Jordan bagpiper graffiti celebrates Middle East’s ‘Scottish connection’

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The mural in Khalda district in Amman of a Jordanian piper. (Ahmad Said)
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Jordanian soldiers during a visit by the Prince of Wales. (Getty Images)
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Jordan's bagpipers. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 February 2020

Jordan bagpiper graffiti celebrates Middle East’s ‘Scottish connection’

  • A popular work of street art in an Amman district depicts a uniformed military-band bagpiper
  • The British first began fielding bagpipe bands during the days of the Transjordan Mandate

AMMAN: For almost a century now, Jordanians have had a special affinity with the bagpipe, a musical wind instrument with roots in the Scottish Highlands.

That historic bond is now being commemorated with stunning graffiti in an Amman neighborhood.

The colorful artwork, for which the capital’s western Khalda district has been in the limelight of late, shows a Jordanian soldier in a checked red keffiyeh (headdress) blowing air into his bagpipe.

Local residents know the bagpiper with the chubby face as Habes, whose portrait has become one of the most visited and photographed sites in the entire capital.

How young Jordanians have come to identify with a musical instrument with checked red bags that resemble the Scottish kilt is a fascinating story steeped in history.


  • A sculpture of bagpipers has reportedly been found on a Hittite slab from 1,000 B.C.
  • Images are known to have been found of ancient Greeks playing piped instruments.
  • Many foreign militaries patterned after the British Army as well as police and fire services have adopted the tradition.

The bagpipe is a windblown device that can produce a wide range of musical tunes. For centuries, pipe bands have been a reassuring presence at parades, weddings, festivals and funerals throughout the world.

During the expansion of British colonial rule, spearheaded by military forces that included Scottish Highland regiments, the bagpipe became a familiar sight across the empire.

The instrument’s popularity received a further boost in the 20th century when large numbers of bagpipers were trained for military service during the two world wars.

In Britain as also in Commonwealth countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia, the Great Highland bagpipe became a favored musical instrument of military bands, often played during formal ceremonies.

In the Middle East, the British began fielding bagpipe bands during the days of the Transjordan Mandate in the early 1920s, when they were helping set up and train the protectorate’s army.

Despite the passage of decades and the termination of the Mandate, the instrument became a fixture of military bands and popular culture in Jordan and Oman.


In 1996, Ahmad Khatabeh, a member of the Jordanian armed forces, decided to join the army’s musical band. This meant he had to learn how to play the bagpipe.

It took Khatabeh two years to master the instrument. “The first year was totally theoretical,” he told Arab News, referring to the physics of the bagpipe, which uses enclosed reeds that are fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag.

“We learned how to read and understand notes. I began practicing on the instrument only in the second year.”

Khatabeh said a player must have powerful teeth that can clutch the wooden portion of the bagpipe as well as strong and wide fingers that can cover its eight holes.

“The eight holes reflect a musical scale much like the piano, beginning and ending with (the fifth note) sol.”

In addition to the over-500 individuals that Khatabeh has trained in Jordan’s armed forces, he has mentored young aspiring bagpipe players in six public schools with the support of the American aid agency USAID.

Khatabeh’s remarkable career mirrors the history of the bagpipe itself in Jordan. In addition to its popularity with upcoming musical groups, the instrument has gained wide currency in the country’s Christian community.

Bashar Muasher, director of the Latin Patriarchate scouts in the Amman neighborhood of Masdar, said the bagpipe was extremely popular with church-based scouts, both male and female.

“The melancholy funeral song ‘Amazing Grace,’ the song praising the army ‘Jeshan Jesh Al-Watan’ and the wedding song ‘Mubarak Mubarak’ are always on demand and appreciated,” he added.

The bagpiper has gained a following among young Jordanians. (Supplied)

Hanna Ismair, another church scout leader, said the bagpipe enabled young people to play both local and foreign tunes.

“The kids love the fact that they can play popular national songs, well-known international tunes as well as spiritual religious hymns,” he told Arab News.

Noting that the audiences sometimes dictated the songs played at weddings, he said: “Whenever it is a Palestinian audience, people are excited when we play popular songs like ‘Wen a Ramallah’ (Going to Ramallah), while rural audiences love the folkloric Dahia tunes.”

One thing common to Jordan’s bagpipers, whether from the army or church scout groups, is that they entertain people for no apparent pecuniary purpose. But the instrument does not come cheap.

Rakah Fakhoury, who hails from the industrial Jordanian city of Zarqa and heads the Latin Church scout band, said a hybrid version put together in Jordan can be bought for about $500, though “Chinese bagpipes can be cheaper.”

By contrast, Khatabeh said, the cost of a genuine, high-quality instrument can exceed $1,000.

“A Chinese bagpipe can come as cheap as $500 but if you go for an original instrument from Scotland, you have to pay anything up to $1,500,” he added.

Khatabeh should know. Since becoming a skilled bagpipe player, he has traveled four times to Scotland.

After a distinguished career in the Jordanian army band, he became a trainer, a career that has taken him to Lebanon, Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait and Egypt.

