Linux in Government: Jordan - A Surprise in the Middle East

A report from last week's open-source software seminar in Amman.

Editor's Note: This article has been update since its original posting.

I stood on a street in Jerash and suddenly realized that no one ever told me what to expect. I had seen ruins before, and I had viewed photos (see Figure 1) of this Roman city. Still, I cannot think of anything that could have prepared me for the experience. Jerash isn't some pile of rocks left over after people pillaged it as a quarry, as are most remnants of the Roman era. As I looked in all directions, I saw the equivalent of a major city too large to cover by foot and ready for habitation.

Figure 1. One Small Street in Jerash

When Ed White of DevIS contacted me in April to speak at last week's OSS event, I wondered if he was joking. With all the trouble in the Middle East I could not imagine why anyone would want to go there. As Richard Stallman wrote, "In late February, when I mentioned to people in Europe that I was soon going to Syria, they were worried for me". Obviously, Richard had little if any trouble in Syria. But was that a fluke?

I could have buckled under and declined, as many invitees from the US did. Instead, in spite of the propaganda on the US street, I chose to step off the plane in Amman. As with my visit to Jerash, I cannot think of anything that could have prepared me for the experience.

Beyond Open Source

With one exception, you probably can jot down a few thoughts about Linux and free software, and you'll know what we discussed. The sponsor, INT@J, devoted this seminar to applying OSS to government, business, finance and academia. So, the presenters spoke about real-life scenarios and projects throughout the region. As one might imagine, sincere interest in and many deployments of Linux exist.

Figure 2. One of the panel discussions; note the decor.

Although the presenters abstained from Microsoft bashing, we all were aware of the Redmond company's large footprint in the region. Someone said that Microsoft has 29 offices in the Middle East. I visited one of its Gold Partner's offices and saw about 40 busy developers working on a variety of projects for the government.

The gentleman showing me around the Gold Partner's office introduced me to one of the project managers and mentioned that I was speaking at the open-source software event. Immediately, the chap stood up and began to tell me what was wrong with Linux. When I asked him if he'd ever used it, he said he had not. Ever the diplomat, I stopped the conversation there and told him how pleased I was to meet him.

I also spoke to a number of businessmen from the region attending the seminar who are ready to start doing business now. People eat lunch later in the day in Jordan and use the noon hour for what they call a coffee break. Coffee breaks and lunches provide ample time to speak about business. I entered several conversations about real business issues, and many people followed up with me by e-mail before I returned home. I have never seen this happen before at one of these seminars, not to this extent.

What About Jordan?

Throw your preconceived notions out the window. I used to say the friendliest people in the world live in Texas. Jordanians, both Hashemites and Palestinians, convey more friendliness than Texans, along with a gentle and loving nature. Their warmth isn't a facade either. Also, I saw no evidence of a repressive religious regime. Christians represent as much as 8-10% percent of the population in Jordan. But how would one know when Jordanians themselves pay no attention to such things?

Jordanian people have an attitude of acceptance towards everyone. I asked about and saw no evidence of anyone attempting to convert people, and I saw no discrimination because of religion. One of the people I met works in a high position in the government, and she is Christian. It's simply not an issue as far as I could tell.

Jordanians also have a high level of education. Two of the people with whom I spent time attended college in Texas. Most of the participants I met at the conference either attended universities in the US or Britain. That may account for the population's fluency in English. Street signs demonstrate the bilingual nature of Jordan, English and Arabic.

I could say more about how Jordan and its people impressed me, but this isn't a travel column, so we'll move along with our discussion of ITC.

______________________

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Christianity

Misafir's picture

Most countries in the Middle East have no issues with Christianity.

A Surprise in the Middle East

katiesan's picture

He later returned to technology and has consulted and worked with start-ups as well leaders of the Fortune 500. thanks.
mirc mirc
Chat chat

Real price - national GDP

Peter Schmidt's picture

This is a great idea to calculate the GDP into the US$-Price. I am living in Thailand and would wonder how the "real price" of that MS-Products are, when calculated this way. Greetings.

Arabeyes.org

Anonymous's picture

A slight correction -- although Mohammed Sameer is currently a 'core' member (ie. managing director) within Arabeyes he was not a founder of the organization.

For background on Arabeyes do please consult the history page [1] and/or feel free to post to one of its many mailing-lists [2].

[1] http://www.arabeyes.org/history.php
[2] http://www.arabeyes.org/mailinglists.php

Regards.

