With blood-shed in Syria and chaos in Egypt, why would President Obama cross the Jordan to stop by the palace for a chat with King Abdullah II? The newspapers have been full of stories about the war in Syria and the riots in Egypt, pushing Jordan to the back burner. Unfortunately, many westerners have missed some important events transpiring there. Recent statements by the king and his uncle Hassan actually reveal a different story of turmoil.
Serious rumblings in Jordan spell significant trouble. On October 5 a massive demonstration expressed anti-regime sentiments and considerable dissatisfaction with the Hashemite rulers. The Kingdom’s media sources claimed it was only 5,000 protestors, but Jordan’s daily newspaper Alghad reported 250,000 marched through downtown Amman. A considerable discrepancy in headcount!
I know Jordan well having traveled there for the first time in the late ‘60s, and had two sons with Ph.D.’s who lived in Amman and taught at the University of Amman. At one point, I delivered a lecture there. One of my sons is married to a Jordanian citizen. I have watched the country make significant developments over the past 40 years. However, the Arab Spring appears to be ratcheting up tension in the country.
Today there are regular anti-regime protests throughout the kingdom with open calls for toppling the king. Behind this unrest is a staggering economy. The impetus for the unrest comes from Jordanian East bankers and/or Beduin Jordanians. In response to these crisis, Prince Hassan made several statements that sounded more like desperation than explanations. The focus of what he had to say was an attempt to shift emphasis to Israel and renew Jordan’s claims to the West Bank area now held by Israel. In addition, these statements have been attempts to worry the Palestinian majority in that country that they might be absorbed if radical change occurred.
The threat has had more of a back-fire effect that causing the Palestinians to back off. At this moment, Palestinians are excluded from government jobs, state colleges, and state healthcare. Some years back, the Hashemites ran Arafat and his P.L.O. organization out of the country and into Lebanon. Make no mistake. The Kingdom has an expansive intelligence system with spies as well as interception of all emails in and out of the country. I have personally observed how extensive this operation is. Certainly, the eves dropping is working over time today.
In his own statements, King Abdullah has attempted to rewrite history and ignore how the country came into being. The Faisal-Weizmann agree in l9l9 established a homeland for Arabs under the Hashemites. The fact is that Jordan is a Hashemite-occupied part of a British Mandate for Palestine. Even when Jordan held the West Bank area, the Arab League and the United Nations did not recognize their sovereignty. Only Britain, Pakistan, and Iraq gave recognition. As Palestinian-Jordanian writer Mudar Zahran, noted, King Adullah should consider himself very lucky to still be on the throne in Jordan.
Washington would certainly want to prop up the Hashemite Kingdom and keep Jordan stable. While this portion of Obama’s trip many not get great attention, it will be far more important to King Adullah who needs all the help he can get right now.