21st Century
The Future
World Travel
Books & Film
Original Fiction
Opinion & Lifestyle
Politics & Living
Film Space
Movies in depth
Kid's Books
Reviews & stories

The International Writers Magazine: Middle - East Tourism

Twists and turns of an Arab traveler
Dr Marwan Asmar

I don’t really consider myself as well traveled despite having lived in England, once visited Scotland, went to Wales, and then found myself in Kansas, USA, where everyone tells me, it’s in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been to Germany, Belgium and briefly to wonderful Luxembourg to Kuwait, Dubai, Lebanon in the distant path and Czechoslovakia when communism was heaving in its last breaths.

And I would like to travel to India, maybe China and occasionally think of Moscow, particularly as it was under the Soviet regime. Most of my traveling is in my head and do not as yet have the ‘get up and go mentality’ to explore different places in areas for instance that are no more than a 30-minute drive from where I work, for such is the awesomeness of Jordan, an area reputed to have 25,000 archaeological sites and sloganed as an open air museum.

We Arabs differ from Europeans, Americans and probably the rest of the English-speaking countries and even the Russian and the East Europeans who once had their sojourns on the Black Sea and the Baltic away from capitalistic riches.

There, a holiday is a holiday, they must get away every year, it became in their blood, part of their adrenalin. Maybe this is a slightly over-exaggerated statement as far as the Arabs are concerned for a tourism culture is being built in the Arab world and Gulf countries. Certainly it is now the Russians who are coming in droves to experience the new hip culture.
Gone are the days, when "Gulfies" flocked to London and Paris, many still do of course, but the tendency now is to travel to places like Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and probably Tunisia and Morocco because of the cost and the destinations of course where snow-capped mountains in some of these countries provide attractive eye-openers for people to see.

The Gulf countries themselves are building their own tourism culture as well around their high-tech air-conditioned malls, or as in one case an artificial snow ski as one of the new attractions in Dubai with a slogan that goes like ‘come and snow-ski in the middle of the desert.’

Clearly, Arab governments, states and authorities want a slice of the world tourism pie that is said to be in the billions of dollars world-wide. But Arabs generally don’t have the ‘must holiday’ spirit on their calendar list, despite the fact things might be changing, and they are being groomed to higher things.

The government in Jordan for instance not only wants to attract more international visitors to the Kingdom—a total of 50,000 Brits came in 2006—but they want more Jordanians to become internal tourists, to go to such destinations as Aqaba, Petra and Wadi Rum.

But there is still a long way to go. We, Arabs need to have the tourism culture instilled in us to become part of our cringing genes. Despite staying in England for a long while I never considered myself as a travel buff but this is maybe because I saw myself to be on a "perpetual holiday" and there was no need to go anywhere else! I was young, probably, and to use a clichéd expression, in love with a country that is not mine, but to scrumptiously indulge in.

The creation of a tourism culture does depend on having money and this explain why the majority of Arabs, again except for the "Gulfies" and the other rich people in the rest of the Arab countries, don’t have the holiday spirit on their calendar list as yet, although demographic changes might be altering that fact as more and more rich Iraqis for instance become part of the new pan-Arab social milieu in places as Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Dubai and bring with them new habits of leisure and dining out experiences.

Today for instances Jordan has many Iraqi restaurants for the new immigrants to deluge in. Where is in the 1990s the Jordanian capital had low class Iraqi restaurants for a particular social milieu, the restaurants today are hip and fashionable, speak of new Iraqi money.

In the West every one goes on a holiday, rich and poor, middle class, low class, working classes—"this is my holiday, I earned it and want to enjoy every minute of it as I work eight hours a day, five-day a week." Of course, in the Arab world it is more complicated.

Apart from the Lebanese so I am told, and probably now the Iraqis, though this is not the initial stereotype one has about them, Arabs have to shudder off their guilt complexes about work. After six, the Lebanese stop talking shop and go with their families to coffee shops, or the beach if the weather is good. Despite the seemingly political problems in Lebanon of which we are told about through satellites and become worried, the Lebanese carry on under the motto of enjoy life while you can.

But despite individual national characteristics, there are salient features. Because of the transient nature of the Arab nation, despite the fact there are 21 individual Arab states, and because of the fluidity of the populations moving from one area to another in search of work, Arabs do go on holiday every year and some every six months, if the boss allow them!

Jordanians working in the Gulf take their holiday to Jordan, Egyptians keep going back and forth to Egypt and so do the Syrians, Lebanese, Yemenis and the rest of the Arab nationalities. Their holiday is going back to their countries. We are told for instance that 60 percent of tourists to Jordan are from the Gulf who come here for the weather, the destination and sometimes the nightlife. They want to get away from the "mall culture" which has been thrust down their throats.

Clearly, you can identify the people of the Gulf through their dishdasha dress wear but many Jordanians or Palestinians returning to the Kingdom have come to prefer to wearing the long white robes that provides better maneuverability for the body rather than the strapped trouser and shirt which shows that there is a fair degree of cultural inter-mixing.

Their holiday is going back to their countries for short trip or a vacation. A Brit or a German on the other hand would be looking forward to taking their vacations to Ibiza or some other fanciful place, completely away from their hometown or country of origin, like when one of my Marxist Frenchmen friends jumped up and said "oh I think I will go to Vietnam next time around, a place which we illustrious occupied in previous eras."

He was harking back to the old era but another German friend of mine, a music teacher who used to teach at the National Music Conservatory in Amman would regularly bring his wife from Germany using Jordan as a base to drive to Syria and Lebanon. I think deep in his heart he was a German Orientalist who fell in love with the Arab world, having taught music in a German convent in Egypt in the 1970s and early 1980s and in Jordan in the 1990s.

Despite the fact that there are cultural, ideological, probably economic factors between Arab and Europeans—and admittedly dogged political factors in the Arab case—I like the fact that a holiday for Europeans is almost sacred where many, individuals, mothers, fathers, young children, granddads and grannies let their hair down and become tourists, for one, two and three weeks, they either go on the beach or develop their favorite haunts.

This is what my German friend used to do. From Egypt, he would take his young family, a wife and two young children, and travel to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen of all places, a country where every one of us Arabs prefer to stay away from, and is only considered in our eyes as a nation of migrant laborers.

From him and his family, whose wife was an economics teacher, Yemen is the cradle of ancient civilization, yet when he once told his girl-pupils he was going to Aden they all scoffed, believing that he was going to tell them that he was going to some place like Switzerland. And thus as Arabs our perception has become twisted having become introduced to modernity, thinking our world offers nothing compared to the rich industrial north that offers all except our salvation!

© Marwan Asmar April 2 2008

More Opinion


© Hackwriters 1999-2008 all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy - no liability accepted by or affiliates.