Jordanians to Obama: You broke your promise and did nothing for us

Story by Anthony Savvides // Photo by Matt Kauffman

AMMAN, Jordan – This November, the United States will elect a president, and while many American pundits believe Obama will remain in the White House for a second term, some in the Middle East would welcome a change.

Many here believe that Obama has been a disappointment, failing to deliver on early promises to push for a policy shift in the region.

Prince El Hassan bin Talal spoke to a group of students during a press conference about Jordanian politics and social issues. He touched on the problems in Jordan concerning the influx of refugees and the Palestinian issue, as well as President Obama’s position toward the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“The Arabs have been very disappointed with him because when he [became] president, the first thing he said when he was sworn in was that he was going to set up a Palestinian state,” said Rana Sabbagh, executive director of Amman-based Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism. “Then he had the Cairo declaration, and we all thought he was going to make a difference, but nothing happened.”

In Obama’s June 2009 speech in Cairo, entitled “A New Beginning,” he tried to reestablish strong ties between the American and Arab worlds. Many in the region were hopeful – for change, a new attitude toward the Arab-Israeli conflict and, indeed, a new beginning. But people here wonder why that “new” approach never seemed to become a reality.

As the years passed, the tide shifted back to mistrust. Obama famously said in his Cairo address that the US would not “turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.” But Arab observers say that Obama never followed through, and policies in the region have remained as they always have been: pro-Israeli.

“I don’t believe in liberal theories of the person as president,” said Sara Ababneh, professor of political and international relations in the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. “The US is an imperial power, and that’s how they act [in the region]. As a superpower, [the US] does what it needs to do.”

Distrust of the US has deep roots: The American government supported the establishment of the Israeli state and, over the years, offered its support with billions of dollars and political muscle. There have been efforts to mediate peace, some more dramatic than others. In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton coaxed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yassar Arafat to shake hands during a ceremony. The moment, hailed at the time, is now considered no more than a symbolic snapshot of an unrealized hope for prolonged peace.

But the Obama administration has made attempts to achieve progress in the region. The US has pressured Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and to release Palestinian refugees. In a speech in May 2011, Obama spoke of the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

This angered Israeli leaders, who have resisted these calls. In the Middle East, though, Obama’s unexpected declaration was seen as something else: not enough.

“A lot of [Arabs] didn’t believe he has the inclination to change anything,” said Majd Muhsen, 36, a Palestinian-Jordanian who works as a freelance translator for the United Nations and various organizations in Amman. “Most of us don’t believe in the 1967 borders, anyway. All of Palestine, which is now Israel, should go back to being Palestine.”

The lack of follow-through from the United States has left many in the Middle East questioning whether Obama can really bring about change. Protests in the area have spread since 2010, when the Arab Spring began.

“The good thing about the Arab Spring is that it didn’t matter what the US was saying,” added Ababneh. The people of the Arab world wanted change in their lives and the way in which they are governed, and foreign intervention was inconsequential.

As another election draws near, the Arab world is watching, waiting for a result. The general public in Jordan believes that America will not reelect Obama, and are ready to embrace Mitt Romney as a new player on the international level. Of course Romney has already spoken of reaffirming America’s support for Israel and toughening the country’s stance on Iran. He also has a friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dating back to the mid-1970s.

In that spirit, some in the Arab world argue that despite who wins the White House in November, American politics toward the region are static, and stagnant.

“Jordan is held hostage – hostage by the Israelis, with the Palestinian issue, the Americans are holding us hostage, and the Saudis also are holding us hostage,” said Ayoud Abu-Dayyeh, a civil and structural engineer in Amman who does work to lobby against nuclear power in Jordan.

Obama has let the Arab world down, according to many in Jordan. His administration and actions over the course of his term have inspired a different kind of hope in the region—the hope of change.

“Nothing happened in the past four years but a stalemate in the Arab-Israeli conflict, so I believe that Obama will not and cannot do anything in the future concerning the Palestinian issue,” concluded Abu-Dayyeh. “Therefore, I think anybody else that comes in his shoes will not do any worse. It will either be the same or it will be better. That’s why I think a change is important.”

Some in Jordan, though, are hopeful of Obama’s prospects as a second-term president.

