JORDAN IN THE 1980s
The overthrow of the shah of Iran in February 1979 and the
emergence of Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini caused grave
concern in Amman. The vehement anti-Western, antimonarchical,
Islamic revolutionary fervor sweeping Iran throughout 1979 cast a
threatening shadow over Jordan. Not only was Hussein a monarch
allied with the West, but he also had been a close ally of the shah
for many years.
The Islamic Revolution and a New Arab Alignment
Hussein followed a two-track policy to counteract the looming
Iranian threat. One track was domestic; the other, foreign.
Domestically, he made a more concerted effort to appear religiously
observant in public and to emphasize Islam in the day-to-day life
of Jordan. He also increased financial support for mosques and
Islamic charities and encouraged the payment of zakat (the
Muslim religious tax) by exempting those who paid it during the
month of Ramadan from 25 percent of their income tax. In addition,
during the month of Ramadan some of the provincial governors closed
down bars and night clubs on some religious holidays and banned
films described as obscene.
For most of his reign, Hussein had appeased the Muslim
Brotherhood and other Islamic groups in Jordan as a way of
counterbalancing the more radical and, in his view, more
destabilizing groups such as the communists, Baathists, and
Nasserists. Although the Muslim Brotherhood came out in support of
the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the organization in Jordan was not
prepared to challenge openly the authority of the Hashimite regime
that opposed the Iranian Revolution.
Hussein altered Jordan's Arab alignments in response to the new
regional balance of power caused by the Islamic Revolution in Iran,
the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, and the growing rift with Syria.
The focus of Jordan's new regional outlook was improved relations
with Iraq. Both countries saw ominous implications in the
developments in Iran. Moreover, with Egypt no longer in the Arab
fold, Jordan sought an Arab military alliance capable of deterring
a more militaristic regime in Israel from meddling in Jordanian
affairs. Hussein also needed Iraqi support to stave off the Syrian
threat, which had grown significantly during 1980. Finally, Baghdad
and Amman feared the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its
implications for the regional balance of power.
After a series of high-level meetings in the early 1980s, a
wide range of exchanges took place. Iraq greatly increased economic
assistance to Jordan and discussed a possible project for supplying
Jordan with water from the Euphrates. The outbreak of the Iran-Iraq
War in September 1980 further tightened relations. From the
beginning of the war, Jordan was the most outspoken of the Arab
states supporting Iraq. The Iraqi connection became increasingly
important as tensions mounted between Jordan and Syria. Between
September 1980 and late 1981, Jordan reportedly received US$400
million in economic aid from Iraq. In October 1981, an IraqiJordanian Joint Committee for Economic and Technical Cooperation
was set up. Jordan's most demonstrative act of support for the
Iraqi war effort occurred in January 1982 when Hussein announced
the formation of the Yarmuk Brigade, a Jordanian force of
volunteers that pledged to fight for Iraq.
Throughout 1982, as Iran scored significant victories in the
Iran-Iraq War, Jordan substantially increased its support to Iraq.
Al Aqabah replaced the besieged Iraqi port of Basra as Iraq's major
marine transportation point. During 1981 and 1982, the turmoil
besetting the Arab states both benefited and threatened Jordan.
Egypt, the most populous and militarily strongest Arab country, was
ostracized; Syria faced serious domestic unrest and a growing
rebellion in Lebanon; Iraq seemed to be losing its war with Iran
and was in danger of losing strategically important territory in
the south; Syria and Iraq were hostile to each other; and the
Persian Gulf states were suffering from the downturn in world oil
prices. The weakness of the other Arab states enabled Jordan to
play a more important role in Arab politics and allowed Hussein to
pursue a more flexible regional diplomacy.
Jordan's improved status in the Arab world resulted in Amman
hosting its first Arab summit in November 1981. Hussein reportedly
hoped to obtain a breakthrough on the Palestinian question and to
mobilize support for the Iraqi war effort. The summit, however, was
boycotted by members of the Steadfastness and Confrontation Front
led by Syria. In addition, Syria had massed troops on the Jordanian
border. Hussein countered by mobilizing a force of equal strength
on the Syrian border. Although the situation was eventually
diffused through Saudi mediation efforts, the potential for future
Syrian-Jordanian conflict remained.
Data as of December 1989