Challenges facing Jordan: Does history repeat itself at the centennial?

His Majesty the late King Abdullah I seen in different archive photos (Photo: JNews)
It is broadly, albeit quietly, agreed that the events of the first week of April 2021 cast a long shadow across Jordan, shrouding in doubt the official plans to celebrate the Kingdom’s centennial. Nevertheless, these very events have inadvertently served as a portal into the past, inviting interrogation of a potential reenactment of the country’s Hashemite history.اضافة اعلان

A hundred years ago, by virtue of his diplomatic prowess and power, the Hashemite Prince Abdullah carved out the Emirate of Transjordan, ascended the Throne and emerged as King Abdullah I of Jordan. Among all his brothers, the many sons of the Sharif of Mecca, King Hussein bin Ali, Abdullah I demonstrated a willingness to initiate talks with Lt. Col. Sir Henry McMahon, British high commissioner to Egypt, furthering the foundation he had earlier laid in 1914 in partnership with the consul-general in Egypt, Lord Kitchner. At its heart, this foundation sought to establish and advance areas of mutual interest between the Arabs and the United Kingdom.

Conversely, Arab secret societies entrusted Abdullah’s brother Faisal with the “Damascus Protocol” which declared the Arab intention to ally with the United Kingdom in revolt against Ottoman rule in Syria with the promise of the recognition of Arab independence in the area spanning across the 37th parallel of southern Turkey bounded in the east by Persia and the Arabian Gulf in the west by the Mediterranean Sea and in the south by the Arabian Sea.(1)

Over the course of this tumultuous period, Abdullah I fortuitously learned of and successfully quelled a series of potentially disruptive events that occurred in quick succession. First was the outright expression of hostility by the appointment of the brash Ottoman Albanian Col. Vehib Pasha to govern Hijaz even as works on the critical railway line drew to a close. Secondly, the revelation of an Ottoman plot to overthrow his father the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca. This assault resulted in an expedited correspondence with High Commissioner McMahon which entailed detailed discussions about the boundaries of the future Arab kingdom and strategies to surmount the Ottomans.

This seemingly cordial diplomatic relationship notwithstanding, the publishing of the secret Sykes- Picot Agreement uncovered devious and Byzantine machinations devised by McMahon and his superiors. Additionally, the disclosure of Balfour Declaration exposed the British intention to hand Palestine to the Zionists. King Hussein bin Ali loudly protested against these mandates as they wantonly annexed his provinces. In 1920, a Pan-Syrian Congress declared Syria an independent state and installed Prince Faisal as its King. This development stemmed directly from the realization that the British and French had once again undertaken to mislead the Arabs by the Anglo-French declaration which deceitfully sought to quiet the rightful demand of the Syrian Party of Unity and the Hashemites for ultimate independence. In retaliation to this bold act the Allied Supreme Council convened in San Remo and granted Britain mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia and France the mandates of Syria and Lebanon. The Battle of Maysalun in June 1920 consolidated French military rule and overthrew the Arab government by exiling King Faisal from Damascus in August 1920. 

The genesis of Jordan

Witness to the oppression and extortion by the Ottomans, the deceit of the British and the defeat by the French, Abdullah I didn’t give up the aspiration of an independent Arab state. He traveled with his men to Ma’an announcing to the Jordanian tribes his intention to reinstate Hashemite rule in Syria and to expel the French invaders. The British decided to refrain from militarily attacking Abdullah’s advance in Transjordan, instead they succeeded to discourage local governors, Rufaifan Majali of Karak and Mazhar Raslan of Salt, among others(2) from rallying with other Syrian notables, Transjordanian merchants, and tribal chiefs behind the prince. Abdullah I’s army’s advance nonetheless continued via Karak and he arrived in Amman on March 2, 1921, occupying most of Jordan as we know it today, without resistance, compelling the British to conclude that he legitimately assumed the role of the local sporadic governments they supported and has unreservedly been declared the ruler of the country.

