How a Great Power Falls Apart
Decline Is Invisible From the Inside
Jordan has carefully nurtured a reputation as the most consistently pro-Western Arab state. Thus, it came as a shock to many to find most Jordanians taking the side of President Saddam Hussein in the gulf crisis, and Western leaders are disturbed by King Hussein's reluctance to join forces against the Iraqi ruler. Given Amman's growing dependence upon Baghdad, however, neither surprise nor irritation is warranted; the gulf crisis has simply thrown into stark relief the extent to which the futures of these two countries have become intertwined, as well as the precariousness of the king's position in his desert land.
Public support for the Iraqi leader is extensive across Jordan and encompasses a wide spectrum of society. Pro-Saddam demonstrations, of which there are often several a day, are even advertised in the once-tame local newspapers. The sponsors of these gatherings run the gamut from the leftist Jordan People's Democratic Party to the extremist Islamic Jihad, but the rallies themselves do not vary much. Speakers vilify the deposed Kuwaiti ruling family, the al-Sabahs, for squandering Arab wealth on gambling and prostitutes; Kuwait's supporters, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are jeered as traitors; American flags are burned; the crowd chants, "Oh Saddam, we are willing to die for you!"
While more circumspect than his constituents, King Hussein has given the impression that he, too, sympathizes with Saddam. Days after the Iraqi invasion the king told NBC News that Saddam was "a person to be trusted and dealt with." And he called the Iraqi president "an Arab patriot in the eyes of many." The king was also slow to comply with U.N. economic sanctions against his neighbor. While the truck traffic across the Jordanian-Iraqi border is now down to virtually nothing from its pre-invasion 1,000 vehicles a day, Jordan still imports its oil from Iraq, contending that to do anything else before a replacement source is located would be to commit economic suicide. Additionally, Jordan continues to allow daily Iraqi Airways flights from Amman, which is now the carrier's only regular destination, in apparent violation of the U.N. ban on commercial and financial transactions with Iraq.
Since the beginning of the crisis King Hussein has busied himself flying about the Arab world, Europe and the United States trying vainly to rally support for an "Arab solution" to the crisis. The king's formula would reportedly trade an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait for a package of concessions to Saddam. This deal would include a pullout of Western troops from Saudi Arabia, an unspecified "privileged" relationship between Iraq and Kuwait, and the convening of a Middle East peace conference to consider the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Such proposals have estranged Amman from Washington and its Arab friends. The Bush administration rejects Hussein's ideas, saying they would reward Saddam for his invasion. American officials also worry that the king's efforts will undermine the U.N. embargo by giving the Iraqis hope that more Arab states will eventually rally to their side. The Jordanians counter that their efforts might have succeeded but for U.S. intransigence and haste to send troops to the gulf.
Given the formidable forces arrayed against Iraq, King Hussein appears to be recklessly exposing his kingdom to grave risks. Poor in natural resources and weaker militarily than its neighbors, Jordan has nevertheless thrived through its client relationship with Western powers, such as the United States and Britain, and regional financiers, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Hussein's current position not only jeopardizes the protection afforded by his relationship with the United States and financial assistance from the gulf states but also risks provoking neighboring Syria and Israel.
To attribute the king's course to fear of subversion or military attack by Iraq would be simplistic, although such concerns must certainly enter his calculations. He could have joined what Jordanian journalist Lamis Andoni described as the anti-Saddam "chorus line" and asked for Western protection, although such a step might have required a crackdown on political freedom in Jordan, given the population's strong pro-Saddam stance.
Behind Hussein's position lies a Jordanian-Iraqi interdependence that has grown deep in recent years. Jordan has become so dependent on Iraq as a market for its exports and as a source of cheap oil that destruction of the Iraqi economy by either military means or blockade threatens to destroy Jordan's economy as well. Despite his misgivings about Saddam's brutal style of rule and his erratic behavior, the king had also bet heavily on militarily powerful Iraq as a protector from Israeli aggression. The refusal of the U.S. Congress to permit American arms sales to Jordan over the last decade helped push him in this direction.
