Unlike most Jordanian women in their twenties, Fatima Mohammed
has no plans to get married any time soon. "That's the last thing
I'm thinking about," says the ambitious factory worker, her hair
covered neatly with a headscarf she bought with her own money.
She works 72 hours a week with 470 other young women at the
Silver Planet garment factory just outside Jordan's capital, Amman.
Over the past decade thousands of women like Fatima have rejected
traditional family roles to find work in the garment industry here,
which has boomed since Jordan, Israel, and the US signed a joint
trade deal in 1996 establishing Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZs).
The agreement allowed Jordanian factories operating within the QIZs
to export goods - manufactured with some Israeli materials - to the
The agreement was largely seen as a way for the US to reward
Jordan for making peace with their Jewish neighbor and as an
incentive to Arab businessmen and governments to begin building
economic ties with their Jewish neighbor. Jordan's annual exports to
the US rose from $2 million in 1994 to almost $1 billion this year.
"More than 25,000 Jordanians are working ... and a new sort of
culture is being established where girls are going to work, they are
supporting their families and raising the standard of living," said
former Jordanian trade minister, Dr. Mohammed Halaiqa.
Partly encouraged by the success in Jordan, Egypt on Tuesday
signed as similar agreement with the US and Israel establishing QIZs
there. Egypt had resisted signing until now out of anger at Israel
and because Egypt wanted a comprehensive free-trade agreement with
the US rather than the restricted access provided by the QIZs,
But the US insisted on an Egyptian agreement with Israel first
and in recent months, Egyptian and Israeli relations have warmed as
never before, largely at the prodding of the US.
Now, Egyptian officials like Foreign Trade Minister Rachid
Mohammed Rachid say they see the deal with the Israelis as a first
step towards a Free Trade Agreement with America.
Mr. Rachid acknowledged that the Egyptian public views Israel
darkly, but said he was confident that the economic benefits will
win most Egyptians over. "The fact the Jordanian experience next
door has been quite positive" convinced Egypt to go ahead, he said
"There has always been an emotional reaction to cooperation with
Israel on the public side ... [but] once the business cycle starts,
I think this will be a much more positive environment."
In Jordan, although QIZs have helped forge better economic ties
with Israel, some analysts say challenges remain for the development