A Revolution in Jordan?
by Caise Hassan on 12 Mar 2011 0 Comment

The attention of Americans and the world has focused on the Arab people’s struggles for freedom against dictatorships, and the turn of Jordan is imminent. US coverage of Jordan has erected a myth that King Abdullah of Jordan is a progressive monarch. President Obama lauded him as a statesman seeking “to resolve issues and conflicts in a peaceful and respectful fashion.” Shows such as Oprah Winfrey’s give Abdullah’s wife, Queen Rania, a floor to claim that the monarchy promotes education and human dignity.


The reality of the monarchy has little to do with this picture. Jordanians want the monarchy gone due to its vast corruption and repression of the people.


The monarchy in Jordan itself is a fabrication of foreign powers. Prior to the British conquest in World War I, Jordan was a province of the Ottoman Empire. The post-war League of Nations summit gave Britain a mandate to rule Palestine and the territory across the Jordan River, “Transjordan.” The mandate was the fulfillment of the Sykes-Picot agreement—a secret plan drawn by Great Britain and France prior to the conquest of the Ottoman territory to divide the Middle East between them. The wishes of the indigenous Arabs for self-determination was willfully ignored as Palestine was promised as a homeland for European Jews and the British installed puppet Arab regimes in territories carved out and administered by Western imperialists. 


The British placed as their agent in Transjordan, Abdullah I, the son of Sharif Husayn, a tribal leader from a clan called the Hashemites, who dwelled in what is now Saudi Arabia. The Hashemites had incurred considerable opprobrium throughout the Arab and Muslim world for betraying the Ottoman Muslim state and being enthusiastically willing to serve Western imperial interests for their own personal gain. They have governed Jordan through royal decree for almost a century, accountable only, first, to Britain, and, after 1958 and American intervention, the United States. The present King Abdullah and his father, Husayn, have been so willing to serve external benefactors that they even have received personal stipends from the CIA.


Jordanians from all walks of life are fed up with the Hashemite Dynasty and face the same problems as other Arabs who are rebelling. The first problem is endemic poverty and underdevelopment due to a corrupt government that takes from the people and gives very little back. Over 80 percent of Jordanians earn less than $500 USD per month while the bare essentials cost hundreds of dollars more than that. Amman is the most expensive Arab city after Dubai, though incomes are a small fraction of the latter.  


Despite a 16 percent national sales tax and collecting billions of dollars in annual import tariffs, King Abdullah spends little on the country besides basic road infrastructure. Rather than build industries to create jobs and fund Jordan’s school system, itself among the lowest ranking in the world, Abdullah and his inner circle pocket the wealth. Dabouq, a posh west Amman neighbourhood, boasts Bel-Aire sized mansions housing the key ministers of government.  According to the Jordan National Movement (JNM), a watchdog group headed by a former member of parliament, the current Royal family has embezzled billions from taxes by selling off state resources like the water company and national land to foreigners.


The King silences public opposition to this corruption through his vast police state. Jordanian laws prohibit any written or spoken criticism of the monarchy. Political meetings of more than two people are forbidden without government permission.


These laws are enforced by the General Intelligence Department (GID), a CIA-trained secret police force whose record, according to the US State Department, has included routine use of torture on political opponents. Those who disobey face brutal retribution. Jordanian secret police in plainclothes beat 67-year old Laith Shubeilat, a prominent and highly respected leader of the democracy movement in Jordan, from behind as he shopped at a bakery, according to the JNM and Jordanian press. Shubeilat’s crime was that he had criticized the monarchy’s sale of public lands. On the weekend of February 18th, pro-government thugs from among the secret police and national guard, the Darak, beat up anti-government protestors with baseball bats, according to Al Jazeerah news. 


There is little hope of democratic change for Jordanians given the monarch’s absolute power. People here see King Abdullah’s recent dissolving of the government, intended to placate the public, as an autocratic game of musical chairs. First, there is nothing democratic about his absolute power to name prime ministers and other key government posts. The King replaced the outgoing prime minister with a predecessor of his own appointment. The people were so aware of the King’s absolute power over parliament that only 17 percent of Jordanian citizens voted in the Parliamentary elections last November—an election that came about because he dissolved Parliament and called for early elections.


Representation in Parliament for the vast majority of Jordanians, who live in Amman, has become hindered by two factors that benefit the King’s corrupt regime. 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 connections to the government ministers. In the last two elections, the candidates’ poll workers openly bribed people to vote for their man, resulting in a parliament filled with millionaires who do not represent the poor and the middle class.


The lack of open political space for Jordanians means that a violent revolution is highly likely. Jordan does not have a large population that could bring about a mass uprising as in Egypt or Tunisia. That means a crowd of small protestors would be easy for the regime to suppress with violence.  Jordan’s poorest people, in the towns outside of the capital, Amman, have been ignored by the Hashemites; and these are the people who are most heavily armed. 


As one religious leader--whose brother was a lieutenant of Abu-Musab Al Zarqawi, the Jordanian Al Qaeda leader killed in Iraq in 2005--told me, there are a growing number of rebel training camps in the poor outskirt towns. These fighters have their sights set on overthrowing the government, he says. They despise Abdullah because his police has suppressed protests there the past ten years.


All of this bloodshed can be averted if the US ends its financial and military support of King Abdullah and his government.  If the US stops training Jordanian intelligence and demands that the royal family steps down and holds elections, Jordan can be spared from a violent course and enjoy the freedom that others in the region are carving for themselves.


Of course, this means abandoning 50 years of American support for family monarchs who secure markets for US corporations’ goods and services, especially weapons. As hundreds of millions of Arabs from Morocco to the Gulf control their own destinies, they will not soon forget that it is American tear gas canisters and bullets that their governments are firing on them to preserve the dictatorships. A rational Middle East policy for Washington would abandon this sadistic course, even if it means losing the America’s privileged status selling WMDs to brutes like Abdullah and Mubarak. Otherwise,  the  US will be excluded from commercial and political participation in an imminent democratic Middle East in favour of countries like China and Brazil who treat the Arabs as equals rather than a mere means to expanding empire.


Caise Hassan is a Palestinian American freelance writer and poet living in Amman Jordan. His writings and interviews on Middle East affairs have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, FOX News Chicago, Lebanese Star, Huffington Post, and Bitter Lemons.

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