Story by Kaileigh Higgins // Photos by Valerie Sarnataro and Katie Kriz
AMMAN, Jordan – This week, at the White House, King Abdullah II stood alongside President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stress his desire to work toward peace in the Middle East. But back home in Jordan, Ammanis said they had mixed feelings about the United States and, in some cases, felt disappointed with the Obama administration’s approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The two governments have remained on good terms for the past few decades, and Jordan has been seen as a relatively stable and powerful ally in a region where there is much animosity toward the west. Though Jordanians believe in the promises of cooperation and peace-keeping, many are unsure of the United States and its president.
“They are all the same,” said Alef Alroa’d, a bakhareh shop owner in downtown Amman. “Obama is just like the rest,” he added, speaking through a translator.
In June 2009, President Obama addressed Cairo University in a speech entitled “A New Beginning.” He used the occasion to reestablish strong ties between America and the Muslim world. In the speech, he recognized the bond the US has with Israel based on “cultural and historical ties,” but promised the US would not “turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity and a state of their own.”
In the Middle East, most were happy with the election of President Obama and excited for the regime change, if only for the fact that it signified the end of George W. Bush’s presidency. Many perceived the Bush administration’s actions as an attempt to secure and control the region and its resources for the US’s benefit, not to establish peace.
“In the past here, there was hope because of the campaigns and war mongering of Bush,” said Saad Hattar, a journalist with the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism. “They hoped he could bring balance to the region.”
Many feel that President Obama has failed to protect the Palestinians despite his promises of change and has lost the initial hope that existed following the change of administrations and the address in Cairo. Talking to merchants and patrons in downtown Amman, it is clear that many are unsatisfied with the unrest and violence continuing in Gaza and the West Bank.
“He promised, but he did not believe in his promise,” said Nashat Oaldrzy through a translator in a perfume shop in downtown Amman. “When he took office there was a genocide in Gaza, and he did nothing to stop it.”
Yet some still have faith in Obama and his administration.
“He’s a nice man,” said Rakez Bteibet in his women’s clothing store in Amman. “He can help the Middle East. I think Jordanian people here like Obama because he is a good man.”
While some were open about their opinions, many in downtown Amman were reluctant to share. Some of this can be attributed to a cultural fear of voicing opinions, but Hattar believes that these people just do not have much to say on the matter.
“They don’t believe anymore in politics, they’ve been hearing the same things for so many years,” said Hattar. “People have become indifferent about what American leaders say. What they say does not translate into peace on the ground in Palestine.”
During the meetings with King Abdullah this week, in addition to addressing pro-democracy revolutions in the Middle East, President Obama reiterated the importance of promoting peace talks between Israel and Palestine, saying that “because of the many changes that are taking place in the region, it’s more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states that are living side by side in peace and security.” King Abdullah called this the “core issue” in the region and considers the US “crucial” in addressing it. To help Jordan with its current economic downturn, President Obama also announced that the US will invest more than $400 million in the country.
However, it will take much more than aid for the people of Jordan to regain faith in the Obama administration.
“Unless he delivers on Palestine, they will never believe in him,” said Hattar. “Without that, there won’t be high respect.”