There is perhaps little doubt that Robert Fisk is probably one of the most knowledgeable and analytical minds when it comes to Middle Eastern affairs and his commentary is as insightful as it is enlightening. Suffice to say, when Fisk has something to say about the Middle East, which is frequent, it is wise to pay attention. With that in mind, I was surprised to see his latest piece regarding Jordan, titled “Why Jordan Is Occupied By Palestinians”, and its subsequent depiction of a country that is on the cusp of something rather dangerous. Fisk sits at a table at Al Quds restaurant with some powerful men who have, what I would call, powerful ideas, which, if ever put in to play, would likely reshape the Kingdom’s political status quo. Leaders of the so-called New Jordanian National Movement include army veteran heavyweights, General Ali Habashneh, Colonel Beni Sahar and Major General Mohamed Jamal. In the piece, they describe what they believe to be an emergence and legitimization of Palestinians with a political agenda taking the reigns of power and, in the process, laying the groundwork for a Palestinian state (be it intentional or not).
“We think the people around the king are not bringing up these issues,” one of the men at the table says. “After the Rifai government was established, the head of the senate became Palestinian, the head of the judicial system became Palestinian. There were changes in the army command. The Palestinian head of the Aqaba special economic zone did not have citizenship 10 years ago. Our letter said that personnel in government should have received their jobs through parliament.”
The piece goes on to quote Habashneh:
General Habashneh is as explicit as any of the men. “There is corruption, a widening of the gap between rich and poor,” he says. “Economic investment policies are destroying the country. This is what our national movement is all about. We are trying to get all our forces together to hold a national conference by the beginning of the new year, to decide on a strategic movement which will protect this country and remove the influence of the Israelis and Americans.”
While a political red herring in itself, the upcoming parliamentary elections may see this widening schism being played out at full capacity. As Fisk points out in the piece, this movement is beyond the mere realms of the army, but includes teachers, unionists, and so forth. It is thus increasingly difficult to avoid looking at any social movement as being politically motivated in this context, the recent teachers strikes being one example.
Although it might be easy to brush this off as an “ethnic” or “origin” issue, the concerns of these ex-servicemen, who represent a fair share of the population, are not without merit. Neoliberal economic policies are at the heart of what they fear – policies they view as having manifested in the sale of public land (which, from a military-minded background is something considered valuable) and economic corruption. Their anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiments have also been high on the agenda, which as Fisk points out, was something prominently featured in the King’s speech last month.
It may go without saying that these army men are destined to represent a growing problem for the state. They are not Islamists or fringe groups that the state can manipulate, buy off, marginalize, co-opt and essentially control – they are hardcore nationalists who have a history of putting country in front of anything else, even personal interest.
Nevertheless, this does not mean that the state will not continue to find new ways to preform all of the aforementioned task in an attempt to neutralize them. How successful this will be is up in the air but my take is that there will likely be some movement towards political regression in the Kingdom to put the balance back in more Trans-Jordanian hands. I would not be surprised to see, once again, bus loads of army men being shuffled around to certain voting districts, and a subsequent reshuffling of the cabinet a few days after the elections, hosting more east bankers.
Appeasement will be the name of the game. How much political purchasing power it still holds is yet to be seen.