“I think that President Obama went a very long way [on the Palestinian issue]. Only time will tell if he’s reelected, as a second-term president, a last-term president, to restore that moral high ground of tearing down the walls in the minds of others,” said Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal, regarding the wall in the West Bank. “But to judge a country like the United States in terms of the multitude of challenges, both foreign and domestic, as having succeeded or failed on a foreign policy issue, is not a wise thing to do at this stage.”

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Fitness first? Not in Jordan, where most people choose not to exercise

By Bri Hollis and Jessica Teich // Photos by Jessica Teich

AMMAN, Jordan – Shaded paths wind throughout Al Hussein Park, a multi-leveled, lush space in West Amman. Dirt trails stretch through Sport City, a wooded park on the outskirts of the capital and insulated by trees from the cacophony of honking car horns.

Yet these spaces aren’t teeming with runners trying to punch out a few miles before work. They’re largely empty, a reality that speaks less to the quality of the parks and more to a culture that honors tea time but doesn’t value regular exercise.

Running paths at Al Hussein Park in West Amman remain underutilized, even though the park is one of few areas in the city designated specifically for exercise.

“I don’t think [going to] the gym is very important,” said Ehsan Eljarah, 27, a taxi driver from West Amman. “I have to work and have no time, and work is more important.”

Ahmad Bakheet, 21, an engineering student at the University of Jordan, seconds Eljarah’s notion.

“I play football once a week at the university,” he said. “I play games with my friends, but I am too busy to play more than once a week. I have exams and homework, and that is more important to me.”

And though a healthy exercise regime and diet have been linked to an increased lifespan, improved mood and diminished risk for disease, the Jordanian population remains, for the most part, uninformed.

The obesity rate in Jordan increased from 19.5 percent in 2004 to almost double that – 39.8 percent – in 2010 according to studies from the CIA World Factbook and Hayder al-Domi, professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Jordan.

Diabetes is becoming a prevalent issue in Jordan; 13.6 percent of the population is currently suffering from the disease, and an additional 12.4 percent is pre-diabetic. As health problems such as high blood cholesterol and colon disease also increase countrywide, local health professionals are seeking to promote healthier lifestyles.

Nour Hamemeed, a clinical nutritionist at Petra University in Amman, has been working to create encouraging incentives for students to live healthier. She analyzes their lifestyles in order to create personalized exercise and dietary plans – free of charge. But she says the motivation just isn’t there.

“Most people don’t keep up with the plans I give them because they want to lose weight like magic. They end up not sticking to the diet and exercise,” Hamemeed said. “People want to go to sleep fat and wake up thin.”

Dr. Abdelkarim al-Khawaldeh, president of the Jordanian Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, agreed that many Jordanians aren’t willing to put forth the effort to be healthier.

“Our people are used to the easy life. They want to sit in the car or watch TV or sit at the computer, and they don’t walk a lot,” he said. “They should exercise more, eat small frequent meals, and the main thing is walking; because it is easy, you don’t need to pay money, you don’t need a special time, and you can do it anytime and anywhere.”

Hamemeed collaborated with several other lab technicians in the university’s nutrition department to create the Petra Walk, a program where students, employees and their families are invited on a five-mile walk around the school. Around 40 attendees were present at the most recent event.

“We only had it once last year and once this year, but now we are going to try to have it every two weeks,” Hamemeed said. “It’s more fun because students are walking together and other people can see the students having fun and want to join.”

Part of the challenge, Hamemeed and Khawaldeh say, is that there is no culture of participating in strenuous exercise in Jordan. And in Amman specifically, the city’s terrain further complicates the issue. The majority of roads are clogged with traffic and drivers who do not yield to pedestrians. Sidewalks have steep curbs, are blocked by parked cars or trees and often end without warning. Many are dotted with rubble. In fact, exercising outdoors is so rare that when a runner is spotted, he is often approached and asked from what or whom he is trying to escape.

This forces exercise-seeking residents to either utilize the limited outdoor spaces, or to splurge on a pricey gym membership. With most gym fees averaging around 120 Jordanian dinar a month, about $169, most locals are unwilling or unable to pay.

There is also a widely held belief that exercise is a burden, Hamemeed said. That’s why she emphasizes fun ways to exercise, such as dancing and aerobics.

The second floor of Fitness First Platinum is far from crowded at 11 a.m., a time reserved solely for women. Here, only one woman follows a personal trainer in the gym’s free weights section.

Buthaina Haddad is a testament to how appealing group workouts can be. Lounging in the air-conditioned comfort of Fitness First Platinum, a posh gym in an upscale Amman neighborhood, the 46-year-old mother is a committed exerciser.

