1Jordan is not unlike many Arab countries, particularly smaller Arab countries, in having its political, administrative, and economic activity highly centralized in and around the capital city. Amman accounts for about 80% of Jordan’s economic activity, and it houses all government offices and the head offices of virtually all major companies and corporations.
- 1 JD 1= US $ 1.40944= € 1.02078 on 5 October 2008.
2Moreover, despite government attempts to decentralize, the centrality of Amman seems to be rising, not falling. According to the Jordan Investment Board figures, investments that benefited in 2005 from the Investment Law in the Amman Governorate amounted to over 530 million dinars1, or 71.5% of total investments, and 81.3% of total foreign investments in the country. Furthermore, according to published figures from the General Department of Statistics, in 2004 just under 39% of the population lived in the Greater Amman area.
3It is therefore surprising that Amman is virtually absent from the Jordanian national identity on individual, social and even official levels. To verify this point, focus group discussions have been conducted on this issue, not to provide statistical evidence to support or disprove the theory, since the number of respondents was not a representative sample, but to identify possible trends from which it might be possible to construct a hypothesis. The findings can be summarized in three points :
In answer to the question : “Where do you come from,” respondents may answer : “Amman” when talking to foreigners, but more often, and always when talking to Jordanians, they cite the tribe or village of origin from which their family descends. Respondents varied in their origin from the East Bank and West Bank of the river Jordan. Some of them were the third generation born and raised in Amman, and some of them rarely, if ever, went to their villages of origin. Still, they identified themselves with their village of origin. Interestingly enough, even Circassians who emigrated directly from the Caucasus to Amman as far back as the late 19th century, and therefore have no geographical context outside Amman, identify themselves as Circassians and not Ammanis.
On the social level, people have no other choice but to identify with their tribe or village of origin because, regardless of how they perceive and seek to define themselves, society will perceive and treat them on this basis. When people are introduced socially in Jordan, they immediately ask each other a series of questions in which each one seeks to place the other geographically, tribally, and in rank within the tribe or extended family. On the occasions where a person refuses to identify himself with a geographic or tribal origin beyond Amman, the interlocutors consider it rude and generally treat that person with suspicion for trying to hide his identity.
Even more importantly, this trend holds on the official level. All respondents have been repeatedly in a situation where a government official asked them where they came from. Of those who answered: “Amman,” on no occasion did the official accept this answer, and he persisted with the questioning until he ascertained the tribe or village of origin of the respondent.
4The point here is that on the official, social, and even individual levels, the population of Amman appears to regard life in this city either as transient or as unreal. They do not recognize Amman as a component of their identity. This paper explains this dichotomy by placing it in context from three mutually reinforcing perspectives. The historic development of Amman from a ruin, abandoned for centuries, to the capital city of the Emirate of Transjordan, later the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The political history of Jordan, and the emergence of the Armed Forces, which derives principally from rural Jordan, as the core element in national identity. The rise during the fifties of a brand of Arab nationalism that was anti-urban as part of its rejection of the former elite.
5Amman is one of many cities in the Middle East that pride themselves on being the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world (other contenders to this status include Damascus and Jericho). The oldest archaeological find in Ain Ghazal, in East Amman, dates back to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (circa 7,250 BC)2, a time when, archaeological evidence suggests, Amman had an active artistic life. During the course of the following centuries a succession of civilizations came and went, changing the name of Amman as they did so, until a combination of natural disasters (believed to be earthquakes) and environmental degradation reduced it to a pile of ruins. The abandonment of Amman was compounded because the basin of its river became infested with malaria, causing the local population to keep at a safe distance.
6Amman was brought back to life in the late 19th century by two unrelated events. The first chronologically was the advent of Circassian immigrants from the Caucasus (around 1887). Ottoman authorities encouraged them to settle in Amman and similar arable, but abandoned, areas in the hope of expanding the cultivated and hence taxable area of the Empire. This gave Amman a colloquial name that it bore only briefly: Khirbet al-Sharkas or the village/ruins of the Circassians. The other major event was the construction of the Hijaz Railway connecting Damascus with Medina. Amman became a principal station on this route, which put it back on the trade map of the region. Since Amman was part of the velayet or province of Syria, some Syrian trading families came to Amman and settled there during this period.
