Amman’s real estate market booms with Iraqis who have fled their homeland for good

Story and photos by Samantha Laine

AMMAN, Jordan – Tariq Al-Nami, 70, and his fellow Iraqi friend drink tea with mint outside a restaurant in their northwest Amman neighborhood. Nami retired to Rabiah three years ago to find some desperately needed relief from the reality and volatility of his homeland in Iraq.

“The government can’t save themselves, so they can’t save us,” Nami said, gesturing with his hands in between sips. “Here in Jordan, I can walk outside on the street at night. Not like back there.”

A retired furniture vendor, Nami said that when the Coalition forces launched an attack in 2003, the offensive destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure, leaving the country in turmoil. There were frequent explosions. The government cut the electricity for 20 hours a day. Healthcare was suddenly so diminished that Nami, who has colon cancer, had no choice but to seek his life-sustaining treatment in Amman.

This rooftop penthouse in the Abdoun neighborhood of Amman has four bedrooms and five bathrooms for a total of 3,660 square feet. It is currently going for 450,000 Jordanian dinar, or about $635,000.

Nami bought a three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment that measured a little more than 1,600 square feet for 125,000 Jordanian dinar, or about $176,000. Like so many of his wealthy peers who come to Jordan from their war-torn homeland, he paid for his flat in cash.

“The [Iraqis] who come are upper class. They have higher education and most of them worked in the government back in Iraq,” he said.

Today, nine years after the war began, Iraqis are still moving in and buying houses. And the ones already here are sinking even more into the market – buying three and four apartments each. As a result, there’s a boom in Amman’s real estate and housing prices – which is good for landlords, but difficult for locals who now can’t afford to buy their own place.

“Maybe it’s good for the economy, but not good for the people,” said Zuhdi Mahmoud, 30, the managing director at Cityscape, a real estate company located in Amman. “I’m a real estate agent; I will welcome anyone to buy a house. But at the end of the day, I’m one of the people that can’t afford a house.”

From 2000 to 2010, revenue from the annual real estate market increased from $93 million to nearly $381 million – a spike of more than 400 percent. Many of those numbers reflect purchases made by Jordan’s estimated 450,000 Iraqis, who are the No. 1 foreign investors in this country of 6.5 million Jordanians.

In 2010, for example, Iraqis bought about 2,000 houses and apartments – a total investment of more than $286 million. That’s about the same number in one year that the previous three years together produced. (From 2007 through 2009, Iraqis purchased a total of 2,623 houses and apartments and spent about $260 million in Jordan.)

Wael Al-Jaabari, the CEO of Abdoun Real Estate, started his Amman company in 1990. Around that time, he said an American economist told him that if he stayed in Jordan real estate, “he would see money like he’s never seen before in his life.” He said the American was right.

“Since then, there’s been one boom right after the other,” Al-Jaabari said. The Central Bank also contributed to the real estate boom, when in 2006 it began offering 20- to 25-year mortgages instead of the previous five-year mortgages.

“The Iraqis got lucky,” Al-Jaabari said.

In addition, many experts agree that there’s a qualitative difference in the way the Iraqis come in to Jordan. In general, most of them fled flush with cash and as business investors with the intention of staying permanently. Others who come, such as the more recent influx of Syrians and Libyans, are there only because it’s safe; they fled under fire, and above all else, they want to get back home.

Tariq Al-Nami, 70, is one of the 450,000 Iraqis who has found refuge in Jordan. He plans to spend his retirement years in his 1,600-square-foot apartment in the Rabiah neighborhood of Amman.

Ali Mustafa Al-Assaf is an economist and business researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. The center analyzes real estate prices and identifies trends in the market. Assaf said the prices began their drastic increase in 2003, corresponding with the Iraqis’ long-term settlement in Amman.

“They have a lot of money . . . When they came to Jordan, they didn’t come as refugees, they came as investors,” Al-Assaf said. This sudden demand caused the prices to increase. “Take a square meter here in Amman that cost 250 JD (about $350). After the Iraqis came, it went to 500 JD (about $705),” he said.

The real estate market is currently stable, and prices remain high. Fewer Iraqis are moving to Jordan, and yet they are still Jordan’s highest non-domestic investor. As a point of reference: If in 2010, Iraq was responsible for about $286 million in property investments, Saudi Arabians, second in foreign investments, only bought about $43 million in Jordanian real estate.

