Controlled Democratisation: Democracy and Islam in Jordan
Jordan: History and Political System
Dr. Adli Hawwari
This chapter consists of five parts. One will focus briefly on the modern history of Jordan. Another focuses on the political system in Jordan, particularly its branches of government. The third part is concerned with the role of Islam in the state. The fourth is about the economy. The fifth part outlines the Palestinian connection in Jordan’s history and politics.
PART 1: HISTORY OF JORDAN
The modern history of Jordan is related to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent colonial era in which France and Britain carved out territories that were under the rule of the Ottomans. During the First World War (1914-1919), in which Britain and France were on one side and Germany and the Ottoman Empire on the other, contacts were established between Britain and Husayn ibn ‛Ali, the Sharīf of Mecca.
According to Storrs (1939), Amir ‛Abdullah, son of the sharīf, initiated the contact in 1914 during a visit to Cairo ‘as the guest of the Khedive’ (p. 129). In Cairo, he met Lord Kitchener. Storrs noted that ‛Abdullah ‘appeared to have something to say but somehow did not reach the point of saying it’ (p. 129).
Storrs (1939) outlines the details of his meeting with Amir ‛Abdullah during which the latter asked ‘whether Great Britain would present the Grand Sharif with a dozen or a half-dozen machine guns’ (pp. 129-130). The Jordanian historian, Sulayman Musa (1986) confirms that Amir ‛Abdullah met Lord Kitchener during a visit by the latter to the Khedive’s office. Musa says that Kitchener, accompanied by Ronald Storrs, followed the Amir, and that they told him ‘the British government was satisfied with the security in Hijaz and the measures taken to look after the pilgrims since his father assumed the role of Amir of Mecca’ (pp. 66-67).
At the time of contact, the relationship between Turkey and Britain was not adversarial. Therefore, the British account suggests that ‛Abdullah was not promised any support. Similarly, the Jordanian account does not mention any request for help during the initial contact. Both sides however were interested in re-establishing contact and developing cooperation after Turkey joined Germany in the war.
The Ottoman Empire lasted for six centuries. With the rise of nationalism in Europe, the peoples of the empire were influenced by nationalist ideas. The Turkish elements of the empire wanted to give it a Turkish character. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the decaying empire saw the formation of the Society for Union and Progress and Young Turks (1906).
Likewise, the non-Turkish peoples started to think of independence. As Sayigh (1966A) pointed out, Arab and Turkish critics of Sultan ‛Abd al-Hamīd succeeded in 1908 in ‘restricting his powers and adopting a relatively progressive constitution’ (p. 18). They then managed to remove him in 1909 (p. 18).
Sayigh (1966A) suggests that the Arabs developed a higher sense of national identity after members of the Young Turks reneged on the promises to be fair to the non-Turkish elements in the empire (pp. 18-19). Instead, ‘persecution of Arabs in the empire intensified’ (p. 19). Furthermore, other non-Arab elements in the empire managed to break away and establish independent states such as Greece, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria (p. 19). Therefore, during 1913-1914, the signs of an Arab nationalist movement were clear (p. 20).
Nationalist sentiments in the Arab parts of the Ottoman Empire were suppressed, especially during the reign of Ahmad Pasha, the butcher, who hanged many nationalists in Syria and Lebanon in May 1916. When the Ottoman Empire entered the war on Germany’s side, the road was paved for closer cooperation with sharīf Husayn. The British officer, Thomas Lawrence, played a leading role in organizing and implementing a revolt against the Ottomans.
There are different accounts as to when and who amongst the Arab leaders initiated contact with sharīf Husayn ibn ‛Ali. One account referred to by Sayigh (1966A) indicates that the contact occurred in 1911 in the form of a letter from thirty-five Arab members in the Ottoman Parliament (pp. 22-23). However, Sayigh casts doubt on the authenticity of this account. Assuming it was, Sayigh argues, it did not promise the sharīf that he would become a king (p. 22). Sayigh also points out that even if this letter was indeed sent to sharīf Husayn, he did not respond.
Storrs (1939, p. 160) indicated that sharīf Husayn was telling the British that he had ‘a general mandate as King of Arabs for a Spiritual Pan-Araby’. However, Storrs said that the sharīf ‘knew better than we that he could lay no kind of genuine claim’. The reasons outlined by Storrs include the fact the Christians, Shi‛a, Zaydis, and even Sunnis of North Africa would not accept him as their leader.
Sayigh asked a necessary question: why did the leaders of the Arab movement choose to contact the Sharīf of Mecca to make him the leader of the movement? Sayigh confirmed that the Arab movement in 1915 chose to call upon sharīf Husayn to be its leader. They sent him a letter full of praise and offered cooperation against the Turks (pp. 25-26).
After a long analysis concerning the lack of credentials for such a leadership, the answer in Sayigh’s conclusion is in ‘circumstances and the English’ (p. 39). The most important circumstance is the fact that the sharīf became the Amir of Mecca at a time of tension between the Arabs and Turks (p. 39).
The significance of the alliance between Britain and Husayn ibn ‛Ali cannot be understated since Hijaz is the region which has the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Muslims make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and are encouraged to visit the mosque of Prophet Muhammad in Medina. From a religious point of view, this region is of paramount importance for the Ottoman Empire which ruled in the name of Islam.
Husayn ibn ‛Ali was known as the ‘Keeper of the Holy Places of Mecca’ (‛Aruri 1972, p. 15). He belonged to a family whose members claim to be descendants of Prophet Muhammad. A male member of this family is known as sharīf (honourable) or sayyid (master). In particular, members of this family claim descent from Hashim ibn ‛Abd-Munaf, the paternal great grandfather of Prophet Muhammad. Husayn ibn ‛Ali had four sons: ‛Ali, ‛Abdullah, Faysal, and Zayd. They played various roles during and after the revolt launched by their father.
