on the World today
THE collapse of Jordan would mean a war. This is the compelling reason behind all of the current efforts to maintain its independent existence and prop up its economy. It is significant of a new phase in Arab affairs that most of these efforts Come from neighboring Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and that U.S. assistance is being consistently played down. Hussein’s uncertain leadership in his country would be hopelessly compromised if he should become the instrument of Western policy.
All of this was plain when the mere presence of the Richards mission in the Middle East precipitated the showdown in Jordan last April between the left-wing extremists led by Prime Minister Nabulsi, and the moderate nationalists led by the King. The extremist program called for consolidating Jordan administratively with Syria in the first stage of eventual federation with Egypt. Plans were well under way to remove Hussein and set up a republic which could then unite at once with Syria.
A good many technical steps had already been taken under Nabulsi’s regime. Customs and passports between the two states were abolished. Their two armies were put under the overall command of General Amer of Egypt. The curricula of their schools were under revision to bring them into conformity with those of Egypt. Jordan officials who might obstruct any of these changes were marked for purging. And the Nabulsi government proposed immediate establishment, of diplomatic relations with Moscow.
In another time and under a less reckless leadership Jordan and Syria might be peacefully merged to restore a measure of the unity which continues to be the goal of Arab nationalism. There are st rung natural ties of kinship and geography between Syria and Palestine. A horizontal structure of communications and sympathy has survived the vertical boundaries drawn by Britain and France in l920.
Arab colonels vs. Arab kings
But the arbitrary divisions set up then for the convenience of the mandate powers have permitted the consolidation of a set of “independent “ rulers with a natural desire to survive and hold their jobs. Of these the two young Hashemites, Feisal of Iraq and Hussein of Jordan, have now enlisted the active and crucial support of their former rival, Saud of Arabia. All three are determined to thwart the modern propensity of Arab colonels for liquidating Arab kings.
In the case of Jordan, royal liquidation might have been painfully easy. Premature obituaries for Hussein began, in fact, to emanate from Paris and Tel Aviv just before the Suez attacks last autumn. Another set of obituaries for his kingdom has been appearing ever since Britain’s General Glubb was dismissed as head of the Arab Legion.
It has been pointed out that Jordan in its original form as Transjordan was created by Britain simply as a protected back-road territory between Suez and the Persian Gulf. The published memoirs of British officials have recalled that this area east of the Jordan River was only set up as a state in order to reward Amir Abdullah for his loyal services to Britain during the Turkish revolt.
In the past year many foreign offices have had plans Ibr Jordan. The Egyptian and Syrian design would have fitted the ambitions of the political colonels. But it could not have been accomplished without the satisfaction of long-standing Saudi claims in the Maan and Aqaba region. Moreover king Saud felt that the safety of the transit lines which carry Arabian oil to the Mediterranean coast was seriously threatened when the Xabulsi government lined up with the pro-Soviet neutralists.
In the West a rash of suggestions for an overall regional approach to Jordan’s problems has appeared. In London and Washington there have been wistful proposals to undo some of the fragmentation of the twenties and treat the region “as a whole.” if some of the revenues from the oil countries were available to the Levant stales, and the risers of the Levant were shared all around, excess populations could be conveniently shifted, economies made viable oven in Jordan and Israel, and the whole Middle East made safe from Communism. So run the arguments for regional planning. A series of map exercises has been undertaken, of which the most conspicuous has been that for the Jordan River valley, devised without any reference whatever to existing political boundaries.
I hose boundaries, judged so necessary to Western prestige when they were drawn, are seen now to have been contrived without reference to the need of the inhabitants. But it is also coming to be understood that they cannot be altered again for the convenience of outside powers, and that any outside disturbance of the evolving polarization between moderate and extreme Arab nationalists may well bring disaster to the whole region.
It was a realization of this imminent possibility which stirred Lebanese and Saudi Arab diplomats to take the initiative and to communicate so urgently with Washington early this year. It was Sand who urged young King Hussein to come out openly against the danger of Communist influence in his country at the time Jordan was cutting its last ties with Britain. It was the common threat to their governments which drew Saud and the crown prince of Iraq together for meaningful talks in Washington. The process of realignment continued in the succeeding visits of Saud to Baghdad and Amman, where the old feud between his family and the Hashemites was finally terminated.
As an anxious West watches the Arab drama unfold. it becomes increasingly clear that the fundamentals of Arab nationalism have not been abandoned. Hussein restated them recently, ascribing the crisis in Jordan to past frustrations of legitimate Arab nationalism by Western suspicion and “complete disregard of Arab rights and aspirations.” This, he said, produced the bitterness expressed in extremism and lends itself to Communism.
Saud, during his visit, to Amman, was careful to issue no statements provocative to Egypt or Syria, even though his regime has been undermined by Egyptian subversion. Instead it is evident he aspires to continue his role of conciliator in the Arab family and hopes to reconcile even Iraq and Egypt. The Saudi emphasis in public has been on economic matters: getting water from and lifting trade restrictions with Iraq; assuring U.S. emergency funds for Jordan and laying the groundwork for further investment of Arab capital in Jordan; coordinating oil policies with Iraq and promoting Arab participation in shipping and pipelines.