Mahmoud, the managing director at Cityscape, said that roughly six out of 10 landlords he deals with are Iraqi, and each one owns three or four apartments.

“I know in 2003 and 2004 Amman was booming because of the Iraqis. Now, they still come and buy because they consider Amman their second country,” Mahmoud said. “If they have one property, they will buy another one.”

He also said that the Iraqis who came starting in 2003 now have children who need homes. Since they have settled in Amman, they – the financially supportive parents – continue to buy for their children.

“Say the family has a son and a daughter: The parents will buy properties for both of them. And I don’t think they buy anything in Iraq,” he said, noting that a whole new generation of Iraqi investors will eventually emerge and continue to invest in Amman.

“Traditionally, the parents buy for the kids,” he said. “That’s the Arab culture.”

Journey to Jordan: By the thousands, Syrians are risking their lives to find refuge across the border

Story by Matt Kauffman and Melissa Tabeek

Photos by Matt Kauffman // Video production by Melissa Tabeek

Editor’s note: Reporters Kauffman and Tabeek put together a multi-media presentation of video and photography to show another dimension of what displaced families from Syria have been through on their journey to Jordan. 

AMMAN, Jordan – Sameer Ahmed Darraj thanks God that his family of six made it safely to Jordan after suffering a siege in his hometown of Homs. He’s also grateful he found an apartment in Madaba, a small village southwest of Amman, to shelter his wife, two young children, mother and nephew.

But the trip to their second-floor flat is a struggle for this former Syrian chef-turned-rebel fighter. His legs were blown off by a rocket in April as he fought against President Bashar al-Assad’s army.

“We try to remain strong and try to have a very strong heart,” says Sameer Ahmed Derraj. Despite the horrors they’ve witnessed, the Darraj family finds solace in each other’s company.

Darraj wages a battle still, but now it’s from the flat’s only bed where he recovers from the loss of his legs, severed above the knees and marred with deep, rough, vertical scars.

“When we were crossing the border, we couldn’t speak, we couldn’t make any sounds. When our daughter cried, we had to cover her mouth,” said Sammer, Darraj’s 39-year-old wife, of their escape. “We gave the other [daughter] medicine to make her sleep.”

As Darraj talks about the four-day journey to Jordan carried by comrades across the border, about how his wife kept falling as she lugged their youngest child, about the death of his friend by that same rocket, he speaks for thousands like him. Together, he and they form a new sort of army: Syrians who have fled to fight for their safety and their lives.

Since March of last year, the number of Syrians seeking refuge in Jordan has increased at an exponential rate. What started as a trickle has turned into a flood; in the past two months the amount of “persons of concern” registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, has leapt from 13,933 to about 24,000 – an increase of about 70 percent. But the real number, including Derraj’s six who came illegally, is closer to 120,000, experts say.

While Jordan has long been a safe haven for refugees throughout the Arab world – some estimates say that there are already 2 million Palestinian, Iraqi and Libyan refugees in this country of 6.5 million Jordanians – the situation with Syrians is special. The influx from the north poses a dilemma. The Jordanian government has not officially recognized them as refugees, but rather “guests” of the country.

Unlike neighboring Turkey – which is harboring Syrian refugees in traditional tented camps – Syrians in Jordan are finding safety in cities and villages scattered throughout the kingdom, stretching already limited resources in a country that depends on outside aid. Safety does not always spell decency though; Syrian families sometimes numbering in the double digits are confined to a few small rooms inside overrun apartments.

“There are many cases of two to three families in one apartment and they could have seven or eight kids each. It’s pretty dismal,” says Aoife McDonnell, an assistant external relations officer at UNHCR.

Jawad Anani, a former government official and now private economic consultant, worries about what a continuing onslaught of Syrians will do to the strained resources of this struggling country.

“Jordan’s ability to put up with Syrians is limited. The private sector is paying for it now, but soon the bills will be mounting. We will feel it in the labor market with people looking for jobs. … Time will tell elsewhere where the pressure mounts and where the shoe pinches.”

Darraj, like so many who have come here, feels that pinch. Unable to work, he relies on the generosity of Jordanian strangers to pay his rent. These sympathizers also bring him food and supplies, such as clothes and blankets. He’s clearly grateful, but still, to him, Jordan is just a safe place to heal. He will not stay here.