A series of communications which laid the foundation for a revolt by the Arabs against Turkey were exchanged between Husayn ibn ‛Ali and the British High Commissioner in Egypt, Henry McMahon. The incentives for Husayn ibn ‛Ali were qualified promises that Britain would be willing ‘to recognise and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sharif of Mecca’; that Britain would provide the Arabs with ‘her advice’; and would ‘assist them to establish what may appear to be the more suitable forms of government in those various territories’ (1915).(1)
In the meantime, Britain and France had reached a secret agreement in 1916 (Sykes-Picot)(2) according to which the two powers designated the areas which would come under their respective control after the end of the war. Accordingly, the region that incorporates present-day Syria and Lebanon would be under France’s control. The region from Iraq to the Mediterranean coast (including historic Palestine) was to be under British control. Furthermore, in 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, wrote a letter to Walter Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain, to inform the Zionist movement that Britain was supportive of the idea of establishing a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine. This is known as the Balfour Declaration.
Husayn ibn ‛Ali launched the revolt against the Ottoman Empire in 1916. It led to the surrender of Ottoman forces in Hijaz. Forces led by Faysal, who was working with General Allenby and Colonel Lawrence, managed to seize Aqaba from the Ottomans. In 1918, they entered Damascus, where Faysal set up an administration. Arab representatives in Syria declared him King of Syria.
In 1920, in accordance with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, France decided to remove Faysal from Syria, and managed to do so after a battle at Maysaloun (July 1920). Faysal’s brother, ‛Abdullah, led some forces with the declared intention of restoring the throne of his brother. His first stop was at Ma‛an, which belonged then to the Hijaz and is now in southern Jordan.
Although Syria was under French control and Iraq and Palestine were under the British, the borders between the areas of control were not clearly delineated. The region on the eastern side of the Jordan River, Transjordan, had three separate administrative districts: ‛Ajlun, Salt, and Karak. Each had a British adviser. These three districts became the basis of an entity ruled by ‛Abdullah. This was formalised in a meeting between ‛Abdullah and Churchill in Jerusalem in March 1921. ‛Abdullah was informed that ‘he could keep Transjordan on a temporary basis under British mandatory ‘protection’ until some more permanent arrangement was agreed upon with the French’ (Salibi 1993, pp. 87-88).
It was on 15 May 1923 that the ‘Emirate of Transjordan’ was recognised ‘as a national state being prepared for independence under the general supervision of the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem’ (Salibi 1993, p. 88).
Since then, Transjordan developed into a nation-state in stages. The transformation, however, required ‘money, military assistance and goodwill’ from the British (Salibi 1993, p. 98). A series of treaties were negotiated between 1928 and 1946. The Emirate of Transjordan was declared a kingdom on 25 May 1946, and Amir ‛Abdullah acquired the title of the ‘King of the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan’.(3)
Even after the officially declared independence of Jordan, the British had considerable control, especially with regard to foreign policy and the army, which was led by a British officer, John Glubb, who was the commander of the Jordanian army, until his dismissal in 1954. King Hussein’s decision to dismiss him was influenced by pressure from nationalists in the army and the country.
Scholars who have studied Jordan have three broad explanations as to why the State of Jordan was established. First, it was formed by Britain to stem the French expansion in the region (Wilson 1988, p. 44). Second, that Transjordan was created as a prize for Amir ‛Abdullah for the services he, his brothers, and their father, Husayn ibn ‛Ali, rendered to Britain in its endeavours to bring down the Ottoman Empire (Wiktorowicz 2001, pp. 50-51).
Third, ‘the British were eager to have a buffer between their direct rule in Palestine and both the expanding Sa‛udi power to the south and the French Mandate in Syria to the North. The two wishes were fulfilled with the creation of a new entity in Transjordan’ (Lucas 2005, p. 14).
Kings of Jordan
The ruling dynasty in Jordan starts with ‛Abdullah, the son of Husayn ibn ‛Ali. The latter’s ambition to be the king of an Arab state was not realised. Instead, more than one state was created in the region he had hoped to rule, and it was his sons who were the beneficiaries. Ironically, Husayn ibn ‛Ali and family lost their position in Mecca, and failed in their attempts to bring present-day Saudi Arabia under their control.
While residing in Mecca, the family and its supporters were engaged in clashes with other leaders in the area. There was fierce competition between the local leaders. ‛Abd al-‛Aziz ibn Sa‛ud was engaged in fighting with rivals from al-Rashid tribes in Ha’el and the Sharif of Mecca. Ibn Sa‛ud’s forces defeated Husayn ibn ‛Ali’s in Tayef. In order to pacify ibn Sa‛ud, he stood down in favour of his eldest son, ‛Ali, who ruled until 1925, when he surrendered to ibn Sa‛ud and moved to Iraq.
Faysal was first declared King of Syria in 1918, before the French forced him out in 1920. ‛Abdullah’s arrival in Ma‛an was supposed to be a step on the way to Damascus to restore the throne of his bother Faysal. However, the journey to Damascus was not completed. Instead, he ended up being the Amir of Transjordan.
Thus far, Jordan has been ruled by four kings: ‛Abdullah I, Talal, Hussein and ‛Abdullah II. ‛Abdullah I is referred to in official Jordanian discourse as the ‘founder king’. He acquired the title of King in 1946, and ruled until he was assassinated in Jerusalem in 1951.
There is no authoritative account as to who was behind the assassination plot and why. Various accounts blame the Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husayni, and King Faruq of Egypt. King ‛Abdullah’s critics blame him for sacrificing Palestine; his admirers argue that he managed to prevent the inclusion of Transjordan in the homeland promised for the Jews in the Balfour Declaration.
As Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe (2001, p. 36) point out ‘the real motivations of the assassin and his accomplices remain unclear to this day’. They add, however, that ‛Abdullah’s ‘collusion with the Israelis to the detriment of the Palestinians was held at the time to be the most likely reason’.
