21 June, Thursday


Jordan, between the Gulf and the Arab Spring

Specialist view

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Recent developments in Jordan, long one of the most stable countries of the Middle East, looks set to roil an already tumultuous region.
 
Jordan is small in size (89,000 square kilometers) but enjoys considerable weight in the region and serves as a microcosm of the entire Middle East.
 
A glance at Jordan’s geographic location can help one understand how important it is. Located between Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel, Jordan has long enjoyed a reputation for stability.
 
It is also strategically positioned in the center of the Middle East, lying roughly between the Asian, European and African continents.
 
With a significant Christian minority, Jordan has a population of some ten million, about 95 percent of whom are Sunni Muslims.
 
The land that is now the country of Jordan once hosted the Nabataean Kingdom, which maintained a sprawling trade network from its capital, Petra.
 
During World War I, the British promised Sherif Hussein bin Ali, a leading member of the Hashemite family (which now rules Jordan), a “United Arab Kingdom” in return for leading a revolt against the Ottoman Empire.
 
The British, however, failed to make good on their promise.
 
In a way, the modern history of the Hashemite Kingdom illustrates the dangers inherent in trusting imperial powers.
 
Roughly half of Jordan’s current population is composed of Palestinians, making the country of enormous importance to the U.S. and Israel.
 
What’s more, there are large numbers of Iraqi and Syrian refugees in Jordan due to years of regional turmoil.
 
Hussein bin Talal, who ascended the throne at the age of 17 and reigned until 1999, maintained a balance between the U.S., the Soviet Union and the region’s Arab leaders, keeping his country afloat -- despite perennial conflict in the region -- with the help of foreign assistance.
 
Even though King Hussein lost the West Bank to Israel in 1967, he was always popular among the Jordanian public. In 1970, Jordanian forces forcibly subdued the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in an incident remembered as “Black September”.
 
Sustaining itself through foreign aid and support, the most serious problems Jordan has faced during its short history have been economic in nature.
 
In the late 1990s, a wave of inflation sparked popular protests in the Jordanian cities of Ma'an, Karak and Tafilah, leading to a government reshuffle and democratic reforms.
 
Jordan also paid a heavy price for adopting a pro-Iraq position during the 1990 Gulf War, with many western and Gulf States reducing financial aid and Kuwait expelling 400,000 Palestinian expatriate workers.
 
Politically, however, Jordan remained stable, signing a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and weathering the “Arab Spring” turmoil some 17 years later.
 
When street demonstrations erupted in early 2011, protesters in Jordan confined themselves to calling for changes in government and limited political reform.
 
As in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Jordan’s monarch is portrayed as a father figure to his subjects, and the kingdom’s willingness to carry out limited reforms has made it resistant to the political storms that have rocked less tolerant Arab republics.
 
Protests
 
Recent protests in Jordan against IMF-proposed tax legislation has more to do with the Gulf States than with any residual “Arab Spring”.
 
Jordan refuses to accept a backchannel U.S.-backed Middle East peace plan, so Washington and its Gulf allies are using financial aid as a means of coercion.
 
In an effort to quell popular discontent, Jordan has replaced its prime minister and promised to “review” the unpopular legislation.
 
But the source of the protests emanates from the Gulf, which appears willing to reduce aid to cash-strapped Jordan, thus making the crisis more difficult to resolve.
 
Weary of unemployment and rising costs of living, large numbers of Jordanian youth have found work in the oil-rich Gulf. Should they be asked to go home -- as happened in 1990 -- Jordan will face fresh economic pressures.
 
All this reminds one of Zakariya Tamer's short story, “Tigers on the Tenth Day”.
 
In that story, Tamer likens the public -- especially the political opposition -- as a caged tiger. The state, meanwhile, is compared to the tiger’s jailer.
 
For 10 days, the tiger -- independent and proud -- resists the jailer. But on the 10th day, the tiger succumbs to hunger and docilely obeys the jailer’s commands with its tail between its legs.
 
I will finish by citing a line from the story: “... to become a [tiger] tamer, you must never for a moment forget that your adversary’s stomach is your primary target.”
 
Dr. Cengiz Tomar is dean of Marmara University’s political science department and director of the Palestinian Studies Center.
 
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Anadolu Agency.

AA

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