His mother Salma sits quietly in the corner of the tiny room, emotionless, looking over at her disfigured son. In another corner, on their mother’s lap, are his two young daughters, both in pink tank tops and leggings. They too are staring at him, waiting.

“I am against the evil Bashar,” he says. “If they fix my fingers, then I will go back,” says Darraj.

His wife looks at his mother, a glance Darraj notices. To them, to everyone, he says again: “I want to fight again with the Free Army.”

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Activists in Jordan disappointed Arab Spring did not bring about a freer press

Story by Bri Hollis // Photo by Anthony Savvides

Osama Al-Rbeahat, a 26-year-old customs and border-control agent for the Jordanian government, is trying to get a message across. He has actively and fervently participated in political demonstrations for the past year, calling for constitutional reforms that place the majority of the power with the people.

But despite frequent Friday gatherings with fellow demonstrators, his message is being falsely portrayed, Rbeahat said. And he blames the media.

Rana Sabbagh, head of a journalism watchdog group based in Amman, addresses a group of journalism students about the importance of thorough investigative reporting in the Arab world, where a free press is not supported.

“They pass the negative image of the citizens or ignore the fact[s] and the truth,” he said through a translator. “The newspapers [give an] incorrect testimony that did not happen in the demonstration.” Or, they don’t acknowledge the protests at all, he said.

Rbeahat calls himself a victim of what others would describe as a state-run media. Characteristic of much of the Arab world, the press in Jordan is widely influenced and monitored by the government. In fact, the government owns all of the country’s official television stations and 70 percent of Jordan’s Al-Rai newspaper, which is a sister paper to the country’s most popular publication, The Jordan Times.

“The media is heavily state-run and most of the major publications people read are owned by the government,” said Fateh Mansour, program manager for the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists in Amman.

But after the Arab Spring – a series of political uprisings that began in December 2010 in Tunisia and spread through the Arab world –press restrictions in the Middle East were supposed to loosen because governments were promising to be more open to the people. At least that’s what people thought would happen.

“People were enraged about the things the government was hiding,” said Rami Kouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “[The government] said it would strive to make its actions more public, make itself more available.”

However, that’s not how it has played out. Jordan is merely giving an impression of having a freer press, media watchers say. Prominent publications – including The Jordan Times and JO Magazine, with a circulation of about 9,000 copies a month – over the past year have finally begun to publish in-depth pieces about controversial topics such as the influx of Syrians fleeing their country and heading to Jordan.

But fear of criticizing the parliament among other issues such as fear of being black-listed among public officials or even fined for criticizing Islam, still exists. That tends to drive away the media from reporting stories in their full form, as in Rbeahat’s case.

“They need to report the truth,” he said.

Jordan is currently No. 128 on an index that ranks how free a country’s press is. Finland leads the pack. The United States stands at 47, according to the 2011-2012 press freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, a US-based organization that strives to protect and defend journalists’ rights internationally.

The level of media freedom in Jordan’s neighboring countries – Syria is ranked No. 176, Iraq No. 152 and Saudi Arabia No. 158 – contributes to the image of Jordan having a freer press than it actually does.

“Jordan has a good amount of freedom compared to other Middle Eastern countries,” acknowledged Cory Eldridge, features editor and staff writer for JO Magazine in Amman, an innovative, English-language social and cultural publication. “It’s just not necessarily free in the Western sense.”

Because people are freely talking about the protests – as well as the governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen ousted because of them – some think they have more of a voice here. As a result, journalists are responding despite the risks.

Said Eldridge: “It’s like you’re in a dark room. You take small steps because you’re scared the red lines are going to hit you in the face. Now people are walking farther. Before everyone wanted to stay away. They’re taking a few more steps and realizing they’re not really hitting the red lines yet – there’s more willingness to touch them.”

Electronic media plays a part in this as well, and its use has expanded among both journalists and the general public since Arab Spring began. With a newfound fearlessness, citizens are posting their religious, political and social opinions. This has “raised the ceilings” for journalists, said Mansour, because journalists know that such critiques exist in cyberspace and therefore feel more comfortable formally commenting on similar issues.

