by Kim Petersen
March 11, 2003
We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state.
– Niccolo Machiavelli
The rapidly unravelling events in the Occupied Palestinian territories are undoubtedly of particular concern in Egypt and Jordan, two Mideast regimes that signed peace treaties with Israel. This is acutely so for the Jordanian oligarchy. Jordan is declaimed by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, of Qibya, Sabra, Shattila massacres and other infamy, as the homeland of the Palestinians. This seemingly serves as a future pretence for his implicit objective of ethnically cleansing the Occupied Territories.
Jordan now is squeezed between two ongoing genocides. Iraq, reeling under genocidal UN sanctions, is threatened with ‘Shock and Awe’ -- a massive bombardment never before unleashed -- by the world hegemon. There is fear and economic hardship in Iraq, so much so that Iraqis take refuge by the hundreds of thousands in resource poor Jordan. There are fears that Mr. Sharon will undertake his Orwellian program of ‘transfer’ during the chaos of war. While Iraqis are streaming in from the East the Israelis might be ethnically cleansing the Occupied Territories of its indigenous Palestinians to the West. Jordan will be overwhelmed on both flanks.
Jordan already has a sizable Palestinian population estimated at anywhere from 40 to 60 %. Other Jordanians, however, reject the notion that they are a minority. The Sharonian bombast that Jordan is the Palestinian homeland has been ridiculed as right-wing Israeli hysteria. But expulsion seems to have found more widespread acceptance in Israel of late. (1) Indeed Mr. Sharon already did deport hundreds of young Palestinians men to Jordan in 1971. (2)
None of the inhabitants of Jordan have forgotten the civil war between the PLO and the forces of former King Hussein in 1970. Unable to lay claim to any mandate from the people, King Abdullah relies on an efficient intelligence service and a relatively well-remunerated and hence obedient military.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan relishes its characterization as a benign monarchy. In fact, contrary to the manufactured consent in the mass media, Jordan is an authoritarian dictatorship. Mr. Abdullah, who is described as a “nice guy” by people who have met him, maintains a rigid grip on all functions in society despite having no popular mandate. The prime minister and cabinet are appointed or dismissed on the King's whim. The parliament is elected under a very limited form of democracy.
Mr. Abdullah walks a tightrope between engineering stability for his regime internally and maintaining friendly relations with the West, particularly the US. Jordan is a developing country with few natural resources other than phosphate. But it is a recipient of US aid, bumped over a billion dollars a year recently, and a free-trade partner of the US. The US is Jordan's number one trading partner. As such Jordan adheres to the Washington consensus imposed by the IMF, which led to hobis riots in 1998 and a government crackdown on dissent. Neoliberalism has not led to any trickle down to the poor majority. Instead corruption runs rampant and foreigners shy away from investing money. Even the Aqaba Special Economic Zone, opened behind schedule in early 2001, has disappointed the locals with its failure to attract so far any substantial economic projects. With this pet project in doldrums, Mr. Abdullah struggles with a shaky economy and internal dissension while he simultaneously attempts to appease the US.
The lessons from failure to tow the US line are clear from the public spanking his father King Hussein received from the US following the first violence unleashed in The Persian Gulf War. Mr. Abdullah has despite repeated protestations to the contrary acquiesced and allowed Americans into Jordan in preparation for the next infliction of violence on Iraq, albeit Jordan maintains that the Americans are only in Jordan in a protective role. (3)
Regime change in Iraq will likely have an enormous impact on Jordan. When war re-intensifies in Iraq, Jordan will experience an oil pinch. Unlike his father, however, Mr. Abdullah’s lack of neutrality may see him wind up sitting on the throne of an oil rich kingdom. (4) Could there be a larger quid pro quo happening? For admitting US troops into Jordan US aid has been increased but could it be that there is a tacit agreement to accept a Palestinian exodus from the Occupied Territories in exchange for an enlarged kingdom? Mr. Abdullah would do well to bear in mind what became of the last Hashemite to rule in Iraq. Machiavelli wrote: “He who becomes prince by aid of the nobles will have more difficulty in maintaining himself than he who arrives at that high station by the aid of the people.” (5)
Kim Petersen is an English teacher living in China, who previously lived in Jordan for two years. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) Amira Hass, “Threats of forced mass expulsion,” Le Monde Diplomatique, Translated by Luke Sandford, 19 February 2003. Can be seen on ZNet website: http://zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=3077
(2) Albert Jensen, “Transfer Sharons plan for etnisk udrensing,” Solidaritet, May 2002: http://www.venstresocialisterne.dk/solidaritet/soli02-2/index.htm
(3) Musa Keilani, “Worries before projected war,” The Jordan Times, 9 March 2003: http://www.jordantimes.com/Sun/opinion/opinion2.htm
(4) William O. Beeman, “Regime Change, Literally: Jordan's King May Rule Post-War Iraq,” Dissident Voice, 23 February 2003: