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Elections and Sports Games December 20, 2010

Posted by Sharief El-Gabri in Fulbright, Jordan, Undergraduate.
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When you turn on the news, there are very few headlines portraying Middle Eastern women in a positive light. The hijab (headscarf) is rarely viewed outside of a prism of oppression and extremism. I’m not here to write a thesis on the role of women in the media, nor am I saying the Middle East is perfect in its treatment of its mothers, sisters, and daughters. I do, however, want to talk politics. Well, not really … but I want to mention Reem Badran.

poster of Reem Badran

Reem Badran's poster. Badran is the first female Jordanian parliamentarian to win without the women's quota.

The Jordanian parliamentary elections were held on November 9, 2010. Beginning a month before the election, literally everywhere you looked were posters of a multitude of candidates, running excessively meaningless campaign slogans–for instance, “Jordan for all and all for Jordan.” People complained of the sheer number of campaign slogans and the often troublesome placement of campaign signage (in front of stop signs for instance). It was riveting, however, watching democracy take place in the Middle East. There certainly were more than a handful of criticisms, such as those from the Islamic Action Front who boycotted the elections. With a total voter turn out of 53 percent, albeit only 34 percent in capital Amman, Jordan has nothing to be ashamed of.

Reem Badran was the heroine of the night. She became the first woman in Jordan’s history to win a seat outright by garnering more votes than her opponents rather than acquiring a seat due to the women’s quota, which requires women to hold a certain number of elected positions in Parliament. Although she comes from a very influential family (her father was a former prime minister and defense minister), her victory is something that should certainly be cherished and recognized as a significant step in the right direction for Jordanian women.

Sharief with Ahmed

Sharief with Ahmed, a high schooler who helps out at the sports camp. The volunteers' long-term goal is to ensure that the facility is functional without expatriate management.

I mentioned in my previous post that I’m a volunteer at a sports facility in the Gaza Refugee Camp. Last year, an American who had experience in the camp teaching English at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) school decided to raise money and build a sports facility for the community. A small group of us, about five volunteers, have started a kids’ sports program. Although we haven’t yet set up a program for the girls, every Saturday we take the public bus an hour outside of Amman to a less mentioned part of Jordan and train about 80 boys (shabab) in sports’ basics such as simple boxing techniques, weight lifting, and group games.

For two weeks while the weather was suitable, I went on runs with them in the hills. This proved to be particularly dangerous due to the fact that we were running on the side of a very busy road and most of the children don’t have shoes. They either wear  very worn out shibshib (sandals) or go barefoot.

two boys receive instruction in boxing

Two boys receive instruction in boxing. At times, they found more entertainment hitting each other than hitting the bag. One boy is unable to raise his arms above his shoulders. In spite of his physical obstacles he still enthusiastically comes to sports camp every week.

The main purpose of the sports camp is to keep the kids active so they do not wander the streets aimlessly. Additionally, the camps reinforce basic rules of courtesy and respect, order and discipline. The kids’ ages range from 6 to 14. For them, I’m certain that the facility provides an outlet, a fantasy of sorts, for just one hour once a week. In a community of severe poverty and unemployment rumored to be around 40 percent trying (emphasis on trying) to provide this small group of kids with a sense of order and stability has been humbling to say the least.

I know it’s bizarre to mention these two subjects–progress for Arab women and sports facilities in a refugee camp–in the same blog post, but I think it’s important to mention the highlights of my experience here from a macro and micro perspective. Both news clips have certainly made this journey a lot more interesting. I look forward to continuing to play with rambunctious, often horribly behaved kids from the streets of Jerash with its open sewage, and I also look forward to observing further progress women in the region are bound to make.

Comments»

1. stumblingandlaughing - December 20, 2010

You should contact Toms shoes and see if they would be willing to donate shoes to your camp so that they can keep their sandals from wearing down on the runs. Hope all is well Sharief!

2. Sharief El-Gabri - December 27, 2010

I’ll definitely check it out Sean. Thanks a lot.


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