But many obstacles still exist for journalists, and most in the industry don’t hold out hope that it’s going to get better.

“I doubt a free press according to Western standards will ever exist,” said Eldridge, who graduated from the University of Oregon in 2007 and can readily compare west to east standards. “Even if journalists do push,” he said, “if the government doesn’t want to loosen press restrictions, they won’t do it.”

For now, though, it looks as though they’re not pushing. According to a 2011 survey by the Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists, 87 percent of a pool of 500 media practitioners in Jordan said they still heavily self-censor their work.

“Too many journalists are too scared, too unprofessional,” affirmed Rana Sabbagh, a longtime journalist in Jordan and executive director of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit organization designed to promote fearless, credible reporting. “They’re afraid to criticize, to push. They don’t go the length journalists need to go to, to get the truth…to get the right story.”

For example, in early February, it was revealed that more than 51 journalists had succumbed to the bribes of former chief of the General Intelligence Department Mohammad Dahabi.  According to published reports, he allegedly paid them to refrain from publishing information regarding a money laundering operation he was accused of being involved in.

Another roadblock to a free press is access to pertinent data to support the pieces journalists want to write, some reporters said.

“One of the biggest obstacles for journalists today is getting information,” said Rana Al Husseini, a practicing journalist for 18 years who writes primarily for The Jordan Times. She is best known for tackling the very controversial issues of violence against women in Jordan and specifically, the brutal murders of women who are killed by their families in the name of honor. “It’s not very easy to find information. I think this causes a huge problem.”

Because the government isn’t budging, journalists are hampered from fulfilling their duty to the public of providing them with full, adequate reports. Fear to move forward stems not only from fear of violating press law, but physical and verbal threats as well. There is a general lack of punishment for such acts, which enables these apprehensions, experts say.

This is something Mansour and others at the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists are trying desperately to change.

“[A] major problem is that journalists’ press rights aren’t only being violated,” said Mansour, “but their human rights as well. Many are threatened, physically attacked, and the [courts] are doing little to stop them.”

Jazz musicians in Jordan struggle to compete for an audience

Story and photo by Eryn Carlson

AMMAN, Jordan – The Village Vanguard. Le Caveau de la Huchette. Preservation Hall. For jazz lovers, these legendary venues are intricately linked with their respective cities of New York, Paris and New Orleans. Omar Faqir wants to add to the list. For him, there’s another jazz hotspot: Amman.

Faqir, a stout man in his mid-30s with a receding hairline, is not elusive like Miles Davis, and doesn’t hold the mystique of Monk or Coltrane. He’s dressed in business casual and speaks with passion of his day job as a school principal. When he talks about his love of jazz, though, Faqir sheds his modesty. He calls himself the “Founder of Jazz in Jordan.”

“It all happened in my house,” said Faqir proudly. “I started in 1990 and formed the first jazz band [in Jordan], Faculty X. My mission was to bring jazz talents here, and I did it all myself.”

Omar Faqir calls himself the founder of jazz in Jordan. But still, he struggles to popularize a genre that doesn’t have many fans in this region.

Faqir’s pride may be warranted. When he sits down at the piano, his style is reminiscent of Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea’s on albums such as Head Hunters and Crystal Silence that were driven by electric instruments in the funk-fusion style. Both artists are major influences, Faqir said. He incorporates the funk-infused style of these masters with traditional Arabic music to create his own sound.

“It’s not oriental jazz – that’s like mixing oil with water – but I have oriental instruments playing jazz music. It’s fusion. I want to keep the identity of jazz but have my values in my music, too,” said Faqir, citing his family’s background in oriental music as key to his own. His father, Hasan Faqir, is a famous nai (which is an oriental flute) player, while his late grandfather, Omar Faqir, produced many well-known oriental compositions.

It is this blend of styles and fusion that Jordanian musicians are embracing. Fusion, as opposed to bebop (a term that, for many, has become synonymous with modern jazz), combines elements of different genres ranging from oriental music to Latin, funk and pop.

“[Jazz fusion] is what we can relate to because it’s closer to pop and rock, which most of us grew up listening to. That, and funk, soul and gospel. At the end of the day it’s about fusion and rhythm,” said Yacoub Abu Ghosh, a fedora-donning bass guitarist, composer and producer. “The traditional American sound – like Charlie Parker, Dizzy [Gillespie] – doesn’t exist here, or anywhere anymore, even in America. But the attitude is here.”

