The Embassy and the Monarch
by Caise Hassan on 12 Apr 2010 0 Comment

A symphonic orchestration of President Obama's voice calling for the humane treatment of protesters in Iran should be blared through giant speakers in the Abdoun neighborhood of Amman, Jordan. The tune should give its residents some ironic comic relief from the ominous threat amidst them. Abdoun is the home to the US Embassy in Jordan. Embassy is the wrong word to describe it. China, the world's economic superpower, has an embassy in Amman; it is a modest structure, covering perhaps one acre. Saudi Arabia, the US' totalitarian ally, has an embassy that is the size of a Victorian house on a main street and is guarded by three soldiers.


The American embassy is, at the very least, a fort, and better described as a military base. I say this because the surrounding population is treated like a hostile enemy, and the fortifications of the base and behavior of its guards show that the last purposes of the embassy are to enhance American-Jordanian relations or to serve the needs of ordinary American citizens living in Jordan.


The perimeter of the embassy fortification is about 2 km, wrapped by concrete barricades. The embassy building itself sits 125 meters inside these barricades and is enclosed by a four-meter high concrete wall.


Each corner of the embassy's perimeter is manned by Jordanian soldiers with fingers cocked on machine gun turrets. The gun turrets point directly at traffic, assuring us that any soldier with a too much sugar in his tea or too much adrenaline from watching the latest football match could fire on passing cars. Every person driving past is considered a potential threat to the American embassy. A man driving a Mitsubishi sedan had stopped his car across the street to answer his cell phone, responsibly. A soldier with a red beret and submachine gun strapped on his shoulder jumped the barricade, ran to the car, and hollered, “Hey, Mitsubishi!” The man in the car glanced up. “Keep going, move!” the soldier yelled, raising his hand in a motion that told him to scatter, or else.


I asked the Jordanian captain of the guards, a burly 37 year-old named Adnan, about the need for all the automatic weapons, noting the absence of heavy fortifications at the Chinese embassy. “The Chinese only respond to tragedies when they happen. We and the Americans at the embassy are proactive in defending the freedom and lives of those around us!”


His commitment to defend freedom made me raise an eyebrow. I decided to test that commitment. Since moving to Amman a month before, I had wanted to protest US aid to Israel before the embassy. So, I asked him where I might protest near the embassy without anguishing the guards.


“Make sure none of us see you do that,” he replied with his tongue in his cheek. “You could get taken to the local police station and questioned for a long time.” Even a US citizen paying the taxes to build this embassy isn't spared the wrath of those guarding it.


And so it goes in “moderate” Jordan, a nation that now receives over $400 million in US Aid-- aid that, the US embassy website assures us, is going toward the development and democratization of the country. What becomes apparent from the embassy and a look at the rest of the country, is that this aid ostensibly goes toward a government that is taming its people and shielding from accountability a heinous monarch whose most notable achievements are blowing tens of millions in Vegas casinos and adding luxury cars to the billion dollar car collection begun by his equally reckless father.


Major instruments of violence in Jordanian political life find their offices and protection in the US Embassy in Amman. Ironically, the soldiers are guarding those who trained them. The embassy houses over 30 offices. These include the Jordanian headquarters for USAID, a conduit for money to the CIA in Jordan. Until Bush's imperial adventure in Iraq expanded CIA headquarters in Baghdad and Dubai, Jordan had the largest CIA station in the Middle East.


The CIA has trained the Jordanian Mukhabaret, or General Intelligence Department (GID), rigorously in methods to suppress dissent. As in most Arab dictatorships, the Mukhabaret is notorious for its magic; they make critics of the monarchy disappear at night. US Aid has funded much of the GID budget, according to former CIA counter-terror chief Michael Scheuer. No wonder the American Embassy doesn't want anyone taking its picture.