Hussein wants to secure his kingdom's future. He also wants to play a weightier role than the military and economic strength of his nation would automatically convey. Contemplating the fall of communism, his frustration with Washington, and his concern about Israeli intentions, he seems to have decided that a close relationship to Saddam was his best bet. He also apparently tired of going against Arab public opinion by cooperating with American and Israeli plans for resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute. Now, playing to the emotions of his own people, Hussein is enjoying the results. Demonstrators raise his picture along with Saddam's at the rallies, including those of the left, whose leaders the king had imprisoned. Hussein is also acting out of frustration with the United States, which he blames in large part for the failure of his own efforts to find a solution to the Palestinian problem.
Jordan has always been in danger of splitting along demographic lines, but the gulf crisis has united the country. Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who make up more than half of the 3.1 million population, like Saddam's anti-Israeli rhetoric and ask why the West is so concerned about Kuwait when it has done little to persuade Israel to withdraw from the West Bank. Non-Palestinian Jordanians, or East Bankers, ask the same question. Many older East Bankers cling to Baathist political beliefs from their school days in Baghdad or Damascus, and Saddam has given them hope that a strong, unified Arab nation can be a reality. Finally, there is little Jordanian sympathy for Kuwait because many of the hundreds of thousands of Jordanians who have worked there now say the Kuwaitis were arrogant, even cruel, masters.
Amman's ties with Baghdad first blossomed during the Iran-Iraq War. King Hussein saw the Iraqi army as a check on the Ayatollah Khomeini's attempts to export his Islamic revolution to Arab countries. The United States and other Western countries backed Saddam for much the same reason. Hussein let the Iraqis, whose narrow outlets to the gulf were blocked during the war, use Jordan as a lifeline. Throughout the war a vast fleet of trucks roared up the desert road from the Jordanian port of Aqaba to Baghdad bringing vital food and supplies. Tanker trucks hauled Iraqi oil to the sea.
Gradually the economic relationship became formalized with a lending facility at the Jordanian Central Bank, which financed Jordan's exports to Iraq in return for Iraqi oil and cash payments of $12 million a month. Jordanian businessmen and growers targeted the Iraqi market with such consumer goods as pharmaceuticals, detergents and clothing. In 1989, 40 percent of Jordan's non-phosphate exports (about $190 million) went to Iraq. The trucking of wheat, corn and industrial imports from Aqaba to Baghdad brought in another $250 million. These are significant numbers in a $4 billion economy. It is little wonder that one hears pro-Saddam sentiment not only from Amman's political activists but also from such pillars of respectability as the heads of the Jordanian chamber of commerce and the businessmen's association.
The crisis seems destined to have devastating effects on an economy shaped by a stringent International Monetary Fund (IMF) program last year, as it struggles to meet its debt obligations. The damage will go well beyond the loss of the Iraqi market. If Jordan obeys the sanctions against Iraq, it may have to forget the $310 million Baghdad now owes in import credits, and it will lose $50 million a year in Iraqi aid. An additional $2.6 billion that the Jordanians guaranteed in third-party loans to Iraq would also be at risk. If Amman were to stop purchasing Iraqi oil, it would face skyrocketing fuel costs estimated at an additional $280 million annually, if oil prices average $30 per barrel. Jordan has no significant oil output of its own and now obtains Iraqi oil at a fixed price of $16.40 per barrel.
Jordan has also lost its second-largest export market, Kuwait. Arab displeasure may bar Jordanian goods from other markets in the region. Finally, Hussein's stand may cost Jordan much of the $550 million in aid flows it is accustomed to receiving from gulf states each year, as well as some $600 million in remittances from the 315,000 Jordanians working in those countries. Including dependents, some 850,000 Jordanians, most of them of Palestinian origin, live in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the smaller gulf emirates. If they were to be sent home, Jordan, which has already been taxed by some 600,000 refugees from Kuwait and Iraq, could be overwhelmed.
The Saudis have already shown their anger with Jordan by cutting off the flow of the Tapline pipeline, through which the Jordanians were to receive crude to replace Iraq's, saying that the Jordanians were behind in payments. They have also recalled their ambassador and are refusing to buy Jordanian goods. Particularly galling to the Saudis may be Hussein's wish to be called by his great-grandfather's title, Sharif-suggesting that he harbors ambitions to return to his family's former domain in Mecca.
