AMMAN, Jordan — As tensions mounted in the Levant this summer, 14 Georgetown students participated in the Office of Global Education’s inaugural Summer in Amman, Jordan, program.
Shortly after the program’s start on June 6, turmoil began to escalate dramatically in the neighboring countries of Iraq and Israel and in the nearby Gaza Strip.
The Looming Threat of ISIS
Less than a week after Georgetown students arrived in Amman, jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria began their campaign in Iraq by seizing the northern city of Mosul.
The extremist group is currently active in Iraq and Syria but has identified Jordan as a future target. Despite public threats made by ISIS leaders in mid-June to invade Jordan and “slaughter” King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein (MSFS ’87), students said that they did not feel a sense of imminent danger in Amman.
“I have never felt that the situation in Jordan could drastically and quickly change and become dangerous because of any personal experience or the things that I saw or the people that I met,” Amin Gharad (COL ’16) said. “At the end of the day, it was only the news I would hear about things going on all around that would cause me to fear things going down here.”
Although many Georgetown students were startled by reports of the group’s advances in Iraq, such as when it briefly gained control of the border crossing between Iraq and Jordan, locals seemed to be less concerned about ISIS’s potential military impact in Jordan. Amman is separated from the Iraqi border by nearly 200 miles of desert.
“The locals constantly talk about what’s going on, but whenever they talk about ISIS, they might talk about it in a sort of … matter of fact way, or they would even joke about it,” Rabia Mirza (COL ’16) said.
An ideology that is compatible with that of ISIS has not emerged on a large scale in Jordan, even as the group makes gains in Syria and Iraq.
“Right now, [Jordanians] are trying to be moderate in their approach. Everyone is trying to avoid being connected to ISIS in any way. … They don’t want it to come into Jordan, so there is an emphasis on the fact that Jordan is the only country right now that has stability in the region,” Yasmine Abu Tarboush, an Amman resident, said.
According to Abu Tarboush, 26, many Jordanians feel that the ideological threat posed by ISIS has the potential to be much more dangerous in Jordan than any military threat.
“People fear that it is going to become a mentality. They don’t fear that it’s going to be a security-related issue, because they realize that the intellectual aspect is what matters,” Abu Tarboush said.
Jordan plays host to hundreds of thousands of registered refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Turmoil in Gaza
A much more palpable shift in morale occurred in Jordan in mid-June as tensions rose between Israel and Gaza following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the subsequent murder of a Palestinian teenager. Today marks the 29th day of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, a series of air strikes couples with a ground offensive into Gaza.
Jordan entered into a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 but popular opinion within the country generally favors Palestine. More than half of Jordan’s population of roughly 8 million identifies as Palestinian, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates that there are 2 million registered Palestinian refugees within the borders of the Hashemite kingdom.
“What’s going on in Gaza has heavily impacted the citizens here, considering most of Amman’s population is of Palestinian descent. Whether they’re from Gaza or not, they express strong support and grieve for what’s going on, especially during Ramadan,” Mirza said. “A lot of people here could not properly, joyfully celebrate Eid in the way that they would have liked to.”
Although they are physically separated from the ongoing violence, many Jordanians have experienced a personal impact from Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
“I know people in Gaza and everyone in Jordan at least knows someone who knows someone in Gaza. To them, it feels personal. It doesn’t feel like it’s another country or that we should remain calm and stay out of it,” Abu Tarboush said.
Thousands of Jordanians attended a number of protests in Amman and other Jordanian cities throughout the second half of July, expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and calling for Hamas to strengthen its offensive against Israel.
Georgetown students are not permitted to take part in political demonstrations under the conditions of the study abroad program.
“I personally will stay away from protests. I know that there are certain mosques that you shouldn’t go to on Fridays because after Friday prayer, people stay outside and protest,” Zaynab Malik (COL ’16) said. “Being at the right place at the right time is very important here. Things can get out of hand.”
Many protestors also condemned the U.S. government for its continued support of Israel.
Although public opinion in Jordan is largely opposed to the U.S. government’s pro-Israel stance, students said that they do not feel that their status as Americans has affected their interactions with Jordanians.
“In Arab culture, they do not reflect their views about the government against the people, so it’s not like I’ve had any issues, but [Jordanians] will openly express their disapproval of the American government’s policies,” Mirza said.
Stability Amid Unrest
The summer program in Amman, which incorporates intensive Modern Standard Arabic studies at the second and third levels, replaced a similar summer program in Alexandria, Egypt, that was cancelled last April due to increasing political unrest within the country.
Jordan’s continued political stability in the face of mounting tensions in the region has deterred any significant security concerns comparable to those that spurred the cancellation of the Alexandria program. Georgetown students are prohibited from leaving Jordan and travelling around the region throughout the nine-week program.
“Last summer, I was upset when they cancelled the Egypt program, but I know that they did it for the right reasons and in retrospect it was the right choice,” Malik, who had planned to attend the Alexandria program last year, said. “Because I’ve had experience with that, I know that Georgetown is taking everything here seriously and if we were threatened even in the slightest way, I know that we would be evacuated.”
Although Jordan has remained stable and secure until this point, the tensions surrounding the country raise concerns about the future for many Jordanians.
“[In Jordan], we are just waiting. We expect that something horrible is going to happen, but we don’t know what it is,” Abu Tarboush said. “The threats are too many.”