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In Jordan, opportunities for flirting are growing.
AMMAN — At nine on a Thursday night, La Calle — a popular bar in Amman — is just starting to fill up.
A Jordanian woman in a low-cut shirt shares a love seat with a man with slicked-back hair; the two lean in close, talking quietly and laughing. Upstairs couples mingle on the balcony where it’s not uncommon to see a pair steal more than just a friendly kiss.
This is the scene of the new, trendy Middle East, where (for a small group) sex before marriage is possible. While fundamentalists tend to grab most of the headlines, throughout the region a growing number of young people are breaking with tradition. Dating and sex are no longer so taboo.
In Iran, for example, a recent government survey showed that one in four men between the ages of 19 and 29 had sex before marriage.
Back in Jordan, a wave of child abandonments last year prompted one medical official to call for lifting the ban on abortion in Jordan, a topic so taboo here it’s generally considered outside the realm of discussion.
Although just a limited segment of the Jordanian population appears to have embraced the lifestyle — and it's easier for men than women — their numbers are growing.
“It’s still a certain part of the community, it’s not the masses, but there are enough numbers now for it to be seen,” said Madian al-Jazerah, owner of Books@Cafe, a trendy bar in Amman. “This younger generation has broken quite a bit of the barriers.”
In the last five years, Damascus has seen a proliferation of nightclubs that are still hopping until the early hours of the morning.
To be sure, the core cultural concerns about dating and sex remain. But for those interested in exploring, “there are more opportunities and there are better opportunities to keep it private,” said Andrea Rugh, an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C.
At the bar in Books@Cafe, Mohamed Qawasmeh and his friend Shadi Al-Saeed flirt with a group of American girls. The two Jordanian 20-somethings said that a few years ago there were only one or two places where they could go to get a drink and meet girls. Now there are more choices than they can list.
“It’s not weird for anyone to say I’m going clubbing. It’s a style of life now,” Qawasmeh said, adding that with more options, nightlife has also become more affordable for a larger number of people.
Qawasmeh’s only complaint is that most Jordanian girls are off limits when it comes to casual flirtation or more. Still, he thinks even this may change. “Every year it’s improving. I’m thinking that next year you can go talk to any Jordanian girl and she’ll be okay with that,” Qawasmeh said.