Behind the scenes a more subtle form of economic warfare has been under way among the Arab stales. For example, Syrian funds frozen in Saudi Arab banks were not unfrozen until Syria reluctantly agreed to pull its troops out of Jordan late in the spring. The troops had come in as reinforcements against possible Israeli attacks. But lately they had shown an inclination to settle down, bringing in their families and assuming policing and intelligence functions alarming to Amman.
Saud has good reason to be concerned about Jordan’s economy. Now on a dole for 60 per cent of its support, Jordan is, like all of Palestine, poor in resources. Its chief asset is potash. Strenuous efforts are being made to build a potash plant for which plans have long been ready. A projected oil refinery is expected to attract capital from Arabia and Kuwait. Eventually some river development is essential. With no political agreement with Israel on water-sharing in sight, however, the best possibility is unilateral development of streams that, run in undisputed territory.
Jordan profits substantially from pipeline transit fees on the line running from Arabia to Sidon. It is proposed now to divert another line, which ran originally from Iraq to Haifa, to a now terminus in Lebanon. This line, out of use since the Arab boycott of Israel began, can be utilized to add some $6 million to Jordan’s income. It is part of the plan being pushed by Saudi Arabia for more all-Arab transit lines. This is the answer of the Arab moderates to the demands of the extremists that oil he used as the “Arabs’ atomic bomb” in the political world to bring the West to terms with Arab nationalism.
Even with generous emergency financing and a minimum of outside interference, Jordan’s crisis cannot be considered over. The left wing demonstrated its popular strength when it won the first free election last October by an overwhelming vote. By that time an undercover unit of Free Officers on the Egyptian model had already forced the ouster of General Glubb and started to assume control of the army. All seven political parties and most of the press were openly anti-Western. Pseudo Communism had become fashionable among the intelligentsia, including many teachers.
An ominous aspect of this trend is its popularity with students. The extremist Baath party, led by Syrian hotheads, is also strong in Jordan high schools. The Jordan branch of the Arab Students Congress has had to be suppressed in the interest of public order. Among the refugee population, of which half are under sixteen, a now and dangerous dead-end-kid psychology ensures the success of any government for agitation and disorder.
Against all these elements the forces which have rallied behind Hussein are moderate nationalists, some genuine neutralists, tribal chiefs and Bedouin elements in the army, large landowners and merchants who fear the reformist programs any local Nasserite government would initiate, and the Moslem Brotherhood, which emerged to put down student riots in Jerusalem during the height of the crisis.
None of these can be considered anything but anti-Western. The stabilization of the present regime has simply been a matter of backing the least xenophobic leadership available. Former Palestinians dominate the political scene in Jordan now, where, together with the restless refugee population, they outnumber the Jordanians by two to one.
U.S. action in backing King Hussein and enabling him to establish martial control over Jordan has helped to check the operations of the leftists both in Jordan and Syria and may encourage patriotic conservatives in Syria to reassert their considerable influence there. The sudden appearance of the Sixth Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean had a value in demonstrating U.S. acceptance of the Soviet challenge in the Middle East.
Quiet diplomatic assurances to Amman that Israel would not march during the crisis were more important than the fleet, from the Arab point of view. The prompt offer of $10 million emergency aid had to be made without strings, outside the Eisenhower Doctrine and without the offices of the Richards mission. This grant was followed by an additional $20 million $10 million for economic aid and $10 million for military equipment.
Jordan’s chances of survival
The best hope of the Hussein regime lies in the efforts of a small group of enlightened ministers whose educational background and experience in government have slumped them as eonslruclive moderates. These men are struggling to get the economic wheels running again. Immediate needs are being put first and red tape cut. Partially built roads are being pushed to completion and payrolls resumed. There is to be a fresh drive for industrialization.
In all of these efforts the most hopeful development has been the response of Iraq and Saudi Arabia with loans and subsidies. Iraq is advancing a loan of $4 million voted two years ago. Saudi Arabia has advanced $14 million its share of the subsidy promised under the so-called Arab Solidarity Agreement in January. Under this. Sand joined with Egypt and Syria to replace the funds previously provided by Britain to finance the Jordan army. Egypt’s share now appears to have had political sitings and will not be forthcoming. Syria has at tempted to square its obligation by submitting a bill to Jordan for occupation expenses for its troops in Jordan last winter.
Heroic economic measures are obviously in order if Jordan is to live. Even more difficult political decisions remain if the U.S. is to play a decisively constructive role in Jordan. These will involve primarily a real facing of the problem of the hall million Arab refugees who make up a third of Jordan’s population. Ten years of bitter idleness on the UN dole have only postponed the day of reckoning with these desperate people. Until their fate is decently resolved, no Arab government harboring them can feel safe, and no fundamental Arab rapprochement with a Western power will be possible.