As she peeked over a copy of The Jordan Times, she chatted and laughed with some girlfriends, similarly dressed in black spandex and exercise gear. Haddad tossed her hair, curled and highlighted, over one shoulder and explained with conviction the reason she’s been willing to forfeit more than $6,800 to Fitness First over the past four years:

“It’s very important to work out,” said the energetic and fit stay-at-home mom, underscoring the natural feel-good benefits that come with an endorphin rush. “[Exercise] is an anti-depressant. I am happy and refreshed and healthy.”

Haddad works out five days a week, and though she encourages family and friends to engage in a healthy lifestyle as well, almost no one takes her up on it.

This could be changing, though. Other local gyms are beginning to offer special programs to foster increased participation. Incentives include fitness classes, sports competitions and personal training sessions. Most centers also reserve a time window exclusively for women, because Jordanian culture enforces dress and appearance restrictions. Female-only sessions ensure that despite the difference in gender roles, women have a place to feel comfortable and accepted while exercising.

The movement has also slowly begun to penetrate the public school system. Throughout elementary and high school, students are required to attend gym classes once or twice a week as a primary source of fitness education. Jordanian universities have competitive sports teams, though they are far less competitive than their Western counterparts. Students looking to play a sport at the university level submit written applications to earn a spot on the court or field. Universities also offer indoor and outdoor space for recreational athletic activity.

Hamemeed emphasizes the importance of small changes to kick-start the movement. She explains that small adaptations to daily routines can be a strong, motivating incentive to make a permanent healthy change.

“People make excuses that it is too hard to find time and places to exercise, so I tell them other things to do. Go shopping and walk there – and if you drive there, park your car far away. Take the stairs, not the elevator,” advises Hamemeed. “If someone really wants to lose weight and be healthy, despite the circumstances, they will do what it takes.”

Rising gas prices hurt drivers, but will help ease the budget crunch, officials hope

Story by Laura Finaldi

AMMAN, Jordan – The Jordanian government announced that it will no longer subsidize the price of 95-octane gas, forcing a nearly 20 percent increase on drivers who use it. At 1 Jordanian dinar, or about $1.41 per liter, that price now far outpaces the cost of gas in the United States, where the equivalent is $5.34 per gallon.

This hike, which took effect May 28, marks the first major increase in gasoline prices since the beginning of the Arab Spring in January 2011. That’s when riots broke out in different parts of the region and Jordan froze gas prices as one of the many precautions it took to stem fear of similar outbreaks.

The price of 95-octane gasoline shot up almost 20 percent to more than $5 a gallon at the end of May, making it unaffordable for many Jordanians.

But Kholoud Mahasneh, director of the Oil and Petroleum Products Department at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said Jordan’s deficit has grown so big – reaching nearly $4 billion – that continuing to subsidize gas would sink the nation even further into economic despair. Last year, 570 million Jordanian dinar, or about $804.5 million, were spent on subsidies alone.

“Our financial situation is pretty bad,” Mahasneh said. “We can’t pay subsidies anymore. It’s eating our budget.”

The government has not, however, raised the price of 90-octane gas, a fuel used by 82 percent of drivers here. Ninety-five octane gas is generally considered to be easier on vehicles, so it’s always been more expensive, but 90-octane is cheaper. Mahasneh said 95-octane gas is generally very compatible with European-made cars.

Prices on diesel fuel and kerosene will also remain subsidized, as they have been since 2008 after an order from King Abdullah II. Talib Awad, an economist at the University of Jordan’s Center for Strategic Studies, said he doesn’t expect those prices to change any time soon because the subsidies on them are very small. But Waheed Foudeh, owner of a gas station on Airport Street, said he expects prices to go up within the next five or six months.

Those who benefit from the subsidies are, for the most part, non-Jordanians, Awad said. Seventy percent of those who use 90-octane gas are immigrants from Egypt, Syria and Iraq. So, he said, the government money put into these subsidies isn’t going back into the pockets of needy Jordanians.

“Once gasoline commodities increase, the prices of most or all consumer goods will go up. This is actually not rational behavior,” he said. “We have a serious problem in terms of deficit. They need extra revenues to fix the problem of deteriorating money supply.”

