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Jordan: Long Live the (wise) King!

February 13, 2011

by Avi Melamed

The following story allows the West to have a glimpse into Middle Eastern Politics.

It’s always good to learn something…

Mrs. Randa Habib is the Correspondent of the French Agency News (FAN) in Jordan.  She knows everything that there is to be known about what is going on in Jordan.  She has direct access to theRoyal Court.

A couple of days ago she published an interesting report.  Thirty-six senior figures from the Bedouin Tribes in Jordan published a petition criticizing the Jordanian Queen Rania. Queen Rania’s is from the Yasin family, a very wealthy Palestinian family originally from the city of Nablus on theWest Bank.  Rania was born in Kuwait, where her father had lived and did business for many years.  After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait the family moved to Jordan. Rania – beautiful, elegant, intelligent and impressive – captured the eye of Hussein, the late King and Abdullah’s father.  Rania and Abdullah got engaged in 1993.

What was Queen Rania criticized for?

Queen Rania celebrated her 40th brthday last August by having a fancy party in Wadi A Rram; a breathtaking desert area located in the southern part of Jordan.  The desert sky was lit with a spectacular show of fireworks.  But it wouldn’t take long until a different kind of fireworks would light the southern part o f Jordan.  A wave of violence flooded cities like Ma’an, Irbid and Karakh, forcing the King to send the army in to restore order.

Rania’s extravagant birthday was a trigger.  The fuel was poverty, unemployment, corruption. Jordan is currently constructing a huge project.  They are building a water carrier that will pump water all the way from the area of Wadi Al Ram to the capital Amman. Jordan suffers from a severe water crisis.  Water shortages are frequent.  This water carrier project will solve Amman’s water crisis for the next fifty to one hundred years.  But the project is increasing the tensions in the Jordanian southern cities.  First, the planners did not really include the poor cities in their plans.  Second, the project is being done by a Turkish Company and Turkish funds.  It’s a huge project that could employ thousands of people.  But the Turkish company had a condition; the workers will be Turkish. That was really too much for the Jordanian citizen in these cities; the anger and the frustration burst into a massive wave of violence.

Queen Rania is also being criticized for promoting the Palestinian interests at the expense of the Jordanians.  Allegedly, she influenced the King to provide the Palestinians in theWest Bank with dozens of thousands of Jordanian Passports.  This is a very sensitive issue.  Palestinians are the majority of the 6.3 million people in the Kingdom.  However, the founders of the Kingdom are the Bedouin Tribes that originally came from the Arab Peninsula.  And the relationship between them and the Palestinians is no honeymoon.

Finally, Queen Rania is also criticized for transferring State lands to the hands of her family. She was simply accused of corruption.

Following the report published by Habib, theRoyal Courtwent ballistic. The Jordanian Ambassador to France protested officially appealing to the Chairman of FAN. The Royal Court dismissed the report as unreliable, and claimed that the people that signed the petition are totally insignificant.  The Royal Court rushed to comment:  The land in Jordanis by law, State property, and ownership is subject to a well defined procedure.  It is impossible for an individual to gain ownership over State lands without going through those formal procedures.

As for the passports; in 2010 King Abdullah the 2nd provided 60,000 Jordanian Passports to Palestinians that were born in theWest Bank after December 31, 1988.  That was the date that the Late King Hussein issued an order that officially detached the Jordan Administration from theWest Bank.  Passports issued to Palestinians in the West Bank, including those 60,000, do not have a Jordanian Identity Number, while passports issued to Palestinians who live in Jordan have a Jordanian Identity Number.  The Passports are given to those in the West Bank “as a courtesy of the King who feels responsible to any Arab, and as a humanitarian gesture”.

The petition story is intriguing.  The Royal Court portrayed Habib’s report as unprofessional, saying that she didn’t bother even to check the facts.  It is hard to believe that an experienced Journalist like Randa Habib would make such a rookie mistake.  Therefore, one can assume that the petition is genuine.  If so, it is a disturbing sign for the Monarchy.  The Bedouin tribes are the main pillar, the heart and soul, of the Jordanian Hashemite Monarchy.