7Amman was still little more than a rural backwater inhabited predominantly by Circassians when King Abdullah I chose it as his capital and renamed it Amman, the name by which it had been known since the Ghassanian (late Byzantine) period and until its abandonment. An important fact to bear in mind is that neither King Abdullah nor the population of Jordan considered Jordan to be anything but part of what is still known in Arabic as “natural Syria”, which includes present day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories. The Emirate of Transjordan was considered by all local stakeholders to be only a base for the reunification of natural Syria and the rest of the Arab world, in keeping with the principles of the Arab revolt.
8Nevertheless, the new status of Amman attracted a diversity of people: Arab nationalists who had taken part in the Great Arab Revolt, Syrian nationalists escaping French persecution, and Palestinian nationalists escaping British persecution. Others were attracted by the new economic opportunities of the emerging town; mainly Syrian trading families and Palestinian families who generally worked in construction. Naturally, the new population of Amman included many notables from Jordanian towns and villages who came to work in the rapidly expanding institutions of the state.
9After the 1948 war the population (and surface area) of Jordan virtually doubled with the union between Transjordan and the West Bank. Population figures are often contested for political reasons, a debate which is beyond the scope of this paper. However, a general indicator is probably that the population of Jordan before the 1948 war was just under 500,000 and it increased by an equal number, of whom 100,000 were Palestinian refugees (expelled from the part of their homeland that became Israel, they settled in refugee camps on the East Bank), and the rest were the population of the West Bank as well as more refugees expelled like the previous group (Wilson 1987, p. 190-191). As always happens with population displacement, the wealthier and better educated came to the capital.
10This large influx of people to Amman created two effects that are directly pertinent to this analysis: first, Amman became associated with the elite, since it was always the more affluent and better educated people who competed more successfully in the increasingly urban context of Amman. Second, with people coming from a diversity of geographic backgrounds, it became common in Amman’s new society for people to ask one another where they came from, and to receive an answer that identified the person with his pre-Amman town of origin.
11At that time, this practice was not exclusivist and did not carry political connotations. As late as the fifties, people were aware of one another’s geographic background, but they were divided over socio-economic status and political outlook, not geographic origin.
12An important factor to bear in mind was that the political outlook of the Hashemites was Arab nationalist or pan-Arabist, starting with the Arab revolt against the Ottomans. Since King Abdullah I saw Jordan as a base for the unification of natural Syria, which itself would be a step towards greater Arab unity, it was natural for him to woo Syrian nationalists and mandarins and to appoint them in high positions in the state. This was partly to serve the political ambition of Arab unity, and partly because their education and administrative and military experience were badly needed in the construction of the Jordanian state.
13Transjordan was not, as some literature on the period suggests, devoid of people with high education and administrative skills, but it did not have enough of them, a situation that it shared with other parts of the Mashreq. Moreover, when people moved from Syrian or Palestinian towns to Amman they did not consider themselves to be migrating to another country, but relocating within the same province.
14The arrival of educated Arabs to help build the critical mass needed by the institutions of the emerging state did not arouse any sensitivity among the educated Jordanians who were becoming increasingly centered in Amman. Yet it did not suit Jordanian tribal leaders who found their influence within their own territory challenged by the encroaching power of the state. They were further angered because the institutions of this state were manned exclusively by people with education, many of whom they regarded as outsiders.
15Barely two years after the creation of the Emirates of Transjordan, in 1923 the Adwan tribe mutinied, using the slogan: “Transjordan for Transjordanians”. This slogan, with minor variations, lives to this day as the motto of the various East Bank exclusivist movements that name themselves with variations on the theme of “Jordanian National Current”.
- 3 Mary Wilson for instance, holds that the rebellion started over taxes and their allocation, while S (...)
