Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another

Will Jordan Be Next to Fall?

Protests against the monarchy—the biggest since the Arab Spring began—are bad news for Israel and the U.S.

Print Email
(Getty Images)

On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the United States was sending a small contingent of troops to Jordan in the event that the conflict in Syria spreads across the country’s border as it has with Turkey. Even if it doesn’t, the Obama Administration is right to be extremely concerned with how events in Syria might affect its longstanding and reliable Middle East ally in Amman.

Should King Abdullah II become the next Arab ruler to fall as part of the upheavals that have swept through the region now for almost two years, it will mark another major setback for the United States in the region. For Israel it’s significantly worse news. Jerusalem would lose its remaining strategic partner in the region—having already lost Turkey and Egypt—and face a possible nightmare on its longest border, exposing the country’s center to attacks from the east that might include Sunni Jihadists or Iranian-trained Iraqi agents.

The beleaguered Bashar al-Assad, longtime rival of Syria, has been doing his share to see that this scenario comes to pass: Leaked Syrian government documents show that Assad, suspicious that Amman was siding with Syria’s armed opposition, has been preemptively trying to destabilize Jordan’s security. But Abdullah’s real nightmare scenario isn’t Assad meddling in Jordanian politics—rather, it might just be Assad’s fall at the hands of Islamist rebels. A Muslim Brotherhood victory in Syria could put wind in the sails of Jordan’s own Brotherhood party, the Islamic Action Front, and perhaps inspire them to add another Arab state, along with Tunisia and Egypt, to their collection.

***

Protests last week in Amman organized by the Islamic Action Front suggest that popular opinion is turning ever more forcefully against Abdullah. “The turnout was much larger than the 8,000 that the government claims attended,” said Hassan Barari, a political analyst at Jordan University. “It wasn’t the 100,000 that the Islamists claimed, but something perhaps like 35,000-40,000”—a very large crowd given that Jordan’s population is only a little more than 6 million.

Abdullah’s response to the protests was to call for elections before the new year and to name a new prime minister. Given that he is tasked with the responsibility of forming the country’s fifth government in two years, this is unlikely to calm Abdullah’s critics.

“We’re in a crisis mode. The state is trying to say that the reform package is good, and the opposition is not convinced,” Barari told me. “The elections will lead to an outcome that can’t fight corruption, a parliament with spineless people, who can’t stand up to the government or the security apparatus. The king missed an opportunity to implement reforms and instead sided with the corrupt ruling elite. My concern is that with this dissatisfaction, some of the opposition may turn violent.”

Corruption, rising energy costs, and large refugee populations that have entered Jordan in the wake of the Iraq war and now the Syrian conflict are among the chief problems besetting the monarchy. The White House has pledged an aid package totaling $474 million in 2012, including $356.9 million signed over earlier this month. But U.S. aid isn’t going to solve Jordan’s fundamental problems.

First, Jordan has virtually no natural resources. For its energy needs, it depends on its neighbors, like Egypt, from where the flow of natural gas has been regularly disrupted ever since Hosni Mubarak’s exit in February 2011. “The Jordanians could get the natural gas from Israel,” said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The Israelis would give it to them at cut-rate discounts and there’s a short pipeline. But the political environment right now doesn’t lend itself to making deals with Israel.”

An even more serious issue is that the country’s population is divided against itself. The split here is based not on sectarian fault lines, as in Syria and Iraq, but rather on national, geographical, and historical ones. On the one hand are the Bedouins, also known as the East Bankers, who fill the ranks of the military and the security apparatus and other public sector jobs. On the other are the Palestinians who constitute a majority—anywhere from 60 to more than 80 percent—of the population.

It is this divide between the Palestinians and Bedouins that has always made Jordan seem an inherently tenuous project to skeptics. And yet the Hashemites have ruled here since 1921 when the British handed the mandate for the emirate of Transjordan over to Abdullah I, the current king’s great-grandfather. The Hashemite monarchy survived not only Abudllah I’s death at the hands of a Palestinian assassin but also the bloody 1970 war, Black September, when the well-trained Bedouin forces led by Abdullah II’s father Hussein drove Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian factions out of Jordan.

The monarchy has always depended on the Bedouins for support and its ultimate security. But it appears they may have turned against their patron, King Abdullah II. East Bankers have joined the Islamists and independent intellectuals like Barari, forming numerous hiraks, or street movements, replacing traditional patronage networks that have proved incapable of sustaining East Bank communities.