Sayigh (1966B, pp. 227-228) refers to the assassin as ‘a young feda’i’(4) which in the context of his book, The Hashimites and the Palestine Question, leaves little doubt that the assassination is related to the Palestine question. Hani Akhu Irshaideh (2003, p. 156) indicates that the unity between Transjordan and the West Bank was achieved through the approval of a Palestinian minority, and that ‘the assassination of King ‛Abdullah was a protest at this unity’.
Abu Nuwar (1990, pp. 124-137) dismisses the suggestion that those behind the assassination were the Palestinian Mufti, Amin al-Husayni, and ‛Abdullah al-Tall, the leader of the Jordanian forces in Jerusalem during the 1948 war, supported by the Egyptian government (p. 124). An account based on this suggestion is detailed by Satloff (1994) who refers to ‛Abdllah al-Tall as ‘one of the plot’s ring-leaders’ (p. 31). That ‛Abdllah al-Tall was involved with others and backed by Cairo is the account adopted by Jordanian historians, al-Madi and Musa (1988, pp. 550-561). In his memoirs, the British Resident in Transjordan, Alec Kirkbride (1976, pp. 127-139), also blames ‛Abdullah al-Tall.
Abu Nuwar (1990, p. 129) noted that in 1957 he met al-Tall in Cairo and asked him about his role in the assassination. Al-Tall swore that he was innocent (p. 129). Abu Nuwar suggested that Britain was responsible for the assassination. According to Abu Nuwar, Britain had three motives for eliminating King ‛Abdullah: (a) because he was about to end the British presence in the region; (b) because Britain wanted to abort his attempt to ‘unite Jordan with Iraq’; and (c) because he revived the idea of ‘uniting the Arab East to confront the Zionist invasion’ (p. 129).
Abu Nuwar said that the man found guilty of plotting the assassination, Musa al-Husayni, had a German wife, and both were on good terms with the British Generals Glubb and Peake (p. 124). Abu Nuwar suggested that the British chose Musa al-Husayni as it would be possible to make a link between the assassination and Amin al-Husayni and ‛Abdullah al-Tall (p. 131).
The more likely reason is that the assassination was indeed related to the Palestine question. ‛Abdullah’s role was not synchronous with the Palestinians themselves or the other Arab governments. That he accepted the plan to partition Palestine is cited in the official Jordanian narrative as a farsighted decision which could have spared the Palestinians and Arabs the loss of all of Palestine.
‛Abdullah’s eldest son, Talal, succeeded his assassinated father. The succession was not a straightforward matter because Talal at the time was receiving treatment in Geneva, and there were doubts about his mental stability. Abu Nuwar (1990) outlines the discussions and manoeuvres which took place at the time to decide who should succeed ‛Abdullah: the constitutional heir, Talal, who was ill and receiving treatment in Geneva, or Talal’s brother, Nayef.
Satloff (1994) also outlines the manoeuvres which were taking place to exclude Talal from becoming the crown prince in view of his turbulent relationship with his father. In the words of British officials, including Kirkbride, quoted by Satloff, Talal was temperamental and ‘deeply anti-British’ (p. 16). According to Satloff, ‛Abdullah secretly signed a document in which he appointed his son Nayef as the crown prince (p. 16). However, ‛Abdullah changed his mind and restored Talal in 1947.
According to Abu Nuwar’s account, he and other nationalist colleagues wanted Talal to succeed, in line with the stipulation of the constitution. The British army officers had a different view. The then Prime Minister, Tawfiq Abul-Huda, decided to seek medical reports on Talal’s mental health. Satloff (1994, p. 38) quoted a report by three Swiss specialists treating Talal as saying that ‘the crown prince had been under treatment for “an extraordinary case of mental depression”’ (p. 38). He was declared fit and returned to Jordan to succeed his father.
King Talal ruled from 1951 to 1952. During his short reign, the constitution was amended to give more power to the other branches of government. It is noteworthy that Kirkbride narrates anecdotes that raise doubts about Talal’s mental stability even before he became king (pp. 120-126). He suggests that Talal ‘realised the burdens of office were too much for him and abdicated willingly’ (p. 150). This account, however, is inaccurate. King Talal’s mental instability was an issue before he became king. When it became apparent that his mental condition deteriorated, Abul-Huda initiated the procedure which led to declaring King Talal ill. Consequently, it was possible to remove him according to article 28 of the constitution (Satloff 1994, p. 56). Parliament also named Hussein, Talal’s eldest son, as the new king.
When Hussein succeeded his father, Talal, he was two years under the age required. Therefore, there was a ‘council of regency’ which ruled until he reached the age of eighteen lunar years. He acceded to the throne on 2 May 1953 and ruled until his death in 1999. He is referred to in the Jordanian official discourse as the ‘father of modern Jordan’.
During Hussein’s reign, political freedoms were suppressed and political parties banned in 1957. The process of reversing that decision started in 1989. This section about him is brief because he will be referred to in many parts of the book.
Shortly before his death, King Hussein removed his brother Hassan from the position of crown prince and replaced him with ‛Abdullah, Hussein’s eldest son, who was named after his grandfather. ‛Abdullah’s mother is the British Antoinette Gardner, Hussein’s second wife, who acquired the title of Princess Mona. ‛Abdullah was pursuing a career in the special forces of the Jordanian army. According to some accounts, he was not expecting to be appointed crown prince when he was called for an audience with his father. After ‛Abdullah II became king, he too removed his brother Hamza from the position of crown prince.
Hamza is the son of Lisa Najib Halaby, an American of Syrian origin. She was the fourth wife of King Hussein, and acquired the title of Queen Noor. After celebrating the tenth anniversary as king, ‛Abdullah II named his eldest son, Hussein II, in July 2009 as the crown prince at the age of fifteen years.
