happening nearby in Egypt. Violence had just erupted in Tahrir Square as I entered Jordan. While snorkeling in the Red Sea, I could see Israel and Egypt on the far shore. That same night, we watched Cairo burn on BBC while drinking pints in our Western hotel. We were surrounded by what would come to be known as the Arab Spring.
But as it turned out, things weren't so serious in Jordan. The 'sacking' of the government was actually the resignation of the premier at the bequest of His Majesty King Abdullah in response to mounting public pressure. And while reformist protesters chanted in the streets, the police handed out water.
Even in this progressive country, the people have grown restless. There is a yearning among the youth for something more. And when one third of the population is 15 years of age or younger, the voice of youth is an important policy consideration. During the last six months there have been weekly protests, some of which have led to clashes with police and violence.
Mohammad, a store clerk in east Amman isn't optimistic about his future in Jordan. Working at a tourist shop allows him to support his wife, but he worries about what type of future his children would have. In between puffs of his cigarette he responds, "Sure, some people prosper, but most just struggle to make a living."
Jordan has few natural resources. In one way this is a blessing, allowing Jordan to avoid undue influence from the West, unlike its oil rich neighbours. But it also means most of the country's employment is in the low-paying service sector, a growing proportion of which is linked to tourism. Per capita GDP is $4,700 a year compared to $47,000 a year in Canada. With constant water shortages, rising food prices and high unemployment, frustration is growing. And there is no denying that underlying tribal identities have led to cronyism and corruption. It's easy to see why the store clerk Mohammad is considering a new home to start his family. Jordan is not immune from the wave of unrest sweeping across the Middle East, but here it has taken a different form.
Jordanians want reform, not a revolution.
Jordan is not Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or Syria. Jordanians already enjoy many freedoms being fought for across the Middle East. For starters Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with an elected representative government. Women are entitled to a full education and the right to vote. The modern and progressive Queen is one of the most famous women in the world (with 1.5 million followers on Twitter!). She is the driving force behind improving education, community empowerment and sustainable development in Jordan and throughout the Arab world. This is in stark contrast to Jordan's southern neighbour, Saudi Arabia, where women are prohibited from the simple act of driving.
The government respects the rule of law and is taking concrete steps to foster a strong civil society. While over 90 per cent of Jordanians are Sunni Muslim, there is freedom of religion and language.
Jordan remains an oasis of peace in the Middle East. And with attractions like the lowest point on earth at the Dead Sea, UNSECO recognized Petra and the vast Wadi Rum desert, there are many reasons to visit. Even in these uncertain times Jordan is a safe and welcoming destination. With visitation down 14 per cent (that's 500,000 less people), right now might even be the best opportunity to have these world class experiences to yourself.
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