This attitude is one inherent in the Arab world’s musical roots. Ghosh explained that audiences in the Middle East are more interested in the immediate feelings a song can evoke than the complexities of its composition. Therefore, traditional Arabic music is based on rhythms that will immediately capture an audience’s attention.

“My favorites are Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans; Miles [Davis] of course, and I’m a huge fan of [Charles] Mingus and [John] Coltrane. But Arab musicians just can’t imitate that sound,” said Ghosh, who, though never formally-trained, has been playing music for 18 years, both as a solo artist and with his band Sign of Thyme. “A Jordanian musician can’t play bebop, just like an American can’t play traditional Arabic music. You can try, but even if you get it right, it’s not fully right. It’s like languages: you always have an accent.”

Instead of trying to mimic the greats, Ghosh and other musicians are trying to add special elements of Arabic music to jazz.

“There’s something about Arabic passion. The Arab people, we’re very emotional, we use heart before rationale. This shows in our music,” said musician Aziz Maraka, who describes his music as Razz – a combination of the energy of rock, the emotion of traditional Arabic music and the improvisation and freestyle attitude of jazz.

Or, as Ghosh said, the idea is to play music that could only be played here in the Middle East.

“That’s my quest,” said Ghosh. “I’ve recorded three albums and all of them are about speaking the language of the world, with an Ammani accent.”

Unfortunately, the Jordanian jazz men share one thing with their American counterparts: it’s hard to get a lot of people to listen. Though it is growing, the market for jazz and other non-mainstream musical genres in Jordan, and the greater Mideast region in general, is miniscule.

“We have a very small music community here, and it’s a very desperate music scene,” said Faqir, noting that music sales, interest in live performances and musical education are all severely lacking. “All the talented musicians leave [Amman] because no one’s interested.”

Instead, younger generations seem solely interested in mainstream, Western music, Faqir said. There is still life to traditional music as well, but that too is diminishing. Amman-based musicians have to fight not only to find audiences, but also to please them.

“It’s a constant struggle between trying to please the audience and doing what you want. Jordanian crowds are so tough – the toughest in the world, and so critical. When you see them happy, it’s like you solved the greatest problem in the world,” said Maraka, whose new album, Beginning of the End, comes out next month.

With this lack of popular interest, musicians are left moonlighting because they can’t afford to devote themselves to jazz full-time.

“There must be a budget for jazz. We have the audience and musicians, but it can’t take off without money,” said Faqir.

That doesn’t mean he’s giving up. Faqir is working with well-known jazz musicians like Stanley Jordan and John McLaughlin to bring a jazz festival to Amman. Additionally, he hopes to launch his own weekly jazz radio program.

“We need more outlets for musicians to put themselves out there,” said Maraka, referencing the limited stages for performances. Amman restaurants like Blue Fig and Canvas Café, Restaurant and Art Lounge are among the handful of venues in which jazz musicians are asked to perform.

“Our Tuesday jazz nights are pretty successful,” said Canvas’ events coordinator Alida Orfali. “But it’s hard to get people interested in these performers as anything more than background music while they’re eating.”

Musicians are still confident, though, and hope that, as the Middle East transitions politically and socially, it will do so culturally as well.

Ghosh summed it up: “The jazz scene is growing, but it’s still just baby steps, taking its time. But it’s going.”

Small squad with big dreams: Nine athletes will represent Jordan in Olympics this summer

Story and photo by Amanda Ostuni

It’s only 9 a.m. but it’s already 82 degrees as Nadin Dawani works out on a faded red track. Her appearance is unexceptional: white Adidas pants and matching sneakers and a grey long sleeve shirt with a Superman logo on the chest. It’s her mission that stands out.

Dawani, 24, is one of nine athletes heading to London this summer hoping to land Jordan its first ever Olympic medal.

Sweating under the blazing sun, she and her teammate Mohammad Abu Libdeh jog, do 50-meter sprints and a drill that the head of the taekwondo coaches, Chen Chiou Hwa, explains is meant to improve coordination.

“In taekwondo, coordination is very important,” said Hwa.

Nadin Dawani is one of nine athletes heading to the Olympics this summer in London. Her hope is to score a gold medal in taekwondo for her country. It would be Jordan’s first medal ever in the games.

