Friday, June 3, 2016

What is happening in Jordan? - Mudar Zahran

by Mudar Zahran

The media are puzzled and rather clueless about what exactly is happening in my country, Jordan.

Days ago, King Abdullah II‎ of Jordan dissolved the parliament and appointed a new prime minister. 

This came ‎weeks after the king amended the constitution to expand his already swollen authority as the sole ‎ruler, and has launched a wave of speculation in the Western and Israeli media. The media are puzzled and rather clueless about what exactly is happening in my country, Jordan. Some, including respected publications, jumped to the convenient conclusion ‎that the king has "appointed a pro-Israel prime minister" and even that "Israel has a new friend ‎in the Middle East, Jordan's prime minister." These statements by ‎themselves are irrelevant to the status quo and the situation in Jordan is much more critical and ‎dire than anyone in the Israeli media realizes.‎

In November 2015, U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said ‎Jordan's future was "not clear" and that Palestinians and Israelis needed to know what will ‎happen in Jordan and "whether Jordan will remain stable" before they resume the peace process. Clinton's tenure as U.S. secretary of state saw anti-regime protests in Jordan, particularly the November 2012 revolution, ‎when a million Jordanians took to the streets demanding that the Hashemite royals leave the ‎country. She knows more about the reality in Jordan from firsthand experience than any other U.S. presidential candidate.

While Clinton's statements cannot be taken as prophecies from the Torah or the Quran, the facts on the ‎ground do support her concerns for Jordan. As these lines are being written, unrest continues in the ‎Wadi Mousa-Petra area, including gun battles between the king's police and the locals, arrests, the ‎destruction of vehicles and other property, stone throwing, and rumors of casualties on both sides. In ‎short, there is an intifada at one of Jordan's most significant tourist sites. 

In addition, anti-regime ‎protests take place every Friday, yards away from the king's palace. Those protests are not ‎continuous, but they are a regular occurrence and likely to grow. Protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak began in the same ‎way in 2004, and 10,000 protests later, a one-strike revolution toppled him in ‎‎2011, the same year that the current protests in Jordan began.‎

Jordan's debt-to-GDP ratio is above 90%. Greece's economy collapsed when it hit ‎the same rate, and the Jordanian regime is not getting the help from Arab states that Greece got from the European Union. Nevertheless, the Jordanian royal family spends beyond belief and is not shy about showing off its opulent lifestyle to its starving subjects.‎

Less than a month ago, Jordan's king visited our Saudi brothers and came back speaking ‎about billions of Saudi riyals "on the way." None of this has yet materialized. While these ‎things do take time, Saudi King Salman‎ announced a $25 billion aid package to the el-Sissi regime half an hour ‎after the king's arrival in Egypt in April. ‎

There are also no signs or news of aid money coming from the ‎Gulf states. Our Arab brothers are wise; they won't give their money to an ailing regime.‎

On the other hand, the king has been fragile for years now, and many -- myself included -- have ‎predicted his fall, yet he remains on the throne in Amman. So why should anyone worry that ‎the king might fall now? 

In fact, the situation has completely changed.‎

Today, Jordan's army is independent of the king, and so is Jordan's intelligence service. Both are tightly coordinated with the U.S. Central Command. When the Islamic State group became a real threat to Jordan, ‎the U.S. must have realized it could no longer tolerate the king's recklessness, inexperienced ‎handling of security, and mismanagement of Jordan's military operations and funds. Thus, the ‎U.S. supported separating the army and intelligence apparatus from the king's influence. This happened trough [sic] tight and direct cooperation between the Jordanian and U.S. militaries, and between Jordanian and U.S. intelligence agencies, particularly the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.‎

This new arrangement might explain the record-smooth cooperation between Jordan and Israel on ‎security, which is described in the Israeli media as "unprecedented." Yes, it is unprecedented, ‎because the king no longer has any influence over the army or intelligence service.‎

Further, the U.S. has announced it is about to finish building a massive security wall separating ‎Jordan from Syria and extending along the Iraqi borders. This little-publicized wall will be fully ‎operational in August, according to its contractor, Raytheon, at a cost of over $500 million. At the same time, Israel is quickly and publicly building a $1 billion wall ‎along its border with Jordan.‎

These measures, taken by the U.S. and Jordanian armies, suggest that both are expecting major change in ‎Jordan. The outcome should be safe; Islamic State cannot take over Jordan with thousands of American soldiers stationed ‎in several major U.S. bases across Jordan. ‎

Meanwhile, Jordan's king sees firsthand signs that his angry, hungry, and hopeless ‎people could actually topple him, and with him having no control over the army now, the king ‎could face a situation like that of Egypt's 2011 revolution, which was supported by the ‎Egyptian army.‎

Afraid and helpless, Jordan's regime has turned to the oldest trick in the book: beating the Israeli ‎drum. The regime knows that if a new intifada breaks out in Israel, this ‎could buy it more time in power; the world would be too busy to let it go and Jordan's ‎public would be distracted by anti-Israel hatred once again. This might explain why an official Israeli ‎statement on Sept. 21, 2015, confirmed that "Jordan was a major contributor to Temple ‎Mount tension" and accused Jordan's government of exacerbating tensions in Jerusalem with ‎inciting statements and actions.‎

In November 2014, I published an article in which I warned that Jordan's regime was ‎planning to set the West Bank and Jerusalem on fire in order to stay in power. Also, a month ‎before the "knife intifada" broke out, I noted several times on social media that Jordan's ‎regime was going to launch unrest in Jerusalem itself.‎

Change is coming to Jordan. It could be tomorrow morning or in five years, but the ‎Hashemites already have a one-way ticket out, and it seems they are now purposely ‎causing damage to Jordanian, Palestinian, American and Israeli interests. ‎

It is about time the few pro-Hashemite hopeless romantics wake up and smell the strong ‎Jordanian coffee already brewing in Amman.‎

As far as the Israeli government is concerned, it has been clear from the beginning: The Israelis ‎will not be involved in the Arab Spring or its aftermath, and will keep good ties with Jordan's ‎regime, military and intelligence agencies, without any involvement in Jordan's internal politics. As ‎Jordan's opposition, we highly appreciate Israel's stance and fully understand it.‎

As we expect change in Jordan, we must work hard to make sure Jordan remains committed ‎to peace while it becomes economically prosperous and gives hope to all its citizens.‎

Mudar Zahran is secretary-general of the Jordanian Opposition Coalition. Twitter ‎@mudar_zahran.


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