Jordan’s Saddam Street Angers Kuwait

In what has got to be one of the silliest stories of the new decade thus far – a move to name a street in Al Mazar after former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, has been revoked after a great deal of interference by the Jordanian government, supposedly lead by the Kuwaiti foreign ministry. It is simply amazing that in a time when Iraq has been torn apart for nearly a decade by American occupation, while the West Bank continues to be torn apart by Israeli occupation and while Gaza continues to be caged in by Israeli and now, evidently, Egyptian forces – that two governments in the region have mobilized political efforts on the naming of a street in a little town.

What makes this even more ridiculous is the fact that both the Jordanian and Kuwaiti government are under the impression that they can sweep public perceptions under the rug and pretend the people’s opinion even exists, let alone matters. Like it or not, Saddam still has overwhelming support in Jordan – and before anyone says anything racial I’ll point out that such support emanates from both Jordanians of Palestinian origin and Jordanians of Jordanian origin – whatever that’s supposed to mean to people these days.

Case in point, Al Mazar is a town that is as Jordanian and tribal as it gets. And in response to the government’s beurcratic enforcement, they’ve decided to do something a bit more clever:

As a town in Jordan has shelved a plan to name a street after Iraqi former leader Saddam Hussain in the wake of the political and diplomatic furore it sparked in Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq, a Jordanian tribe has decided to name all the males born this year as Saddam and all its daughters “Raghad”, “Hala” or “Rana” after Saddam’s daughters. [source]

Now if the Jordanian and Kuwaiti government team up again and go all Moses-in-the-reeds on the public by banning the aforementioned names, they will have catapulted this to the top of the silliest-stories-of-the-decade list, and we’re only two weeks in to the new decade.

I understand the foreign policy of the situation. I understand that massive Kuwaiti investments come with the ability to influence and even determine Jordan’s domestic policy much like American foreign aid does. But to the extent of getting involved in a street sign? To the extent of threatening to freeze ties with Jordan? Really? And as for the Jordanian government, if the smallest bread crumb of democratic value that is alive on the Jordanian street comes in the form of the people, vis a vis town councils, being able to choose their own street names – what does it say when that too is so easily devalued? So easily bought?

Moreover, I understand the need for political sensitivities, especially being a citizen of a country that was largely politically and economically cut off from the rest of the Arab world for it’s leader’s views on the first Gulf War; an embargo of sorts that included Kuwaiti participation (to say nothing of treatment to our citizens living in that country).

But the past is the past, right?

I also understand the delicacies of regional diplomatic relations but if it comes at the expense of one’s own people and their will, that should be a deal breaker. Personally, I am not a fan of Saddam but I recognize the fact that the majority of Jordanians loved the man, and who has the right to deny them that? Venture in to the rural parts of the country and you’ll find Saddam’s name spray painted on walls in a show of political graffiti. Again, I may not like it, and some of you reading this might not either, but it is what it is. My concern here has less to do with the beliefs of others and who they choose to admire, and more to do with the idiocy that comes with two governments getting involved with the naming of a street sign and what signals that sends to people who have little rights to begin with. I’d like to emphasize that point before someone argues otherwise.

Naturally, this story is not without its own twisted irony as Al Mazar, which is in Karak for those who don’t know, is actually home to the grave of Jafar Al-Tayyar, and every year Shi’a pilgrims, mostly from Iraq and Iran, flock through there by the hundreds.

Naming a street after their favorite person in the world is anything but subtle.


  • honor crimes have support,does that make them right? what you are saying doesn’t make sense. And what does the occupation of iraq and the gaza issue have to do with the street naming being a “silly” issue. I am pretty sure that if a street in amman or salt was named after the killers of habis el majali we will be hearing about shootings here and there. Or maybe a town in palastine should name a street after the killer of king abdullah I or wasfi al tal..Or maybe a town in falluja decides to name a street after abu mousab el zarqawi..Call a spade a spade, saddam invaded kuwait-you can argue about the motives- but the facts are still the same: he is a ruthless dictator and naming a street after him is an insult to not only kuwaities but to the humanity.