Nice words abot me ;-)

Mohammed Sameer's picture

I agree, I'm currently an Arabeyes core member.
However, It wasn't founded by me. I co-founded The Egyptian GNU/Linux user group,

Nice words about Sameer

tadelste's picture

Thank you for the correction for our article. Regardless of whether you founded it or not, it's a great play on words. The project is to Arabize Linux, Free and Open Source Software. To call it "Arab eyes" shows a wonderful sense of humor. Anyone who meets or attends Sameer's presentations will automatically want to use Linux. Because Sameer, you are one of the charismatic personalities and figures in the community. Thank you for your comments and your commitment.

-The Author

Some facts about Jordan

Sam Varghese's picture

Some corrections which others may have been too polite to point out:

"Jordanians, both Hashemites and Palestinians..." Huh?
Hashemites are people who are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad - the king's family is one. Not too many such people around in Jordan.
The inhabitants of Jordan are East Bank Palestinians, West Bank Palestinians or Bedouin.

The Christian population is closer to 10 per cent.

If people are well educated in Jordan, it is because the Palestinians have long realised that without a country of their own, they have to always compete in a foreign land - and being educated helps.

Jordanian annual income is closer to $US 4000.

As to the comments about Christianity, has the author forgotten that Christ was a Middle Easterner?

What an Idiot!

Jordanian's picture

So its cuz plaestinains dont have a home of their own that Jordan beacme educated? What a freking idiot!
Ya 7aram...you lost your country!
Jordanians are in their nature highly educated, and its not cuz of the palestinians. Ever since the invasion of britain of Jordan, Jordanians have widened their eyes to the prospect of education outside the middle east. There are thousands of Jordanians who have graduated from top notch universities in the US, UK, and from all over the world. So dont give me that crap that is cuz you...you are REFUGEES! Look at the palestinains in syria and lebanon, the only reason you are educated is cuz we let you! The plaestinains in syria and lebanon are treated like crap in comparison!
So much for your perspective and paradigm!

commenting about your article..

Ahmed Tarawneh's picture

Dear Sir,

I am a Jordanian 24 years old male, living in Jordan since birth, I would like to correct some information for you.

Commenting about what your article, you wrote..
("Jordanians, both Hashemites and Palestinians..." Huh?
Hashemites are people who are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad - the king's family is one. Not too many such people around in Jordan.
The inhabitants of Jordan are East Bank Palestinians, West Bank Palestinians or Bedouin.)

Ok, Hashemites are people who are descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, you are right their, those are the royal family.

Jordanians are East Bank Jordanians, Palestinians are from West Bank (Palestine).

Jordan, Linux and Microsoft!

NativeJordanian's picture

One correction first:
"The inhabitants of Jordan are East Bank Palestinians, West Bank Palestinians or Bedouin." Huh?
About 30% of Jordanians are originally from Palestine, and the others are native Jordanians and Bedwins.

Apart from that, this is a great Article. The use of Linux and the quality of IT professionals in Jordan are among the best in the area. And it is increasing thanks to the efforts of our beloved king, and the ministry of education in Jordan. Nevertheless, I hope that the ministry of communications and technology would give a little more attention to Linux (instead of pushing Microsoft everywhere) which will save the country a lot of everything!

I'm glad that you liked Jordan, and hopefully, a lot of people would change their idea about Jordan and the Middle East, and see how Muslims are living peacefully with non-Muslims. I wish I know why everyone thinks that it all about WAR when it comes to the Middle East?!

Best wishes and peace to all!

Nice meeting you

Isam Bayazidi's picture

It was nice meeting you Tom in Amman last week. I have few comments on your article:
- I doubt that there are a large number of Open Source developers from Syria. In Syria for example the ports for SSH, CVS, rsync, and telnet are not open. Making it almost impossible for a developer to exist, and to cooperate and work with an open source community.
- As far as I know, the percentage of christians in Jordan is 8-10%. Far from the 20% mentioned.

Again, it was great meeting you.

The Conference Agenda

tadelste's picture

Ahmad Humeid kindly posted the conference agenda on his blog 360East.

You can see it at http://www.360east.com/?p=166.

You might find this blog one you want to link. Ahmad impressed me in many ways. In fact, I read his blog for a weeks before going to Jordan. When I first saw him, I recognized him immediately and we had wonderful chats.

Jordan / Religion

Anonymous's picture

Most countries in the Middle East have no issues with Christianity. In fact, there is a very deep tradition of Christianity (and its acceptance) in the Middle East.