16Militarily, the Adwani rebellion was a minor skirmish. But it continues to cause controversy among historians today regarding the role of the British in instigating and suppressing it3. Its political significance to this paper is that it was the first expression of Transjordanian national identity, now called “East Bank nationalism” or “Jordanian nationalism”, depending on one’s geographic background and political orientation.
17Today, as in the 20s of the last century, there is not a single social group in Jordan that can be described as having a monopoly on education or merit. But there is a distinct trend in the competition for placement and promotion within the state apparatus, to try to discredit one’s rivals by accusing them of not being Jordanian, even when they come from East Bank families, by citing a distant ancestor who came from a town or village outside the East Bank.
18A case in point (which happened in private conversation, for which reason the names of the persons involved are withheld) was the appointment of a former Governor of the Central Bank of Jordan, who had a PhD in economics and whose family came from Salt in the East Bank. A Jordanian member of the Chamber of Deputies (lower house of parliament) lamented that : “These outsiders are gobbling up our country.” When those present protested that the appointee cannot be described as an outsider since his family comes from Salt, the deputy asserted: “No he does not. His grandfather came from Damascus to Salt less than 200 years ago.”
19The forties and fifties in Jordan were a period of considerable trouble and uncertainty, with the country suffering from a weak economy, a dearth of natural resources, and political agitation by political radicals : mainly the communists and the new brand of Arab nationalists whose standard bearer was Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt.
20Much has been written about this period and it is beyond the scope of this paper to go into the details of the period’s politics (Salibi 2006; Dann 1989). What counts for this analysis is that, during this period, Amman continued to highlight the country’s Arab rather than Jordanian identity, partly in keeping with the principles of the Arab revolt, and partly for the more immediate imperative of assimilating the Palestinian refugees and the population of the West Bank, who amounted to half of Jordan’s population.
21In the process of building a national economy, it was natural that Amman and the larger towns on both banks of the River Jordan, which contained virtually all the educated population of the country, saw a much faster rise in their standards of living as the facilities for education, healthcare, and other services tended to focus on them.
22But it was precisely these privileged urban elites who were causing so much political trouble. It should be noted that the element of Palestinian separatism was virtually nonexistent during this period. The Palestinians of Jordan espoused the principle of Arab unity as much as everyone else, and they had no problem with the center of administration being in Amman as opposed to one of the West Bank towns; but radical political activists of the period, regardless of their geographic roots, wanted to be ruled by a communist, Ba’thist, or pan-Arab (Nasserist) regime. These political doctrines were new and untested, and hence very attractive, particularly because of their virulent anti-imperialist diatribes.
23The army, which derives mainly from the rural East Bank, had to be called in repeatedly throughout the fifties and sixties to suppress various attempts at coup d’états or civil disobedience. Consequently the military, and by extension rural Jordan, came to see themselves and to be perceived as the only true Jordanians who saved the country time and again by teaching a good lesson to the perfidious al-mudun (the derogatory term used to indicate urban people), particularly those of Amman. It was incomprehensible for rural Jordan why these urban traitors enjoyed a better life than they themselves could afford.
24This was not the only reason why the armed forces came to be the main symbol of national identity. Jordan’s army played a major role in the country’s socio-economic development. It remains to this day one of the largest employers and providers of social security services. Moreover, the army probably did more to eliminate illiteracy from Jordan than the Ministry of Education or any other organization in the country, a role that the armed forces played in many advanced European countries right up to the fifties.
25Therefore, when Wasfi Tal, as head of Jordan Radio, sought to create a symbol of Jordanian identity, what presented itself most readily was the Jordanian soldier (Susser 1994). Tal was a complex character who combined firm roots in the Jordanian countryside with a highly educated and cosmopolitan outlook. He recruited a critical mass of Jordanian poets and musicians and encouraged them to develop songs creating the national image of Jordan, on occasions sitting with them for endless hours as they developed their lyrics and adapted local folk tunes. Virtually all these songs drew on images from life in the Jordanian and Palestinian countryside; but those that lived on beyond the period were focused on the Jordanian army, such as Abdo Mussa’s ballad:
26حيهم نشامى الوطن حيهم جنود حسين
27Hail to the noblemen of the country, hail to [King] Hussein’s soldiers
28ربع الكفاف الحمر والعقل ميالة
- 4 The red kaffiyeh is the ceremonial headgear of the Jordanian army, which is not the exclusive weare (...)