PART 2: JORDAN’S POLITICAL SYSTEM
Jordan is a constitutional monarchy. However, the king is not a figurehead, as is the case in some European countries, such as Britain, Holland, and Norway. According to article 28 of the constitution, the monarchy is ‘hereditary’ and reserved for ‘the dynasty of King ‛Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein’—but only for ‘male heirs’.
Various articles in the constitution give the king the power to dissolve the HoD and the HoN; he appoints and dismisses the prime minister; and he is the supreme commander of land, naval, and air forces.(5)
The king is the executive branch, but according to the constitution, his power is exercised through ministers. However, he also has legislative power. According to article 25, the power to legislate is shared by the parliament and the king, who is ‘immune from any liability and responsibility’, according to article 30.
The king selects the prime minister in Jordan. Instructions on the tasks of the government are given to the PM in a letter from the king. Only once in the history of Jordan has the chosen prime minister been a member of the party which gained the largest number of seats in the HoD. This was in October 1956. Sulayman al-Nabulsi’s government won the confidence of parliament. However, it was a short-lived government, serving less than six months. King Hussein dismissed him.
According to Lucas (2005, p. 23), the pillars of the regime are East Bank tribes; religious and ethnic minorities (Christians, Circassians, and Chechens); state bureaucracy; the military; and Palestinians in business. I suggest that these five pillars are not amenable to generalisation. The East Bank’s tribes cannot be taken for granted. There are divisions amongst and within the tribes that contradict the often-repeated generalisation about the loyalty of the tribes to the regime.
It is also doubtful to suggest that religious and ethnic minorities would prefer oppression of the whole society, which applies to them as well, in return for some special treatment by the regime—a treatment which by international standards is not very special.
The regime relies on the army, police, intelligence services, and a system of patronage. The loyalty of people serving in defence and security forces becomes part of the job. The members have no choice in this matter. However, loyalties can shift according to circumstances and interests. It is also doubtful that the regime considers ‘Palestinians in business’ one of its pillars. Most likely, Lucas has some wealthy Palestinians in mind, such as the Shomans who own the Arab Bank.
Finer (1970) suggested that if King Hussein were to make peace with Israel, the Jordanian army would act to remove him. His predictions proved wrong, because in 1994 Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel. The Jordanian army did not act to remove him. Opposition to the treaty was, and still is, expressed by individuals and political parties, especially IAF.
The Jordanian Parliament is bicameral. The lower house is the House of Deputies (HoD), and the upper is the House of Notables (HoN).(6) The two chambers are known together as the National Assembly (Majlis al-Umma). The number of members of the lower house is double that of the upper. The HoN’s members are appointed by the king, while members of the lower house gain membership through elections. According to the constitution, the power to legislate is not the exclusive domain of the National Assembly. As mentioned earlier, the constitution specifically states that the king shares the legislative power.
After the merger of Transjordan with the West Bank(7) in 1950, the shorthand reference to each part of the kingdom was East Bank and West Bank. Membership of both chambers was equally divided between the two parts. After the independence of Transjordan in 1946, the HoD consisted of forty members, and the HoN of twenty. The number of seats was increased in 1960 to become sixty for the lower house and thirty for the upper, with membership equally divided between the two parts of the kingdom.
The official history of Jordan’s parliament shows that the HoD was dissolved several times, because it did not work well with the government. Contrary to the normal practice in democracies, the parliament is dismissed instead of the government. In other words, the legislative branch of government is the weakest.
Since the inception of Transjordan, there have been political parties. The elections of 1956 were contested by various political parties, including the Nationalist Socialist Party, headed by Sulayman al-Nabulsi, and the Ba‛th Party, whose member ‛Abdullah al-Rimawi, was made foreign minister in al-Nabulsi’s government. After the dispute between the palace and the government, King Hussein dismissed the government, dissolved parliament, and banned parties. In this dispute, the MB sided with the palace.
Although political parties remained illegal until the political parties law came into effect in 1992, a de facto presence of parties occurred after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Armed Palestinian groups established bases in Jordan after the war. Political organisations were able to operate without being licensed by the government. The de facto presence continued until the Palestinian fighters were forced out of Jordan in 1970-1971. After that, those who continued to operate did so secretly.
After parties were made legal in 1992, twenty parties applied for a licence, and by the end of 1996, there were twenty-three parties in Jordan (Hourani 1997, p. 19). However, not all managed to win seats in the HoD. Because of high number of parties, and weak membership, King ‛Abdullah II suggested the idea of having three to four large parties as a way of invigorating the political scene.
In 2007, a law required parties to re-register. New requirements were imposed regarding the minimum number of members. IAF passed through this stage. Multi-party elections which produced significant opposition within parliament occurred on two occasions: 1956 and 1989. In the former, the MB had two members and nineteen in the latter. The change of fortunes is due to the fact that secular parties (nationalist and socialist) were more popular in the 1950s.
In 1956, King Hussein reluctantly selected Sulayman al-Nabulsi, the leader of the largest party in the HoD, to form the government. Al-Nabulsi did not win a seat in parliament. It was thought he lost due to rigging the elections. The choice of PM was not going to al-Nabulsi, but then King Hussein changed his mind and decided to take the results of the elections into account. In contrast, although the MB gained the largest number of seats (but not a majority) in 1989, they were not asked to form the government.
There are three types of courts in Jordan, according to the constitution: civil courts, religious courts, and special courts. The constitution makes references to the independence of judges who are not subjected to ‘any interference in their affairs’. In reality, however, there are episodes which undermine the independence of the justice system in Jordan. This is outlined in another book: a democratic audit of Jordan.
As Lucas (2005, p. 23) observes, the courts are ‘staffed with staunch supporters of the regime’. However, they usually belong to the ‘liberal wing’ of the ‘coalition’ on which the regime relies. He further notes that the ‘judges have taken their role seriously and may on occasions reject the government’s dictates. If the king’s will is clear, however, the courts generally will not try to challenge it’ (p. 23).