For all the brutal suppression of Iranian demonstrations, the Ahmedinjad government permitted demonstrations questioning Ahmedinjad's legitimacy. The record of Jordan, a top 10 hitter on the list of US Aid recipients, is not so open. My desire to protest Israel, a country that invaded and occupied a good chunk of Jordan's land and population, would land me in jail.


Those critical of Jordan's monarch, King Abdullah II—whom the Nobel bestowed President Obama lauded as a statesman seeking “to resolve issues and conflicts in a peaceful and respectful fashion”--fare fates much worse than that promised me by the Jordanian soldier. The latest recipient of Abdullah's respectful fashion is Laith Shubeilat, a Jordanian opposition leader and vocal critic of the monarchy's corruption.


Shubeilat long has been a prominent voice calling for democracy in Jordan. His expose of government corruption landed him in jail in the 1990s. Shubeilat also was critical of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, calling it surrender. But his latest antics went too far for Abdullah. Shubeilat committed “subversion,” accusing the King's government of selling off the state's lands and stealing the proceeds. It was about time someone took Abdullah to the mat for his fire sales. He had privatized everything from the electric company to the shipping port of Aqaba since ascending to power


Shubeilat's accusation was too much for a regime so skilled in “resolving conflicts and issues” as Abdullah's to handle with simple dialogue. According to the human rights watchdog Jordan National Movement (JNM), “five men wearing civilian clothes followed Mr. Shubeilat” to a bakery in Amman and beat him from behind. Shubeilat was treated for injuries at a hospital. These men, the JNM says, were government intelligence thugs who drove away in a Mercedes with a fake license plate. “Mr. Shubeilat stated that the attack is an absurd revenge by the authorities” for his criticism in a recent speech of their “corruption, human rights abuses and failing to deliver genuine political reforms.” Indeed, the king and his queen, Rania—an icon of reform among her liberal admirers in the Western press—were at the time in Italy, spending hundreds of thousands of state dollars on a much needed personal shopping spree.


They returned in time for the trial of a Palestinian Israeli businessman, arrested for “uttering words against the king.” This businessman was refused exit to Israel when it was overheard that he had criticized Abdullah. The Jordanian authorities held the man despite his family's claim that he needs regular medical treatment in Israel.


Abdullah has left no space for systematic Jordanian opposition to these crude practices. Representation in Parliament for the vast majority of Jordanians, who live in Amman, has become hindered by two factors. The government has set up districts in a way that gives sparsely populated rural areas representation equal to that of Amman. This has allowed tribal leaders loyal to the Hashemite regime to gain disproportionate representation in Parliament. Also, the elections have been bought by wealthy candidates with government connections. In the last elections, the candidates' poll workers openly bribed people to vote for their man, resulting in a parliament ladened with millionaires who do not represent the poor and middle class.


Of course, Abdullah holds absolute power over the parliament, something omitted in the US Embassy's rantings over Jordan's progress toward democracy. The progressive King in late November dissolved the Jordanian parliament for the second time in his term, calling for early elections.


The venality and brutality of the Hashemite regime won't be televised. Oprah Winfrey won't drill Queen Rania about the darker side of her husband's regime. This could threaten the donations that the growingly impoverished American taxpayer sends annually to sustain the brutal practices taught through the CIA offices in the American embassy.


President Obama will create more enemies in the Middle East if his administration remains silent on such human rights abuses and continues the dangerous and pompous military presence cum embassy in Jordan. Such quiet abuse of human dignity does not draw the media coverage of Israeli massacres in Gaza or the wars against the Iraqi and Afghan peoples. The insecurity of ordinary people living under such a dictatorship can be just as devastating.


Progressives need to insist on the suspension of public and private aid to Jordan in the same manner to which they call for sanctions upon Israel. This repression can end peacefully or we can reach a point - still distant - when it will take more than concrete barriers and gun turrets to protect the American embassy and its Hashemite clients.


Caise D. Hassan is a Palestinian poet, writer, and expatriate American living in Amman, Jordan. He welcomes your comments at

[Courtesy shamireaders]

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