29The men of the red kaffiyehs4 with their eqals tilted.
30So far, the friction remained socio-economic, with parallels in many other countries. A major turning point was the conflict of 1970 with the Fedayeen organizations. To put this conflict in its proper context: it was neither a fight between Jordanians and Palestinians nor between the Jordanian citizens of the East Bank and those of Palestinian origins. It was an attempt by armed paramilitary organizations to take control of Jordan by force of arms, which was repelled by the regular armed forces of Jordan.
31The composition of these two groups right up to September 1970 did not reflect a Jordanian-Palestinian divide. For instance, Nayef Hawatmeh, the head of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), one of the most radical Palestinian organizations, comes from Salt in the East Bank. On the other hand, General Mohammad Rasoul al-Keilani, who headed Jordan’s General Intelligence Department, came from a family that originates in Nablus in the West Bank. The point here is that the fighting of 1970 and the events that followed was the cause of a Jordanian-Palestinian divide, and not the result of one.
32The reason the divide developed was that the principal recruiting ground for the Fedayeen was the Palestinian refugee camps in Amman and other Jordanian cities and towns, while the principal recruiting ground for the Armed forces was the Jordanian countryside. Moreover, the symbolism of these two groups was not without significance: one group’s professed raison d’être was the liberation of Palestine, while the other had the principal vocation of protecting Jordan. This consolidated the perception of rural Jordan as the protector of Jordan against the troublesome mudun.
33The third factor that enhanced the national symbolism of rural Jordan was the ruralization of national identity (ترييف الثقافة العربية to use the term coined by Oraib Rantawi in commenting on Arab culture) on the regional level, following the revolutions in Syria, Egypt and Iraq. The region in this context refers to the Mashreq.
34These movements are most frequently discussed as independence movements that sought liberation from colonial rule; but for the purpose of this analysis the more significant aspect is that studied by Batatu (Batatu 1978), Binder (Binder 1978) and others. They analyze these movements as revolutions by the lower bourgeoisie against the upper bourgeoisie that monopolized all aspects of power, wealth, and decision making in their countries, including good relations with the imperial powers of the day.
35The military officers who led these “progressive nationalist” Arab movements were largely the first generation of their families to leave their small rural holdings and to seek a life in the expanding apparatus of the state. In Egypt, for instance, the Free Officers all belonged to the first generation of fellahin (meaning peasants, the derogatory term used to differentiate between native Egyptians and Egypt’s Turco-Circassian elite). They formed the lower bourgeoisie of their country, but they found a ceiling beyond which they could not rise regardless of merit, the upper ranks being a closed shop for the elite.
36When these officers took power, they naturally sought to remodel their countries after themselves by eliminating all the privileges of their former oppressors, including wealth, family heritage and good relations with the West. Unfortunately, these privileges included good education. During the fifties only two Arab heads of state in the Mashreq knew a second language or had ever traveled abroad before acceding to power: King Hussein of Jordan and President Kamil Shamoun of Lebanon.
37Donald Neff gives a very good account of an incident that highlights the confusion that resulted from the new Arab leaders’ modest education (Neff 1981, p. 130-136). It relates to the first American attempt to find a solution to the Middle East conflict, and the envoy selected to bring it about; Robert Anderson, a self-made Texan who had President Eisenhower’s greatest confidence and admiration. Egypt’s President Nasser knew English only as spoken by English and Scottish officers, and he could not understand Anderson’s American accent. But in the best tradition of Arab hospitality he would not interrupt a guest, particularly one who was senior in years. Nasser simply smiled amiably and nodded, which led Anderson to believe that he had made history. But as Anderson left, drafting in his mind the congratulatory telegram to Eisenhower, Nasser turned to his close confidant at the time, Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA’s top Arab expert who stayed behind at Nasser’s request and asked: “Kim, what did he say?”