PART 3: THE ROLE OF ISLAM
Islam is the official religion of the state, and the courts follow the Hanafi school of interpretation in adjudicating matters such as divorce, inheritance, and other personal matters. More than 90 percent of the population are Muslims. This percentage includes the Palestinians as well as the Circassian minority. The CIA (2010) provides the following information about Jordan’s population:
Sunni Muslim 92%, Christian 6% (majority Greek Orthodox, but some Greek and Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestant denominations), other 2% (several small Shia Muslim and Druze populations) (2001 est.)
It is customary to broadcast live the Friday noon prayer from a major mosque. This used to be al-Aqsa in Jerusalem before 1967. Also, regular programming is interrupted to broadcast the call for prayer (azan). As the Audiovisual Commission (AVC) notes, a radio station wholly dedicated to broadcasting Qur’an recitations and religious programmes was established in 2006. However, the fact that Islam is the official religion does not translate into implementation of shari‛a. For instance, banks (nonIslamic) which deal with interest operate freely. Alcoholic beverages can be purchased and consumed in Jordan.
As Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe (2001) note: ‘Jordan’s rulers enhance their legitimacy through reference to their lineage to the Prophet Muhammad, but the political philosophy of the state is western constitutional in origin’ (p. 102). It is true that the rulers of Jordan refer to their lineage to the Prophet. However, does this enhance their legitimacy, or that of other rulers in the Muslim world? There are two points which are worthy of discussion: the legitimacy to rule Jordan by the Hashimite and the popularity of the kings of Jordan.
Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe (2001) are not alone in referring to the lineage as a credential. Al-‛Ukur (2003, p. 88), an Islamic member of the Jordanian HoN, addresses a point which the Islamists in Jordan and elsewhere discuss: whether they should participate in legislative councils and take up leading roles in countries not considered to be following the teachings of Islam. He argues in favour of doing so, especially in countries ‘whose constitutions stipulate that Islam is the official religion and the origins of the rulers go back to the honourable household [of Prophet Muhammad]’ (p. 88).
Similarly, the leftist writer, ‛Urayb Rintawi (2003) suggested that what reinforced the relationship between the Islamic movement and the state was ‘the most important [source of] legitimacy of the regime in Jordan: belonging to the Prophet garden [sic]’ (p. 92).
Both the Sunni and Shi‛i branches of Islam revere Prophet Muhammad and his family. The latter is referred to as the people of the house (āl al-bayt). It is a well-known story to Muslims that Prophet Muhammad was fond of his grandchildren, Hassan and Hussein, the sons of his cousin, ‛Ali, and his daughter, Fatima. After the dispute over who should succeed Muhammad, those who argued that it should have been ‛Ali, eventually became known as the Shi‛a. In this branch of Islam, ‛Ali, his family, and his descendants, enjoy a very special status. There is a belief that one of the grandchildren will turn up one day and save the world (the Hidden Imam).
In contrast, the Sunni branch does not give the same status to the household of the Prophet, even though they are highly revered and praised. Three successors of Prophet Muhammad, Abu Bakr, ‛Umar, and ‛Uthman, were not members of the Prophet’s household. The caliphs who ruled the Muslims of the Sunni branch did not necessarily have a connection with the Prophet’s household.
Various people in the Muslim world proudly refer to their connection with the Prophet and his family. For instance, a Saudi family, al-Sharif, makes such a claim. The Syrian-German scholar, Bassam Tibi, invoked such a connection during an address he gave at the Moshe Dayan Centre in Israel in January 2000.(8) If one is to follow the injunctions of the Qur’an, there is no special status for anyone. God favours people according to their piety, not their lineage:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ
O mankind, We created you male and female, and made you into nations and tribes that you may come to know one another. The noblest among you in God’s sight are the most pious. God is All-Knowing, All-Experienced. (Qur’an 49:13).
‛Uthman (2002) challenges in unequivocal terms the claim that the lineage is a basis of legitimacy. He argues that this ‘absolutely contradicts Islam’, and that Islam has nothing to do with lineage. The legitimacy is based on belonging to Islam both intellectually and in practice. Therefore, the ruler gets it from belonging to Islam, not the lineage. ‛Uthman further clarifies that the legitimacy of the king in Jordan is constitutional (p. 113).
Moreover, the claim of lineage as a source of legitimacy did not matter in the dispute between the Sharīf of Mecca, Husayn ibn ‛Ali, and his rival ibn Saud. The latter removed the former, and established in Saudi Arabia a stricter Islamic state than is the case in Jordan.
The Hashimite rule in Jordan was not readily accepted in Jordan. Al-Madi and Musa ( 1988) pointed out that there were two major rebellions: one in al-Kura in northern Jordan in 1921, after Amir ‛Abdullah formed his first government in Transjordan (pp. 156-164). The rebellion was quelled in 1922, after sending a large force which managed to subjugate the area (p. 164).
The second rebellion occurred in 1923 by the ‛Udwan tribe of the Salt area (pp. 201-220). Fighters from the tribe and its supporters headed to Amman. They were intercepted, and some of the fighters were killed.
The new ruler resorted to pitting one tribe against another, and favouring one over the other. The control was in the end solidified by a combination of coercion, money, and land. The fact that Transjordanian tribes rebelled undermines the often repeated suggestion that the Hashimites are more popular with Transjordanian tribes than they are with Palestinians. In his memoirs, General Glubb (1948) records his efforts to bring order to the desert. For instance, he had troubles with the Huwaitat tribe in the 1930s (p. 91):
I had reached the conclusion that the only way to do anything with the Huwaitat was to withdraw all troops from the desert. The resentment between the troops and the tribes was such that the latter were embittered against Great Britain and the Trans-Jordan government as a whole.
