By Dr. Mordechai Kedar—
Towards the end of 2010, when the “Arab Spring” erupted destabilizing governments and social order in most of the Middle Eastern countries, questions began to be raised about the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and whether the tidal waves sweeping across the Arab world would reach its borders. So far, King Abdullah II has succeeded in stopping the destructive advance at the country’s borders, although over the past seven years, several manifestations of support for ISIS were observed, mainly in Maan, in Southern Jordan, and in the Syrian-populated refugee camps up north.
The kingdom’s intelligence directorate, the Mukhabarat, is the regime’s main arm for maintaining control, but there are significant outside forces – the USA, Europe, Israel – who never cease to guard the kingdom from those who have undermined the foundations of law and order upon which the modern world bases its existence.
Israel, especially, sees the Jordanian Hashemit Kingdom as a buffer zone between the Jewish state and the general chaos characterizing its neighbors to the east – Iraq, and Syria – and peace with Jordan is considered a strategic asset to be preserved at all costs, even if Israel has to pay for it with hard currency in relinquishing sovereignty over parts of Jerusalem. Every time Arab-Islamic violence erupts in Israel’s capital, Israel gives in to the Jordanian dictates, agreed upon in the 1994 peace treaty, granting the kingdom the status of “Guardian of the holy places of Islam in Jerusalem.” In giving in to Jordanian dictates, Israel is guided by the belief – or the fear – that if the king does not live up to his obligations on this issue, his entire monarchy could lose its legitimacy and collapse.
At this point, it is important to mention the ethnic makeup of Jordan’s citizens (excluding the Syrian and Iraqi refugees). These are divided roughly and schematically into two populations: Bedouin and Palestinian, with the first making up about a quarter of the citizenry and the second the other three quarters. The Palestinians are of two types: Those who are well in the villages (“falakhim”) and cities (“mdanim”) of the “Small Fertile Crescent” stretching from the fertile parts of Jordan near Amman north to the Syrian border and east to Zarka, and those refugees and migrants who moved from the western bank of the Jordan River to its eastern bank from 1948 on.
In the Arab world, there are vast cultural differences between rural and urban Bedouin, with each group looking down on the other. Both, however, consider the desert dwellers primitive and lower class and there are very few marriages between the groups. Ever since the establishment of the “Transjordan Emirates” in 1921, its rulers, Abdullah I, his grandson Hussein ibn Talel and Hussein’s son Abdullah II, relied on the Bedouin to fill the ranks of intelligence, army, and administrative positions. The Palestinians, routinely kept from filling any governmental or security posts – were directed to money-making areas and are actually the sector that forms the economic basis of the kingdom. They will recall the 1970 “Black September” when King Hussein massacred thousands of Palestinians who, led by Yasir Arafat, threatened his monarchy.
In order to bridge the gap caused by the bitter memories of this period, King Abdullah II married a woman of Palestinian origin, Rania Yassin. Does this marriage really create a bridge between the population sectors or does it serve to prove the king’s control – by means of his Bedouin cohorts – over the Palestinian public? This is a question whose answer lies in the eyes of the beholder: Outsiders see it as a positive step, while many Palestinians see it as a negative political ploy and even as a betrayal of their downtrodden ranks, seeing the queen as a collaborator.
The man in the street
For the past few years, especially since the “Arab Spring” began, the role of the man in the Arab street has become significant, with the masses gaining strength due to the voice, presence, influence, and power they have on social media. Before the advent of the web, the media were in the hands of the government and broadcast only what the ruler agreed to and wanted to publicize. In past years, there were sometimes local protests, especially in the southern Bedouin city of Maan whose residents did not join the regime and who sometimes expressed support for ISIS. The government dealt with those protests behind the scenes, and they simply faded away.
In the early part of 2018, a new and previously unseen series of demonstrations began with slogans containing problematic content as far as the king was concerned. An important detail that should not be overlooked is that those using those expressions did not conceal their faces, meaning they were not afraid of the king or his security apparatus.
The immediate background to these protests is the economic deterioration in Jordan, stemming – among other things – from the decrease in economic support granted by other countries, mainly by the Gulf States. The difficult situation is seen in higher prices for basic products, such as bread, new taxes on the agricultural sector (Palestinians), on imported cars and gasoline, along with higher taxes on hybrid cars that use less fuel, higher prices for electricity, surging unemployment due to the influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees – and a general feeling of helplessness in the face of close to 2 million refugees flooding the country and destroying its economy and the delicate social fabric between its demographic components.
Many fear that the corrupt regime gives in to external pressures from the USA, Europe, the UN, and the International Monetary Fund because of the funds that find their way to the coffers of the heads of state and members of parliament. The parliament, meant to represent the citizenry and its interests, rubber stamps the annual budget and is therefore viewed as collaborating with the government and the royal family.
At the recent protests in Dhiban, a village 45 miles south of Amman, some of the slogans heard (my additions in parentheses, M.K.) were:
“Why should we beat around the bush? The king is at fault! The regime is responsible!”
“You who’s writing the report (the informers): Tell the big boss – the little boss ( the crowd, scornfully): Change! Change! There will be change! There will be! We have decided and you the dealer (p*imp), will get hell from us”
“O, Allah the hero! We want to bring this treasonous p*imp to justice!”