One former senior Israeli official explained that “there have been problems with the Bedouins going back at least a decade”—or roughly since Abdullah’s government moved toward privatization and so-called free zones throughout the country designed to attract foreign investment. “The Palestinians were doing well in the private sector, and there was growing resentment among the East Bankers. The Gulf states recognized the problem and tried to get more money into the Bedouin sector and were disappointed it didn’t get into their hands. Who knows how the money was spent?”

The paradox is that it is this corruption—and the subsequent popular protest movement—that appears to finally be constructing a national Jordanian identity, even as it is against the king. Still, the opposition is eventually going to find itself at cross purposes, which the regime could use to its advantage. “Everywhere else in the Middle East what people mean by reform is quite clear,” says Satloff. “But in Jordan, reform means two contradictory things. To the Palestinians, it means opening up the economy, with more room for private sector to grow. If you are an East Banker, reform means the opposite. It means more government jobs.”

Jordan’s regional problems are just as daunting as its domestic concerns. “It feels like it’s caught between an Islamist Egypt and a potentially jihadist Syria,” Satloff said. This is reminiscent of Jordan’s situation in the 1950s and ‘60s when it was caught between Arab nationalist powers in Egypt and Syria constantly trying to destabilize the kingdom, typically by attacking it for its relationship with the United States and its more clandestine ties to Israel.

The Jordan-Israel relationship was further strengthened with the 1994 peace treaty, institutionalizing a significant security relationship that has benefited both countries. For Jerusalem, explained the former Israeli official, “Jordan is the most critical strategic question. Jordan’s army is smaller than Egypt’s but it faces a longer border.” And that border, if open or manned by an unfriendly Arab power, would constitute the majority of the Middle East’s access route to Israel.

Over the last two years, the Arab uprisings have posed a number of vital questions for Washington and its allies. Where should the United States step in to intervene, and on whose side? What governments and movements should we engage, and which should we isolate or punish? The reality is that there’s little the United States can do at this point to protect one of its most steadfast allies in the region. Perhaps Abdullah will prove creative enough to exploit the weaknesses of the growing protest movement, or broker a new national identity that finally binds the East Bankers and Palestinians together and leaves him on the throne. If not, American policymakers will again be scrambling for answers—and Israeli leaders may find yet another border in trouble.

***

Like this article? Sign up for our Daily Digest to get Tablet Magazine’s new content in your inbox each morning.

Print Email

Bad news? How is it bad news bad when people by popular consensus want greater freedom? Bad to the the consensus yes of a neocon con man like Lee Smith who relishes autocracy.

    Because in every one of these countries of the Arab Spring, a MORE repressive regime is coming into power, an Islamist one that threatens all civil rights except to live under Sharia. The exceptions may end up being Tunisia and ironically, Libya, where thousands marched against the group that murdered Ambassador Stevens and the 3 men with him.

    Popular consensus? HItler was raised to power by a democratic vote. Hamas is to this day murdering PA opponents, but gosh, it was brought to power by a popular uprising and vote. Egypt? Morsi seems like a grand guy when he’s not talking about ditching peace agreements…but then the next day says, no, I didn’t say that.

    IF it were true that these countries would end up being led by truly liberal folks (liberal in the classic sense, not in the modern overbearing govt. one), you would be correct. I think it’s unbearably sad that the liberals who marched in Tahrir Square in Cairo really felt like they were going to replace a terrible and repressive Mubarak rule of despotism and torture with an open and truly free society. But that was quickly quashed as the Muslim Brotherhood took over, as many had predicted. Same will happen in Jordan.

    Let me end with Tahrir Square. Lara Logan, a reporter for…I think it’s ABC, was raped there, while covering the “popular consensus” movement that gave us Morsi and the Brotherhood. She now is one of the best speakers against what is going on…she now GETS IT, these are not small-letter d democrats out there taking over in these countries. These are Islamists who want extreme forms of sharia that include an almost complete negation of what we in a still-mainly free country would call “civil rights”. So, yes, yearning to be free, wonderful idea…but there is the George Washington who refuses to turn a Presidency into tyranny, and where are those who will debate how to keep the new government from becoming even more repressive than the old government it is replacing (see the scene from Woody Allen’s film “Bananas”, where the rebel leader starts announcing his agenda, now that the revolution has been won! Parody, but ultimately true enough, sadly).

    Lynne T says:

    The problem ain’t a desire for greater freedom. The problem is that in most cases, Islamists ascend to power and Islamist governments don’t offer citizens expanded freedoms. They invariably impose Sharia-based dictates on the population.