Moreover, after some success in getting the Huwaitat to cooperate with him in defending the area from the raids of the Ikhwan of Saudi Arabia, he could not persuade them to join the Jordanian army: ‘But enlist as soldiers they would not. The idea that the Government was their bitterest enemy was too deeply ingrained in their minds to admit such a novel idea’ (pp. 92-93).
Budeiri (1996) notes that ‘the historical record shows that the most vocal and effective opposition to ‛Abdullah […] came from the tribes’. He further notes that the tribes ‘were eventually won over by a dual policy of coercion and co-optation’ (p. 243).
In recent times, members of Transjordanian tribes expressed their opposition in varying degrees of severity. Abu Mus‛ab al-Zarqawi resorted to violence and killed innocent people in the process. A former MP, and high-ranking officer in Jordanian police, Ahmad ‛Uwaidi al-‛Abbadi, was imprisoned after criticising corruption in Jordan.
In February 2010, two prominent activists, Sufyan al-Tall and Muwafaq Mahadin, were imprisoned for taking part in interviews which discussed the Jordanian involvement in Afghanistan, and were critical of Jordan’s cooperation with the CIA.
Another part of the official Jordanian narrative, sometimes repeated by scholars and journalists, is that the kings of Jordan, especially King Hussein, are popular and liked by people. Public personalities who are frequently in the news attract a following, and will be well-liked by a certain number of people. When the personality is a king, the number of admirers is likely to increase manifold because of the system of patronage known in Jordan as makrumah (an act of generosity). The makrumah can be applied to an individual or a segment of the population, such as the bedouin.
It is highly likely to be suggested that whenever the king, Hussein or another, visits universities, villages, or patrons an event, there is always evidence that the king is popular, because people will rush to shake his hand or hug him. These images will be shown repeatedly in the Jordanian media. However, it is commonly known in political life that there is a great deal of stage management when politicians, in the West as well as in the East, visit places and attend events. The staff of politicians will always ensure that their man or woman is met by a friendly crowd, and according to a script. This will apply to the king of Jordan as it does to the president of the USA.
Moreover, it is a fact known to school children in Jordan that on certain occasions they get the day off to welcome the king along the route to his palace. When King ‛Abdullah II celebrated the tenth anniversary of ascending to the throne, the Ministry of Education required teachers and students to take part in the public celebrations. The streets of Amman were supplied with tents, chairs, water, soft drinks, and sweets to entice and reward participation. In other words, the images of friendly crowds do not tell how popular the person is across the country. In a state where it is a crime to criticise its king, it is not possible to conduct polls to ask people whether they like him or not.
PART 4: THE ECONOMY
As indicated in official statistics (2007), the area of Jordan is nearly 90,000 km2, of which 70,000 km2 (78%) is classified as semi-desert. Jordan is a country without natural resources that can counterbalance this disadvantage, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and other states in the Gulf.
According to 2006 official statistics, the population of Jordan is 5.6 million, with a growth rate of 2.3 percent. At this rate, it will take thirty years for the population to double. More than 80 percent of the population live in urban areas. More than one-third of the population (37.3%) are under the age of 15. The median age of the entire population is 20.3 years.
The illiteracy rate is 9.3 percent, but it is much higher amongst women (13.7%). Only 10.7 percent of the population hold a bachelor degree or higher. The majority’s level of education (53.7%) is below secondary education. The GDP is JD10,108 million, while the GDP per capita is JD1805 (equivalent to $2500). The inflation rate during 2006 was 6.3 percent.
Water resources are scarce in Jordan. Consequently, water distribution to homes is rationed. According to Raddad (2005, p. 1), the water supply per capita is considered ‘among the lowest in the world’. It is nearly 135 cubic meters ‘for all uses’ per year. Only 3.1 percent of the population work in agriculture. In contrast, more than a third of the labour force (35%) worked as farmers in 1964, and agriculture then amounted to ‘20% of the total production’ of Jordan’s economy’ (‛Aruri 1972, p. 50).
As ‛Aruri (1972, p. 60) noted, Jordan’s economy was weak since its creation. It suffered from ‘chronic deficit in the budget and the balance of trade’. He further noted that ‘domestic revenue has consistently lagged behind expenditure. Grants from abroad were always needed to cover expenditure, which the country was never able to meet with its own resources’.
Such a state of affairs lends Jordan to being classified as a rentier economy. The characteristic of a rentier economy, as identified by Beblawi and Luciani (1987), is ‘one where rent situations predominate’ and one which ‘relies on substantial external rents’ (p. 51; italics in original). Another characteristic is that the government is the ‘principal recipient of the external rent’ (p. 52).
As Brynen (1992) explains, Jordan’s economy and politics have the characteristics of rentierism since the state’s inception, because of the reliance initially on a British ‘monthly subsidy of £5,000’, in 1921. It then increased to ‘around £100,000 per year by the mid-1920s and to £2 million by the mid-1940s’ (p. 78).
Although after independence in 1946 and the merger with the West Bank, which led to the reduction of foreign assistance, ‘British (and later, United States) budget support continued, with foreign grants accounting for an average of 30 percent of all government revenue and between one fifth and one third of GDP between 1952 and 1966’ (p. 78). After the 1967 war, and having lost the West Bank, Jordan was one of the recipients of Arab aid. ‘Between 1967 and 1972,’ according to Brynen, ‘foreign grants accounted for no less than 58 per cent of all government revenues’ (p. 78).
Moreover, Robinson (1998, p. 390) noted that ‘Jordan’s economic fortunes were in decline well before the beginning of the Gulf War in 1990. Its per capita GNP, hovering around $2,000 since 1985, plummeted to less than $1,500 in 1989’. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Jordan received hundreds of thousands of refugees. Furthermore, ‘government transfers, primarily from Gulf Arab countries, declined markedly […] down to $164 million’ in 1991. In this regard, it is worth recalling that the decline is related to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and King Hussein’s attempt to find a diplomatic solution through Arab efforts. This position was ill-received by Kuwait, other Gulf states, and the USA.