In a request to the United Nations for help, Jordan estimated the potential damage to its economy from the gulf crisis at $2.1 billion. The World Bank projects the losses at $1.5 billion annually. Whatever the actual figure, a downturn of this magnitude, which could raise unemployment to 35 percent from the present 15 percent, has serious potential for destabilizing the country. Without large injections of aid, Amman will be unable to finance the imports it anticipates or come up with the funds to meet an estimated $1 billion per year in debt service obligations in the early 1990s. The once rock-solid Jordanian dinar, which has already lost nearly half of its value against the dollar in the last two years, could collapse.
In the panicky atmosphere following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, worried depositors drained more than $45 million in foreign exchange and 124 million dinars from Jordan's banks in the first three weeks of August. At one bank the drawdown was $10 million per day in local currency. Although the currency black market is becoming more active, the Central Bank has managed to hold the exchange rate of around $1.50 per dinar, but banks are reluctant to exchange local currency for dollars, and the local American Express office ran low on its supply of travelers checks. In September the government began rationing milk, sugar and rice for the first time since the 1940s. The government is taking drastic measures to save fuel, including cutting its workweek from six days to five and requiring that street lights and commercial signs be turned off late at night.
Local businessmen report problems that will not be solved by foreign aid injections. A local meat canner with plans to expand into the big Egyptian market said that the Cairo bureaucracy had suddenly started throwing up obstacles to his product's introduction. The phosphate industry, Jordan's largest earner of foreign exchange, is endangered because of higher shipping rates and the reluctance of ships to call at the port of Aqaba.
The economy was already vulnerable after years of managing economic policy as though Jordan were an oil state. Indeed, capitalizing on its proximity to the gulf, Jordan averaged an economic growth rate of nine to ten percent from 1973 to 1981. Two-thirds of its gross domestic product came in the form of aid and workers' remittances from the gulf states. These two sources of finance peaked at over $1 billion each in the early 1980s. The Jordanian government spent heavily on social services, infrastructure projects and military equipment. It also kept the value of the dinar high, which encouraged remittances and discouraged development of local export industries. The strong dinar fostered an import boom. Mercedes Benz became the most common automobile seen in Amman. As Jordanians working in the gulf poured their earnings into new homes, the once-sleepy capital expanded so fast that many residential streets are yet unnamed.
Jordan also poured money into educating its young people for careers as doctors, engineers and civil servants in the gulf, where they could earn high salaries and save money to send home. Meanwhile, more than a hundred thousand foreigners were allowed in to perform less desirable jobs in Jordan. Of these foreigners, Egyptians constituted the largest contingent, employed in the construction industry and on farms. Filipinos were a particularly visible group, working as waiters and waitresses in restaurants and as maids and houseboys in the homes of the wealthy.
Amman's strategy fell apart in the mid-1980s when oil prices fell and the gulf economies contracted. As the gulf countries laid off Jordanians and declined to hire new college graduates, remittances fell from a peak of $1.2 billion in 1981 to $623 million in 1989. The gulf states also slashed aid to Jordan from a high of $1.2 billion in 1981 to less than $400 million in 1989. Jordanians blame these cutbacks in large part for their recent economic problems, and they have probably played some role in forming Jordanian attitudes toward the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait.
Yet despite the country's reduced means, Amman failed to curb imports, which in 1988 amounted to nearly half of gross national product. Instead, it borrowed heavily until it ran out of money in early 1989 and was forced to slap a moratorium on imports of cars, electronics and appliances. The country recorded negative economic growth in both 1988 and 1989. By early 1989 Jordan had exhausted its foreign exchange reserves defending the value of the dinar. Unable to service its $8.4 billion debt, Amman was forced to conclude a standby agreement with the IMF.
