The Atlantic magazine’s recent profile of Jordan’s King Abdullah has embarrassed the royal court and unleashed a wave of criticism against the monarchy. Despite the embarrassment, Abdullah remains confident that his throne will not be undermined even if the eastern tribal leaders—the backbone of his regime and whom he referred to as “old dinosaurs” in the interview—were insulted.
As soon as Jordanians got access to the Arabic translation of the article, the royal court issued a statement that the article, written by Jeffrey Goldberg, contained “many fallacies and took matters out of their correct context” and that the remarks in the interview were reproduced “in an inaccurate and untrustworthy manner.”
Information Minister Samih Maaytah, who is famed for denying Western media reports on Jordan, appeared on the eight o’clock news last week. He struggled tirelessly to soften the impact of the king’s remarks.
The measures did little to placate the public, in whom resentment is already running high over widespread corruption, eroding living standards and discontent over the slow pace of political reforms. Angry Jordanians rushed to the royal court, chanting, “We are not dinosaurs,” while protesters criticized the king on Friday for “cursing the tribes.” Members of the Muslim Brotherhood held their own rally and demanded that the king apologize for calling their group a “Masonic cult.”
On Sunday night, a few hundred protesters, some with dinosaur toys, insisted they would continue with their peaceful demonstrations despite the heavy presence of security forces who cordoned off the area and watched loyalists attack protestors with stones during the night. In a statement, a protest group even said the king is not fit to rule.
Although they are highly visible, it remains possible that these tensions may have caused little real discomfort for Jordan’s rulers, who have so far managed to weather the storm that has rocked neighboring countries. Obama’s visit last week was yet another boost for the fifty-one-year old monarch, following the January parliamentary elections. Those elections were touted as a success despite a boycott by the main opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other protest movements.
While the US has arguably lost other key allies in the region in the wake of the Arab Spring, Jordan remains an ally it can rely on. This is especially true after the regional uprisings, which have bolstered King Abdullah’s role internationally. The violence raging across the country’s northern border, the subsequent influx of more than 400,000 Syrian refugees into the country, and the rise of Islamists in Egypt have added to the feeling of uncertainty in this nation of 6.5 million.
It has also created unease in Washington, which found itself having to deal with unfriendly regimes in the wake of the Arab Spring. Amman’s role remains indispensable, especially as the war continues to rage in Syria. Already, Obama has pledged USD 200 million to help cash-strapped Jordan with the Syrian refugees, in addition to providing loan guarantees to help the economy. In turn, Jordan is backing US support for the opposition and its training of Syrian rebels, while small and intermittent shipments of weapons have crossed the border into Syria.
If a probe looking into the use of chemical weapons in Syria reveals evidence that they have been used, then Jordanian cooperation will be more valuable than ever. Reports suggest that many of Syria’s chemical weapons depots are close to the border Syria shares with Jordan and Israel.
However, the future remains uncertain, with mixed signs on the road ahead. Though Amman may have put all its eggs in one basket—the West—Obama’s praise of the political reforms King Abdullah has embarked on lends credibility to the political process if taken at face value.
Jordan’s rulers will eventually have to face the difficult times ahead. It still has to contend with an ailing economy, rising public mistrust among traditional supporters and the spillover from Syria. Recent history suggests that the US will adapt to the new realities, rather than try to hold back the tide.