As was the case in other developing countries, Jordan resorted to foreign loans and defaulted on payment. The slowdown in the economy during the 1980s was severe due to the collapse of oil prices, which affected oil-producing countries. Consequently, there was a knock-on effect on the aid Jordan received from these countries, and on remittances from Jordanian expatriates in the Gulf.
As Harrigan, El-Said, and Wang (2006) explain, ‘between 1983 and 1988, the government followed expansionary policies based on external borrowing and running down reserves’. Moreover, the ‘budget deficits widened significantly’. Jordan external debts were $9.5 billion. The government ceased to be ‘able to service her foreign debt obligations’ (p. 267).
As seen elsewhere in the developing world, the IMF and World Bank were involved in the endeavours to resolve Jordan’s problems through programmes agreed with both institutions. One of the government’s measures was a freeze on ‘public wages, salaries and employment and an immediate increase in the prices of petroleum products, all of which were required to meet IMF loan conditionality to curb the fiscal deficit’ (Harrigan, El-Said, and Wang 2006, p. 269).
The measures caused public discontent, manifested in disturbances in the southern cities of Ma‛an, Karak, and Tafila. Of significance is the fact that the disturbances were by the Transjordanian section of the population, whose loyalty to the regime is often presented as not being in question.
King Hussein discussed with his advisers how best to deal with the situation. According to Lucas (2005, p. 27), the ‘advisers had split on recommending a response to the riots’. The protests in the southern cities are often cited as the reason for the liberalisation. However, I would suggest that it was one of several reasons. Other factors were at play at the time, one of which was the breaking away of Eastern European countries from the Soviet orbit.
Internally, moreover, there have always been demands for political reform in Jordan, and King Hussein engaged in informal dialogue with some personalities, such as Jamal al-Sha‛er. However, after the disturbances broke out, using oppressive measures at a time when freedom was sweeping Eastern Europe would have been ill-received internationally.
PART 5: THE PALESTINIAN CONNECTION
Jordan’s modern history is entangled with that of Palestine. The Arab Revolt encouraged by Britain took place in 1916. The British promise to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine was made in 1917. Britain used its links with the family of Husayn ibn ‛Ali (and Ibn Sa‛ud as well) to achieve this goal. For instance, Faysal reached an agreement (3 January 1919) with Chaim Weizmann in this regard. Article III is significant:
In the establishment of the Constitution and administration of Palestine all such measures shall be adopted as will afford the fullest guarantees for carrying into effect the British Government’s declaration of the 2nd of November, 1917.
When the UN partition plan was proposed in 1947, the Palestinians and the leaders of Arab states of the time rejected it. King ‛Abdullah was in favour of acceptance. The Arab-Israeli war in 1948 forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to seek refuge in neighbouring Arab countries. Two parts of Palestine remained in Arab hands; the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
There were attempts to have a Palestinian entity to carry on the fight for Palestine. The embodiment of these attempts was the Pan-Palestine Government, which came into being in September 1948. As al-Az‛ar (1998) explains, this government was met with hostility by King ‛Abdullah I, and became an emasculated body, based in Cairo, until it ceased to exist in 1963. The PLO was created soon afterwards.
Al-Az‛ar (1998) documents King ‛Abdullah’s opposition to this Palestinian government, and his countermeasures to merge the West Bank with Transjordan. His attempts were fruitful, and the merger was agreed in a conference held in Jericho in December 1948. The merger with the West Bank resulted in changes in various laws to accommodate the representation of the new part of the kingdom in the government and parliament.
In 1954, a law was enacted which gave Palestinians, including the refugees, the right to acquire Jordanian citizenship. Both moves (the merger and citizenship) were controversial, and created identity crises for the State of Jordan, the people of Transjordan, and the Palestinians.
When the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 broke out, three Arab states lost territories to Israel: Egypt lost the Sinai and the Gaza Strip; Syria lost the Golan Heights; and Jordan lost the West Bank. After the war, a Palestinian resistance movement emerged and established a presence in Jordan.
Friction between the various factions of the Palestinian movement and the government eventually led to the expulsion of the movement in two stages: the first in September 1970, after which Palestinian fighters were forced to relocate to bases in the northern part of the country, and then in 1971, when the presence was eliminated.
Following the clashes of 1970-1971, Jordan embarked on a process of ‘Jordanisation’ of the army and other government institutions. In 1972, Palestinian gunmen assassinated the then Prime Minister of Jordan, Wasfi al-Tall, in Cairo.
The Palestinian national movement, embodied by the PLO, sought to represent all Palestinians. In 1974, the PLO secured a resolution from the Arab summit in Rabat that declared the PLO the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The representation of the Palestinians remained an issue fraught with tension between Jordan and the PLO. Jordan was not willing to consider the PLO the representative of the Palestinians who had acquired Jordanian citizenship.
The relationship between the PLO and Jordan went through stages of tension and cooperation, influenced in both cases by the prospects of a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Some peace plans had what was called the Jordanian option, which, amongst its varieties, would involve a confederation of Jordanian-Palestinian states. (The ‘Jordanian option’ was viewed with suspicion by the Palestinian organisations).
In February 1985, an agreement between Jordan and the PLO leader, Yasir Arafat, was signed in Amman, calling for a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, the agreement failed to win the support of the rest of the PLO. King Hussein cancelled the agreement in February 1986. The tension in the relationship between both sides escalated.
The end of 1987 saw the eruption of the Palestinian uprising, intifada, whose coverage in Jordanian official media was limited. Exasperated by the frustration of attempting to work with the PLO, and the criticism levelled at Jordan’s role in the peace process, King Hussein announced in July 1988 a disengagement plan which declared that Jordan was no longer responsible legally or administratively for the West Bank. The constitutionality of this decision is debated by two opposite camps: one wants it constitutionalised so that it has a permanent effect; the other considers it unconstitutional.
