Former Jordanian PM Mudar Badran dies at 89

Seminal figure helped found Jordan’s Intelligence Service, served as prime minister and defense minister from 1960s-90s

 Mudar Badran's portrait (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Mudar Badran's portrait
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Mudar Badran, a key figure in Jordan who was prime minister four times, as well as defense and foreign minister, died on Saturday, as announced by Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh. Badran played a central role in the history of Jordan, coalescing its intelligence service and helping navigate various crises from the 1960s to 1990s.

According to Jordanian state media, Khasawneh paid tribute to Badran’s efforts in public service and diplomacy, expressing “his condolences to the former prime minister’s family.” Badran was named prime minister four times, and assumed office as prime minister, defense and foreign minister twice between 1976 and 1979, and prime minister and minister of defense in 1980, 1984, 1989 and 1991.

Both Jordanian Senate President Faisal Al Fayez and Lower House Speaker Ahmad Safadi put out statements, with one report saying that Safadi “paid tribute to Badran’s efforts in public service and diplomacy.”

Mudar Badran's life

Badran played a key role in the Hashemite kingdom’s history. His life, in some ways, mirrored that of the kingdom’s growth and challenges. He was born in 1934 in Jerash, which, in those days, was a small town with a small but diverse population of about a thousand, including Circassians who had settled in Jordan in the 19th century under Ottoman rule.

The city in northern Jordan is a tourist destination with Roman ruins and by the 2000s, the population swelled to some 30,000 and today is around 50,000.

 KING FAISAL of the Hashemite Arab Kingdom (front) with T. E. Lawrence (2nd R) and the Hejazi delegation at the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference, 1919. (credit: Wikimedia Commons) KING FAISAL of the Hashemite Arab Kingdom (front) with T. E. Lawrence (2nd R) and the Hejazi delegation at the post-World War I Paris Peace Conference, 1919. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Badran moved to Karak in the south at a young age, where his father worked as a religious court judge. He went to Cairo and Damascus to try university studies, first medicine and then law, according to biographies. In 1956, he joined the Jordanian Army. By this time, Jordan had already gone through turmoil following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 and the consequent flight of thousands of Palestinian Arabs to Jordan.

The West Bank came under Jordanian occupation, and in 1952, Hussein bin Talal became the new king at 17. In 1956, he dismissed British commander John Bagot Glubb, in charge of Jordan’s Arab Legion.

When Badran joined, the army was at a time of great transition. Not only was Glubb on the way out, but the 1956 Suez crisis in Egypt, in which Israel went to war with Egypt and British and French forces intervened, also led to turmoil. Arab nationalism, led by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, was sweeping the region. There were riots against the Baghdad Pact and in neighboring Iraq, where a revolution on July 14, 1958, overthrew the monarchy – related to the monarchy in Jordan.

Iraq’s King Faisall II was killed and key Iraqi figures executed. Jordan tried to stave off an impending crisis by appearing independent of British policy, but not wanting to be swallowed up by Nasser or influenced by the events in Iraq; it was a much smaller, poorer country. That same year, Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic, with the latter giving shelter to men plotting against the kingdom. The monarchy was threatened, but only for a short time.

Badran came out of the army with experience in the judicial field as well as the General Investigation Department, where he eventually created a new Intelligence Service in 1964, becoming its director in 1968. This was an important move, because of the onslaught of chaos in 1967 during and following the Six Day War, when Jordan lost the West Bank and more refugees poured in. In 1969, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians and Jordanian forces at Karameh on the eastern bank of the Jordan River.

In 1970, Palestinian militants rose up against the kingdom, resulting in clashes that again threatened the monarchy. According to a biography of Badran at London-based Asharq al-Awsat, Badran was wounded during the Jordanian civil war, also known as Black September, that year, after which he left for treatment abroad.

By this time, he had retired from the military with the rank of major general, and served as education minister and head of the Royal Court before becoming prime minister in 1976. He served again as PM and defense minister in the 1980s and then again from 1989 to 1991. Badran is credited with encouraging major infrastructure projects. According to the report, he was targeted for assassination attempts by the Syrian regime; the intelligence service he helped found was key to preventing the attack.

The next crisis came in 1989, with massive protests breaking out in Jordan after the kingdom cut food subsidies. This led to the firing of the prime minister and the lifting of the state of martial law, which had been in place since the 1950s. Elections were to be held as well – it was in this context that Badran regained the premiership.

The 1989 protests came right at the end of the Cold War and a wave of democratization across eastern Europe. The Middle East, too, was changing. With the Iran-Iraq war over, and Egypt and Israel at peace, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched an invasion of Kuwait. This led to US-led intervention and the Gulf War.

King Hussein tried to mediate, because Jordan has a long land border with Iraq, where a war would be disastrous. In addition, many Palestinian groups backed Saddam. The mediation placed Jordan in an impossible position of appearing to side with Iraq, while pushing for an “Arab solution” to the invasion that would have seen Saddam withdraw.

Badran was central to these efforts, but in the end Saddam did not withdraw and war broke out. From the 1990s to 2003, Jordan was deeply impacted by the results of the Gulf wars, as Badran retired in 1992. According to the Awsat article, he opposed negotiations between Jordan and Israel and did not believe Israel would enable a Palestinian state. Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel anyway in 1994.

Badran is an important figure, because his life illustrates the complexities and challenges Jordan has faced since independence in 1946. Though sandwiched between much more powerful neighboring states and impacted by their changes, it has so far weathered the region’s storms.