“O, people of Dhiban, we prefer death to humiliation (by the regime)”
“Freedom, liberty, and to hell with the thieves”
“As for Ziad (identity unclear) and Ali (Ali al-Brizat, a Dhiban lawyer who was arrested in February of this year for taking part in a protest against rising prices and taxes. Along with him, other activists in Carac, Salt and Hay al-Tafail, were detained as well.) They are free, whoever arrested them (the king) is a traitor, their jailor (the king) is addicted to gambling (a rumor about the king – note that Islam prohibits gambling)”
“This issue is not dinars (prices) but gambling addiction,”
“You play with our money, your wife (Queen Rania) has looted us.”
“Where is this nation going? Where is Jordan’s money? Ho, those who protect the corrupt!”
“Shout at the top of your lungs: Death will come to you from Dhiban!”
“From Dhiban to Amman: Listen here, President of Raadan Palace (the king): Why do you outlaw the protesters and protect the traitorous and corrupt?”
“Listen here, Majdi Yassin (the Queen’s brother), you are going the way of Khaled Shahin (arrested for corruption)”
On March 12 of this year, there were supposed to be “Tribal Loyalty Parades” in Jordan in honor of the king, but they drew very few participants. Cries of “Our fear has disappeared, the corrupted must leave”, were heard even among the largest tribe in Jordan, Bani Hassan.
In the demonstration held in the city of Madaba on March 8th of this year, (former member of the Jordanian parliament who strongly criticized the government’s economic policies) Ali al-sanid, shouted to the king: “Leave!” This is the same cry heard in the Egyptian anti-Mubarak demonstrations, the Libyan anti-Qaddafi protests, and in Syria against Bashar Assad, to name a few.
“We have cancelled your free visa to our hearts, you image is destroyed, we have ejected your statue from within us, go, the game is over, your imaginary holiness is destroyed, the sails on your ship are ripped to shreds, the ship you purchased in order to drown its passengers, those who trusted you. You have turned them into slaves to your pleasure and caprices, thrown them mercilessly into life’s sufferings. You fail every day and in every song sung against you in the streets, and your holy palaces collapse one after another.”
“You have become the talk of the land! The public sues you retroactively for your crimes against the people, unified into one stream against you, while you travel through a swamp of shame. Leave! You cannot continue to remain on the cadavers that our dreams have become! You deserted us defeated, worried and lost, destitute, living in penury, without the most basic of human necessities, you have made us hate and detest one another. Leave! Leave! you p*imp, before the country goes up in flames! Leave our homes and songs, we have no fear! Jordan has been desiccated (by poverty)! Leave! You have stolen everything and left the nation with nothing!”
“You have never kept your promises, stolen our dreams, murdered our hearts so that you could stay happy! You have turned us into a repository for sadness, leave! Your holiness is destroyed, you are no longer scared! You have oppressed us and cause us to suffer! Our souls, longing for peace, were disappointed, you have destroyed the public, you are the source of the problem and the thievery. Leave! The country has become poor, the difficulties mount, thieves flourish, life is dismal and we have had our fill of your lies emanating from the power you hold.”
The First Lady steals our possessions night and day (the crowd jeers), you act nice to the poor when there are cameras present and on television, but there is a vast difference between he who dedicated his life to please the people (a reference to Abdullah’s father, Hussein) and he who caused millions to suffer for his own power and money, building his dream empire on the backs of the public. Leave! This is the lullaby that will eulogize you on your way to the bottom heap of history (Leave!) This is what will be said, our throats will shout this tomorrow, you will be defeated and flee and there (in exile) you will see the total loss. You will leave and our curses will pursue you, the opportunists with whom you surrounded yourself with desert you, and you will find yourself dead in exile, with memories of your power, without eternal glory.”
“You will end your life searching for a moment of inner peace. Tomorrow and the coming days will obliterate you and you will disappear like a bad dream. The Jordanian people will succeed in curing its wounds and begin anew to live the good life with the most important thing of all: You, out of the picture.”
Despite all this, there are several comments that must be made:
The first is that the videos showing these protests are disseminated mainly by oppositional bodies, eager to replace the Jordanian regime. This does not mean they are not authentic, but that their dissemination has to be put in the political context of an anti-regime struggle of opposition forces, both those in Jordan, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and those in other countries where they are granted political asylum.
The second comment is that the regime is aware of these protests and of what is chanted there, and the king is not acting against them on purpose, so as to allow the people to let off steam. This way he has only to gain – he comes across a liberal and modern ruler to the West and to Jordanians, someone who respects the right to opinions and freedom of speech. He well knows the economic and political price he would be forced to pay if he became the image of a cruel silencer of opposition, like his neighbor to the north and erstwhile (at the start of the century) friend and colleague, Bashar Assad.
The third comment is that there is a possibility, at least theoretically, that the demonstrations and chants are actually being funded by the regime in order to create an atmosphere of threatened instability, which will result in increased aid – principally, financial – from foreign states, both Arab and non-Arab, who fear the alternative to the king would be much worse than the present situation. In the Middle East, sometimes conspiracy theories are the reality.
Whatever the real reason for these demonstrations, Israel’s intelligence forces and those of other countries must expend manpower and resources to follow the developments in Jordan most closely. The world must not allow itself to be surprised again when the next Arab volcano erupts, this time in Jordan.