I cannot recall the last time I saw a protest anywhere near the US embassy in Amman. Those familiar with it know that it is essentially a fortress that borders on being a military base. No other word can describe it I suppose. It occupies an entire neighborhood and is surrounded by Jordanian armed forces of all kind (patrol police, mukhabarat, darak forces, etc). This is to say nothing of US military located on the inside. Getting anywhere near the building is usually a hassle and people driving alongside the road bump-laden street that runs parallel to it, try and do so as subtly as possible. In the past decade, Jordan has experienced a great deal of opportunities ripe for American flag burnings but I simply do not recall any of them daring to take place near the US embassy. The very thought is threatening.
And so yesterday a stream of protesters lined up across the street from the embassy and chanted anti-American slogans while, of course, burning a flag. Why? Wikileaks of course. Their gripe is with one particular cable from 2009 that is titled “The Right of Return: What it Means for Jordan”. If the title of the cable doesn’t ring a stale bell for most Jordanian I’m sure the use of the word “Chutzpah” doesn’t help.
In any case, I’m not sure I see what the grand “problem” is with the cable but it does reflect a few ironic things. Beneath the surface of the “Right of Return” issue, the cable is basically highlighting an East Banker and West Banker divide, and how that has played out. In the context of this cable and this issue the conclusion is basically: many east bankers want Jordan to have nothing to do with Palestine and reject any attempts at a homeland being created on Jordanian soil, and some within that camp want all Palestinians to leave once statehood is achieved for them. Palestinians on the other hand see themselves primarily as Jordanians, with many who are willing to give up on any claims for a right of return in exchange for political rights on par with their east banker brethren, which is something that has been a historic source of “unofficial” discrimination, especially when it comes to public sector employment and political representation.
Every thing falls under one whole “package”, as the cable states. In other words, the status of Palestinians in Jordan and their relationship with east bankers, is tied to the refugee status, is tied to the Jordanian identity question, is tied to the right of return, is tied to the peace process. For any sane Jordanian, these connections, while valid, are burdensome. We are essentially saying that we cannot resolve any of our internal problems in Jordan or even move forward with a genuine reform process, until the Middle East conflict is resolved. Moreover, all of the aforementioned are one and the same, representing the same giant red emergency button the Jordanian state pushes when it wants to create some division in the country for tactical advantage (see March 25th, 2011).
The irony of all this is that the dichotomy this cable outlines, is one of a Jordan divided in to two camp. While these camps were always evident to the keen observer, they are in full bloom these days as a result of the Arab spring. We are witnessing a greater degree of anti-Palestinian sentiment from a primarily east banker segment. Only now we call them “reformers” versus “loyalists”. These terms may not be accurate but they essentially lump together two groups of people, one of which is fairly mixed in my opinion and is inclusive of all origins, and one which is made up almost strictly of hardliner east bankers (Dajani calls them “Lukidniks” in this cable). The US embassy protest reportedly consisted of 200 people organized by ex-serviceman, which generally translates to “east banker”. This would make sense as they were allowed to actually protest, something I doubt would have happened if it was the Islamists. They burnt an American flag while rejecting any “American intervention” in Jordanian affairs regarding Jordan and it’s Palestinian population; in other words, rejecting the alternative homeland.
Tonight, there is a supposed gathering near the Israeli embassy to call for its closure, which is being organized primarily on Facebook. Not sure how this will turn out, especially on a Thursday night when the roads are already jam packed and make mobilization difficult. The call is for a million-man march, but of course there’s no way that number is achieved. We’ll probably see a large group consisting mostly Islamists as well as socialists, communists and people who like to dress up like Che Guevara.
It is interesting to note that the Israelis withdrew their employees from the embassy. We’ve had it there for well over a decade and I don’t recall it closing even during some of the worst moments in the region’s history (second intifada, jenin massacre, gaza, etc). But now, a Facebook group calling for a million people to show up (of which 3,000 confirmed attendance) has scared them. Either the Israelis are confused between Egypt and Jordan, or they genuinely feel that events in Egypt could just as likely take place in Jordan, or are attempting to embolden the Jordanian opposition to demonstrate that the Kingdom is unstable. I’m thinking it’s more likely the latter. But that said, this is just me talking.
We are entering a Palestinian kind of season that tends to play to domestic audiences. The UN vote on statehood is one thing, but there’s also the remembrance of the Sabra and Shatilla massacre and of course the infamous Wadi Arab agreement that essentially shaped the cold peace that exists between Jordan and Israel today. Suffice to say, Palestine is on the mind, only this year things are a bit different with this social rift that is being nurtured partly by the state but also by various east-banker entities.
Let’s see what happens next…