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Amani: Great expectations

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been more than a year since the early, heady days of what some have called the “Arab Spring” protest movements led primarily by Arab young people yearning for greater personal and political freedoms. This is one of six stories in Baptist Press today exploring the lives of six men and women coping with radical change. And, for an overview story about the intervening months, see today’s Baptist Press story, “Whatever happened to the ‘Arab Spring’?”

AMMAN, Jordan (BP) — Amani* has big dreams and expectations.

She doesn’t just want a job — which can be hard to find in Jordan, even for educated women. She wants a career. And she wants it to be fulfilling.

“I want to love what I do,” says Amani, 29, who lives with her Muslim family in Amman, Jordan’s busy urban capital. “I want to have my own business.”

It’s not just talk. Amani finished third in her class (“I was very clever in school”) then earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and has handled multiple jobs in human resources — including one as the only woman manager in a good-sized company. Though Jordanian society, like other Middle Eastern cultures, still favors men in the workplace and other public arenas, professional women like Amani are breaking out of traditional roles.

“It might surprise you, but this is really what is happening now,” Amani says. “Companies know how a woman can affect business on the good side. Especially in human resources, ‘human’ is very important. You must be very sensitive when you deal with people. You have to encourage them, to give them all the tools to work as a team. Also, the women here are very educated. They really work. I’m comparing myself with my brothers. I’m the only one who worked hard to finish my bachelor’s degree.”

Yes, she wants to get married and have children, too. She believes she can be a good wife and mother without sacrificing her other goals.

The secret, she says, is balance.

“My life is not just about career and my children or husband; I have other lives as well,” she explains. “My friends, my family, my health — I have to find time for each of these things to be happy.”

Over cappuccino with friends at a cafe in one of the city’s stylish neighborhoods, Amani is talkative, funny, intelligent. But there’s a hint of sadness, of restlessness in her eyes. She wants something more, but she isn’t sure what it is. Something spiritual? Maybe, but she hasn’t found it in Islam.

“I do not believe in religions, but I do believe in God,” she says. “My family is different, of course. When I told them this, they had a lot of problems. They can’t accept it. I’m not atheist; I believe in God, but not religions. I don’t do the things like pray or go to the mosque.”

Jordan is an island of relative stability surrounded by nations in various states of flux: Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories. It plays host to refugees and immigrants from all of them, depending upon political events and wars in the region. Yet when the Arab Spring revolutions began in 2011, Amani and her friends were caught off-guard.

“At the beginning it was a shock, and when it continued, it was like you’re watching a series on TV,” she reflects. “I hope this is a good step to get freedom and to have a good future, because there’s a lot of corruption in the governments everywhere in the Middle East.

“Nothing can change suddenly. I think it will take time. How long, I don’t know. It might take 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, but this is the first step to change the future. If they don’t do this now, it’s not going to change at all.”

In the meantime, she has a message for American women: “Arab women are human like you. They have emotions, they have needs, they have thoughts and beliefs. Don’t look to the Arabs as ‘terrorists.’ Arab people in person are not like what you have heard in the media.”

Most of all, young Arabs, women and men, have expectations — like Amani herself. Pray that they will be fulfilled by something greater than earthly freedom or success.
*Name changed. Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent.

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  • Erich Bridges