Jordan’s elite is not happy with the way their king is handling the Hashemite Kingdom’s problems. Mutterings against King Abdullah II, 46, can be heard in the palace, the business community and the officers at the head of the royal armed force and security services, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Amman.
Gone are the kingdom’s glory days of 2004 and early 2005, when Jordan’s military and intelligence were America’s trusted mainstays in the war against al Qaeda’s Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq and its key channel of communications with Iraq’s Sunni leaders. Jordan has become superfluous to US strategic needs. The US military has established in Iraq a large Sunni Muslim army of some 100,000 men under arms, called the Awakening Councils, and manages its own relations with Iraq’s Sunni community. American and Iraqi forces are fighting al Qaeda without help from Amman.
The Hashemite kingdom is left to cope with its old problems exacerbated by regional change. Jordanian society is polarized between the indigenous former Bedouin and the Palestinians and beset by rising radical Islamist influence; its small size and shaky economy make the kingdom dependent on foreign aid and especially vulnerable to external shocks around its borders.
Jordan has a population of six million, limited natural resources, and no oil, making it dependent on its Arab neighbors for fuel at concessionary prices. While King Abdullah instituted economic and political reforms since he ascended the throne in 1994, there is nothing he can do to change the fact that Jordan is among the four most water-poor countries in the world, although it has the highest literacy level – 90 percent – of any Arab country.
To sustain its government, army, police and internal security institutions, the kingdom must supplement its sparse phosphates, potash and textile exports with foreign aid, largely from the United States, as well as the Gulf and Europe. Jordan has therefore been hard hit by the world economic crisis, which has slashed its foreign revenue by a quarter, giving rise to more complaints in Jordan’s high circles.
But the most powerful factor preying on the royal regime’s stability is the dramatic rise in the international standing of Iran and Syria, at a time when the king’s traditional pro-Western orientation, a constant source of Palestinian disaffection, pays diminishing dividends.
Abdullah ditched by Saudis, left unprotected against Syria
Wedged uncomfortably between Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria, the Hashemite Kingdom is expected by many Middle East observers and Jordanian pundits to be the next target in the sights of the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah bloc after the fall of Lebanon.
Hamas’ pro-Syrian-Iranian kingpin Khaled Meshaal paved the way for this happening in recent months by moving in on the Jordanian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm, the Islamic Action Front, is the kingdom’s largest opposition party.
Until this year, the Brotherhood was loyal to the Hashemite throne and not completely banned under a gentlemen’s agreement. But in the last elections to its governing council, the shura, the king’s loyalists were defeated and replaced by Meshaal’s supporters.
More recently, Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Service ditched the traditional partnership with its Jordanian colleagues over policies on Lebanon and Syria, after losing out to aggressive Iranian and Syrian moves on Lebanon.
Jordan’s king was left high and dry. For four years he had pursued an anti-Damascus policy through thick and thin, sure of American and Israeli backing. He trusted Washington and Paris to go all the way to deposing Bashar Assad by means of an international tribunal for bringing the assassins of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri to justice.
Summer 2008 found the Syrian president not only sitting pretty, but avidly courted by the Bush and Sarkozy administrations. They were even ready to assure him that the Hariri tribunal would never convene. Assad was getting away with thumbing his nose at the Saudis and Egyptians and Jordan’s king was left holding an empty bag.
There was worse to come. He had leaned heavily on the friendship of the Israeli and Turkish prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Tayyep Erdogen, when suddenly both stabbed him in the back by initiating indirect Israel-Syrian peace talks through Ankara.
Jordan found itself without protectors against its traditional foes, Syria, and the Lebanese Shiite Hizballah.
The Hashemite throne and Hizballah are engaged in a deep and abiding feud, not least because the Lebanese terrorists represent Shiite Iran’s western arm and because of the mutual antipathy between Abdullah and Hassan Nasrallah.
But most of all, Jordanian and Hizballah’s undercover agencies are locked in mortal combat in Iraq and most of the Persian Gulf nations.
Hamas unchallenged in Gaza is threat to Jordan’s stability
The Hashemite throne suffered a further blow at Israel’s hands when Olmert opted for an informal truce with Hamas last month, instead of toppling its rule of the Gaza Strip. Abdullah had relied on Israel’s defense forces routing Hamas in Gaza and so undermining its domination of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood.
The Jordanian king finds himself politically bankrupt in the very external policies most pivotal to his realm’s internal stability. Yet he can hardly afford to be the last force in the Middle East – or anywhere else for that matter – still in confrontation with the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah-Hamas alliance.
Abdullah’s dilemma has diminished his stature at home.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that the Palestinian population, governed by strong Islamist influence, sees the chinks in his armor, while his closest advisers are openly critical.
Some of them, including top generals, have got up a petition to inform their monarch of their unease over the way affairs of state are conducted.
Our sources, after talking to people who have seen the document, report that recent policy moves are criticized as blunders causing the erosion of Jordan’s position at home and in the region.
The signers attribute to these errors the kingdom’s heavy financial losses, which have left the royal treasury short of funds for the government’s proper functioning.
The petition does not pass judgment directly on King Abdullah but lays responsibility for mismanagement at the door of the chief of the royal court Dr. Ghasam Abdullah, a Palestinian, who is the king’s closest adviser.
In this way, the petitioners register the growing resentment in the palace and among the Hashemite throne’s traditional pillars, the indigenous former Bedouin leaders, of the favors Abdullah bestows on the Jordanian-Palestinian elite at their expense.
The most worrying development for the king is the fact that Jordan’s two top soldiers, Chief of Staff and Director of General Intelligence, the brothers Generals Zouabi, firmly support the petition although in their position they are barred from openly adding their signatures.