  • @mohanned: your analogy is utterly flawed. comparing honor crimes to a political decision to name a street signs are the definition of comparing apples and oranges.

    as for the silly-factor, i think you’re smart enough to have understood my point. in light of everything that’s going on, wasting government resources on this issue is lunacy.

    and if all the aforementioned examples ever took place then so be it. put the name up for a vote, let the people vote it in or vote it out. why the executive interference?

    for greater perspective: jordan is embarking on an unprecedented decentralization project this year which will be heralded in by so-called regional elections. if the “federal” government is getting involved with the people of small town’s decision to name a street sign – then we are simply put, lost.

  • But the past is the past, right?

    I don’t think it is, especially in Jordan’s relation with the Arab World. Since pre-Independence times, Jordan has been in tension with the rest of the Arab world, and my view is that, given the nature of government in Jordan (monarchy.. albeit a constitutional monarchy), its not exactly easy to “forget the past”. Whatever impression Arabs received of king abdullah’s rule until the ’50s didn’t just stain his reputation, but that of the Hashemite dynasty. Whatever impression Arabs got of King Hussein’s position of the Gulf War, I think, adds to that bigger picture of the Hashemite dynasty. Anything King Abdullah II does today will only build up to that image, and you never know when the threshold is crossed.

    For instance, a recent thing that reinforced this opinion was simply checking out the comments on al-Bluwi’s video, and what pro-al-Qaeda individuals said. Many were offending King Abdullah, slightly because of his practices, but also because of his “traitor” lineage, as they view it. Which actually went back to his father’s grandfather.. it’s hard to forget in the Arab world, especially when considering a monarchy with a single dynasty ruling it.

    And Arab relations are already tense, and Arab public opinions of the Hashemite dynasty are very similar to what they were twenty years ago. Indeed, when other Arabs with a negative view of the Hashemite dynasty mention arguments against King Abdullah himself, I hear about the “McMahon–Hussein Correspondence” of 1915-16 more frequently than any policy he or the government do now.

    So yeah… because we’re a monarchy, public perception often views the past and the present, the predecessors and the incumbent, yesterday’s politics and today’s policy, as a single, monolithic entity.

    This doesn’t only hinder stuff like naming streets, but more drastic sensitive policies.

  • executive interference is crucial in a democracy (i’m speaking in theory rather than anything pertaining to this example but i’m kind of twitching when i’m reading “put it up to a vote in this issue”). There needs to be balances and checks for a functioning democracy to protect from the tyranny of the majority. in this case, this name would surely not pass those checks…. for plenty of reasons some of which you touched on.
    Now you can go back and protest the checks and balance that didn’t allow something to pass and usually a court would settle the dispute rather than a vote, because a vote in this case is a biased mechanism. . The scariest thing in a democracy is that the majority opinion will rule without any accountability or standards to adhere to and that’s what it seems you are asking for here … not freedom but tyranny.

    So in this case we kind of skip over the whole process and get a product … actually if anything it makes it seem more efficient.

  • this article and comments can give you an idea.

    gulf people see the king as zionist puppet, forgetting that all gulf sheiks and their families have most their money in american banks, and half of their countrie’s gold reserves are located in the american federal reserve banks.

    i could write a thorough report about all the sh**s of gulf countries.
    seriously they need stfu

  • No sir, it’s not a flawed analogy, because I think you are smart enough to understand that my point was that if something is “popular” it doesn’t make it right and the honor crimes example is just that. If the “minority” which have the morally right position isn’t strong or courageous enough to demand the elimination of what is wrong then that’s something else. As a matter of fact I applaud the kuwaities for their strong stance on such issue, I wish our leadership and parliment had such courage when confronting some of the pressing issues we face locally.

    If the decision of that small town in Karak is going to affect our realtionship with kuwait then the gov has the right to stop this small town from affecting the whole country. Plus, kuwait does’t have a formal relationship with almazar but rather with the jordanian regime and its branches.

