Jordanian antiwar protesters shake up kingdom
The Jerusalem Post
31 March 2003
By the standards of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Friday's bitter anti-American and anti-Jewish demonstration in the Wehdat Palestinian refugee district in Amman was a mere whimper.
However, the Jordanian government is increasingly anxious that this demonstration and others like it across the country mask anti-government undertones that could boil over and upsetting the delicate balance of this desert kingdom.
Two Palestinian Jordanians were killed and 150 protesters were arrested in demonstrations last week.
Much of this popular support stems from Jordanians' disapproval of their government's assistance to the US, a senior military source told The Jerusalem Post Saturday. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the US has posted thousands of troops in Jordan, using the kingdom as a springboard for Special Forces operations into western Iraq.
The crowd in Wehdat anointed Iraq's tyrant Saddam Hussein their new Salah a-Din, the man to lead them from poverty to wealth, who will "liberate" all of Palestine from the Jews. "With our blood and with our souls we will save Iraq, we are going to redeem Iraq" chanted some 500 protesters snaking through the refugee sectors' alleyways.
One youth who called himself Wael explained the purpose of the demonstration. "We are marching to the American Embassy to destroy it. One day we will go all the way to Palestine to liberate it." His friends, Palestinian headbands wrapped around their heads, nodded their assent.
But the demonstrators never made it across the street. A wall of Jordanian
police, aided by snipers on rooftops and Mukhabarat secret police milling through
the crowd, ensured that the youth "kept the king out of it," as Wael
"Yes, this growing anger is troubling. The people get angrier with each day of the war," the military source said. However, he added, "The Mukhabarat, the police, and the army are strong enough to keep Jordan stable for now."
Amman's claustrophobic Wehdat refugee sector is a cauldron of volatility. The facts are disturbing: According to unofficial statistics the sector's population has mushroomed from 63,000 in 1967 to 250,000 today, of which 51% are under the age of 15.
In the destitute eastern section of Amman a full 70% of the 1.25 million residents live under the poverty line, earning less than $100 per month. Over 75% of them are of Palestinian descent, many of them refugees.
While Jordan granted citizenship to Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war,
the 900,000 descendants who arrived following the 1967 Six Day War remain refugees
with no official status.
The iron hand often used by Jordanian police is softened by occasional diplomacy. A smiling brigadier general gently urged about 30 youths to quit while they still could. Cowering in an alley, they begrudgingly complied. Behind the general stood 20 more officers in full riot gear.
"George Bush is against the Arabs, George Bush is against Islam. He is
coming here to destroy Iraq, to destroy Islam as a religion and he will help
the Jewish take our land, that is why we are here," ranted a 30-year-old
man named Walid.
Asked whether he supports the government's patently neutral line, the devout Muslim vowed,
"Something is going to happen, things are going to change here." King Abdullah's grip over this polyglot country, which includes Hashemite Beduins, Palestinians, Shi'ites, Circassians, Chechnyans, and assorted other nationals, is said by some to be tenuous.
"I think there has been a general feeling against this war, but what happened as of Saturday was a shift towards Iraq. People now are more supportive of Iraq and more supportive of Saddam," Prof. Mustafa Harmeneh of the University of Jordan said last week.
The military source added, "Saddam Hussein is much more popular today, is much more credible than he was even two months ago. Also, whatever small resistance is a source of pride for Arab public opinion."
The late King Hussein, who died almost four years ago, continues to cast a shadow over his son, King Abdullah. The two woven tapestries that greet travelers at the Allenby Bridge Crossing arrivals hall attest to Abdullah's predicament: his image is appreciably smaller than that of his father.
Islamic fundamentalism knows no boundaries in this place, economic or social. Three thousand demonstrators flocked to the swank Rabia neighborhood, known for its fertile soil and million-dollar mansions built by wealthy Palestinian expatriates.
"The Jews are not going to stop, they have no limits, they are going to control our religion, our land; this is our jihadic responsibility. We have to fight the Jews wherever we find them," stated a muezzin.
The dozens of officers guarding the mosque looked on, impassive.
They had hoped to march on the Israeli Embassy, within easy earshot of the mosque's bullhorn. But police barricades sliced the neighborhood into 100-meter sections waiting, truncheons in hand, for the demonstrators.
There, as in Wehdat, protesters knew enough to keep their distance. In Ma'an in the south, police used tear gas Friday to disperse 2000 demonstrators.
Back in Wehdat many of the slogans became garbled, but the mob managed to chant one in resounding unison: "F--k you Bush." The demonstration's leader bobbed up and down on comrades' shoulders. Each time he sank back to the flowing crowd, it became disoriented.