    You don’t get it do you? In pretty much all cases where the Arab Spring succeeded, they replaced the previous government with one like the Taliban. You rememeber them? Yeah, those wonderful people who just yesterday shot a 14-year-old girl in the head because she was walking to school and stood up to them defending her right to be educated. So, they shot her for it. These are people who will let an entire school full of young girls burn alive because none of them have their burkas on, and it’s obviously better to let them burn alive then to be exposed to strange men on the street without their full body coverings. You can’t tell me that these are people who will now be getting greater freedom.

I always figured that Abdullah shared the popularity of the English monarchy, where no matter how bad things were in elected politics, he was above all that with a large popularity. I don’t know how badly the Islamists will turn against him, considering that he is a Hashamite, a direct descendant of Mohammed, but I could see him losing all real political power, leaving him nothing more than a figurehead.

AD_Rtr_OS says:

Wherever this administration sends troops, the situation seems to deteriorate.
It’s like they have a “brown thumb”, or something.
Where is all of that brilliance of “Leading From Behind”?
Or, is it “Leading From His Behind”!

    Lynne T says:

    Do situations “deteriorate” simply because western countries send military forces onto the scene or because they are headed that way anyway, courtesy of all the petro dollars deployed by Sunni and Shia fundamentalists trying to establish dominence for their particular version of the faith?

    Or is it Bushwacking boodoggle? You do the math dude.

Charles Duran says:

Lee Smith didn’t really mean bad for the United States, he meant bad for the political establishment of the United States. A breakup of the status quo in the middle east is inevitable in light of the long repressive and corrupt regimes that have fostered social and economic injustice, regimes that are supported by Israel and the United States. It may be messy and unpleasant, but it is necessary.

    Because having an Islamist Caliphate take over the entire region of the Middle East and all of North Africa bringing the kind of murderous oppression and genocide not seen since Hitler’s Third Reich would be a good thing for the world and, as you say, necessary. /sarc

    DrDean says:

    Benjamin Franklin: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

    The harsh reality is that not all people are ready for democracy. Democratic self-governance and living free human beings requires virtues and values not necessarily present in all cultures – and certainly not present in many/most ME nations.

    Many people *must* be ruled by despots of one sort or another at least
    until their cultures evolve from looking to a central government to
    control their lives.

    In the end, the “Arab Spring” will be recognized as just another bloody phase in the process of trading a despotic govt of one flavor for a despotic govt of another flavor.

    However, from a Western perspective, the history of the ME over the past four decades taken as whole show it is devolving toward a very
    activist and expansionist form of despotism – and that is worrisome for the entire world.

    Assad’s Syria, Saddam’s Iraq, Qadaffi’s Libya, and the Nasserite dynasty that ruled Egypt, were all Soviet client states. So was Arafat’s PLO (except that it is not, nor will be a state.) Do your homework if you want to be a successful propogandist for the racist school of thought, that views all “Darkies” was passive robots, such begging to be cynically manipulated by the evil Western democracies.

Lynne T says:

“The monarchy has always depended on the Bedouins for support and its ultimate security.”
Actually, at an early point in the Hashemite monarchy depended on Yemenite Jews practicing an ancient martial art to be their personal body guards:
http://www.biblediscovered.com/tag/jewish-martial-arts/

King Abdullah II is doing a very good job. He has been involved in many meetings with various envoys over the past few years. He is obviously aware of certain dynamics in the region and accepts the responsibility of his position. As sovereign of Jordan he does have to maintain a delicate balancing act. The Kingdom of Jordan has an important part to play in the peace and prosperity of the region.

Rabbi Moshe Pesach Geller says:

It MUST be inevutable because Jordan as a ‘state’ is lie. It is construct conjured by Churchill to appease the Hashemies who were first kicked out of what is today called Saudi Arabia (after the Saud family) and then Iraq/Syria after the French kvetched that they didn’t get their share after World War I. And a lie cannot live forever. Simple as it is.

    Yaw Mandy says:

    Which country does not have a similar history especially Africa and Asia-and even certain EU Countries-Great Britain, France, Spain, etc?