The slowing of the economy coincided with, and probably encouraged, mounting dissatisfaction with the regime. For the most part the complaints focused on Prime Minister Zaid Rifai and his fellow ministers. In 1987 a so-called black file circulated in Amman containing copies of official documents purporting to show widespread corruption in Rifai's government. Rifai had made himself unpopular by clamping down on the local press, banning some outspoken local journalists from publication and taking away their passports. He also received much of the blame for an ill-considered and unsuccessful campaign in 1986-87 to increase Jordanian influence in the West Bank at the expense of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Some of the toughest criticism of Rifai's government came from his predecessor, Ahmed Obeidat, whose reputation for incorruptibility made him a natural rallying point of the opposition.
While the rules of the Jordanian political game put King Hussein above public criticism, some members of the elite were bold enough to blame the monarch for the government's shortcomings. After all, it is the king who appoints and removes prime ministers. Some Jordanians also complained that the king was running a one-man show and not doing enough to build institutions that might hold Jordan together after his departure. Many believed the king was treating his subjects like children and thus stunting their political growth.
One person who went public, albeit cautiously, with such thoughts was Layla Sharaf, widow of the respected former Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Sharaf. Her efforts as information minister to encourage a freer and more credible press came to an end with a published letter from the king in January 1985, which complained that "a number of our newspaper writers have been launching attacks . . . on our social institutions and their customs and values." He was "weary of a continued downtrend to frustration of which we see outlines in the newspapers every morning." Sharaf took the letter as an exit cue, but she warned in a widely circulated resignation letter that "a certain degree of free thinking and free expression" was necessary for Jordanian citizens to achieve healthy "cultural and theological development."
The situation exploded in April 1989, when the government increased prices on fuel, cigarettes, telephone services and electricity in keeping with the IMF agreement. Rioting broke out in the southern part of the country on April 18 and continued for five days, leaving eight people dead and 50 injured. The heads of the professional associations sent a harsh telegram to the king's younger brother, Crown Prince Hassan, who was serving as regent while the king was on a trip to Washington, and demanded a change in both the style and substance of government. "If the situation remains the way it is," the message warned, "the king's credibility, which constitutes the basis of national unity, will be undermined."
The riots did not reach Amman but the king took them to heart, not the least because he considers the bedouin strongholds of southern Jordan the bedrock of his support. They furnish a disproportionate number of army and intelligence officers. Upon his return, Hussein dismissed Rifai, replacing him temporarily with his cousin, the former commander of the armed forces, Zaid bin Shaker. Later, bin Shaker was replaced by Mudar Badran, a former prime minister and intelligence chief.
While there was little the king could do to improve economic conditions in the short run, he reconsidered his own restrictions in the political arena. He gave greater freedom to the local newspapers, which Rifai had brought under tight control. In November 1989 he also held the first parliamentary elections in 22 years. While the Muslim Brotherhood was the only legally recognized political organization to contest the election, King Hussein allowed leftist organizations, including the communists, various branches of the Baath Party, and the Jordanian wings of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to put forward candidates and hold political meetings.
The results were something of a shock to the king, as well as to the world. Fundamentalists won 35 of the 80 seats, while leftists also did well, electing ten members, including a communist and one representative each from the DFLP and PFLP. The remainder went to a smattering of wealthy individuals, bedouin sheikhs and former officials.
While generally praised as remarkably free and fair, the elections were skewed in one important respect. They were largely an East Bank affair. Only 8 percent of the 556 candidates were of Palestinian origin. Palestinian voter turnout was also lower than the overall 40 percent total. There are several reasons for this phenomenon. Jordanian electoral districts are drawn to favor conservative rural candidates while reducing the influence of Amman, where most Palestinians reside. Although some prominent Jordanians of Palestinian origin were elected, such as former Foreign Minister Taher al-Masri, many leading Amman-based Palestinians, who are members of Palestinian organizations or commando groups, were blocked as candidates by both the Jordanian authorities and the PLO. Beyond such institutional obstructions, many Palestinians feel they should not participate in Jordanian politics, lest such activity be interpreted as forfeiting their right to return to Israeli-occupied territory and determine its future.1
A year later, the elections now look like a political plus for the king. While he must concern himself with the growing strength of fundamentalists, Hussein has long enjoyed a fairly comfortable relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, using them as a check on the left. So far the fundamentalists' presence in parliament has achieved them little. Attendance at Friday prayers has increased over the last few years and more women wear head scarves on the streets of Amman, but Jordanian society remains relatively open and tolerant.
