I’m for the Arab Spring — But Not in Jordan


AL-ZARQA, Jordan — For as long as I can remember, violence in some form or another has been a part of life in my region. Arabs tend to feel united, and so I’ve always internalized the suffering of my fellow Arabs in other countries — and this empathy was encouraged by my family, school and society.

Through the years we suffered with Palestine and Iraq, but the “enemy” always took the form of a common outsider. These days, public opinion is very divided. Many are supportive of the revolutions and many are opposed to them. The Syrian government once had huge public support, but the support is decreasing with the rise in killings and massacres.

As Arabs, we’ve often felt weak and powerless. We’ve felt that we couldn’t do much, and many blamed political systems for that. Everything got worse when my generation started to become aware of the amount of injustice they were living with, the lack of services and basic needs. They started to notice the lack of liberties and freedom of speech, which forced our parents and grandparents to keep quiet and just try to get by. I believe that all that became clear for my generation due to the Internet in general and social media in particular. Young people started to compare the lives they were living with those of others around the world, compare the services and the quality of life other countries had with the knowledge that some Arabs are still asking for basic needs like reliable electricity and running water. And with social media, they found it easy to express this dissatisfaction.

Although I really support these revolutions, my country, Jordan, has suffered a lot because of them.

When the first protests started in Tunisia, I didn’t really believe that they could make a difference. I didn’t really pay much attention. But my opinion totally changed when the Egyptian revolution started, because I was aware of the terrible situation in Egypt — not only the lack of democracy but also the horrible quality of life many were subjected to. I was really impressed with their revolution. I was amazed that something this big could come out of my generation. Watching the events in Egypt unfold made me seriously imagine the prospect of a new Middle East with governments that would reflect the choices and needs of the people — governments that could say no to external powers if they challenged established beliefs and norms. I was really moved by these prospects. I was excited that for once we could have influential systems in the Arab world that could actually play a positive role in the Arab cause, not in the West’s interests. Egypt itself represents power and strategy for many in the Arab world, so after the revolution many hoped that the new Egyptian system could help solve regional Arab conflicts — like the situation in Gaza — without compromising Arab interests.

Sadly, the revolutions didn’t go exactly as planned. Protests that began peacefully were soon dragged into violence by one of the sides or both, with variations of severity. But I understand why. Neither the people nor the governments understood how democracy works, and they didn’t really see that before. So deep down even though the Arab Spring can appear to be unsuccessful and the cause of so much death and misery, I still believe that the road to freedom is not paved in marble and reaching a democratic state can take a while.

Yet I’m also conflicted. Although I really support these revolutions, my country, Jordan, has suffered a lot because of them. The number of refugees in Jordan is huge — over 900,000 Syrians alone — not to mention refugees from Iraq and other countries. Jordan is suffering from huge economic losses because of the refugee camps that lack adequate external support. At the same time, walking the streets of Amman, you realize that they’re also overcrowded. You can sense the increase in real estate prices and the frustration at the hiring preference of a refugee over a Jordanian because of lower rates. The refugees flooded into our country, some fleeing the repercussions of failed Arab Spring revolutions, and the impact isn’t always easy to deal with. In spite of all this, I still believe in the Arab Spring movement as a whole, but I think these kinds of movements need to be more nuanced based on the situation at hand. I don’t believe that Jordanians must revolt, even though we are facing many difficulties and suffering from a lack of services. Reforms are needed in all aspects of the country, but that doesn’t mean we need a revolution.

Reforms are needed in all aspects of the country, but that doesn’t mean we need a revolution.

This is a contradiction that I live with on a daily basis because I really care about the interests of the surrounding Arab countries. In the beginning, I completely believed that people should go after their freedom, even if the process involves violence. But from time to time I think to myself, is it worth all the losses and the innocent lives? Is it worth destroying a whole country and its history? If you ask me now, I’d say no, it isn’t worth it. They should’ve stayed as peaceful as possible, but because they were already engaged in war, or a state of war, perhaps there was no choice but to continue fighting.

In another respect, however, my opinion is more concrete, more definite. I’m against revolution in my country. Why? First of all, because the political situation in Jordan is not as bad as in Egypt or Syria or other countries. We’ve always had a parliament, there is always a discussion about decision making, and most of the time, anyone who does something wrong gets punished. We never heard the terrible stories of torture here that we have become accustomed to hearing about our neighbor Syria long before the revolution. It was known that if someone gets into any kind of prison in Syria — even by mistake — he will probably be lost forever. The inspiration of the Syrian revolution was actually for that purpose — to change what had been going on with impunity.

Jordan is not perfect. We have corruption and other major problems, but they can be solved very peacefully because the government actually listens to its citizens. At the very beginning of the Arab Spring revolutions, there were many protests in Jordan demanding reformation, and the government did take a few steps toward trying to please the public. That didn’t happen in Syria. It didn’t happen in Egypt. And that’s why things got much bigger. And it’s why a revolution in Jordan would only cause destruction. That’s not to say that the spirit of revolution didn’t necessarily impact Jordan positively. Now everyone criticizes the government harshly without fear, so there is touch of political resurgence here, too.

The refugees flooded into our country, some fleeing the repercussions of failed Arab Spring revolutions, and the impact isn’t always easy to deal with.

As I reflect on the contradictions of this important movement in my region’s history five years later, I can’t help but recall the West’s role in these revolutions and my frustration as a result. Western nations always interfere with a country in the midst of revolutions, and they do so looking for their economic or strategic interests in the region. None of them actually care about the freedom of the Arab nation. When the Arab Spring revolutions began five years ago, the West didn’t care about freedom of speech in Libya, Tunisia or Egypt. Western countries interfered because of their own interests — petrol, the security of Israel and others. And because their interests in Syria weren’t worth risking for what awaited them there, they left Syrians to burn. No problem.

Today, the repercussions of the decisions and indecisions during the Arab Spring continue to take shape. What irritates me is that the West always interferes in the name of humanity, but humans are what it cares least about. The war against the so-called Islamic State is actually taking the lives of innocent Syrians who are already suffering from two groups: the regime and ISIS. The West only used human rights as an excuse to interfere. The double standards are obvious: a movement of executions in Saudi Arabia will be globally criticized and serious action will be taken, but the massacres that Syrians are facing every day aren’t worth interfering for and the suppression of opposition voices in Egypt goes completely ignored because the actual Egyptian government aligns with Western interests.

It’s a bit depressing, to be honest, but I will never lose my faith in this generation. I will keep my hopes up for a better future, for Jordan and for my fellow Arabs around the region.

This post is part of a series focused on the Arab Spring, five years on. The Huffington Post invited people who felt like a part of that revolutionary moment to share their thoughts on what the movement means to them, then and now.