Monday, May 25, 2015

Why I'm Not Really That Excited About Jordan's Independence Day

Royal Standard of Jordan

The year was 1958. Arrangements have already been made for two passenger planes with appropriate air cover to pick up King Hussein and his family and fly them out of Jordan to safety if needed. This all came three days after a coup in Iraq, where military generals took control over the country by overthrowing King Faisal. Not just overthrowing him, but also dragging his mutilated body and the bodies of his family members in the street of Baghdad in the ugliest of coups. A few months earlier, Jordan had signed a unity agreement with Iraq, King Hussein shaking hands with his cousin King Faisal. And now one was murdered and the other was soon to follow, many thought. So technically, this was a coup on Jordan itself.

Everyone seemed to give up on Jordan. Syria and Egypt had formed a unity earlier that year and the new pro-Soviet military regime in Iraq paved the way to a more ambitious Arab Union. Jordan's presence in the middle with its pro-Western regime seemed as an obstacle the new Iraqi leadership. King Hussein was at his lowest point in his image as a leader.

 American president Eisenhower and his advisers did not expect King Hussein to last. Charles Johnston, the British Ambassador to Jordan at that time, said, "There was a school of thought in London and Washington which believed that Jordan was a dead loss and that the best thing to do is let Jamal Abdul Naser have it. but in a decent-looking way, using Hammarskjold and the UN to do the deed".

Jordan was running completely out of resources, and the only it was able to continue breathing was to have the British deliver fuel to the country by flying over Israel. The Israelis were not thrilled. Israeli Prime Minister Ben-Gurion even suggested to the Americans dissolving Jordan and having eastern Jordan join Iraq, and have western Jordan join Israel and turn the West Bank to an autonomous unit. With some Western support and UN intervention the situation de-escalated and some sense of stability ensued.

This was 1958, twelve years after independence.

Twelve years after its indepdence. Neither was Jordan, nor its leadership or borders, secure. Its independence was a joke.

I am reading an edition of Time magazine from 1956. It had an article on Jordan. It started a description of the country that's been indepedent for 8 years by literally saying,

" Jordan is a country that has little or no reason for existence. A chunk torn from the desert, with boundaries traced on sand, it has no geographical unity, national identity, political history or economic viability. It was created by the British for the British".

I can't claim that they were way off. While most countries struggle to obtain their independence, we got ours through a peace treaty with the British, on British terms during a time when the British were pulling out of most of their occupied regions across the world. 

For a long time while all countries acknowledged Jordan as an independent country, nearly none seemed to treat it as such. Regional and world leaders seemed to have more respect to King Hussein than to the country he was ruling, and at the times when his reign was threatened, the whole country's existence was jeopardized. Jordan was him and he was Jordan. While, to me, he gets most credit to being able to carry the country through plenty of rough times, no country should count on its mere existence on only one person.

As years went by, and as many wars and conflicts shaped the region and Jordan with it, Jordanians were able to gather different scattered pieces together and metamorphosize into one solid country. A country afflicted by poor planning at times, incidents of corruption or lack of freedoms at others, but it's one country that prevailed contrary to the expectations of friends and foes, and even at times its leaders. Just one independent country.  


I'm not big on Independence Day because it was that fake promise that we would be alright when we were anything but. While most countries struggle for independence, sacrificing blood and tears until the glory of becoming a well-acknowledged state is attained, Jordan has done in reverse. We got our independence first and all what followed afterwards was a struggle to prove that it was worth it. That seems to be the Jordanian way of doing most things. In reverse. Those struggles for independence are not just meant to fill history books, they're meant to define how a nation defines itself and how it wants to be perceived across the world. While some threats are gone, and some old enemies are now friends and some new enemies emerge out of no where, we cannot ignore that we can be our own worst problem, and the threat to our existence may not be a communist military leader in Iraq or a radio station that broadcasts its propaganda across our wavelengths. Today it's probably a Jordanian official who could be easily wearing a Koffiyyeh, singing national songs at his loudest and judging you with un-patriotism if you haven't painted your car and window and wife and children with red, black and green colors while abusing the government money for his own purposes and depriving hard-working Jordanian from good jobs to hand them to his family as if the country owes him something. Unless we perceive independence in the 21st century as independence from bureaucracy, corruption and selfishness , we will never become truly independent. When we run out of Communist Generals, Baathist regimes, Israeli commandos or ISIS militants to blame them on our problems, maybe we can take a moment to address what's making us slightly less independent than what's we're supposed to at this stage of independence.