  • @bambam:

    “The scariest thing in a democracy is that the majority opinion will rule without any accountability or standards to adhere to and that’s what it seems you are asking for here … not freedom but tyranny.”

    absolutely not. im with you on checks and balances, and i take that as a natural given. but we should also note that this is not merely the executive interfering with (very) local politics, but a foreign government intervening. and in the end, the naming of street signs is essentially one of the democratic rights local councils have and are rightfully entitled to.

    @Mohanned: first we are talking again, about a foreign government interfering with local politics. we should have no right to tell kuwait what to name its streets than they do ours. granted the will of the majority is not necessarily the “right” or “moral” position (although in this case it is you who is determining who is right and who is wrong and that’s how tyrants are typically born), but, this is equivalent to us telling denmark they have to change their laws because we were offended by the cartoons some newspaper came up with.

  • To name a street after Saddam is a choice that ought to be prudently or imprudently exercised by the indigenous people of Al Mazzar, the central government has no business in interfering with the affairs of a small municipality wanting to name a street let alone prohibit them from their rights of naming altogether. If naming the street doesn’t violate the State’s law in any way, shape, or form, then the wistful feeling of the Kuwait’s should have been dismissed as something inconsequential. The central government should have asserted its rights according to what the law says and not according to what the Kuwaiti foreign minister demanded. The government in this case erred because it was one sided in its decision didn’t take into consideration the feelings and anxiety of the people of Al Mazar. The government could have approached the controversy in a more stoic fashion by threatening for example to withhold government aid earmarked for Al Mazzar or impose some sort of sanctions against Al Mazzar, but to outright deprive Al Mazzar of naming the street of their choice is simply wrong.

  • @ hatem: threatening to withhold government support? this is like: do it or you better do it!
    Governmental services are the basics of social contracts and can not be bargain materials.

    The checks and balances are results of a long process of formation, of having agreed upon values, a space for tolerance, and identified red lines that cause unrests. People would enjoy uncontested rights and capacity to form opinions and affiliations through institutionalized society.

    First thing first.

  • Ahmad
    Freedom means free to choose, sometimes one makes the wrong choice but still he/she wasn’t preemptively deprived of making the choice. To me the state is like the parents, they will provide for you, discipline you, but at the same time allow you the freedom to choose your destiny. Often times you will trip and fall then come back to your parents to ask for forgiveness, but still the parents should never deprive their children of making the choice, be that for the better or the worse.

  • I am in no position to determine what is right, but I think mass murder and invasion are more than enough qualifiers to make someone not worthy of praise and recognition especially in a country where dependence both politically and economically is as achievable as us sending a mission to mars. So yeah, I think that theortically maybe you are right, but as you many times pointed, theory looks good but when it comes to reality sometimes,well, it doesn’t work that way-I can’t believe I am saying this.

    I think krugman put it best when he chose a title for one of his articles :”Free to Loose”..

  • a black day ya Nas this, when MIGHTY Kuwait, which hardly gives us any aid or cheap oil nor employ jordanians, can tell us what we cant do IN OUR OWN STREETS, and we have no dignity to say no…but anyway Saddam’s great status amongst jordanians doesnt grow or diminish by naming a street in him, he remains most popular arab leader of past 30 yrs amongst majority of jordanians and we all know this and reason why…

  • I honestly don’t think it’s a big deal. So what if they stopped them from naming a street after Saddam? Is the freedom to name streets whatever we like the last freedom that we need to check off our list before we can call our country a democracy? Not even close. As a matter of fact it would probably be the last item on such a list.

    So, while I agree that the matter is silly and the governments didn’t really need to interfere, I think the fact that they interfered with such a silly decision should not be that big of a deal especially to people who would not have agreed with the naming choice to begin with.

    And I think you exaggerated a little bit when you talked about wasting government resources on a silly matter. I don’t think resources were wasted. I mean what could it have taken to accomplish this? A couple of phone calls? A visit from a local pro-government person of influence to the city council?