Here in Amman, gas station owners and petroleum companies are feeling the change. Ghandi Jaber, a gas station owner who has stations in Amman, Israel and Chicago, said in the first week of the price hike, he saw a 70 percent to 80 percent drop in sales of gasoline 95. Foudeh said he saw the same drop in his station’s supply of 95-octane gas.

“I used to sell 95 because it’s better for the car. After the price has changed, [people use] 90 more,” Jaber said a week after the increase took place. “Even the petroleum companies that bring us the gas, they feel it. They used to sell almost 200 trucks of 95 and 300 of 90. Now it’s about 100 [of] 95 and 500 of 90.”

Jordan suffers because it is a dry country with few natural resources. It has to import fuel from Saudi Arabia and other large oil producers around the region. As a result, citizens are forced to pay more than surrounding countries for gasoline and other oil-based commodities. By comparison, a liter of gasoline in Saudi Arabia costs only about 13 cents.

“We are living among countries who are very rich with natural resources,” Awad said. “In Jordan, this is a problem of rising taxes and rising costs of energy. [It] affects consumers.”

Jaber isn’t so sure the price changes will ease the country’s money troubles. As he speaks, he smokes his cigarette and takes sips from his gas station-brewed coffee in the back of his station, which is near the seventh circle of Amman. “No [this will not help] because everyone will switch to 90,” he said. “Everyone will do what is best for him or herself. They’re not thinking about the bigger picture. They just need to survive.”

Some business owners such as Foudeh do not blame the government for doing what it has to do to raise gas prices; although the cost of living is largely unaffordable, the problem of the large deficit remains.

“I think they have to [stop the subsidies] because there is no money in the Central Bank in Jordan,” he said. “There was no work, no money. Nobody pays taxes. The government doesn’t have money so they are afraid.”

Activists launch campaign to keep rapists from marrying their victims

Story by Melanie Dostis

Women’s rights activists are rallying against a law in Jordan that allows rapists to marry their victims to avoid jail time for their crime.

Named Crime 308 after Article 308 of the Jordanian penal code, the campaign attacks what’s become known as the “marriage-rape law” – a relic of the Old Testament that declares a raped woman marred for life.

Activists in Jordan have launched a campaign called 308 to fight a part of the penal code that allows rapists to marry their victims to avoid jail time.

The flashpoint case in the campaign involved a 14-year old girl who was raped in a tent for three days in April by a 19-year-old boy. He was taken to jail and convicted. She was put into a holding cell for her protection, as rape victims from more rural regions are often in danger of being killed by their own relatives in an attempt to keep the family’s name honorable.

The girl in this case was soon released from her cell, but not because her attacker had been sentenced. Rather, she was given to him as his wife – signed over by her father to avoid the shame that comes with having a daughter who has engaged in premarital sex.

“308 should be changed. Maybe there was reason to it in the early days,” said Samir Abu Hamdiah, a legal consultant at the Justice Center for Legal Aid, a nonprofit organization near Rainbow Street offering legal aid to the underprivileged in Jordan. “In the current day, we as a region have to raise our voice, support this protest to make change, and to let the woman have a life.”

In Islam, it is required that women keep their virginity until they marry. To engage in sexual activity, even if it is forced, is to violate the teachings of the Quran, which is akin to a criminal act here for many.

The law does not specifically allow for honor crimes, but the penal system does not seriously dissuade attackers either. Murder is punishable by death in Jordan but reports of honor crimes resulting in lighter sentences are highly publicized. For example, last year a man convicted of killing his 16-year-old niece received only a 10-year sentence. The victim’s family urged leniency in what was initially a life sentence. His crime: He fired 30 machine-round shots at the girl after learning of her rape, killing her instantly.

A marriage between victim and attacker would have avoided that outcome, but at a terrible cost to the woman, experts say.

“He attacks her, he destroys her and then she is forced to marry him just because her parents are afraid of the scandal,” said Hadeel Maaitah, 39, a coordinator for the campaign and a lecturer on management at the Hashemite University. “This is the hush-hush culture we have here.”

Since forming Crime 308 this spring, the organizers of the campaign meet twice a month at Negresco, a modern villa-turned-restaurant and bar in the posh neighborhood of Jebel Weibdeh. They sit for hours at the outside patio to set out their goals and discuss the flood of messages they have received from others offering help.

