November 20, 2005 | FrontPageMagazine

A Hashemite Revolution?

By: Dr. Walid Phares.

In world history, it is rare to see a monarchy leading a revolution, but in Jordan, it may be happening now. Since the bloody strikes by terrorist Abu Mus'aab al Zarqawi against civilian targets in downtown Amman last week, the world is watching tens of thousands of Jordanian citizens taking to the streets to protest the plague of Irhaab (terrorism). During the last march, more than 200,000 Jordanians poured onto the streets attacking Zarqawi's al-Qaeda and denouncing the jihad that struck during a Muslim wedding. Clearly, anger is building in this purely Arab, almost entirely Sunni, desert country. The sight of the popular demonstrations is reminiscent of Beirut's Cedar Revolution last March. Simple people, poor people, and the regular Ahmad and Khadija on the street are engaging in a war of words and ideas against the terrorists.

Indeed, any Arab speaking (or reading) sociologist would tell you that the marchers' banners, the slogans chanted, and the graffiti on the walls are indicative of the new times: No to Terrorism, no to bloodshed in the name of religion and no to radical clerics who are playing with people's lives. These are the gist of popular discontent in this very Arab country. 

Surely, King Abdallah's government is not opposed to these demonstrations and may even be encouraging these marches. That's precisely why I am dubbing this street intifada against al-Qaeda a “Hashemite revolution.” The constitutional monarchy of the East Bank of the Jordan River is the cardinal opposite of the absolute Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. While Jordan has many political parties, none are allowed in Saudi Arabia. While Islam coexists with a measure of pluralism in the Hashemite country, only one form of Islam rules in the Wahhabi state. These two dynasties represent entirely different conceptions of the Arab Muslim world, but the differences have nothing to do the Arab identity of the rulers. After all, the ancestors of the Saudis invaded Islam's two holiest shrines in the 1920s to establish their regime, the great grandfather of King Abdallah the Hashemite was the Governor of Mecca before being uprooted by the Wahhabis. 

No one can accuse King Hussein of not paying the price of his “solidarity” with the “other” Arabs. Jordan fought along with the Arab countries during two of the four regional wars with Israel. As a result, the king lost the West Bank and his rights to Jerusalem in 1967. He almost lost the Hashemite monarchy to the PLO in 1970. Ever since, King Hussein has acted as a realist Arab: Only one army operates inside Jordan. He signed a peace treaty with Israel while assisting Palestinians and Israelis find a peace of their own. He also contained Salafism: as a religious rather than a political doctrine. 

Under King Hussein, and since his passing under King Abdallah, the Islamic fundamentalist movements, including the influential Muslim Brotherhood, abided by this electoral game. They consistently receive somewhere between 18 and 20 percent of the assembly seats, which is high by any standard. But one has to keep in mind Jordan's ethnic realities: About 60 percent of its population, particularly after 1948 and 1967, are of Palestinian descent, including today's Queen Rania. Among the Palestinians, a segment (not all) has been influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1930s. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, although based west of the river, have developed an influence within the Kingdom on the local Islamists. The other segments of the population are Bedouins, original inhabitants of the desert, many of whom are the descendants of the early 20th century followers of the Hashemite dynasty from Hejaz. But in the big picture, Jordan is not Algeria, and the core of the people is faithful to the King and opposed to Terror. 

Zarqawi is of Jordanian descent. After three years of perpetrating horrors in Iraq, he felt he had reached the zenith of popularity in the Sunni Triangle, and thought he could attract support in Sunni Jordan. Al-Qaeda apparently doesn't put its faith in polls, even though it targets public opinion in the West. As did Syria in Lebanon when it assassinated Rafiq Hariri, the jihadists thought they'd intimidate the Hashemites, deter the army, and scare the people. A heavy strike in Amman would kill two birds with one stone: breaking down the Jordanian model and recruiting more Salafists into suicide bombing. But as soon as the dust settled around the damaged hotels, and Arab eyes saw Arab corpses in pieces, the inconceivable happened: simple people exploded with anger. No more tolerance to raw barbarism. Zarqawi thinks he symbolizes Sunni Islam in its historical purity, but many descendants of the Prophet Mohammed think otherwise, chief among them the Hashemites of Jordan. “Who is this Zarqawi to teach us about Islam?” screamed Bedouins who came to the protests. “We are more Arab than he is, and we are Muslims who have enough of his ignorance and arrogance.” Many Jordanians felt the same. They took the streets. And by doing so, they felt the power of protest. Even al-Jazeera had to report these massive anti-terror protests to the world. The jihadists are masters in perverting the media to their end, but their ideologically rooted arrogance threw them into a tailspin. 

In Jordan, a Hashemite revolution is brewing. Normal people want a normal life; they don't want their lives dedicated to the will of radical clerics and fanatic militants. In Afghanistan and in Iraq, Muslims voted under the protection of U.S. and Coalition forces – under the cover of the “infidels.” In Lebanon, millions of Lebanese marched under the shield of a U.S.-sponsored, French endorsed UN Security Council Resolution 1559 calling on Syria to back off. And in Jordan, hundreds of thousands of “very Arab, very Sunni” people demonstrated under the protection of a constitutional monarchy opposed to absolute Salafism. In each Arab and Middle Eastern country, the “good Arabs” are choosing their own path to defeat terrorists. In Amman, the masses took advantage of King Abdallah's commitment to security and stability to strike back against al-Qaeda. That's what Zawahiri's letter was warning Zarqawi about: Don't kill Shi'ites randomly; don't kill innocent Muslims; don't deviate from infidel targets (Americans and Jews). But Zarqawi is drunk with blood. He has inhaled too much praise from his radical clerics, in his chat rooms and on callers on al-Jazeera. “Strike them, O lion of Jihad,” writes the headlines of the al ansar websites. Zarqawi did not apologize for the wedding slaughter, as some in the Western media thought he did in his last message. To the contrary, he is threatening his fellow Arabs with more “blessed” strikes. In a Nazi-like delirium, the chief emir of the two-rivers has promised more of the same.

As I mentioned on MSNBC yesterday, Zarqawi and other al-Qaeda terrorists are deadlocked by their own ideology. They have produced a backlash: average Arabs – Sunni and Shi'ite – are marching against terror in the heart of the area he hoped to use as a recruitment center. Their march will be a long and bloody one, and a journey that will reach beyond the borders of Jordan. This is understood as good news everywhere except here, in the West. Western intellectual discourse misses this big picture in failing to perceive the voices rising up against terror in the Arab street.