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A Picture of a Smoking Prime Minister Gives This Jaded Jordanian-American Some Hope

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Every once in a while, I'm reminded of how things have changed dramatically since I left the Middle East almost seven years ago. Today is one of those days. I woke up this morning to a photo of Jordan's newly-appointed Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh being circulated on Facebook and other social media platforms. If no one has pointed it out I would not have noticed anything different in this picture had I seen it in Alghad newspaper where it was originally published. It's a photo of Tarawneh sitting in one of the chairs in the Jordanian parliament smoking a cigarette, a daily occurrence in Jordan where smoking is a favorite pastime for many.

But here is the catch: this is the Jordanian parliament, a public space where smoking is supposedly banned.

The photo is courtesy of Alghad newspaper and was posted on Facebook by user Suhaib Arnaout who identifies himself as a Jordanian living in Toronto.

Here is a translation of the caption that Arnaout posted in Arabic on his Facebook wall:

Do you think the day will come when the prime minister will respect one of the simple rules in his country, including no smoking in public spaces? Or is he too busy with hiking prices? [Please share].

As I write this blog post, this photo has been shared 658 times by Jordanians both in the country and in the diaspora. The comments that followed were generally critical of the prime minister.

Just a reminder that Jordan has had more than its share of prime minsters since last year. Three prime ministers have either quit or been fired since protests broke out in Jordan in January 2011. Fayez Tarawneh was appointed in April replacing Awn Khasawneh.

If this was the old Jordan, the Jordan of my pre-social media youth, people would have seen this photo, smiled and maybe joked about it with their neighbors. Criticizing the prime minister especially in the media was a red line that would send people to jail if crossed.

The Jordan of my youth is one where I got my news from state media and where we grew up believing that Saddam Hussein's face was imprinted on the moon during the first Gulf War. The Jordan of my youth was one where we were taught to keep our critical thinking to ourselves and stay away from voicing our dissatisfaction, especially in media platforms or public arenas.

So please forgive me if you find my fascination with this Facebook post a bit trivial. I'm getting old and jaded, and being hopeful about a better Middle East is slowly fading. This picture and the reactions it unleashed gives me a smidgen of hope that I would like to cling to.