In October 1991, the Madrid Peace Conference took place. Initially, the Palestinians were part of the Jordanian delegation. However, a separate track was established after the negotiations moved to Washington in 1992. While the peace talks were still going on, the PLO reached with the Israelis in Oslo in 1993 a secret agreement, which led to the recognition of the PLO, and a form of autonomy for five years, after which the final status of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 would be determined. After the Israeli-Palestinian agreement was reached, Jordan wasted no time and concluded its own peace treaty in 1994.
Palestinians in Jordan
The issue of Palestinians in Jordan is not discussed openly. For instance, the number of Palestinians in Jordan is shrouded in secrecy. Even when a census is carried out, the figure is not revealed. Some Palestinians who served the regime loyally wrote about the exclusion and discrimination practised in Jordan against the Palestinians.
‛Adnan Abu ‛Odeh, an intelligence officer who served as minister of information in the military cabinet formed during the clashes of 1970, published a book in 1999 in which he referred to the exclusion. After an interview on al-Jazeera TV in 2006, in which the same view was aired, legal proceedings were initiated against him, ostensibly after complaints were filed against him. However, the charges were dropped without an explanation. Similarly, Jawad al-‛Anani, who served as chief of the royal court, expressed similar sentiments in an article he wrote in al-Bayan, a UAE daily, in 2001. Both had to give up their seats in the HoN.
It should be noted that the Jordanian-Palestinian entanglement is not purely political in nature. Religious Muslims do not entertain the idea that Palestine is not their concern, whether in Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, or other Muslim countries, because Jerusalem is considered the third holiest place in the world, after Mecca and Medina. Prophet Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and then ascending to the Heavens (the Night Journey) is part of the faith and is celebrated every year.
Looked at from the perspective of some of the Transjordanians, because Palestinians in Jordan acquired citizenship, as of 1954, resentment is often expressed at the fact that Palestinians identify themselves as such. This is seen as an expression of disloyalty. This view is too narrow, as the issue of identity is too complex to be settled by acquiring citizenship in Jordan or elsewhere.
Moreover, one should not believe claims that Transjordanians have no sympathy for the Palestinians and their resistance, especially the movement which emerged after the 1967. Before the relationship between the Palestinian factions and the government descended into hostility, the Palestinian resistance was welcomed and supported by Transjordanians. This was acknowledged in ‛Abdullah ‛Azzam’s memoirs (1990, pp. 69-72). He gives credit to the ‛Ubaydat clan whose member, Ahmad ‛Ubaydat, became the chief of the GID and then prime minister.
Relationship with Hamas
The rise of Hamas is connected with the Palestinian uprising of 1987, which broke out in Gaza and then engulfed the Gaza Strip and West Bank. After the Arab defeat in the 1967 war with Israel, leftist and nationalist organisations, old and new, launched armed resistance against the occupation. Religious groups, such as the MB, did not. They thought that resisting the occupation should be under the umbrella of jihad. The Arab/Muslim societies were not Islamic enough in their view. They saw the defeat as a revenge of God, and thought Nasser and fellow Arab leaders deserved the defeat. This explains why the leftist and nationalist organisations won the support of the people after the 1967 war.
The reluctance of the MB to resort to armed resistance led some members to break away and create the Islamic Jihad organisation. Hamas refused to join the PLO. At times, the unwillingness to join was based on the size of representation in the PLO bodies, such as the executive committee, central council, and the Palestine National Council.
As Hroub (1996) and al-Tamimi (2007) explain, many of Hamas leaders were residents in Kuwait. They moved to Jordan after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and used Jordan as a base for their political and media activities. They were helped by the MB in Jordan.
Israeli agents attempted to assassinate Khalid Mash‛al in Jordan in 1997 by injecting him with poison. King Hussein took advantage of the episode and achieved two goals before the Israeli agents were released: (a) he demanded information concerning the antidote to save Mash‛al’s life, and (b) he also demanded the release of Shaykh Ahmad Yasin, the spiritual leader of Hamas.
After the death of King Hussein, Jordan’s relation with Hamas deteriorated. Four Hamas leaders, who were based in Jordan, were forced to leave in 1999. (Khalid Mash‛al, Musa Abu Marzūq, Muhammad Nazzal, and Ibrahim Ghosheh).
After Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, Jordan refused to receive the then Palestinian Foreign Minister, Mahmoud al-Zahhar. Shortly before that, Jordanian news reports claimed Hamas was stockpiling arms in Jordan. The weekly paper, al-Majd, reported that the announcement was made months after the alleged discovery and the timing was chosen to coincide with the unwanted visit. In June 2008, the three individuals accused of involvement in the stockpiling of arms were sentenced to five to fifteen years imprisonment.
As shall be seen in the next chapter, the Hamas factor has also been a source of disagreements within the MB and IAF.
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(1) Letter from Henry McMahon to Hussein ibn ‛Ali, 24 October 1915.
(2) A secret agreement between Britain and France. Named after the two officials who negotiated it: the British Mark Sykes and the French Georges Picot.
(3) The Jordanian Declaration of Independence Document, dated 25 May 1946.
(4) Feda’i is someone who is willing to sacrifice his life for a cause: national or religious. The term feda’i was widely used to refer to the fighters of the Palestinian resistance movement after 1967 war.
(5) A translated version is available from the website of Yale Law School.
(6) Similar to the British House of Lords
(7) I prefer the term merger to annexation because it is more precise in this instance. Mergers can be voluntary and forced. Annexations often follow a military occupation, such as Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
(8) The Sixteenth Annual George A. Kaller Lecture, 12 January 2000.
Adli Hawwari (2020). Controlled Democratisation: Democracy and Islam in Jordan, 1989-2019 : A Critical Reexamination of the Incompatibility Paradigm. London: Ud Al-Nad.
- cover democracy and Isalm