However, one major fact needs to be noticed.  According to  Jordanian  Law, insulting the Royal Family is a criminal offense.  Queen Rania was accused of nothing less than corruption. And that leads to the inevitable question.  How come the Royal Courtdid not react powerfully?

To answer this question, allow me to present the second part of the story.

Mr. Leith Shbeilat is a Senior Political Islamic figure in Jordan.  He is well known for his animosity towards Israel and his demand to call off the Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty.  Like many political Islamic figures he is highly educated, an engineer.  And like many other Political Islamic figures, he earned his education in the United States, at George Washington University, to be exact.  Mr Shbeilat has twice held the position of the Chair of the Jordanian Engineers Association, a body well known for its constant rejection of any kind of normalization of the relationship between Israel and Jordan.  Mr. Shbeilat is also the head of the “Movement against Racism and Zionism.”  He is also known to be a vocal opponent of the Jordanian government.

In fact, his outspokenness has caused him problems.  He was imprisoned twice for insulting the Monarchy and was released twice thanks to the mercy of the King.  The last time he criticized the government (i.e. the Monarchy) he found himself hospitalized after he was beaten by unknown people.

An interesting note is that, as Habib’s report was published, Jordanians were introduced to a new term, “Jayin” a word in Arabic meaning “We are Coming.”  It is the name of, allegedly (according to “official” quotes and reports), an “independent Jordanian Youth Movement” that was “formed and modeled after the uprising of the Egyptian youth.”  But unlike the Egyptians, the Jayin Movement seems to have a leader, Mr. Leith Shbeilat.

Now, that we have the two parts of the story – let’s go back to the question:  How come the Royal Court did not react powerfully?

The answer:  The petition is real. And someone was trying to use that petition as a trap.

The Bedouin Tribes criticized the Queen.  That was their polite, indirect, gentle way to send a message to their beloved King. And it was received in the Royal Court.  But, someone was trying to use that petition as a trap.  Someone had hoped that the King would make a hasty move that perhaps would result in a direct clash with the Bedouin Tribes.  Or even better – maybe the King would arrest some people, preferably from the Political Islamic circles, and thus the fire would be ignited again under the “authentic leadership” of a “genuine Jordanian Youth Movement” or shall we say – Political Islam?

Apparently, King Abdullah took some very shrewd lessons from his father – the late admired King Hussein.  He did not fall into the trap.  He did what kings have done throughout history. He “executed” the messenger, poor Mrs. Habib.  The FAN squarely backed her, an announcement of the FAN emphasized that Mrs. Habib did not write the petition – she was only the messenger.  But of course she is, that’s the whole point.

In fact, King Abdullah the 2nd comes out as the great benefactor in this episode.  The conjunction of the Habib’s report and the appearance of a “Youth Movement” no one had ever heard about before in such perfect timing and completely out of the blue, seemed very suspicious in the eyes of many Jordanians.   As soon as Habib’s report was published Internet websites, Facebook groups, blogs and so on were flooded with messages of upset Jordanians rushing to defend their beloved King and Queen.  As far as they were concerned, the petition was a scam, a test balloon sent up by the Political Islamic factors who are trying to see where the wind is blowing.

Jordan- like other Arab States – is facing many inner challenges.  The unrest is already noticed in the Kingdom.  Yet, The King of Jordan Abdullah the 2nd can relax.  It seems he will skip the Egyptian and Tunisian tsunami.  Partly, because he is already making some reforms and taking preemptive measures, but mostly because of the most powerful reason – The Jordanians deeply love their Monarchy.

Hashemite Family roots go all the way back to the grandfather of Muhammad, the founder of Islam.  And the Jordanians are very proud of their Monarchy.  They will not tolerate any attempt to challenge the Monarchy and the Royal Family.  The Crown of King Abdullah the 2nd is stable for now.  Yet, King Abdullah is clearly wise enough to know that times are changing, the Region is changing dramatically and major turbulence is yet to come.  He will need all the wisdom he can get.

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Avi Melamed is the Founder and Principal of Feenjan – Israel Speaks Arabic www.feenjan.com – a unique, groundbreaking and unprecedented non-profit initiative.  Using the internet Avi presents contemporary Israeli society and culture to the Arab world in Arabic and aims to be a bridge builder and a platform for a constructive dialogue between Israelis and Arabs.

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