Dawani, Libdeh and their other teammate Dana Haider are the three Jordanian taekwondo athletes who qualified to head to the Olympics this summer. Only two other athletes – boxer Ihab Darweesh and equestrian Ibrahim Bisharat – also qualified to represent the country.

Jordan does have four other athletes who will go to London as wild cards, a designation to countries who the International Olympic Committee believes need a special boost to become competitive. Those athletes can compete, but they’re not expected to earn a medal.

What’s more, taekwondo, a fighting-based sport in which the athletes try to knock out the competition over the course of three two-minute rounds with a minute’s rest in between, is a sport in which Jordan has always stood out. In 1988, two members of the team did actually win bronze medals. But because taekwondo was a demonstration sport at the time, the medals didn’t count.

This year is Jordan’s ninth Olympic appearance since joining the games in 1980 and the country’s hopes are pinned to these athletes competing in individual sports. The only Jordanian team sport to contend so far for a spot in the 2012 Olympics was the football (soccer) team, though the basketball team will participate in a qualifying tournament beginning with a game against Greece July 2, then a game against Puerto Rico July 3. If they make it to and win the semi-final round July 7, they will have earned a spot in the Olympics.

It doesn’t bother Dawani that her country is outnumbered.

“You feel proud you are representing a small country that still has great athletes,” she said.

Hamzeh Hassan, communications center employee at the Jordan Olympic Committee (JOC), is optimistic about this year’s team, both because it contains the first Olympic Jordanian boxer and because it is a record-breaking number of athletes competing for the country.

“We’re planning on [achieving a] gold because we have a chance,” he said, “but we’ll take any medal.”

The JOC became the umbrella for all things sports in Jordan in 2001, by order of a royal decree established by King Abdullah II. Prince Feisal Al Hussein currently serves as committee president and the organization has been working to expand Jordan’s athletic status and opportunities across the board.

“We’ve updated rules and laws for sports, started bringing in more money for sports, we’ve hosted world championships,” said Hassan, stressing that the JOC is working to enhance Jordanian sports.

Athletes such as Dawani provide hope. The accomplished star is one of the best Jordan has, as she was the first woman from Jordan to qualify for the Olympics for the games in Athens in 2004. Just a teenager then, she came within one win of receiving a bronze medal, finishing fifth.

She began her taekwondo career at a young age. “When I was 9, I saw my little brother when he went to a taekwondo club and I wanted to try it so I did and continued it,” Dawani said later that hot June day, driving home after her two-hour training session during which she and Libdeh did taekwondo basics training.

“Taekwondo…is all in the brain, hands and legs. It’s about 30 percent legs, 70 percent hands and all mind,” said Dawani of the sport, for which they train in a variety of ways such as running and weight lifting.

When Dawani joined the national team in 2001 she started to love the “art” and the competition and knew taekwondo had become more than a hobby.

“Of course you have to give things up, your social life should be limited,” said Dawani on life as a professional athlete. “[But] I love what I do.”

However, because the sport is not successful professionally and Jordan isn’t a country where professional athletes are financially set for life, she attained a business administration degree from the University of Jordan and then a job in the business development department of the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company. When she manages to find free time, she spends it with her parents, 21-year-old brother Khalil, her fiancé Rami Khano and her friends.

Forat Tarawneh is a 21-year-old judo player who is a fan of taekwondo and Jordan’s athletes in the sport. He is a member of the Facebook fan page for his favorite athlete, Dana Haider, and says, via an email interview, “she represents the example that young athletes want to be like her to reach the Olympics in accordance with the capabilities of a poor country as Jordan.”

Dawani hopes that by being successful, she and her fellow athletes will set an example in a country where women are not expected to play competitive sports.

“I wish we could change the mentality of people here and in the Arab world in general,” said Dawani. “In Jordan it’s been getting better. Day by day the idea of girls fighting is more accepted.”

For her, London will represent a final push for a medal. Regardless of the outcome, Dawani is calling it quits and getting married in October. That doesn’t mean she’s giving up the sport entirely. She said she might open up a club to help teach children her sport.

But for now, she is focused on bringing honor to her country and hopes her teammates are able to as well.

“We’re a small country,” said Dawani, “but we have the ability to be something.”