Trouble in Jordan


The rough winds of the Arab Spring appear to be reaching Jordan, a small but strategically located ally of the United States in the Middle East.

Since its creation in 1921, Jordan has been fundamentally unstable. Its population of 6 million is considered to be at least half Palestinians, who fled or were driven out of Palestine starting in 1948.

That is only part of the problem. Its monarchy, the Hashemites, is Saudi Arabian by origin and its kings — Abdullah I, Hussein, and now Abdullah II — have never married Jordanians.

Maybe they have preferred not to seem to favor one or other of the Jordanian tribes and families by choosing a bride from among them.

As it is, the Jordanian royal family is large and, because of its tastes and size, costs the country an arm and a leg to support.

Jordan has few resources, apart from its location, which borders on Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It has, until now, managed to attract sufficient international aid to provide its people a reasonable standard of living. The United States has provided Jordan about $215 million a year since 1951, with $664 million planned for this fiscal year.

Things have become more difficult in the domain of aid, and the Jordanian government, on its fourth prime minister this year, recently raised the subsidized price of fuel to the public, setting off riots and protests. These rapidly spread to open calls for the head of the king.

There have been suggestions that the king should abdicate in favor of another member of the royal family, a change that would do little to stabilize the nation.

Neither the United States nor Israel wants to see the boat rocked in Jordan, especially as neighboring Egypt, Syria, and the Gaza Strip suffer insecurity. If the Jordanian monarchy falls, the crash will be felt throughout the region.

Still, there is little chance of preventing such change, including with the few hundred American troops now in Jordan, if it gains sufficient momentum.