Like so many social activist campaigns, the group launched a Twitter feed and Facebook group to trumpet its cause; since April, they’ve acquired 1,000 Facebook members and 145 Twitter followers. They’ve also created an online petition that so far has 2,000 signatures. Experts familiar with the case, as well as the cause, say they believe this sort of vociferous reaction is likely going to have an impact on the code that allows the practice. Their hope is that it could also have an impact on the attitudes behind it.

“Society needs to care more about its responsibilities. [The rape victim] should still be able to feel part of her society. Society needs to help her heal herself, physically and psychologically. It is their duty to help her overcome,” said Abu Hamdiah with JCLA.

What Abu Hamidiah calls for is not an easy task. In a conservative Islamic culture, women’s rights and desires are not emphasized or sometimes even recognized. Women can vote, but they are largely absent from the parliamentary and judicial processes. Even when committees are established on the parliamentary level to deal with women’s issues, there are often not any women in the group.

“The woman is not the priority. The victim is not the priority,” Abu Hamidiah said.

One of the most difficult things to change about the code is to get a country behind the idea that its behavior toward women is primitive and even barbaric.

“They thought the raped woman should be thankful to her abuser for marrying her, and not leaving her alone,” explained Iman Aqrabawi, gender-based violence-unit manager at the Jordan River Foundation, an organization aimed at the wellbeing of Jordanians and chaired by Queen Rania Al Abdullah.

Salah Jaber, of the Justice Center for Legal Aid, says punishment for crimes of rape has to be more strict, or violators won’t take it seriously and will continue preying on women.

Still today, women who have been raped are cast aside as “damaged goods,” said Juliana Turjman, the woman complaint office coordinator at the Jordanian National Commission Center for Women in Amman. “Even if she didn’t do anything wrong,” added Turjman, “she is blamed. She must have seduced him – that is why she is abused, is the thinking.”

Because she has to shoulder this, a rape victim has few options for recourse. She can hide the crime, which is the most common tack, experts say. She can try to prosecute her attacker, which will still bring shame on her family. His sentence could range from 15 years to death, depending on the age of the victim. Her sentence could likely be an indefinite stay in a jail cell to protect her from her own family’s murderous intentions. Today in Jordan, there are a dozen women in prison, waiting for when their fathers, uncles, brothers or cousins will no longer seek their death to preserve the family’s honor.

Or, she can marry him, which will both save her family’s honor and keep him out of jail. An attacker must remain married to his victim for five years to avoid his sentence. After that, whether he stays married or not, he has avoided all punishment.

Because the last option – the marriage – preserves the family’s honor, the preferred path is to force a marriage between the two, even if the victim is a young girl. “It is better for her to be seen as a divorced woman than a raped woman,” explained Maaitah.

In that case – if she’s under 18 – her father will have to sign a marriage license to give her away, according to Jordan law. This in particular angers activists.

“As parents, you want to search the world for the perfect man for your daughter. Why on earth would you trust her with him? [Her rape] is a not a hiccup in her life. Even if she is married, even if she gets divorced, she has still been raped,” said Maaitah, the 308 campaign activist.

While historical conventions dominate Jordan, rape specialist Salah Jaber, a legal consultant at the JCLA, said Campaign 308 has hit like a “bomb” and with the waves it has sent, it is only a matter of time until pressure builds on the government.

“We have to change it and make the punishment harder so men will have that in mind when they look at a girl and think of doing something,” said Jaber. “We have to protect the victim.”

Election reform: Women in Jordan want more of a say

Story and photo by Eryn Carlson

AMMAN, Jordan – Despite constituting nearly 48 percent of the total population, Jordanian women are largely absent from the country’s political sphere, but with a recent push for increased parliamentary representation, the Jordanian National Commission for Women is looking to change this.

The group, a semi-governmental organization committed to advocating women’s rights and gender-equitable policies, announced in early June that it has prepared a list of recommendations for changes to Jordan’s elections law and will submit it to the government for discussion. The list is headlined by a call for an increase in the women’s representational quota – from 12 seats in the house to 15 – in the upcoming parliamentary elections this fall.

“The allocation of seats for women is currently at 10 percent. We’re looking to increase this to 30,” said JNCW Assistant Secretary of Institutional Development Badreih Al-Balbisi.

Women’s rights activists like Bariah Naqshabandi are looking not just
for increased representation of women in parliament, but more active
female voices in every political realm.

