The charming age-old phrase “Welcome to Jordan” is typically intended to greet visitors to Jordan. When I hear this, I laugh to myself and respond with a perfectly formed “Shukran, bas ana min hown” (meaning “Thank you, but I am from here”). As a blonde American- Palestinian/Jordanian with a broken Arabic accent, I will never look or act the part, even though prior to embarking on my pursuit of a Masters degree at Georgetown University I lived in the country for five years pursuing my career in development with the refugee community.
My feelings upon returning to Jordan after a nine-month pause caught me by surprise. Jordan and I were in-sync and I experienced something similar to a honeymoon phase. I was overwhelmed with excitement upon seeing my family and old friends. I found myself once again mesmerized by the “50 shades of beige boxes” and the tantalizing Jordanian cuisine. By just walking around Amman, memories would emerge of my old life and I began to reflect on how much I have developed as a person since my last stay.
In recent years, the Arab region has experienced significant political upheavals, which have produced events ranging from concrete steps towards democratization in Tunisia to protracted crises in Libya, Yemen, and Syria. While this variation in outcomes is clearly due in part to historical and contextual divergences, there are also institutional factors that contribute to the facilitation or impediment of democratic transformations.
The institutions in the Middle East cannot function effectively in the absence of social cohesion, while social cohesion cannot function without representative and accountable governance. The UNDP is supporting the facilitation of more inclusive political systems to transition from the limited social cohesion produced by insufficient representative and accountable institutions, to responsive institutions that provide a suitable platform for developing social cohesion and reinforcing democratic institutions.
After a week of quality time with Jordan, my big love, I began my summer field experience at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Governance and Peacebuilding cluster. My supervisor, a kind Belgian man with a thick French accent, accompanied me and we discussed the events du jour, the impasse of the political upheavals occurring in the Arab States, and the idea of parliaments à la mode in light of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
I hit the ground running on the first day. I was given the task to put together a presentation on the SDGs and Parliaments that would be presented at a conference in Egypt at the end of the week. I was a little nervous due to the quick deadline, but also determined to deliver an impeccable presentation. For the next few days I became acquainted with our mission on Parliaments and its relevancy as just a goal of the SDGs, but an essential tool for the success of all the goals.
In the second week of my internship, I was invited to attend a UNDP workshop on the Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE). The workshop brought together regional experts, academics, Country Office colleagues, and key partner organizations. The workshop had two objectives. The first objective was to discuss and assess the PVE-based interventions that UNDP is currently involved in at national levels. The second objective was to explore the opportunities for the development and implementation of regional projects or programmatic frameworks surrounding the issues of PVE. The workshop included ample discussions on various important aspects of PVE program development and a roadmap was prepared to situate UNDP’s future regional work. The session that lingered in my thoughts was a discussion led by Ayman Mhanna from the Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) on the role that media has played in PVE efforts in the past, and the role that it should take on as a regional PVE framework. For those interested in learning more, click on the following link: http://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Countering-Violent-Extremism-Through-Media-and-Communication-Strategies-.pdf
Just as I was getting settled in and adapting to my routine the holy month of Ramadan began. The month represents sacrifice, reflection, and humility. Unfortunately, the first day was tainted with a fatal shooting of five intelligence officers in the Baqa’a refugee camp. Although Amman was not directly affected by the attack, it was a reminder that the risks of social unrest and crime remain high throughout the region.
Nonetheless, in true Ramadan spirit I was eager to kick off the season in the right way by hosting a Potluck Iftar Feast. Friends of old and new gathered as the sun began to set and the salat al- maghrib echoed through the hills of Amman. Together, we made our way to the table covered with delicious dishes from Jordan to India and broke our fast. We all found our sets and fell into deep conversations and incredible life stories. But it didn’t end there! With everyone stuffed to the brim, two shishas and a pile of hot coals were delivered to our door! With our stomachs full, hearts happy, and having befriended others from different backgrounds and religions the festive evening came to a close.
For me, this night and many others during Ramadan represent a sense of oneness and belonging. In light of the tragic events that have gripped our hearts universally over the past few months, it’s difficult to know what how to react and a sense of helplessness looms. Giving into fear, prejudice, and division are not the right answers. Instead, we must move towards genuine compassion, tolerance, and understanding.