Side note: I am updating this post on the bus. I had to go to Tel Aviv before class to get my Egyptian visa processed and the bus back to Jerusalem has WiFi. Awesome.
This past weekend we took a class trip to Amman, the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Our professor is personal friends with several members of the Jordanian Royal Family along with many prominent businessmen, including the Crown Prince. In order to cross at the Allenby Bridge, the most direct border crossing and one of three between Israel and Jordan, our visas had to be sent several days earlier. Sweet new passport stamp!
Anyway, Amman is a very unusual capital in the Middle East. There are 4 capitals within 100 miles of each other – Jerusalem, Beirut, Damascus, and Amman – and all of them besides Amman are storied in religion of history. As sort of the red head child of the Levant, Amman has grown to embrace its role as the outside. It is one of only two countries to have peace with Israel (the other being Egypt). It has among the highest literacy rates in the Middle East. King Abdullah II has tried to modernize and Westernize the country. Liberal attitudes of dress and conduct pervade the city – many women do not cover their faces, but instead wear American Eagle, and business men juggle between Arabic and English on several different phones in their briefcases. Jordan is without a doubt the most progressive nation in the Arab world.
We were quite the sight in the city. Most tourists coming to Jordan go to Petra. They might spend a night or two in Amman on either end of their long journey south to Petra, but not many stay and linger among the locals. People would do a double-take when they saw us and people would wave at us from cars.
Our meetings with Princess Rym and Crown Prince Ghazi were very informative, though they presented a unique set of challenges, for lack of a better word. I was unaware of all the protocol that must be followed when dealing with royalty – standing when they enter or exit the room, referring to them as “your royal highness,” waiting to drink until they did, and so on. They offered a perspective of the most progressive and liberal elite ruling class in the region. Interestingly, they were critical of democracy (or at least a rushed “democracy” like in Iraq) and offered praise for their monarchy. I guess everyone’s a politician…
Our final visit of the trip was to an elegant garden party at the US Ambassador’s amazing home (no pictures!). There was an elaborate garden party set-up provided by the InterContinental Hotel. Waiter served white whine as lamb, beef, and an amazing array of vegetables and salads were presented.