Monday, April 4, 2011

Jordan Facing Civil War?

by Mudar Zahran

King Abdullah of Jordan is in a bad spot. His Jordanian Bedouin tribes, which control the military and make up the ruling foundation for the Hashemites, are asking for more power and privileges by calling on King Abdullah to give them his authority by transforming his rule into a constitutional monarchy; meanwhile, other demonstrators have been chanting anti-Palestinian slogans, such as "Kill them, get them out!"

Should the king be able to ignite a confrontation between Jordan's Palestinian majority and its Bedouin minority, this would start the Bedouin tribes fighting the Palestinians, whom they hate, rather than demanding more power from the king.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Palestinian-Jordanian former official, who served with both King Abdullah and his father, the late King Hussein, said that the King has lost control of the Bedouin tribes, who have both anti-Palestinian and anti-Israeli views. "The only way out for the king," he said," is to direct the tribes' guns to the Palestinians, and, if necessary, the Israelis -- instead of himself." The ex-official's views might well be correct: as peace talks resume between the Palestinians and Israel, King Abdullah, from the UN's podium, threatened Israel with war "unless settlement activities stop." King Abdullah knows, of course, that he could never fight Israel and win; nonetheless, he seems desperate to shift the attention of his tribes against anyone other than him, even if that means Israel.

The Hashemite rule in Jordan has always portrayed itself as a modern, unoppressive regime, which enjoys a stability unusual in the Middle East. Such a mythical image has served the Hashemites well in ruling a country to which they are foreign; it is an image they have been promoting ever since the British gave them the Eastern part of the British Mandate of Palestine and renamed it Jordan. Nonetheless, the Hashemites' shiny image has come under question several times by international bodies as well as by friendly governments, including the United States. The recent wave of protests sweeping the Arab world, however, seem to have blown the last fig leaf off this Hashemite image.

The Bedouin tribes still wish to keep the Palestinian majority in Jordan out of the ruling game; further, their calls for more power have been entwined with calls to take away citizenships from Palestinians and turn them into stateless residents of Jordan.

This ruthless call is not new, it has been fostered by several Bedouin Jordanian statesmen, writers and activists, including a devout Christian, Nahid Hattar, who dared to voice his thoughts to Robert Fisk on July 20th by calling the Palestinians "occupiers of Jordan". Such anti-Palestinians rhetoric was lately magnified by a declaration issued by 36 Jordanian tribal leaders, in which they upheld the call for "re-establishing Jordanian identity," and even attacked the King's Palestinian wife, Queen Rania, claiming that she has taken over the country along with her relatives -- a claim with little to support it, as the Queen has been out of touch with her Palestinian roots, and even seems to adopt the Bedouin tribes' national identify by wearing the red and white Bedouin scarf, significantly distinct from the Palestinian black and white scarf.

Her husband also does not seem sympathetic to the Palestinians: he has approved and supported stripping thousands of Palestinians of their Jordanian citizenships, and has even renewed three terms for Nayef Qadi, the Jordanian Minister of the Interior, who has evangelized the denaturalization idea, and openly told the media it was Jordan's strategy to "put pressure against the Zionists' plans to empty Palestine of its rightful people". (

Such maltreatment and oppression of the Palestinian majority in Jordan has sent shockwaves among them. The Palestinians' fear for their safety in Jordan has been magnified by the unprecedented anti-Palestinian rhetoric in the government-controlled Jordanian media, which openly describes the Palestinians in Jordan as "a part of the Zionist entity and plan." Some Jordanian government writers have gone as far as threatening the Palestinians with civil war. On December 23rd, in Jordan's most read newspaper, al-Rai, Tareq Masarwah, out of the blue, threatened the Palestinians with a civil war like that of 1970. In a clear sign of endorsement and approval, the King of Jordan shortly after that, appointed Masarwah Minister of Culture.

When, on March 24th, Jordanians calling for reform gathered at a main circle in Jordan's capital, Amman, and called for reforms and a constitutional monarchy, the Jordanian gendarmerie attacked them, brutally killing two protestors and injuring hundreds. The attacks then escalated with the arrival of an estimated ten thousand men described by eyewitnesses as security officers in civilian clothes. Videos aired by several Arab satellite networks and uploaded on YouTube show the attackers chanting racist slurs against Palestinians, calling for a war with them, then pulling out a road sign reading "Queen Alia International airport" and stepping on it with their feet. The late Palestinian, Queen Alia, was King Hussein's queen; the airport is named after her.

After this demonstration, Al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of heavily armed Jordanian Bedouins were roaming the dominantly Palestinian capital city, Amman, under the watch and cooperation of the Jordanian police force. The government-controlled Jordanian media immediately began announcing that the protestors were all Palestinians, even though most protestors were Bedouins -- the call for a constitutional monarchy is purely their call; and all major organizers of the protest Jordanian, not Palestinian. A noted Bedouin Jordanian Radio presenter, Muhammad al-Wakeel said on the air that those calling for reform (he meant the Palestinians) must leave the country noting that he would even pay for their plane tickets.