38Arab nationalists’ dual rejection of the West and of the Arabs who had the capacity to interact with the West, who were dubbed “imperialist stooges” resulted in the parochialization of Arab national identity, a highly paradoxical development in a society that appreciates education to such a great degree.
39Jordan was spared the political upheavals of neighboring Arab countries, but not the socio-political currents of the period. The rising tide of parochialism in the region gave a good boost to the rising tide of rural Jordan, to the detriment of Amman’s ability to set the standards in Jordanian society. The increasing influence of rural Jordan on Amman led an Ammani intellectual to comment in private conversation that “in the fifties, a member of Jordan’s elite would show you with pride his library. In the seventies and eighties he would show you his garage.”
40These factors combined to produce a reassertion of tribalism in the Jordanian national identity, a development which is noticeable in the change in the official discourse. The reference to الأسرة الأردنية الواحدة – the one Jordanian family, was replaced by العشيرة الأردنية الواحدة or the one Jordanian tribe. Al-Watan, or the nation, was replaced by al-Deera al-Urduniya الديرة الأردنية or the Jordanian tribal territory. Even social groups that are not tribal, such as the Circassians and Chechens have formed the Council of Circassian and Chechen Tribes, which has become the official representative body of these groups, superceding the Circassian Welfare Organization, which was one of the first NGOs established in the Emirate of Transjordan.
41A more serious manifestation is tribal law or custom. Officially, tribal law was annulled in 1978, but to this day adjudication based on tribal custom continues to settle disputes including blood feuds, and newspapers report openly the latest sulha asha’iriyah صلحة عشائرية or settlement of a feud through tribal arbitration, or even the occasional jalwa جلوة where the injured or bereaved tribe refuses the settlement and insists that the tribe of the aggressor should leave their homes and farms with only the belongings that they can carry with them, under threat of tribal vendetta.
42The clash between tribal custom and the law of the land, with the former sometimes superseding the latter even though it has no basis in Jordan’s constitution, is a serious challenge to establishing the supremacy of the law, which is an essential foundation of a modern nation state. What this means in political terms is that the individual’s relationship with the state is not articulated solely on the basis of citizenship and in the context of the law before which all citizens are equal. Articulating grievances and seeking redress are often more effectively carried out through tribal channels rather than through recourse to the law. Not surprisingly, as a result, when a Jordanian is asked where he comes from he cites his tribal origin even if his family has been resident in Amman for generations.
43The significance of this state of affairs is very serious, because the process of nation building, which has made considerable progress in many areas, continues to be set back by the fact that some citizens inevitably belong to more prosperous or influential tribes than others, which challenges the fundamental tenet of equality before the law.
44The most serious challenge to this trend comes from the relentless progress of globalization. Jordan is not the first country to embark on a process of liberalization and integration in the world economy, and the effect of this process in Jordan is not unique (Migdal 1974). Regardless of its faults, integration in the world economy tends to reward talent, hard work and the ability to interact with the international scene. The point here is that those who regard themselves as the true sons of the country and who consequently feel entitled to the highest rewards in return for their loyalty, find themselves once again shortchanged by the fact that the hated mudun, are better able to interact profitably with the new global realities.
45The tension that has arisen from this situation can be discerned in the writings of a number of columnists who are regarded as some of the most prominent in Jordan, such as Abdul Hadi al-Raji al-Majali. He provided a very good example of this outlook in al-Rai, Jordan’s best selling Arabic daily newspaper, which is regarded as semi-official, on 3 September 2006, the day after the attack on tourists at the Roman Theater in Amman by a lone gunman who wanted by this act to avenge the killing of members of his family by the Israeli army.
- 5 A dunum is a Jordanian measure of land equivalent to 1,000 square meters.
- 6 The jaha is the delegation of men who come to the house of the bride to be, in order to ceremoniall (...)