Although the king has received credit for allowing greater political expression, he has not given up much power. He retains the authority to appoint the prime minister as well as near-total control over foreign policy. In a sense King Hussein was able to use increased political freedom as the coin to buy silence for an economic austerity program that until August had helped stabilize the dinar and rebuild foreign exchange reserves. In addition, if he survives the current crisis, the 55-year-old king has gained himself time to prepare the way for his eventual succession by other members of his family, beginning with his 43-year-old brother, Crown Prince Hassan. While some insiders say the Oxford-educated Hassan is too intellectual to make a good king, he is articulate and experienced and has performed well as regent during his brother's absences.
Over the longer term, the king may find that he has let a dangerous genie out of the bottle. The collection of fundamentalists, Baathists and other leftist groups who dominate the parliament are not the sort of nation-builders Jordan needs. Their political loyalties are less to Jordan than to Islam, the broader Arab world or, perhaps, even Iraq and Syria. The political atmosphere in Jordan today reminds some veteran observers of the late 1950s, when stronger regional powers were able to manipulate Jordanian politics and help inspire a coup attempt against Hussein in 1957.
In those days Egyptian President Gamal Abdul al-Nasser inspired fiery young men across the Arab world to overthrow more traditional leaders. While Saddam Hussein's charisma pales in comparison to Nasser's, his influence does reach into Jordan. In August droves of Jordanians signed up as "volunteers" to fight in the gulf on Iraq's behalf. The Iraqi Embassy in Amman is a beehive of activity with a great many people going in and out. Amman is rife with rumors of financial incentives from Baghdad, but these are hard to confirm.
The composition of the parliament also seems to limit the king's options. For instance it would complicate any new peace initiative toward Israel. Many parliamentarians are idealists who have little experience with compromise. Any suggestion that the king was prepared to settle for less than complete liberation of the occupied territories would create an uproar.
The king, however, had given up on the peace process for some time anyway. In fact pessimism about the prospects for a settlement with Israel helped bring Hussein closer to Saddam. The Bush administration's efforts to promote talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors seemed to come to a standstill when the Likud government came to power in April 1990. Hussein had greeted the Bush administration with great optimism but grew disappointed at its inability to cajole Yitzhak Shamir into going ahead with his own plan to hold elections in the West Bank. The collapse of communism and the weakening of Soviet influence in the Middle East also seemed to leave the United States with unrivaled power in the Middle East, and so eased pressure on Israel to come to terms with the Palestinians.
At the same time the Jordanians watch with trepidation as over 17,000 Soviet Jews a month pour into Israel. This inflow rekindled deep-seated Jordanian fears that expansionist forces in Israel will push the West Bankers into Jordan, swamping the already fragile economy and upsetting the delicate demographic balance. Skeptical of American will to restrain Israel and angry at Congress for voting against any significant shipments of new American arms to Jordan, Hussein has in the last two years edged closer to militarily powerful Iraq for protection. Saddam, with his plans to develop nuclear weapons, may also have seemed the only Arab leader with a chance of seriously challenging Israel in the long run.
Hussein and his small coterie of advisers, including Crown Prince Hassan, Foreign Minister Marwan Qassem and political adviser Adnan Abu Odeh, put more effort into devising long-term strategy than most Middle Eastern leaders. The atmosphere at the royal compound, a group of surprisingly modest pink-stone buildings perched on a hill in Amman, is less one of pomp and circumstance than that of a research establishment.
The royal circle considers the unsettled Palestinian question to be the greatest threat to Jordan's stability. From the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 until the summer of 1988 King Hussein devoted much of his energy to maneuvers aimed at brokering negotiations between the PLO, Israel and the United States. The interest of the United States and the Israeli Labor Party in a Jordanian solution, meaning some sort of joint Palestinian-Jordanian governing arrangement in the occupied territories, encouraged these efforts.