Part of the problem is that instead of adapting to the fact that allegiances of people to groups and of groups to causes are fluid, our leaders continue with the business as usual approach that we don’t need to convince anyone who’s not part of a national government of anything. Then we get all surprised when the oppositions to governments that had been devoted to our cause gain enough adherents to pose a strategic if not existential threat to those governments.

ginzy1 says:

Lee Smith omitted an important factor — Jordan has a large and active Salafi population. Keep in mind that the Salafis make al Qaeda & the Muslim Brotherhood seem moderate. A number of years ago the NY Times Magazine had an interesting and informative piece on the Salafis of Jordan. Definitely worth reading or re-reading now in light of the Arab pseudo-spring. See here:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/magazine/iraq.html?_r=4&pagewanted=all&

hg

Efrat / J’lem

Doctor Bucephalus says:

Yet another reason for why the US should get involved. Wonder how different the policy would be on this if it weren’t an election year…

80% of people living in Jordan are Palestinians. Jordan belongs to the Palestinians. Arab Spring may help. That are not a bad news, but truth. As Palestinians want an (1) own state, peace should become reality as Jordan will become Palestinian! Don`t you believe in logic?

    federbender says:

    Transjordan, as you may recall, is the eastern 2/3 of the original Palestine mandate. It was detached for political reasons after WWI, because the British had made contradictory promises to the Jews and the Arabs who had helped the Allies.

If the palestinians find home in a “new Jordan” it would not be bad but good news for Israel. The so called “One state solution” of the right wing israelis wil attract more and more people.

Obama has failed domestically and internationally. On Nov. 6, Obama’s retirement begins!!

saidi ben yehud says:

obama must lost another term

Do you think the Arabs would declare the state of Palestine? Every so often I muse on what would have been if Israel had backed the Palestionians against Hussein during Black September

Nat Ben Zimri says:

I take great comfort in the fact that our country has a staunch ally in the Mideast called Israel. Israel has sometimes been called the largest aircraft carrier in our fleet. And for good reason. While the whole Mideast region radicalizes and boils over in anti-USA violence and hatred, we can always count on Israel for a safe landing and to be our only true friend in this region that hates the West more and more with each passing day. We both share the same Judeo-Christian values. We’re both democracies. We’re both proud countries that respect human life, human rights and freedoms of all kinds. We’re both the West. Like it or not, we need Israel perhaps as much as Israel needs us. I dare say maybe even more. That’s why I am more than a bit concerned about our government’s misguided foreign policy towards Israel. It seems that far from supporting her as we should be, we’re throwing her under a bus. We appease her enemies. We disrespect her prime minister. And most disturbingly, we try to push through the “Two State Solution” to the Israel-Palestinian issue.
This two state “solution” is bad for Israel because if forced upon Israel, then she will be forced to surrender her most important strategic asset – the high ground – and will be left defenseless. Take a look at the following website for an explanation. The pictures that you’ll see herein don’t lie. They explain why Israel must never fall into the “Two State Solution” trap.
Click here: http://shomroncentral.blogspot.co.il/

Nat Ben Zimri says:

I take great comfort in the fact that our country has a staunch ally in the Mideast called Israel. Israel has sometimes been called the largest aircraft carrier in our fleet. And for good reason. While the whole Mideast region radicalizes and boils over in anti-USA violence and hatred, we can always count on Israel for a safe landing and to be our only true friend in this region that hates the West more and more with each passing day. We both share the same Judeo-Christian values. We’re both democracies. We’re both proud countries that respect human life, human rights and freedoms of all kinds. We’re both the West. Like it or not, we need Israel perhaps as much as Israel needs us. I dare say maybe even more. That’s why I am more than a bit concerned about our government’s misguided foreign policy towards Israel. It seems that far from supporting her as we should be, we’re throwing her under a bus. We appease her enemies. We disrespect her prime minister. And most disturbingly, we try to push through the “Two State Solution” to the Israel-Palestinian issue.
This two state “solution” is bad for Israel because if forced upon Israel, then she will be forced to surrender her most important strategic asset – the high ground – and will be left defenseless. Take a look at the following website for an explanation. The pictures that you’ll see herein don’t lie. They explain why Israel must never fall into the “Two State Solution” trap.
Click here: http://shomroncentral.blogspot.co.il/

PARTNER &P C says:

jordan a puppet of the united states the arab brothern iran and other terreriost will eventually turn it into another egypt the show of american weakness will be the reason i hope americans know that no arab country likes the united states look at turkey and still a TRUSTED MEMBER OF NATO THE UNITED STATES HAS NO IDEA WHATS REALLY HAPPENING IN THE MOIDDLE EAST ISRAEL USED TO BE A RELIABLE FRIEND OF THE USA

2000

Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Will Jordan Be Next to Fall?

Protests against the monarchy—the biggest since the Arab Spring began—are bad news for Israel and the U.S.

More on Tablet:

The True Story of Thanksgiving

By Zachary Schrieber — A new historical account was recently discovered. It is recorded here.