46Majali wrote praising the unquestionable courage of the police sergeant who overpowered and disarmed the attacker although he himself had sustained gunshot wounds: “This police officer is not a technocrat. He is a nashmi نشمي (nobleman)… who charged with no objective except apprehending the attacker, and with not a heartbeat that does bespeak his love for Jordan. He does not understand the stock exchange, but he understands the dunums5 of land that he inherited from his father… he probably wore a necktie only once in his life, when he went with the jaha6 of a friend, and even then he had the knot tied wrongly. This hero does not hide his love for Jordan. But the glory of the military is beyond those who hunt for media exposure on satellite channels.”
47The valor of the police sergeant is beyond question, and the honor that he received was richly deserved. But the point here is the sharp contrast that is drawn between the nobility of the police sergeant and the implicit perfidy of technocrats whose treachery does not stop at understanding the stock exchange, but extends to knowing how to knot a necktie. Ironically, the Amman stock exchange is singled out in this article as a den of iniquity even though the Chairman and CEO of the Jordan Securities Commission and the Deputy Chairman are both from the East Bank. This is a strong indication that Majali’s venom has its origin in socio-economic tension and not geographic divide.
48This virulent attack, which is not an isolated case in the writings of this columnist or others, shows that tensions exist between different segments of Jordanian society, a phenomenon that is all too common in any society, particularly at a time of economic restructuring and transformation. Inevitably in such a situation, those who find themselves unable to compete with others better equipped to cope with the new rules of the game, seek to redress the balance in their favor by disqualifying their rivals from the competition, in this case by questioning their credentials as Jordanians.
49The tension, it should be clear, is about the division of scarce resources. The ensuing political question is how to bring those who feel marginalized into the game. The approach of the Arab nationalist movements of the fifties was to lower the standards of the game to the lowest common denominator and to exclude those with any advantages. The result, which was described earlier as parochialization of Arab national identity, was disastrous on all levels.
50This is not a viable choice for any society, least of all for Jordan which, deprived of natural resources, needs to excel in order to compete not only on the regional, but also on the global level. The imperative of seeking excellence also makes it vital for Jordan not to allow any part of its society to be or to perceive itself as marginalized or threatened with marginalization. The question facing Jordan hence is how to raise the standards of its society as a whole to a level that empowers it to compete in the global economy.
51In conclusion, the absence of an Ammani identity from the Jordanian national identity springs from a number of factors that relate to the historic evolution of Amman, political developments in Jordan, and the revolutions in the Mashreq that made Arab nationalism virtually synonymous with parochialism. Although Jordan was spared the upheavals of neighboring countries, it did not remain immune to the socio-political influence of this turmoil.
52As a result of the combination of these factors, Jordanian national identity has become closely associated with rural Jordan, to the exclusion of the city, with the tribe rather than citizenship being the principal focus of the relationship between the state and the individual, and with tribal law, which was officially annulled in the seventies, continuing to exist and to supersede Jordanian law at times. It is therefore only natural for people in Amman to identify themselves by reference to their tribe or geographic origin in rural Jordan rather than by their status as a citizen of Jordan living in Amman.
53Globalization and the privatization of state enterprises pose a serious challenge to this state of affairs because, in the highly competitive global economy, talent and hard work can be more valuable assets than tribal origin. This explains why many Jordanian columnists are so critical of globalization and of people who are able to compete successfully in the new reality. This is an important consideration in an economy that was largely administered by the state, whose apparatus remains the largest employer and provider of social services.
54Essentially, it is a question of competition for scarce resources, which exists in every society. Groups that find themselves unable to compete successfully seek to disqualify their rivals, in the case of Jordan by claiming that these rivals are not Jordanian or not Jordanian enough. These exclusivist tendencies have been tried in other parts of the Arab world, where the “progressive regimes” of the fifties and sixties brought the standards of society down to their own level in order to exclude the elites of the ancient régime. The result was disastrous. Yet, a society would be unwise to allow large sections of itself to become marginalized and disenfranchised, or to perceive themselves as such. Therefore, the challenge facing Jordan is how to build the capacity of the segments of society that feel threatened by globalization to a level that empowers them to compete in the global economy.