Jordan, stuck in the middle

Article published on Nov. 17, 2005
community published
Article published on Nov. 17, 2005

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

A week ago, Amman awoke to scenes well known to London and Madrid. The local press has treated the bombings as an isolated incident in a country that is sandwiched between two ongoing wars. But perhaps there is more to it than that.

Loss always results in sadness and emptiness. Candles are lit to illuminate the void so that people will not forget. “We must tell others about the reality of what we have experienced,” said Jordanian Prince Al Hassan Bin Talal, bitter and sombre. So what is that reality?

Recent Events

Jordan is home to 13 United Nations agencies. In the last few years, embassies, NGOs and businesses have relocated to Jordan from Iraq and the non-Jordanian community now constitutes 17% of the population. American troops on stopover, government conferences, diplomats, military training sessions and Iraqi police all share the same base: the Jordanian capital, Amman.

A lot of attention was given to the attempted rocket attacks on American warships in the Red Sea port of Aqaba this August. But little has been said about the many other attacks, or attempted attacks, on Jordan. For example: in 2002 Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Iraq's most notorious insurgent, was blamed for the murder of an American diplomat in Amman; in April 2004, an Al-Qaeda lorry loaded with explosives and chemical gas heading towards the city was detained at the Syrian border; and then on November 1, 2005 – eight days before these recent attacks – a terrorist network with plans to attack American forces and the Iraqi police was dismantled. Ten of its fifteen members were detained, according to the local newspaper, Al Ghad. It was the tenth such terrorist attempt to be discovered and diffused since the beginning of this year.

Describing the reality

Security and stability rank high on Jordan’s national agenda. On the complicated Middle East playing board, ensuring state security is a move that can open many political and economic opportunities: in the last decade, Jordan has applied reforms that are predicted to lead to a growth in GDP of 10% over the next decade At least, these were Jordan’s expectations less than a fortnight ago. The Jordanian press is calling for national unity and assumes that a return to normality will be a matter of time. Is that really the case? Or is this a way of avoiding facing up to the chaos, which could make the already difficult situation even worse?

The more pessimistic forecast that Al-Qaeda may try to destabilise this country that serves three key Western purposes: the West’s gateway to the Middle East; a destination for weekends away for Americans serving in Iraq; and a tourist spot, visited by 4.8 million people this year and providing 10% of the country’s GDP. The optimists, on the other hand, agree with the Jordanian government that this is an isolated attack. But then there are many political reasons for playing down the first hypothesis. In her latest article, published in the November 13 edition of the Arab Yawn, Rana Sabbagh, a renowned Jordanian journalist, highlighted the way in which the Jordanian administration has preferred not to talk publicly about radicalism and the fact that 60% of the Jordanian public thinks that Al-Qaeda is a legitimate organisation. Will these terrorist atrocities change that opinion?