Through the end of 1986 Hussein focused on persuading the PLO to recognize Israel and thus fulfill U.S. conditions for an American-Palestinian dialogue. Frustrated at Yasir Arafat's reluctance to play his recognition card, Hussein angrily broke off his efforts in February 1986 to work with the PLO.
The king began a controversial campaign aimed at residents of the West Bank and Gaza to choose Jordan over the PLO as their representative. "The Palestinians must make a decision," he said later that month. "Are they happy with the creeping annexation of their land and their possible expulsion from Palestine? If they're unhappy, what do they want us to do about it?"
The Jordanians employed typical Middle Eastern tactics to put muscle into this effort. They financed a weekly Jerusalem newspaper, an-Nahar, to promote the views of the "silent majority" of Palestinians who supposedly preferred Jordan. They expelled Arafat's late right-hand man, Khalil al-Wazir, from Amman, and harassed and intimidated West Bank notables crossing the bridges between the West Bank and Jordan. Jordanian intelligence encouraged a discredited former PLO commander, Atallah Atallah, to hold meetings in Amman denouncing Arafat and challenging the PLO chiefs legitimacy. On a more constructive note, Jordan drew up a $1 billion development plan for the occupied territories that surprised many observers by encompassing not only the West Bank but also Gaza, before 1967 under Egyptian rule.
At the same time the king courted the Israeli Labor Party and its leader, Shimon Peres. The Jordanians hinted that they were prepared to enter talks without the PLO, but Peres was unable to bring along his Likud coalition partners to agree to the international conference that Hussein was proposing.
Still, Hussein was doing rather well until the Palestinian uprising came to Arafat's rescue in December 1987. Efforts to discredit the PLO were making headway. The Arab summit held in Amman in November 1987 offered Hussein a golden opportunity to both snub Arafat personally and relegate Palestinian problems to the back burner in favor of the Iran-Iraq War. He appeared to be mustering support from such key Arab states as Syria and Iraq to move ahead without Arafat.
Hussein has been the big loser in the intifada. Although Arafat did not start the uprising, he managed to gain considerable control over it, and it helped restore his standing in the Arab world. Demonstrators and leaflets made clear how little popularity the king enjoyed in the occupied territories. In September 1986 a poll sponsored by ABC News and Newsday reported that a meager three percent of respondents preferred Hussein as their leader. On July 31, 1988, the king gave up the fight, at least for the time being, and announced that he was cutting Jordan's ties to the occupied territories and ceding any claims to them to the PLO.
The move seemed to have several aims. Hussein wanted to challenge the PLO to act as a responsible representative of Palestinians rather than a critic of others' efforts to advance the peace process. He also wanted to force the United States and Israel to face up to having to deal with the PLO. Finally, seeing little chance of Jordan playing a significant role in the peace process in the near future, he wanted to cut his own losses.
Although King Hussein and his inner circle doubtless think Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was foolish, they are still trying to salvage something from it. The immediate goal is to rescue Saddam and Iraq. But the king is also trying to win himself an influential role in the new Middle East order that emerges after the crisis. He is trying to take the lead and focus attention on the festering problems in the area, including the Israeli occupation and Arab economic inequalities. These issues have won Saddam Hussein sympathy not only in Jordan and the occupied territories but also in Syria, Yemen and much of North Africa. The king is betting that there will be a stronger backlash to foreign intervention than the United States anticipates, and that it can be made to work to Jordan's benefit. This idea explains his willingness to host a mid-September conference, a month after the Iraqi invasion, of Arab radicals and leftists, including the PFLP'S George Habash and the DFLP'S Nayef Hawatmeh. The two men returned to Jordan for the first time since they were driven out in 1970 in the Black September fighting between Palestinian commandos and the Jordanian Army.
