Jordanian protests gather 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Majed Jaber )
As citizens across the Arab world have risen in protest against decades of
dictatorship in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, one might ask why the same
hasn’t happened in Jordan?
In all the other countries, the protests seem to
share a major characteristic. The governments reflect an element of the
population’s religious or tribal minorities, while the protesters have been left
out of power. Libya’s troubles are more tribal, Syria’s are more tribal and
religious, and Egypt’s troubles are a combination of religious and secular
In Libya, dictator Col. Muammar Gaddafi comes from one of the
country’s 140 tribes. The war in Libya is a civil war, fueled in large part by
the interference of Western powers, including NATO and the US.
NATO-American alliance was not hesitant to arm and protect the protesters in
Libya, while the same Western powers sat back and watched as Egypt’s dictator
Hosni Mubarak was slowly pushed from power.
Egypt’s future remains
uncertain. It’s a nation made up of several power bases, the largest
including secular Muslims, Orthodox Coptic Christians and religious Muslims
under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood was not
behind the protests there, and neither were the Coptic Christians. But
once Mubarak was removed from office and a military junta took control, the
divisions were quickly highlighted by friction. Today, the Coptic Christians are
under siege, and their future in Egypt remains uncertain.
In Syria, the
ruling regime is controlled by the Alawis or Alawites, a mystical minority
branch of Islam that is closer to the Shi’ites than to the Sunnis. Sunni Muslims
are the more dominant in the Arab world. The Shi’ites in the region are
predominantly Persian, and closer to Iran.
The majority of the Syrian
population are Sunnis, although there is a substantial Christian community there
But the religious sects are more tribal in Syria, making Bashar
Assad and his Alawite minority which control the government an easier target.
Bashar’s father, Hafez Assad took control of Syria in a coup in 1970, following
rising protests from the Alawite community against the Sunni Muslim and
Jordan is unlike any of the others. The
Jordanian people are mainly Beduin Arabs. Jordan was created from the Fertile
Crescent lands of Syria and Palestine, occupied by the Allies after World War I.
Palestine was divided into two areas, Trans-Jordan to the East of the river and
Palestine to the West. This was based on the British decision to limit Jewish
migration to Palestine.
The 1948 war pushed more than 750,000 Palestinian
refugees into Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Gaza came under
Egyptian control, and the West Bank came under Jordanian control.
1967 war pushed more Palestinians, including 1948 refugees, into Jordan. Today,
it has about two million Palestinians. Most have become Jordanian
citizens, with only 167,000 remaining in refugee camps. That explains Jordan’s
The relationship between the Jordanian and Palestinian Arabs has
always been tenuous.
While the rest of the Arab world opposed the
partition of Palestine, Jordan’s King Abdullah I favored it. In fact, King
Abdullah had grand visions of a Greater Arabia to include Iraq, Palestine and
Syria (where his brother Faisal had once served as king, but was ousted by the
French). Faisal later became king of Iraq.
King Abdullah I was
assassinated by a Palestinian when he visited the al-Aqsa Mosque in East
Jerusalem in 1951.
The Jordanian-Palestinian populations live in a forced
political detente in Jordan. Jordanian Arabs are deathly loyal to the monarchy.
The vast majority will not rebel against King Abdullah II, fearing that the
country will come under Palestinian control.
Jordan’s monarchs have also
been more Western, and have allowed a greater sense of democracy to exist, even
though the government is controlled by the king himself and ruled by a
parliament subject to the king’s whims.
There have been some protests,
but they are inhibited by this population balance. And Jordan’s king has the
strongest Western backing of any Arab regime. True democracy will not come to a
significant part of Jordan’s population, at least not before a Palestinian state
is created, and with those Palestinians in Jordan given the choice to live
That’s why there are no pro-democracy protests in
Jordan.The writer is an award-winning column and media consultant. He
can be reached at www.hanania.com.