The extraordinary outpouring of international sympathy and goodwill at the death of King Hussain of Jordan last February, and the lavish promises of economic aid made at the time by western and oil-rich leaders have not yet been translated into reality. The new king, feeling trapped in an artificial kingdom gripped by political and economic turmoil, embarked last month on an urgent tour of several western capitals.
King Abdullah bin Hussain’s top priority on his stops in Britain, Germany, Canada and the US was to obtain a fifty percent reduction of the kingdom’s crippling $11.5 billion debt. Interest repayments alone eat up nearly 30 percent of Jordan’s annual budget. Such a burden is crushing for a country with scarce resources and an unemployment rate of 27 percent.
But because the kingdom’s economic well-being and political stability are closely linked to the Palestinian issue and the isolation of Iraq, the so-called ‘Middle East peace process’ came to a close second, and the west’s war on Iraq third, on his list of priorities. The fourth issue ï in public at least ï was the Kosova tragedy, with both he and western leaders anxious to score political points.
Abdullah, to his credit, knew that he had no card to play and that he was at the mercy of his hosts ï caught as he is between the peace treaty with Israel that his father left him, and the need to retain the temporary good-will his people had shown after his father’s death. Described as a man in a hurry, he knew that he had to get help before it became clear to most Jordanians that, despite his early rhetoric, he was as much a traitor to the Palestinian cause as his late father.
In fact he was quite frank about the limitations of his situation during newspaper interviews on the eve of his visit to London on May 8. Giving himself only two months to turn around the kingdom’s dire situation, he admitted that the recent improvement in relations with other Arab countries, such as Syria and Kuwait, would ‘count for very little’ without a breakthrough in the ‘peace process’.
Perhaps recalling the 1996 bread riots and the fact that one third of the country lives below the poverty line, he told the London-based Daily Telegraph: ‘I think we would be lucky to have six months. We have to move in the next couple of months. Time is short.’
But in the Guardian newspaper the same day, he openly admitted that though ‘economic recovery will dramatically change the situation, everything is eventually determined by what Israel decides. That will really tilt the balance. If there is movement in the peace-process I can’t tell you how that will spread in the Arab world.’
Abdullah, who has done his own homework on how to be a good proxy, also realises that, apart from demonstrating his subservience to the US, he has to cultivate the Zionist lobby in the west, especially the US, by implementing a wide-ranging programme of privatization, under IMF supervision, transferring the kingdom’s meagre resources to western business interests, and pay high-profile lip-service to democracy.
The king duly did all of this before embarking on his foreign tour. He prepared a two-year economic programme involving savage re-structuring and privatisation - ‘to impress British prime minister Tony Blair that he is doing all he can for his country’, as the Daily Telegraph put it - and arranged a meeting with the heads of Zionist organizations in the US (in New York on May 23). He also spoke, in numerous interviews with the media, about his ‘wide-ranging plans for democratization’.
But he found, to his cost, that whatever he said to appease his western patrons was bound to reflect adversely on the political scene in the kingdom. On leaving the US on May 24 and returning home, he found the government locked in confrontation with parliament over his economic programme, which politicians and the public alike fear will lead to further unemployment and hardship. He also ran into a diplomatic row in Amman, the capital, triggered by a proposal for a dinner to honour the king and queen to which the Israeli ambassador was invited.
The dinner, proposed by the Lebanese ambassador to Amman, was scheduled to held on May 30. But the ambassador, doyen of the diplomats accredited to Jordan, did not have the sensitivity to exclude the Israeli ambassador, who insisted on his right to attend the dinner ‘to honour the young king and his queen’. And with Muslim ambassadors threatening to boycott the dinner, Amman found itself engulfed in a diplomatic row that also embarrassed Abdullah.
The incident came to light after local journalists had ‘accidentally’ discovered learnt of the invitation to the Israeli ambassador. With more than half of Jordan’s population Palestinian, the issue of normalization with Israel is closely watched by both the non-government media and the public. This incident, coupled with Abdullah’s high-profile meeting with Zionist organizations in New York, has heightened public suspicions of the king’s intentions, bringing his honeymoon period following king Hussain’s death to an abrupt end.
Even Abdullah’s rhetoric about his plans for democratization proved problematic. On being asked to explain how far his plans for reform went, during a BBC interview, he was forced to admit that they did not affect his right to rule as absolute monarch. ‘The future of the Hashemite kingdom is not negotiable’, he asserted.
Abdullah must have discovered by now that, whatever he may or may not do, he is trapped in the legacy of treachery and subservience to Uncle Sam and the Zionists that his father left him. He is after all only king because he is the elder son of the departed monarch, whose memory he must continue to honour. His last act in the US was to plant a tree in Central Park, New York, in memory of his father.
Muslimedia: June 1-15, 1999