The king can also take some comfort in his old rival Arafat's position, which is even more pro-Saddam than Jordan's. Their similar stances mean that Arafat is unlikely to be able to challenge Hussein openly in Jordan for some time. At the same time, Arafat's current estrangement from the United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia may lead him to try once again to work out a joint position with the king. Arafat has been a frequent visitor to Amman in the last few weeks. If there are to be renewed efforts to advance the Arab-Israeli peace process once Iraq has withdrawn from Kuwait, both Hussein and Arafat could see their way to begin undoing the damage caused by their sympathizing with Saddam; it is hard to see how the peace process could be revived without those two leaders' participation. On the other hand, peace efforts will be complicated by American-and Arab-annoyance with Hussein and Arafat. The gulf crisis has also strengthened the hand of Israeli hard-liners and their American supporters, who argue that no near-term settlement with the Arabs is possible that would enhance Israeli security.
Some senior Jordanians worry that, with emotions running so high, Jordanians are being denied the sort of sound information needed to come to an intelligent consensus on an approach to the gulf crisis. Not only are the local newspapers slanted in Iraq's favor, they rarely admit the possibility of an Iraqi defeat. Jordanian minds are being filled with rumors, misinformation and fantasy. In a lecture at the Royal Cultural Society in August, for instance, Youssef Kawash, a retired general, told the audience that Saddam was "unbeatable at this point."
One senses in Amman that, given the turn of events, the domestic situation could easily get out of hand. The most immediate danger appears to be on the economic front. Unless there is a quick end to the gulf crisis, many Jordanians are likely to see their standard of living sharply reduced. Domestic strife could easily erupt, as it did in 1989. While neither the Islamic fundamentalists nor the leftists appear well enough organized to topple the king, he could quickly lose the credibility he has amassed as the glue that holds the country together. The final arbiters in Jordanian politics would be the army and, to a lesser extent, the intelligence services. These organizations have always been almost fanatically loyal to Hussein in the past. But those links may be weakening with a gradual shift to urban and Palestinian recruits, and the poor economic conditions in the tribal areas of the country.
Jordan would also be at risk if war broke out in the gulf. Now-peaceful demonstrations might turn ugly, with angry crowds attacking Western and gulf embassies and other interests of foreign powers. The king might be forced to choose between severe repression, which would cost him considerable popularity, and allowing an unbridgeable gulf to open between Jordan and its former supporters. The possibility also exists that Jordan could become a battleground between Iraq and Israel. If Jordan sided openly with Iraq or the Iraqis moved into Jordan to draw the Israelis into the gulf conflict, Israel might be tempted to go into Jordan and even seize and hold strategic territory.
Hussein's strongest card may well be concern that his successor would probably be less desirable for nearly all interested parties. Most Jordanians express the fear that in Hussein's absence Jordan might dissolve into factional strife, like Lebanon. Such worries will undoubtedly work in Crown Prince Hassan's favor in the event of Hussein's departure.
An unstable Jordan would not be in the interests of the West, Israel or Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states. While the king has never been willing to stick his neck out as far in negotiations with the Israelis as they and some Americans have wanted, he has still played a useful role as a buffer between Israel and the more radical Arab states. His pragmatic example has certainly contributed to the more realistic approach to Israel that Arafat has taken in recent years. While Jordan has divorced itself from the peace process for now, it is difficult to envision a settlement in which Amman does not receive a key role-if only to reassure Israel and the United States. Involving Jordan would be much more difficult if chaotic conditions prevail in the country or if the king were replaced by a less experienced and less cooperative leader.
The news out of Amman may, however, be irritating enough to cause Jordan's past supporters to reevaluate their interests. Judging from the last year or so, Jordan seems to be taking on a new identity that is more in tune with Palestinian and Arab nationalist thinking and far less pro-Western.
While this image may more accurately reflect the urbanized, relatively prosperous country that Jordan has become over the last two decades, one wonders whether it will be enough to carry it through the current crisis. Jordan, after all, depends on substantial external economic and political support. While some in Washington may appreciate the bind in which King Hussein finds himself, the U.S. Congress and the gulf states do not believe that Amman currently merits their support. Such ill feeling leaves Jordan vulnerable to economic disaster or even an attack by one of its neighbors. The question is whether King Hussein and those who would like to support him can find a way of reconciling their interests-through renewal of the peace process or otherwise-before a calamity occurs.
1 See articles by Lamis Andoni in Middle East International, April 28, 1989 and Nov. 17, 1989, and the Financial Times, Nov. 1, 1989.