  • Mohanned,
    Krugman was a paid economic advisor for Enron….You know the rest of Enron story. I personally don’t take Krugman seriously. As for the street naming, it is not about Saddam at all. I read few minutes ago in Ammon News that 50 Jordanian Lawyers are planning to challenge the State on its decision to cancel the street naming. So we may still hear more about it in the coming weeks and months. I understand the difficult position the State is going through a lot of pressure but every issue needs to be handled based on its own merit and based on the critical period of uncertainty.

  • Hatem,

    If I accepted the state as a father, and accepted the guidance of some office to define right and wrong for me, then yes. But not in Jordan or anywhere else, a state emerged in this context. It is a system to preserve the general will and the public good that gets identified through set out mechanisms of constitutions and subsequent laws. The state is the servant of the people and not their mentor.

    In reality, upsetting Kuwait may effect some important cash flows, naming after Saddam may trouble a lot of Iraqis and maybe the US, and a lot of regular Arab people who see him as tyrant and responsible for many catastrophes in the region. To many others he is the symbol of “nationalism” and wishful might. Who gets to say what course to follow?

  • Why you all surprise by this ,don’t we have dictators of our own which we praise clap, bow and worship on daily basis , heck ,we even keep picture of him in our house and business and if anybody criticize him most likely will end up ion mukhabarat dungeons….

  • I know it’s my fault, I should speak Arabic – but every time you put one of the usually brilliant Mahjoob caricatures on your site, I wish you’d translate them into English…

    No, I don’t like the idea of naming a street after a dictator. It reminds me of seeing streets in Spain named after General Franco – in the 90s…. And yes, this case is possibly even less subtle than others. But I think you make a valid point there – should there not be something more important to governments could get involved in?

  • I’m no fan of Bush’s war, and appalled by his bumblings, but Iraq was mainly “torn” apart by utterly ruthless, sectarian, butcher’s. Yes, the war and occupation exacerbated those tensions, but it didn’t create them. People, good ole Saddam was only good at two things, incompetence and fostering sectarianism. So bush’s dumb war just got played with Saddam’s dirty leftovers. Just because he gave Jordan cheap oil, lobbed some Scud’s at your nemesis, and “said” he’d withdrawal from Kuwait if Israel gave up the WB/G , doesn’t make him a man to be admired. He was just a petty liar and a ruthless murderer. And if your reading this Bush, well, screw you too!

  • to be honest, when did every1 start caring about street names? particularly in Jordan, no one ever remembers street names anyways!

  • i dont think its that silly … its not without precedent … iran and egypt had a row about a street in tehran being named khaled islambuli street (sadat’s assassin) …
    imagine if any arab country decided to name a street after zarqawi … i imagine jordan would lodge a complaint …
    so i dont see whats so silly about it …

    are there more important things sure … but we have no say in those things … still doesnt make it silly imo …

  • Nas, if Kuwait named one of its streets after Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi or Humam Balwi , we’d be very angered by that decision, and we may use our money (if that would work) to try to prevent them from doing so. I don’t despise Saddam as much as Kuwaitis do, but I don’t like him either and I don’t want to see any Jordanian street named after him.
    The damage Saddam caused to Kuwait and Arab-Arab relationship was very significant. The way Jordanians and Palestinians love him is a clear reflection of our Arab hypocricy: we can worship dictators as long as they’re not ruling us.

  • @All…

    I really admire the short debate this has inspired and that is usually the purpose of such posts. We’ve grown accustomed to so-called policymakers trampling over the most essential of human rights: the right to express and speak, and in this case it has manifested in the right of people to hold debate at both the political and social level. One of the reasons you get a counter-effect of a tribe deciding to name its firstborns Saddam, is because when people feel that a right has been stripped away from, they find mechanisms to counter it.

    This is the whole point.

    When I say “resources”, it is the fact that time, money, energy and political capital were all spent on this seemingly silly issue. That, in itself, is a resource. But more importantly, as usual, there is a lack of debate.

    Above are various viewpoints arguing for and against the naming of a simple street, and that debate should have been had at the level of government. It wasn’t. One government dictated to another government, which in turn, dictated to a local government.