Beyond the military, Khatabeh has been asked to train scout groups in 20 churches in different parts of Jordan. He has participated in festivals, including ones with religious or political themes, both in Jordan and abroad, including once in Moscow.

For Jordanians, uniformed bagpipers like Khatabeh are no longer a faceless band of musicians who entertain for free. They are a national treasure, fit to be celebrated with the finest street art.

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

Workers disinfect Qom’s Masumeh shrine, which is visited by a large number of people, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2020

Coronavirus: 16 killed in Iran, 95 infected

  • Six Saudi women recovering in Bahrain as Kingdom warns against travel to Italy and Japan

DUBAI: Two more people infected with the new coronavirus have died, taking the toll in Iran to 16, a Health Ministry official told state TV on Tuesday.

Iran has the highest number of deaths from coronavirus outside China, where the virus emerged late last year.
“Among those who had been suspected of the virus, 35 have been confirmed and two died of the coronavirus infection,” said Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. He said 95 people had been infected across Iran.
The Health Ministry urged Iranians to stay at home.
Iran said on Monday 900 cases were suspected, dismissing claims by a lawmaker from Qom who said 50 people had died in the city, the epicenter of the new coronavirus outbreak.
Iran, which confirmed its first two deaths last week in Qom, has yet to say how many people it has quarantined, but the semi-official Mehr news agency said 320 people had been hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, Iran’s deputy health minister, has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now under quarantine.
Six Arab countries have reported their first cases of coronavirus, with those infected all having links to Iran. Kuwait said the number of infected people there had risen to eight.
Bahrain’s Health Ministry said 15 more people, including six Saudi women, had tested positive for the virus after returning from Iran via Dubai and Sharjah. The new cases were carried by Bahraini and Saudi nationals who arrived at Bahrain International Airport from Iran via Dubai or Sharjah.
The Saudi Ministry of Health said that it was coordinating with Bahraini health officials for the treatment of the Saudi women who had visited Iran. They will remain in Bahrain until they are fully recovered. The Kingdom has advised citizens and residents to avoid traveling to Italy and Japan.
Iranian authorities have ordered the nationwide cancellation of concerts and soccer matches and the closure of schools and universities in many provinces.
The head of Qom’s Medical Science University, Mohammad Reza Ghadir, expressed concern over “the spread of those people infected by the virus across the city,” adding the Health Ministry had banned releasing figures linked to the coronavirus.
Many Iranians took to social media to accuse authorities of concealing the facts.
Rouhani called for calm, saying the outbreak was no worse than other epidemics that Iran has weathered.
The sight of Iranians wearing masks and gloves is now common in much of the country.
Sales of masks, disinfectant gels and disposable gloves have soared in Tehran and other cities, with officials vowing to prevent hoarding and shortages by boosting production.
Iran has shut schools, universities and cultural centers until the end of the week in an effort to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UAE has banned all flights to and from Iran. The UAE, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, remains a key international transit route for Iran’s 80 million people.
Emirates, the government-owned carrier based in Dubai, flies daily to Tehran. Its low-cost sister airline, FlyDubai, flies to multiple Iranian cities, as does the Sharjah-based low-cost carrier Air Arabia.
The announcement came after Bahrain said it would suspend all flights from Dubai and Sharjah.
Kuwait raised the number of its infected cases to eight, after earlier raising the number to five. It said the three latest cases involved Kuwaiti citizens just back from Iran, without giving more details. The five previously reported cases were passengers returning on a flight from the Iranian city of Mashhad, where Iran’s government has not yet announced a single case of the virus.
Kuwait had halted transport links with Iran over the weekend and said it was evacuating its citizens from Iran.
An Iraqi family of four who returned from a visit to Iran tested positive for the coronavirus, the first Iraqis known to have caught the disease.
The four cases in Kirkuk province brought Iraq’s total to five after it reported its first case on Monday, an Iranian theology student in Najaf. Iraq is deeply concerned about its exposure to the Iranian outbreak, as it has deep cultural and religious ties with its neighbor and typically receives millions of Iranians each year.
The Iraqi government, which has already banned all travel from China and Iran, added Italy, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore and Japan to its travel ban list on Tuesday. Returning Iraqi citizens are exempt, as are diplomats.
Populist Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr suspended a call for his followers to hold a “million-man” protest, saying he had decide to forbid the events “for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else.”
“I had called for million-man protests and sit-ins against sectarian power-sharing and today I forbid you from them for your health and life, for they are more important to me than anything else,” he said in a statement. It was not immediately clear how the government’s call on citizens to avoid public gatherings would affect the strength of anti-government protests, and the response of security forces.
A Turkish Airlines plane flying from Iran was diverted to Ankara on Tuesday at the Turkish Health Ministry’s request and an aviation news website said one passenger was suspected of being infected by coronavirus.
Turkey’s Demiroren news agency broadcast video showing ambulances lined up beside the plane, with several personnel wearing white protective suits on the tarmac.
The plane was flying from Tehran and had been scheduled to land in Istanbul. Turkey shut its borders to Iran on Sunday and cut flights due to the spread of the virus in that country.
Oman’s Khasab port has suspended the import and export of goods to and from Iran from Feb. 26.