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Abdullah II cracks down on dissent

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  • thekoba@aztec.asu.edu
    The following article appeared on page A28 of the sunday, 9 February 2003 edition of The Arizona Republic. It is credited to Anthony Shadid of The Washington
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 9, 2003
      The following article appeared on page A28 of the sunday, 9 February 2003
      edition of The Arizona Republic. It is credited to Anthony Shadid of The
      Washington Post.

      --Kevin Walsh


      Arab Leaders, Others Call Monarch Too Close To U.S.

      Maan, Jordan--Around the corner from an armored car and beyond the steely
      glare of police, Sheik Subhi Mughribi sat in the back room of a cramped
      stationery store, thumbing his well-worn string of yellow worry beads.
      He effusively apologized that conditions prevented him from being more
      hospitable, as Bedouin traditions would dictate. His phone line was cut.
      And because he is a prominent tribal and religious leader in this restive
      city, police were keeping a close eye on his home.

      "But," he said, "I'm not afraid."

      Disagreeing With Government

      In a country where dissent is sometimes whisphered, Mughribi was blunt.
      He was still angry over clashes in November that left six dead in this
      southern city. The government blamed the violence on lawless gangs and
      smugglers. But many here attributed it to poverty, neglect, anger over
      U.S. policy in Israel and Iraq and the heavy hand of a worried government.

      In words of protest and nostalgia, Mughribi said his grievances run far
      deeper, at young, technocratic ministers who are out of touch, at a
      government too close to America and at a king more comfortable in English
      than Arabic and ill at ease with tribal traditions. Like others in
      Maan, Mughribi said he longs for the charisma of the late King Hussein,
      who he said knew every family in town and enjoyed sharing their food.

      Four years after the death of his father, King Abdullah II faces mounting
      pressure from the pillars of King Hussein's 45-year rule. Powerful tribal
      leaders such as Mughribi, bedrocks of the monarchy, are outspoken in
      their skepticism of a style they see as aloof and a perspective they
      believe is grounded in Abdullah's British and U.S. education. Moderate
      Islamic leaders, once allies of the government, are incensed at being
      shut out of power. Even liberal, secular forces that might embrace the
      king's Western orientation and economic reforms are frustrated that those
      changes have not been accompanied by promised political liberalization.

      Abdullah, a crucial if reluctant ally in any U.S.-led war against Iraq,
      has responded with an iron fist. He sent tanks and thousands of police
      and soldiers into Maan, 130 miles south of Amman, in a move senior
      Jordanian officials said was part crackdown, part message of what was in
      store in the event of wartime unrest. In the capital and elsewhere, he
      has clamped down on outspoken unions and opposition political parties.
      George Hawatmeh, editor of al-Rai, the country's largest newspaper, said
      he was now so relentless in censoring his own paper that he did not worry
      about provoking the government.

      With elections promised this year, the contest under way in this small
      desert kingdom may serve as a test of coming challenges for an undemocratic
      Arab world. Jordan is in the throes of transformation, with competing
      visions of its future, and some analysts suggest that the unfolding
      battles could prove a barometer of change elsewhere.

      Still An Open, Tolerant Land

      By the standards of other Arab countries, Jordan remains a relatively open
      and tolerant society. Its stability has proved an exception in the
      region, a remarkable record given its history. The British carved Jordan
      out of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the monarchy's roots lie in
      the Hijaz of modern-day Saudi Arabia and the majority of its five million
      people are of Palestinean descent.

      But unlike his father, who navigated crisis after crisis with popularity
      and political acument, Abdullah faces few real challenges to his
      government's legitimacy, analysts say. Rather than survival, his priority
      is economic reform. He has staffed his Cabinet, particularly the
      economic portfolios, with young, U.S. and British educated technocrats.
      After dissolving Parliament in 2001, his government handed down more
      than 120 temporary laws, many aimed at liberalizing the economy. In the
      next election, the government plans a quota for women in Parliament.

      Analysts say the government, although divided, has gambled that the benefits
      of social and economic reform will allow a shift away from its traditional
      support and forestall demands arising from anti-U.S. sentiment.

      "I think the vast majority of public opinion in Jordan is with the government
      and the king," Information Minister Mohammed Adwan said. "That's how we've
      been able to contain demonstrations ... the past two years."

      Opposition groups cite other reasons for the quiet.

      "We have tyranny dressed up in a suit, cleanly shaven, talking about
      democratic rights," said Hisham Bustani, a dentist and leftist activist.
      "We have this repression that's neat."

      Bustani, a critic of the government, was arrested in December and held
      for six days after writing an article for a magazine in Lebanon about a
      detention in Jweideh prison, just outside Amman. In it, he recounted
      seeing guards practicing karate on inmates and beating them with cables.

      After the article was published, Bustani was told to report to intelligence
      headquarters. He was handcuffed as he sat in a chair, then taken to a
      police station. When he refused to sign a statement, he said, he was taken
      again to Jweideh. In prison, he shared a room with 35 other people.
      Out of boredom, and despite his atheism, he read religious books in the
      facility's small library. This time, he said, he was treated well and
      released on bail the equivalent of about $14,000.

      Bustani belongs to the Dental Association, one of the six main groups
      that make up the powerful Union of Professional Associations, the most
      politically active group in Jordanian society. Islamic activists dominate
      the unions, but they have found common ground with leftists and Arab
      nationalists on issues that unite most politial forces in the Arab world:
      support for Palestinians and Iraq, greater democratic rights and
      opposition to normalization of relations with Israel.

      That is clear at headquarters. A banner over the door reads, "The struggle
      of our steadfast Palestinian and Iraqi people lives in the face of Zionist
      and American designs."
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