    Starting this year, Jordan will begin swimming in the waters of decentralization, which grants semi-autonomous political powers to local government. Yes, the executive always has a say on the federal level, but when even the debate is denied, a debate that is meant to be had on the most local of levels in order to create consensus amongst the people political decisions affect the most – when even that is denied…you know we’re in trouble.

    It’s not about whether you like Saddam or don’t like him. It’s not about whether Kuwaitis like him or don’t. It’s not about how Jordanians would feel if Kuwaitis did the same thing (which is something their people should have a right to do, and we, on a social level, should have a right to complain). It is about government overreaching, foreign government influence, and more importantly, the debate.

  • the arab world is not homogeneous and neither are its people.

    all dictatorships are relative.

    (but, if you insist on grasping to notions of victimhood, then my above comment and the post should only serve your purpose in declaring democracy as dead in the entire arab world)

  • I didn’t expect this when I checked this post. I’ll have to disagree with you on this one.

    I get your point. Saddam will be loved by a lot of Jordanians despite me thinking it’s totally ridiculous and hypocritical.

    But naming a street after a leader who killed not only Kuwaitis but some of his own people is just offensive and stupid, if not for Jordanians who love him, but at least for Jordanians who hate him and still respect the value of a human life. Not to mention a lot of Iraqis living in Jordan now who might have suffered under his regime. It’s not really hospitable.

    Saddam killed more men than Zarqawwi ever did, but I won’t stand another Arabic country naming a street after him. It’s just disrespectful and if we can’t respect are fellow Arabs what do we have left?

    PS. The whole naming incident is simply going to have its toll on the village for the next few generations. I mean how stupid is that. Naming all the kids Saddam. Way to be proactive in getting us out of the miseries that have been inflicted on Arabs in recent times.

  • in my last comment dependence should have been independence.

    ” we can worship dictators as long as they’re not ruling us.”
    not really.. they are also worshiped when they rule us..

  • if we wont name streets just coz someone killed people, then not a single arab leader modern or historic would have a street named after him, so that argument wont wash….i think in kuwait they have a lot of things name george bush snr, or baba bush as they call him, dont remember them giving much regard to feelings of iraqis he killed a lot of…

  • It could be a big advantage for Al Mazar if they play it like in the movie “The Mouse That Roared”. They could declare independence, declare war on Kuwait, get invaded and occupied by Jordan and Kuwait, they could be rebuilt with a type of Marshall Plan, and open luxury hotels, malls and conference centers. Who else in history was named Saddam? Aren’t there other famous Saddams who could be good role models whom the street could be named after? What makes Iraq’s Saddam so different from the other dictators in the world is that he had oil the US neo-cons wanted, so he had to be hyped as the Mother of all Dictators. But, we know dictators have a large, extended family in the Middle East and around the world.

  • Hey Nas,

    I’ve been following hte debate on this post.

    Your comment no 24 is to the point.clears any misunderstanding about what you intended when you wrote the article and I agree with you 100% that there should be a debate. There should be a diplomatic process

    So while I can understand your apprehension about :
    “that debate should have been had at the level of government. It wasn’t. One government dictated to another government, which in turn, dictated to a local government.”

    The issue here is even if a debate was held by the local government the outcome is well known, by majority vote, the street WILL be named after Saddam . It turns from a “silly street name” to telling everyone passing the street sign that Saddam is worthy of naming a street after him. ad htat we support war crim. So you can’t sepereate the tow issues.

    Granted not naming the street Saddam does not change the SAD reality that he is supported. Disturbing the say the least.

    So while there should always be a healthy debate the second it interfers with human rights or supports war crime the law should stop it. The law should protect the minority even if the majority agreed on it.

    It is clear that this town likes saddam, so if they had a debate it was going to lead to naming it after him.The local government was going ahead with it.

    So for a change I think it was the right thing to do.

    It’s rare that I disagree with your opinion so It opens the door for debate and people learn something new or a different view point.

    Keep those posts coming 🙂 .

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