I met up with an Iraqi general, and traveled with him and his family down to the Dead Sea. The general had rented a minivan and was excited to be driving us. I, however, was less excited given that senior military officers are used to having drivers, and hence their skills behind the wheel usually wane.
True to form, the general viewed speed bumps as beach heads to be assaulted -- and sped up every time he approached one, laughing out loud as his passengers were thrown around the vehicle. We went to the Jordan River and the site of Jesus's baptism. On the other side of the river -- two strides away -- were crowds of Christian tourists singing songs and shaking tambourines beneath Israeli flags. The general noted that the Israeli side had restaurants, bathrooms, palm trees, and no visible security. The Jordanian side had rudimentary shacks.
Springs of Hammamat Ma'in, near the Dead Sea in Jordan.
A bunch of Jordanian soldiers sat on wooden benches sheltered under a rickety cover from the winter sun. "Ah, the Arabs," the general muttered. "Why haven't we built anything?"
I spent New Year's Eve with the general and his family. His 10-year old relative showed me the different functions on my iPad mini. He downloaded the Viber app. "This will enable you to phone anywhere in the world using a local number," he said. "You will soon be able to use it with Wi-Fi from your iPad."
I looked at him with loathing. Shouldn't he be playing with Legos? I drowned my sense of pending old age by drinking wine and singing with my Muslim friends by their Christmas tree.
Back in my hotel, the Christmas tree had pride of place and Christmas carols blared out. Nearly all the guests were Arabs. Jordanians, like so many across the Arab world, seemed to love the bright lights, the gaudy decorations, and the joy associated with Christmas.
On my way to the airport, I chatted with my taxi driver who told me he was Jordanian but of Palestinian origin. He admitted there had been some demonstrations in Jordan. "Those calling for regime change are Jordanian Jordanians -- mostly Brotherhood," he said. "There are no Palestinian Jordanians calling for regime change. As Palestinians, where on Earth would we go if Jordan collapsed?!"
* * *
As I departed the Middle East after a month of travels, I reflected on how -- for many of those living under the monarchies -- the Arab Spring was not viewed as a movement toward greater freedom and democracy, but rather as the breakdown of society into violence and chaos. People in Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Jordan were very concerned about corruption and wanted more transparent government. They wanted jobs and greater incomes to look after their families and buy consumer goods. But on my travels, I heard few speak about political freedoms.
In fact, most would have heartily agreed with the famous Islamic scholar and philosopher al-Ghazali, who said, "The tyranny of a sultan for 100 years causes less damage than one year's tyranny exercised by the subjects against one another." And they would have related to the medieval Islamic scholar, Ibn Taymiyya, who was born in the 13th century in Syria during the Mongol invasions, when he said, "Better 60 years of tyranny than one night of anarchy."