For the Palestinians, it has kept getting worse: several groups on Facebook started calling to form militias to fight the Palestinians. One militia group described its mission as "to blow up the Palestinians," and provides a phone number and gathering points for the heavily-armed Jordanian Bedouins.

In Jordan, as in all these regimes, the media, and all public gatherings are heavily and closely controlled by the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, which has the final word on what is said by any media outlet; therefore, the public incitement of hostility against the Palestinians in Jordan is in all likelihood a deliberate and well-planned government policy, not merely reactions and outbursts of the Jordanian Bedouins' anger.

King Abdullah has good reason to adopt such a policy of stirring up the Bedouins tribes against the Palestinians: as the Jordanian Bedouin tribes make up both his army and his security agencies, they therefore can pose a serious threat to his rule. Further, King Abdullah's push-policy included building his own version of pressure on Israel by systematically promoting anti-Israeli notions and stances among the Bedouin tribes: the King's media now calls Israel "the Zionist entity," and runs headlines such as: "Stinginess of Jewish tourists harms tourism in Egypt".

As for the Palestinians in Jordan, the King has thrived on igniting the Jordanian Bedouins' hatred for the Palestinian majority; but now, as the King has exhausted this tactic and has come under even more pressure from the Bedouin tribes; his only possible way out might include escalating the tension into a civil war.

Similar scenarios have happened before, as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, just as in that conflict, the heavily-armed Bedouin minority will be able to inflict incredible harm on the unarmed and helpless Palestinians majority.. This would turning the entire situation into an international incident that might allow the Jordanian regime to blackmail the world -- and the U.S. -- for more support and financial aid, while at the same time playing the role of the peace-maker.

While this scenario might sound far-fetched, it has happened before, for example when Abu Daoud, a PLO leader and an acquaintance of the late King Hussein, told Al-Jazeera in a series of interviews in 2006 that King Hussein told him in 1970 that the main reason he engaged in attacks on the Palestinians at that time was the fact that the American government had stopped giving him aid-money and was even considering giving it to the Palestinians in exchange for cooperation.

Today, King Abdullah finds himself where his father was in 1970, with one difference: the Palestinians in Jordan do not wish to fight Israel; they would rather stay where they call home, Jordan, rather than clutch to fake hopes. The Palestinian census bureau, despite accuracy and credibility flaws, issued a report in which it estimates that 30,000 Palestinians left to come to Jordan in 2010 alone. Further, the Jordanian government openly states that it has been revoking citizenships of Palestinians who have yellow cards -- which entitle them to live and work in Israel --"yet are refusing to renew it." If the Palestinian-Jordanians were so eager to renew their yellow cards and "return to Palestine," why would the Jordanian government have to threaten to send them there?

The Jordanian king's hostility is not limited to the Palestinians; he has been very hostile to Israel, describing it, in a Wall Street Journal interview as a rogue state like North Korea; recalling his ambassador to Tel Aviv, and sending one of his top military commanders to meet with Hamas's prime minister in Gaza two months ago. Jordan's hostility also, of course, stems from a self-established sense of importance with the United States; King Abdullah gained respect and influence in Washington DC when the war in Iraq stated, and he was provided with substantial logistical help. King Abdullah therefore now might view Israel as a rival rather than as a partner or a neighbour. The King, however, always seems to land on unconditional support from the United States: in October 2010, just one day after returning from the US with hundreds of millions of additional aid -money, the King's government announced it was going to withdraw passports from all its citizens from Palestinian-Jerusalemite origins unless they re-established their residencies in Jerusalem - a cheap act of pressure on Israel.

Whether or not the king has grown into a complicated ally of the Unites States -- he may, after all, be under some pressure to toe the anti -Israel rhetoric to humor his neighbors in the region, as well as assuming that his Palestinians might like to hear it, too -- he is very oppressive the Palestinians, very hostile to Israel, at least in the media, and has been in communication with some of Israel's deadliest enemies, such as Hamas. This is taking place at a time when Arab people are seeking change their ruling regimes; the Palestinian majority in Jordan is no exception.

Perhaps it is about time the United States considers supporting a genuinely moderate pro-peace Palestinian government in Jordan. Such Palestinian moderates are all over the place in Amman, many of them Western-educated, and many in significant positions in academia, and in exile at corporations. Many have been sounding their anger against the Hashemites, and declaring their recognition that Israel is not their enemy, although the West might feel more enthusiastic were it to see even further proof of this change of heart. The US, however, will soon be facing change in Jordan; it is up to it to guide what that will be.

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Mudar Zahran

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