Fomenting Unrest in Jordan
Iraq Vice-President Ramadan Chastises Jordan
by Kim Petersen
March 26, 2003
It is good for the people to see the King and Queen having a hamburger at Planet Hollywood.
-- King Abdullah
So spoke the Jordanian Hashemite ruler while in London. These words outline so emphatically how oblivious the burger-munching king can be of his subjects back home. The hamburger is the symbol of western middle-class food fare but it is hardly such in Jordan, where hobis (flat bread), homos (chickpea paste), and a cucumber, tomato salad is the common fare. Indeed two of Jordan’s six hamburger restaurants extraordinaire, McDonalds, have closed in Jordan. (1) Hamburgers are a food of those with upward mobility in Jordan. But upscale Planet Hollywood hamburgers and jet-setting to London are pipe dreams for most Jordanians. Truly this was a foot-in-the-mouth gaffe by an out-of-touch monarch although much has been made of his previous escapades as a masquerading taxi driver attempting to probe the pulse of his nation.
Jordanians seldom dare to openly criticize their monarch. Monarchy is the guise of dictatorship. There are no elections to choose a ruler in Jordan. The prime minister, his (little chance of a woman in this patriarchy) cabinet, and senators are appointed and dismissed at the king’s caprice. The elected parliament is a sop to farcical democratic pretences. Dissent is only tolerated within tight limits set by the oligarchs. Exploitation of tribal rivalries and an effective security and intelligence apparatus help to maintain regime stability.
As with his father King Hussein, the cult ruler image is perpetuated. Larger-than-life photos of the king are ubiquitous throughout the kingdom. TV news inveterately begins with a roundup of the latest exploits of the king. More often than not he appears in diplomatic role, soliciting aid and business for his natural resource-poor realm.
Mr. Abdullah’s position is, however, a fine balancing act. He inherited a kingdom which is technically at peace with Israel, a kingdom in which a large segment of the population is Palestinian. Many claim that Palestinians are the majority in Jordan. This large Palestinian population is a powder keg. To placate these Palestinian-Jordanians is a difficult and probably impossible feat while Israeli forces are killing and uprooting Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and resettling Jews. Mr. Abdullah’s strategy is to denounce Israeli actions and have the Palestinians casualties medically treated in Jordan.
The Israel-Jordan peace treaty is scrupulously defended. Dissent against the peace treaty is rigorously dealt with; so found out members of the Committee for Resisting Normalization with Israel who were jailed after publishing a list of Jordanians doing business with Israel. (2)
Jordan is also home to a large number of Iraqis, many of who left behind the economic devastation wreaked by the genocidal UN sanctions on Iraq. Not all Iraqis are economic refugees; Jordanians and Iraqis have historically moved liberally between the two countries. Iraq has been a major economic benefactor of Jordan supplying its entire oil needs at much reduced price, half of it free.
That balancing act is no more. Jordan has tilted completely into the US orbit. At home the regime mendaciously denies this but many Jordanians are aware of this. Mr. Abdullah remembers the price his father paid when he refused to back the initial US-led attack on Iraq in 1991. Mr. Abdullah has tied his economic horse completely to the American wagon. US aid has increased and Mr. Abdullah hopes to develop a Jordanian economy with western technology and infrastructure.
