The Jordanian street and the pro-democracy protests

Yalla Peace: True democracy will not come to the Hashemite Kingdom before a Palestinian state is created.

Jordanian protests gather 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Majed Jaber )
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 rivalries.
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.
The 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 too.
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 Christian governments.
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.
The 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 dilemma.
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 there.
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