“Jordan is an artificial state with no future,” then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion declared shortly before the 1956 Suez Canal War. His assessment was echoed by Western intelligence agencies. However, despite periodic claims of Jordan’s instability and concerns about its collapse, the kingdom has not only survived, on April 11 it marked its centenary and is considered one of the most stable states in the Middle East.
Jordan’s 1921 founding under Abdullah was a result of the political alliance forged on the eve of World War I between the Hashemite family of Hejaz (now part of Saudi Arabia) and representatives of the British Empire. In 1916, the Hashemite family led the Arab Rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in return for a British promise to establish an Arab state in the Middle East.
While the rebellion was not overly successful, Britain rewarded the Hashemite family handsomely: Abdullah was named ruler of Transjordan while his younger brother Faisal was named King of Iraq, which he ruled until his death in 1933. Thus, Britain established two artificial territorial entities ruled by non-native monarchs.
The “Hashemite arrangement,” as many dubbed it, was a convenient and relatively inexpensive way for the British to rule the region through Arab allies. The British alliance with Abdullah lasted throughout his 30-year reign, during which not only was Transjordan established and severed from Palestine in 1922, becoming a separate political entity, but it became a distinctly pro-British state to the extent that some called it a British protectorate for all intents and purposes.
Abdullah developed the state and its institutions, but above all sought to expand its borders to include both banks of the Jordan River. During Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, he took control of east Jerusalem and the West Bank, annexing them to Jordan in April 1950. However, his political ambitions cost him his life; in July 1951, King Abdullah was shot dead at al-Aqsa Mosque by a Palestinian assassin.
Abdullah was succeeded by his grandson Hussein (following a brief transition under his father, Talal, who was forced to abdicate due to his mental state). Jordan’s close links to the West enabled Hussein to deal effectively with domestic and external subversion. The public and clandestine aid Jordan received, from Israel too, thwarted coup attempts and exposed plots to unseat Hussein.
Throughout his 46-year reign, King Hussein guarded the kingdom’s stability against all odds. He prevented the entrenchment of the PLO, expelling it from Jordan in a violent 1970 clash (known as “Black September”) with Israeli and American help. He nurtured relations with the US and the West and clandestine ties with Israel, which evolved into a landmark 1994 peace agreement following the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.
JORDAN HAS hosted refugees from the region throughout its history; initially Palestinian, then Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese and others. Western estimates put the number over the past decade at 1.5 million, a world record in terms of population ratio.
Many migrant workers also arrived in the kingdom from Egypt, Morocco, India and the Philippines, but despite the demographic shifts and rapid population growth (that brought the Palestinians down to 50% of the population), Jordan’s political stability remained intact. Contrary to pervasive past opinion, the Palestinians are integrated into the economy and do not pose a threat to the regime’s stability.
The question of Jordan’s survivability remains intriguing, especially given its stability even as other Arab states, such as Syria, Egypt and Iraq, were undergoing military coups and revolutions. In addition to the foreign military and economic aid it receives, the religious legitimacy of the Hashemites is a decisive factor in the regime’s survivability, stemming as it does from their ancestry as descendants of the Prophet Mohammed. These roots also explain Jordan’s role in Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif in accordance with the peace agreement with Israel. Severing Jordan’s link with Jerusalem could undoubtedly undermine the kingdom’s stability.
The Hashemite family’s historic role in raising the flag of Arab nationalism during World War I is also significant. In fact, the family’s role in Arab nationalism is the overriding historic narrative of the Kingdom, annually studied and celebrated in Jordan.
One hundred years on, and especially following the Arab Spring, Jordan is doing well compared to other Arab states. Indeed, according to international indexes, it is currently more stable and secure than most of its neighbors in the Middle East. It is relatively liberal and free; its residents enjoy more rights than those of other Arab states. Only one person was killed in the kingdom during the Arab Spring protests, attesting to the restraint of security forces.
Ethnic and religious minorities are also highly integrated in politics and business life, and Jordan is ranked relatively low on the global corruption index compared to most states in the region.
News of Prince Hamzah’s detention and of alleged coup plans against King Abdullah II have overshadowed the centennial celebrations, conveying a sense of fragility, but a sober historic perspective upholds the validity of the centenary logo, “100 years to the Jordanian state… the march continues.”
However, the Hashemites will have to keep heeding public opinion and remain vigilant to external threats. Jordan’s continued stability under the Hashemites is of paramount importance to Israel, which often seems insufficiently committed to preserving this alliance.
**The article was published by The Jerusalem Post, 21 April 2021