Jordan has a long history of complicity with the US, UK, and Israel. (3) So it is not surprising that Mr. Abdullah is colluding so brazenly with the US. He has been overwhelming in his collaboration against al-Qaeda. He cracked down early on dissent expressed to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s reoccupation of Palestinian administered territory in the spring of 2002. Jordanians were repeatedly told that their country would not host US troops. But soon enough the presence of US forces in eastern Jordan was agreed to and Patriot missile batteries were set up to protect Israel. Quickly the Jordanians expelled Iraqi diplomats when demanded by the US. Now the Jordanian regime hopes to surround itself with some threads of decency by declaring its refusal to permit use of its airspace for military overflights. (4)
How long was Iraq supposed to stand by and remain silent? On 25 March Iraqi Vice President Ramadan spoke out against the Jordanian perfidy. He denounced the expulsion of Iraqi diplomats, the blocking of truck traffic between the two countries, and the obvious succor to the US. Mr. Ramadan stated that Jordan was no longer importing Iraqi oil and that food and medicine were blocked from coming through. Jordan refuted this and cited concern for its truck drivers. (5) The US has promised to guarantee Jordanian oil supply (6) and other Arab states are covering this need. Jordanian officials stated that the war had cut off the oil from Iraq. (7) The US has upped its aid to Jordan. Mr. Abdullah is heavily in the US pocket. It has been written that the US is not only in Jordan to protect Israel but also Mr. Abdullah. (8)
The Jordanian population sides overwhelmingly with its Arab brethren in Iraq. The Jordanian regime has control over the media; it either prevents unwanted news from reaching Jordanians or denies complicity with the Americans. One journalist offered that when necessary Mr. Abdullah “’has proved to be three times more ruthless than his father.’” (9) That is saying a lot because as one wealthy Palestinian businessman settled in Jordan confided: “King Hussein was worse than the devil.” Such daring speech is rare; the freedom to speak is not a right that is forthrightly observed in Jordan. (10)
Dissent is appearing between the cracks though. The not-so secret flirtation with the US has raised the ire of the Jordanians. Ma’an in the south of Jordan, where Islam is particularly strong, has seen on again-off again clashes. A feeling of high tension is in the air. It seems that Mr. Abdullah has gone too far over to the Americans against Iraq. (11)
The Palestinians have suffered at the hands of the Israeli Jews for over half a century. Events in Iraq seem not to be unfolding according to plan. The Iraqis, like the Palestinians, are resisting one of the hugest mismatches on record. Washington is preparing for a longer bout of resistance than at first expected. The flow of refugees expected to arrive in Jordan is a mere trickle. (12) What happened to the predicted flood of civilians fleeing “Shock and Awe? ”If the Iraqis can stretch out the so-called war and maybe even win a small battle, then maybe the Jordanians may likewise become emboldened to oppose their own dictator. This could have a knock-on effect throughout the authoritarian Arab world. The Arab streets are starting to rumble. No longer are they all running like mice. The regimes are noticing the pressure cooker.
A catastrophe befalling either the Palestinians or Iraqis is more likely to occur; such a calamity would also have the potential to catalyze a revolt in Jordan. It is a high stakes intrigue in Jordan as well as Iraq now.
Previously there has been speculation that Mr. Abdullah might be coveting a grander kingdom. (13) It could well be that regime change occurs in Jordan and that Mr. Abdullah finds himself and his family living in exile.
(1) Boycott Israel Campaign, “Boycott Israel Frequently Asked Questions,” Boycott Israel, http://www.inminds.co.uk/boycott-faq.html
(2) KCom Journal, “Jordan Union’s Blacklist Punishes Dozens Who Had Any Israel Contacts,” Chicago Tribune, 7 March 2001. Available on the Khilafah.com website: http://www.khilafah.com/home/category.php?DocumentID=1140&TagID=1
(3) MiddleEast.org, “Latest Secret Jordan Collaboration With Israel And CIA: US Troops In Jordan To Protect Israel From Iraq - And King Abdullah From Everyone,” Rense.com, 22 September 2002: http://www.rense.com/general29/slelt.htm
(4) Home News, “No warplanes using Jordanian airspace to attack Iraq — King,” The Jordan Times, 25 March 2003: http://www.jordantimes.com/Tue/homenews/homenews1.htm
(5) Associated Press, “Jordan, Iraq trade blame over oil,” USA Today, 25 March 2003: http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2003-03-25-iraq-jordan_x.htm
(6) Shlomo Shamir, “Secret US Jordan War Plans,” Ha’aretz Daily, 21 September 2002. Available on the Rense.com website: http://www.rense.com/general29/slelt.htm
(7) Taha Abu Ridin, “Adwan: Arab states to supply Jordan with oil,” The Jordan Times, 25 March 2003: http://www.jordantimes.com/Tue/homenews/homenews2.htm
(8) MiddleEast.org, Ibid
(9) Scott Peterson, “Jordan caught between US and Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 10 October 2002: http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1010/p09s01-wome.htm
(10) International Secretariat of Amnesty International, “Jordan: Freedom of expression at risk,” ainews, 19 March 2002:
(11) James Rupert, “War Strains U.S.-Jordan Relations,” Newsday, 26 March 2003: http://www.newsday.com/news/nationworld/iraq/ny-wojord0326,0,5466122.story?coll=ny-nationworld-world-utility
(12) Jill Carroll, “Journalists killing time in Ruweished,” The Jordan Times, 25 March 2003: http://www.jordantimes.com/Tue/homenews/homenews12.htm
(13) Kim Petersen, “Jordan: Between Two Genocides,” Dissident Voice, 11 March 2003: http://www.dissidentvoice.org/Articles2/Petersen_Jordan.htm