I cannot begin to adequately describe in any way that does it justice, the things, people, and experiences I have been privileged to witness this week. This is a fascinating country. Generally, westerners have misconceptions about the Middle East. Americans especially tend to think of places in this part of the world, as menacing places, but nothing is further from the truth when it comes to this country.
Jordan’s people are friendly and open. Many speak or understand English. The nation’s capital, Amman, is a city filled with neighborhoods, shopping districts, restaurants and people. It only takes five hours to drive from Jordan’s northern borders to its southern-most city.
Jordan has its share of incredibly difficult issues to overcome. It is the 4th poorest water resource country in the world. It has a population of 6 million, and Palestinian refugees add 2 million to that number, while the crisis in Syria has resulted in 500,000 new refugees and the prediction that as many as 500,000 more will follow by the end of the year. Unemployment is high. There are 13 Palestinian refugee camps here, some since 1949. There are three Syrian refugee camps in Jordan that house some of the 500,000 plus Syrian refugees.
Jordan, unlike its neighbors, has no natural resources to speak of. They import most of their energy needs and food. Their geographic boundaries place them in one of the toughest neighborhoods on earth. They are bordered on the east by Israel, Syria on the north, Egypt in the south, and Iraq and Saudi Arabia to the west.
It has weathered the Arab Spring. It is resolved to change in light of those protests all around the region. They have embraced some democratic reforms and while their democracy doesn’t look like ours, they are embarking upon their own grand experiment.
It’s not immune from terrorism. The 2005 Amman bombings enraged its citizenry who call that day, Jordan’s 9-11. The bombings were a series of coordinated bomb attacks on three hotels in Amman, Jordan, on 9 November 2005. The attacks killed 60 people and injured 115 others. The explosions—at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, and the Days Inn—started at around 20:50 at the Grand Hyatt. The three hotels are often frequented by foreign diplomats.
Despite their challenges, their difficult economy and the regional challenges they face, the Jordanians are some of the most gracious people in the world. They have given more than any one country should be expected to with respect to the helping with the Syrian crisis. The demands on infrastructure, a weak job market, and utilities, especially water, by the addition of 1,000,000 people in a short period of time – or nearly 20% of your country’s population – are staggering.
The people of Jordan seem patient for now. But continued stresses on everyday Jordanians by the country’s generosity cannot and should not be taken for granted. This situation is just not sustainable. The regional impacts of unrest in this stable and reliable ally cannot be understated.
The people here always smile. They go out of their way to say hello. Jordan’s strength is her people and their resolve. The next few years will be critical for this small nation. Jordan is the keystone in any process that impacts Syria, peace in the Middle East, or relationships with the Arab world. She is an ally in a region where the United States has few friends. We must continue to support and encourage our friends in Jordan for they might be the last best chance the world has in this part of the world.