The two-house Parliament of Jordan, “Majlis al-Umma,” consists of the House of Senate, whose 60 members are all appointed by King Abdullah II, and the elected House of Representatives. Jordan’s Constitution establishes that, of the latter’s 120 seats, some must be reserved for Christians, Circassian and Chechen minorities, as well as women, under a quota system. That means those seats are filled with representatives of those “minorities” – but they’re not actually elected.

Previous elections – the last took place in 2010 – allotted women specifically a 12-seat quota. However, one woman, Reem Badran, won an additional spot in her own right, outside the quota system, by scoring more votes than men who were running for her seat. This brings the number of women in the current legislature to 13.

“Now most woman activists are pushing for more [seats] – at least 20. I personally believe it must be 30, but we need to do things step by step, and not through the quota system. This isn’t a long-term solution, just one to promote awareness,” said Bariah Naqshabandi, a women’s rights activist and author of the 2001 book Women’s Political Participation in Jordan and Other Arab Countries.

Many Jordanians view the quota system with negativity. Some think that reserving seats for women is the opposite of gender equality since members filling seat allocations are not earning their spot through fair elections. Additionally, members appointed through the quota system are thought to be unqualified, just there because of their connections to men already prominent in the government. Reem Badran, for example, the one woman elected outside the quota, is the daughter of a former prime minister.

“We’re looking for woman activists, not just décor to fill the quota…for women to participate rather than just being there,” said Naqshabandi, who is also a political science professor at Petra University. “Most of these women now just sit back and go with a flow. In the male-driven arena, we need [female] fighters who are qualified and have views.”

Naqshabandi isn’t optimistic about seeing any of these “fighters” rise to power any time soon. And she isn’t alone. Many even doubt the possibility of increasing the number of allotted seats designated for women.

“This won’t happen, and it shouldn’t. It isn’t fair game to give more seats to these women – they aren’t representative of Jordanians. These quota-fillers are upper-class urban women who spend lots of money on clothes and have spa days,” said Bader Al-Madi, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Jordan. “We want [women] to participate in political life but they actually have to participate.”

It’s not that simple, though. Women in Jordan, as well as other Middle Eastern countries, are burdened by age-old tradition when it comes to the social status of females. This causes women active in the political realm to be widely viewed as puppets of their male counterparts. And, while some officials will point to specific women who are strong, competent politicians, all women in government face great challenges just by their presence there.

“In Jordan, all the groups and government are not serious about women. People don’t take it into consideration,” said Al-Balbisi on women’s political participation in the Mideast. “The reason for that is our culture and society. We need to change both men and women’s mentality of thinking of them as second-rate citizens.”

What’s more, people say, is the fact that Jordan, and the region in general, has bigger issues to resolve beyond gender equality.

“Jordan is different from other Arab countries: more open and ideal. But we still have bigger economic, regional and global issues. Women are vulnerable and not the priority,” said Nuha Maayta, president of the General Federation of Jordanian Women, a non-governmental organization comprised of women’s associations and societies dedicated to empowering women politically, socially and economically.

That’s not to say women’s influence in politics is stagnant. In fact, it’s on the rise.

“[Female] participation in the municipal council is quite high, and 20 of the 231 women there have been elected outside of the quota,” said Al-Balbisi. Also, she said, more women are taking jobs as teachers, lawyers and doctors, which could lead to their increased interest in running for office. “Our hope is that their participation in public life would lead them to be more likely to participate in politics and even going into parliament.”

Women occupying ministerial and judicial positions is increasing, too – albeit slowly. Al-Balbisi also noted that political party membership by women is growing, though statistics indicating this can be somewhat misleading. With the relatively new status of political parties, which were outlawed in Jordan until 1992, women are often pulled in by male family members so parties’ membership looks high enough to gain official status, noted Al-Balbisi.

By Middle Eastern standards, the Hashemite family is noted as being relatively liberal toward women’s rights, and some cite this as a commitment by the regime to get more women involved in governmental proceedings. Others, though, aren’t convinced.

“They just want to show that Jordan is civilized. But for me, I don’t see women liberated or involved,” said Naqshabandi. “I want to see more educated woman involved in political participation in every sector and at the grassroots level. But it just isn’t happening – women don’t have energy to fight. They just want to go and get married. It makes me depressed.”

Still, it is clear that women’s political involvement has increased significantly in the last 10 years. And now is not the time to get complacent, activists say.

Maayta summarizes her opinion of what’s a risk if they do: “When it comes to this, we go forward one step, and go back two.”