Jordan's King Abdullah Caught Between War and Opposition
Apr 03, 2003


Jordan's King Abdullah II is maneuvering to satisfy an anti-war opposition and mollify an anti-war public. However, the king risks giving the opposition leverage to gain greater political power.


Under intense internal pressure, Jordan's King Abdullah II shifted his public stance on the U.S.-Iraq war on April 3, quoted in local papers as saying, "The Jordanian people -- and I am one of them -- strongly condemn the killing of children and women, and we feel pain and sorrow as we see on our television screens the growing number of martyrs from Iraqi innocent civilians."

Abdullah until now has refrained from using the word "martyr" or from labeling the U.S. war campaign in Iraq an "invasion." But internal pressure has been mounting. Abdullah's statements followed a petition from 99 senior Jordanian politicians and opposition leaders calling for the king to publicly condemn the U.S. war in Iraq. Abdullah is trying to balance public opposition to the war with a strategic alliance with the United States, but his concession is unlikely to satisfy opponents and will instead embolden further criticisms of the regime in Amman.

Jordan allied with Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War and was rewarded, in part, by generous oil supply deals. The country's large Palestinian population -- which accounts for at least half of its 4.9 million people -- staunchly supports Iraqi President Saddam Hussein because of his anti-Israel stance.

But Amman has chosen Washington's side in this war, and Abdullah has said Jordan would not "back the wrong horse." The king's unpopular decision is widening the rift between the government and the people. Opposition parties such as the Islamic Acton Front, the political wing of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian professional organizations, as well as dissident Jordanian politicians, are now trying to exploit that rift to increase their own popular support.

They hope to force the government into a power-sharing agreement. New parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 17. Parliament has little power, especially over national security or foreign affairs. But opposition groups now will try to translate mounting opposition to the monarchy into political concessions from the king.