The facts

Anonymous's picture

I wondered if it could really be true that 20% of the Jordanian population was Christian. The CIA factbook sets the number to 6%.

Then I wondered if the income really was only $1,700 annually. The CIA factbook reports a purchasing power parity of $4,500 annually.

Then I wondered where you got your numbers from?

The facts

tadelste's picture

Hello.

I'm working with information I found locally while in Jordan. I'm not certain that the CIA Fact Book should be our baseline and I did in fact consult it. You may have seen a reference to earlier stats in one of the links in the article. In speaking to a number of reliable sources, locally, the annual per cap income was represented as $1700. Also note than the exchange rate today reflects a low American dollar. One dollar buys 70 cents worth of Dinars.

In addition, I heard population ranges of between 8% and 20% for Christians. The figures came from reliable sources. I found five Roman Catholic Churches in Amman, for example. One gentleman with whom I spoke said his family had lived in Jordan for centuries and they were Christian. He believed the population could be as high as 20% and added that it really didn't matter because people generally did not care.

excuse me Tom, I think that y

Anonymous's picture

excuse me Tom, I think that you are somehow unreasonable with being surprised about Christians in Jordan and the middle east. After all Christianity was born in the region, and the most holy churches and Christian sites in in here. So why would it be hard to believe that "family had lived in Jordan for centuries and they were Christian". I am not talking about Jordan in particular, all countries in the middle east (exclude the gulf) have Christians as part of the culture. I wonder if you really visited jordan.

Reply to the excuse me comment.

tadelste's picture

Thank you for your comment. Community is such an important part of the Linux culture that I doubt it would exist without it. As an example, we would not have a chance to exchange thoughts if Linux and the community did not exist.

My mention of Christianity isn't an intention to triumph it but perhaps to counter act some perceptions which our media imposes. For example, before arriving in Jordan, I did extensive reading on the Internet and found a plethora of myths from travelers, conspiracy buffs and both left and right wing ideologists. Many Americans have no other source of information than what they read here.

It might be difficult for you to understand, but I read that no Christians lived in Arab countries several times. I wonder how many others have read the same thing and fear going to Jordan for such a reason?

In the context of the US reader, stressing that we are accepted and welcome in such a beautiful and friendly culture has some merit.

A recruiter for one of the French consultancies said that he has recruited many people from other countries to join his firm in Jordan. Yet, he said that he has had no luck attracting Americans. Could something be wrong with the perception? I think so.

No Offense Intended

jmsjnsn's picture

I thought that point was quite clear in your article--Americans have no need to fear visiting Jordan. It was also clear that you were trying to dispel the common misconception in the US that most everyone in the Middle East hates Americans and/or Christians.

This article is about the possibilities of increasing the prosperity of a nation by eliminating the M$ tax via FOSS, and that US citizens can be a part of the solution without fear.

It's silly to take offense when none was intended while skipping over the salient points of the article, IMHO.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Leslie's picture

In underdeveloped countries, a man's salary is usually able to purchase him food, shelter, clothing and a little else. If this salary is converted to US$, we would ask how is it the family can survive?

That said, we cannot see any European or North American software company scaling "the cost of their product in US$ versus US GDP" to the same ratio of cost in local currency versus the local GDP.

But we could see exploitation, in the sense that no country has exclusivity for brains, and that the relatively low salaries for a super-tech or super skilled programmer makes offshore developement a very attractive opportunity.

Today it means that for these societies, software has to be virtually free and reliable. Today, that solution is linux and a few other open source products.

Let's hope Jordan got the open source message

Ahmad Humeid's picture

Tom. Great article. I am very happy the event took place and that people like you and other international and regional speakers participated. More people should have attended the seminar, and I feel that our local IT industry has not fully understood the potential yet. Let's hope we can change that. I am posting my own article about the seminar on 360east.com.

Thanks again and we hope to see you in Jordan again.

Postscript to Ahmad Humeld

tadelste's picture

I don't mean to discuss you in the third person if I do. But, I consider 360east.com as one of the best blogs on the Internet. As I discovered in speaking with you, you are an artist and of the highest calbre and certainly recognized by the work you do and your high calibre clients

I appreciated your insight locally and globally. You also mentioned you were looking for a PHP team to whom you could outsource work. I'm sure many such teams exist and need work, especially on the type of clients you service.

I look forward to seeing you again in Jordan too.

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