11:45 pm, 31 December 2004: It was an amazing scene. A few thousand young men (almost no women in sight!) gathered on Amman’s Abdoun roundabout (or ‘Circle’ as we call it), chanting, shouting, clapping.. While Amman’s well-to-do where celebrating the arrival of 2005 in upscale bars, restaurants and clubs in the Abdoun circle area, these young men obviously just wanted to be in a ‘cool place’ to welcome the new year.
Arriving on foot from a few hundreds meters away, my two companions and I saw that the crowd was centered on some kind of event. Moving closer we discovered that in the middle of the crowd there was (wait for this) absolutely nothing!!
Split in two halves, one inside the roundabout, the other across the street, these young men, where just engaged in chanting match. With every passing car or truck the crowd erupted into wild shouting and jumping.
Then, with the countdown to 2005, the crowd went berserk, taking over the street as fire crackers exploded in the air.
The police, who maintained a visible presence, seemed to feel they had to make themselves ‘useful’. A police car approached the crowd and a policeman jumped out, yielding a rubber baton and charge toward the crowd, who were already running away from the car. No sooner had the police car passed through the crowd, did the young men occupy the street again.
From the looks and verbal style of these guys, it was obvious to me that most of them had come from lower income ‘East Amman’ neighborhoods. And when all the New Year’s celebration the city are held behind closed doors, in restaurants, clubs and hotels, these young people couldn’t find anything better to do than to celebrate their own act of gathering. They came (as they do on Thursday nights) from where they live to the glitter of the Abdoun roundabout, hanging around outside the places they probably cannot afford to enter.
That’s the reality of Amman: a city of considerable income divisions. It’s a city that still cannot get itself to act like a capital. Thousands of young people obviously felt the need to be on the street to celebrate. But with absolutely no public effort to organize publicly accessible events we just get these masses of aimless youth (with the police watching them).
Amman needs an active effort to start behaving like a real city with PUBLIC events held in PUBLIC places. We have Culture Street in Shmeisani, all the public plazas in Ras Al Ein, Al Hussein Gardens. These places need to be brought alive with events that focus the public’s energy, instead of forcing youth to just hang around on the streets, cheering the passing cars!
Here’s a video of how the scene looked like at Abdoun Roundabout yesterday.