Jordan Table of Contents
Among the various social, economic, and political institutions affecting Jordanian national life, none--with the exceptions of the monarchy itself and the Muslim religion--has been more pervasive than the presence and power of the armed forces. This condition has persisted since the formation of the first military units early in the country's political evolution. Soon after becoming king in 1953, Hussein remarked that "everywhere I go in Jordan I find the Arab Legion doing everything." Throughout Hussein's reign, the armed forces have been an indispensable instrument for the protection of the monarchy. The government has periodically turned to the army to prevent internal disruption and to maintain law and order. The loyalty of the army during periods of stress has permitted the king latitude in the conduct of foreign policy by offsetting domestic constraints on his actions.
The king spent eight months at the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst at age sixteen, soon after ascending the throne. He continued to take a close interest in military affairs, cultivating the armed forces and identifying himself with the performance of their national security mission. A number of foreign observers and knowledgeable Jordanians have testified that Hussein was seldom as relaxed or as filled with confidence as when he visited his military units, attired in suitable uniform. Hussein made frequent visits to army units where he knew many of the officers by name. Even privates felt they might approach the king directly, often tugging at his sleeve for attention. The empathy that existed between him and his troops was enhanced by his fascination for modern weapons, such as jet aircraft, tanks, self-propelled artillery, and missiles. The king was a qualified pilot who often personally tested new planes. He made the final decision on equipment acquisitions and other matters affecting the modernization of the military establishment.
Since the 1957 coup attempt, the armed forces have conducted themselves in a professional manner, accepting their subordination to civil legal authority. No officer caste has developed with ambitions to interfere with or dominate the government, although the king has called upon trusted individual officers to serve in important civilian posts. The continued acceptance by the military of Hussein's political and religious legitimacy has been a foundation stone of national stability. Authorities on Jordanian politics believed that, in the event of the king's death, the army would act to guarantee the legitimate Hashimite succession (see The King , ch. 4).
The consensual relationship between the state and the army was cemented by the privileges and economic benefits accruing to the career military. This situation was particularly true for the bedouin constituency, which felt a special affinity to the throne. Its powers and privileges were unlikely to survive if the monarchy were replaced by a Palestinian-controlled government. Even soldiers of Palestinian origin perceived a greater certainty of their status under Hussein than under any regime that might replace his. During the civil war in 1970 and 1971, units staffed exclusively with Palestinians showed no hesitancy in mounting assaults on the Palestinian guerrillas.
Key officers and senior NCOs continued to be disproportionately of bedouin background in the mid- to late 1980s. A considerable number of Palestinian officers had always been present, although they were more heavily represented in the technical units such as signals and engineering, and they did not often rise above battalion-level command in the main combat units. The social composition was changing, however, as a higher proportion of recruits originated from nontribal sectors. Younger personnel, although better educated and more cosmopolitan, were less imbued with the zealous loyalty of the past. As the army modernized and became more professional, the tribal basis of support for the king was a diminishing factor. Nevertheless, the army had become a valuable adjunct to Hussein's efforts to foster a sense of national character and patriotism. As changes in structure took place both within the military and in civilian society, it was difficult to foresee how these would ultimately affect the intimate relationship between the king and his soldiers. Observers predicted, however, that the political reliability of the Jordan Arab Army would remain intact through the 1990s.
In addition to their basic security role, the armed forces have participated in a variety of civic action programs designed to benefit the country's development efforts--projects that at the same time have enhanced the public image of the military. Public services by the armed forces have included such major items as bridge and road construction and disaster relief, organized campaigns against locust infestation, and such lesser actions as repair of wells and rescue of people lost or stranded in the country's vast desert region.
Technical skills learned in the service eased the transition to civilian life. Persons with army or air force training in mechanics, electronics, or engineering were looked upon as technically proficient, disciplined additions to the civilian work force. The military was, moreover, a channel for upward mobility. It was one of the few institutions in the country that provided a means for those from the lower strata of society to embark on a respected career and earn a measure of personal prestige.
Data as of December 1989
Jordan Table of Contents