Jordan Table of Contents
Violence and political murder were hallmarks of the early years of the Hashimite (also seen as Hashemite) Kingdom. Hussein was present and was himself a target when his grandfather, King Abdullah ibn Hussein Al Hashimi, was shot to death in Jerusalem in 1951. Two prime ministers were murdered, one in 1960 and the other in 1971. As of 1989, Hussein had survived at least nine attempted assassinations that could be documented; numerous other plots had been rumored but denied by the Jordanian authorities. The monarchy was beset by attempts at subversion, conspiracy, and assassination and by smoldering tensions in many parts of the society. The principal sources of these threats to overthrow or discredit Hashimite rule were Arab militants openly hostile to the king's position as a pro-Western moderate in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hussein's pragmatic change of attitude in the late 1970s, when he joined other Arab states in rejecting the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, ended his estrangement and diminished Arab hostility to his regime. Since that time, the internal security risk has assumed two forms--leftist, anti-Hashimite factions of the PLO and extremist groups associated with the Islamic revival. Most of these movements were small and scattered and, as of 1989, appeared to be effectively controlled and contained by the efficient Jordanian security apparatus (see General Intelligence Department , this ch.).
Military support was so integral to the monarchy that the stability of the regime was assumed to be in no danger unless the armed forces themselves were to be subverted. Although episodes of discontent over conditions of service had occurred from time to time, the bedouin-dominated army as a whole was one of the most stable institutions in the kingdom. The only open insurrection in the army occurred early in Hussein's reign, in 1957, when a group calling itself the Free Officers (possibly in imitation of the Egyptian 1952 movement by that name) attempted to wrest the throne from the king. The loyalty of most officers and enlisted personnel, together with Hussein's own decisive action, defeated the plot and ushered in much stricter security precautions (see Hussein's Early Reign , ch. 1). The last known conspiracy to involve military personnel occurred in 1972 when 300 army and civilian personnel were arrested after Palestinian militants bribed the acting commander of an armored car unit to stage a coup d'état.
The Islamic revival was growing in strength in Jordan as in other Arab countries but, as a security problem, appeared to be under control as of 1989. The Muslim Brotherhood, the most important of the politico-religious movements, had appeared in Jordan as early as 1946. It was officially recognized by the government and had rights of expression denied to other groups. It was believed to have many thousands of members as of 1988, enjoying the support of perhaps 10 percent of the population. The Muslim Brotherhood had gained a foothold in certain government ministries and was also believed to have insinuated itself into the police and intelligence organizations. Proselytizing had occurred in the armed forces. Although hitherto not a source of antigovernment protests and disturbances (as in Egypt and elsewhere), the Muslim Brotherhood had adopted an increasingly activist and critical tone in its pronouncements by the mid-1980s. Other, more militant, Islamic groups remained small and fragmented. Jordanians were uncertain of the potential danger of the Islamic movement to the stability of the monarchy and whether its adherents might make a bid for power should the regime falter.
In late 1985, the government cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood as a warning against its growing stridency and political involvement. The action was also linked to Hussein's efforts to normalize relations with Syria. Syrian members of the Muslim Brotherhood who had been forced to flee to camps in Jordan were accused by the king of subversion aimed against the Damascus government. They were rounded up and extradited to Syria. A new law enacted in the same year prohibited political incitement and accusations by imams and speakers in the mosques. The Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs was designated to review Friday sermons and religious education in the mosques.
Since Jordan's population adhered overwhelmingly to the mainstream Sunni (see Glossary) form of Islam, the militancy of the Shia (see Glossary) branch emanating from Iran had made no inroads. Unlike most neighboring Arab countries, Jordan had no significant minority groups that were perceived as problems for the security forces. The 25,000 Circassians, whose forebears had migrated from the Caucasus region of southern Russia, were Sunni Muslims and traditionally loyal supporters of the monarchy (see Ethnicity and Language , ch. 2). Many Circassians served in the higher ranks of the military or were engaged in security work.
Student activism was carefully controlled through restrictions on political organizations, demonstrations, and meetings. At the two major institutions of higher learning, the University of Jordan in Amman and Yarmuk University in Irbid, the student groups were segmented into small organizations, generally associated with some form of Islamic fundamentalism. Student protest rallies occurred at Yarmuk University in 1986, a few days after the United States bombing of installations in Libya. The students rallied against rising tuition costs, dismissals for low grades, and King Hussein's relationship with the United States. The protests were put down violently by government forces, with a number of student deaths and many injuries.
Concerned over the possible ideological indoctrination of the several thousand Jordanian students attending universities in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen), the government followed a policy of strict passport controls and withdrawal of passports from students believed to have questionable contacts abroad.
In April 1989, young people in several southern towns rioted for five days over the sharp price rises on gasoline, cigarettes, and other consumer goods attendant upon certain economic measures agreed to between Jordan and the International Monetary Fund (see Glossary). The demonstrations were aimed at the prime minister and the cabinet but there was apprehension that the resulting political disequilibrium could escalate into attacks on the monarchy itself. The Palestinian population did not join the protesters, who consisted primarily of bedouins (normally considered the base of the king's support). Observers claimed that Islamic fundamentalists exerted some influence over the young demonstrators.
Various small underground groups that formed the core of leftist opposition to the Hashimite regime were carefully watched by the security services. They included the Soviet-oriented Communist Party of Jordan (Al Hizb ash Shuyui al Urduni) and the Jordanian Baath Party (Arab Socialist Resurrection Party), linked to the socialist movement of Syria. These movements in turn backed other groups that opposed Jordan's association with the West and with the United States, and called for closer relations with Syria and other Arab leftist elements. In addition to supporting some of these groups, Syria had been linked to a number of assassination attempts on Jordanian diplomats abroad, rocket attacks on Jordanian airliners, and grenade and bomb attacks within Jordan between 1983 and 1985. The attacks by Black September, Abu Nidal, or other terrorist groups under Syrian control apparently were calculated to intimidate Jordan into abandoning its Middle East peace initiatives, which ran contrary to Syria's policies. Although the attacks ceased as relations with Syria improved in 1985, the government remained alert to the danger of renewed destabilizing attempts by radical Arab groups.
The Communist Party of Jordan, led by General Secretary Yaqub Zayadin, had been illegal since 1957, although the organization enjoyed periods of toleration by the regime, interspersed with periods of repression. A tightly organized network of small cells, its membership was believed to be about 500, but through the party's organ it published steady attacks on the government's Middle East policies and restrictions on civil rights. In an effort to fix blame for the 1986 riots at Yarmuk University, the government arrested the entire seventeen-member politburo. They were released several months later, but the party remained banned. During the April 1989 protests against the government's price increases for many consumer goods, 120 members of the Communist Party were detained after circulating leaflets calling for general strikes.
Data as of December 1989
Jordan Table of Contents