There is far more support among the Jordanian Palestinians to have Jordan become a Palestinian state than the NYT admits, Mudar Zahran is keeping me informed. The king is not about to give all Palestinians a full vote because they would take over. He and the MB and Hamas and the Bedouins are against this. Ted Belman
By STEPHEN FARRELL, NYT
KARAK, Jordan — Beneath a statue of a glowering Saladin, the medieval Islamic warrior, a crowd unfurled banners and began chanting protests against the country’s leadership in its palaces and government offices far below the precipices of this ancient fortress town.
Jordan’s Hashemite monarch, King Abdullah II, who turned 50 last month, has had to become accustomed to such scenes as he celebrates the 13th anniversary of his rule.
“We want social justice,” the crowd chanted after Friday Prayers on Jan. 27, reading from a handwritten list of political, economic and social grievances. “Real elections,” they shouted. “I’m a citizen, not a beggar.”
Such public criticism of Jordan’s nearly century-old monarchy would have been unthinkable just a year ago among these tribesmen of the heartland.
The king’s opponents among urban liberals and Islamist fundamentalists have long called for change in the country’s political and economic systems. But the protesters here are part of the monarchy’s main popular base, the tribes outside of the cities.
No one appeared scared, or deterred, as the secret police recorded the protesters, who belong to the same families from which the nation’s security officers have long been recruited.
When the Arab Spring began, Jordan initially appeared vulnerable to the protests that were roiling other nations and toppling their long-serving dictators. With none of the resources of its wealthy neighbors on the Persian Gulf, Jordan struggles with rising energy costs, a water shortage, social strains and an official unemployment rate of around 12 percent — with unofficial estimates of at least double that.
But Jordan is also small, with only about 6.5 million people, and its king has managed to avoid the kind of turmoil that has upended other Arab countries by granting modest concessions like dismissing government ministers and preserving popular subsidies and by employing the security forces. Those forces have proved efficient in suppressing domestic and external challenges, and human rights groups have accused them of restricting freedoms of expression and assembly.
The king also has tried to appease public anger over corruption. On Thursday, the official news agency Petra announced that the authorities had detained a former chief of the intelligence service, Mohammad al-Dahabi, in connection with a continuing graft investigation. Other prominent officials and businessmen also are facing investigation.
The protest in Karak was not intended to topple a monarchy, and at most, 150 protesters had gathered. Unlike in Cairo or Tunis, the demonstrators here called for overhauling the system, not bringing it down.
“Until this moment, we believe all the authority in the country is with the king and the people have no will,” said Ali Dala’in, a former member of Parliament who was in the crowd. “Our main purpose is to return authority to the people and to have a monarchy similar to that in Britain, a constitutional monarchy.”
With Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite tension to its east and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the western border, Jordan is situated precariously — or, as King Abdullah likes to say, “Between Iraq and a hard place.” There are also tensions between East Bankers, the country’s original residents, who take their name from the nation’s location along the River Jordan, and the millions of Palestinians who have arrived in successive waves and are now a majority of the population.
Analysts say that several factors unique to Jordan have contributed to its stability, including the king’s promises of democratic reforms, which have led some critics to wait to see if Abdullah will actually deliver.
In a speech in the capital, Amman, last week, reported by Petra, the king outlined the goals of what he described as “self-transformation and progressive reform”: fair parliamentary elections, a law guaranteeing the broadest representation, a Parliament based on political parties and governments drawn from that Parliament.
But fear is also one of the main reasons that Jordan has remained calm, analysts said. The bloodshed in Syria dominates the television coverage here, where many families share tribal bonds with Syrians.
“It doesn’t suit any party in Jordan — East Bankers, West Bankers, right-wingers, left-wingers, anybody — to have the regime fall,” said Samer Tawil, a former economics minister. “Especially with what we have seen in our neighborhood as a result of the chaos that started with the Iraq war and that continued with the Arab Spring.”
Mr. Tawil also identified another factor unique to Jordan: the deep-seated fear among both East Bankers and Jordanian Palestinians that if Jordan disintegrates outsiders may try to turn it into a Palestinian state.
Maintaining the delicate balance between the East Bankers and those Palestinians is a matter of utmost importance to many Jordanians, and anything perceived to be a threat to that balance draws strong reaction across the political spectrum.
So aware are Palestinians of the delicacy of the issue that when Hamas’s leader, Khaled Meshal, recently visited Jordan, he reassured his hosts that Hamas “completely rejects” the notion of an alternative homeland. Yet discontent often simmers just beneath the surface, whether among the tribes or among teenagers in Madaba, just 15 miles south of the capital. Last month, Udai Abu Issa, 18, climbed atop a government building and set fire to a portrait of Abdullah. The teenager was swiftly sentenced to two years in jail.
Sitting in their cold, run-down house — where the peeling paint hangs from the ceiling — the teenager’s relatives conceded that he had crossed a “red line.” But his mother, Thawra, said his gesture was an “expression of his internal anger” and vented her own frustrations that recent pay cuts had left her husband barely able to support the family on his salary of $420 a month as a hospital accountant.
“People should be asking why the picture was burned,” she said. “There is anger, and the way to keep this anger at bay is reform.”
Ranya Kadri contributed reporting from Karak, Amman and Madaba, Jordan.