Abdullah I’s pragmatism led him to meet in Cairo with Winston Churchill, the newly appointed colonial secretary, a self-declared sympathizer of Zionism who imperceptibly wanted to tidy — in the British public eye — the mess caused by the dishonest correspondence of his predecessors’ in the Middle East and to remedy the failed promises to Sharif Hussein. In the Cairo Conference, Abdullah I argued for the unity of Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq; opposed the Zionist immigration into Palestine; and demonstrated his alacrity to advance further north to regain Damascus. However, it was time that he realized that his few 2,000-strong campaign was facing the victorious super powers of the new order of the world; France in the north that brutally and in few hours wiped out the Arab Syrian Kingdom, and to the west the Zionist-biased British mandate led by Herbert Samuel who had secret plans to annex Transjordan under the Balfour declaration. That was an inflection point in the Hashemite’s history, the moment Abdullah I realized that he needed to wisely halt his advance and establish a united Arab front in Jordan in which a well-equipped army can emerge as the last hope to save Damascus and Jerusalem in a future independent kingdom with Mecca being its strategic depth. But it wasn’t long before Abdullah realized that he was due to pay a heavy price for his father King Hussein’s honorable stance, who had refused to ratify the Versailles and Sèvres treaties and declined to “affix his name to a document assigning Palestine to the Zionists and Syria to foreigners.”(3) The British, growing impatient, decided to support the Central-Arabian Saud clan to conquer Hussein’s Hijaz Kingdom and Abdullah I had to rally Jordanians to defend Transjordan independence against the 1922–1930 Wahhabi Ikhwan Movement’s territorial-expansion and sabotaging campaigns.(4) 

A quarter of a century later, with honorable Jordanians and Arabs raising the ensigns of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Abdullah I would deploy Jordan’s well-trained Arab Legion to save Jerusalem from the occupation in 1948.

As Jordan commemorates its centennial anniversary, one can’t help but notice that His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein is experiencing a repeat of history. The names of the superpowers and their proxies have changed, but not their supremacy and expansion tendencies, not the deceitful means of politics and not Jordan’s hostile surroundings. 

In his letter to Jordanians this April, King Abdullah II described our countrymen’s ability to face challenges and triumph over them, defeating all those who conspire to undermine our homeland and he highlighted the sacrifices and the high price that Jordanians continue to pay for refusing to compromise their patriotic creed which was established by their ancestors for the sake of Jordanians, the nation, Palestine, and Jerusalem. Abdullah II’s words in 2021 echo those of Abdullah I, when he addressed Jordanians in Amman back in 1921 and said: “We are yours and you are ours, … and I tell you that if the time comes to use the power that nations use, then, you will prove that you have not been found weak, but do not die without honor.”

Does the King find himself in the same shoes as his great grandfather, where he intermingles diplomacy and resolve to preclude a foreign-incited local upheaval while striving to counter international conspiracies to ratify secretive treaties and shameful deals that target his guardianship of the holy sites in Jerusalem and his commitment to the aspiration of an independent state for the Palestinians? What methods are the superpowers or their proxies using to trigger turmoil that exploits the economic hardship of Jordanians? Is our backyard as a nation and as a monarchy fully protected or is Abdullah II tolerating an unobtrusive backstabbing similar to that Sharif Hussein suffered from? What form of divestment and subsidiary withholding is Jordan facing as a mean to exert pressure on Jordanians, and by whom, for how long, and to what end specifically?

There is no better form of celebration of this centenary than one in which Jordanians appreciate a lesson from their own history: Independence isn’t a given, it must be fought for continuously with passion and blood. Pragmatism and diplomacy used against powerful foes can be a useful tactic but never at the expense of patriotic principles. Jordanians must remain united as a society and advance as a producing economy to maintain their state’s sovereignty. A strong and unified Jordan is destined to sacrifice and pay a heavy price for the sake of Jerusalem and Palestine. We can rally to mend any breach in the castle wall to remain strong and emerge triumphant into the next centennial.

(1) Paris, Timothy J. in his 2003 publication, Britain, the Hashemites, and Arab Rule, 1920-1925: The Sherifian Solution.

(2) Paris, Timothy J. in his 2003 publication, Britain, the Hashemites, and Arab Rule, 1920-1925: The Sherifian Solution.

(3) Suleiman Mousa, A Matter of Principle: King Hussein of the Hijaz and the Arabs of Palestine.

(4) Sahar Huneidi (2001). A Broken Trust: Sir Herbert Samuel, Zionism and the Palestinians.

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