Hussein's Early Reign
The chief influences that guided the young Hussein were the example and teachings of his grandfather and his own education in conservative English schools. Although Jordan was a constitutional monarchy, as king Hussein had extensive legal powers. For example, the Constitution allowed him to dismiss the National Assembly and to appoint the prime minister and other ministers. In addition, he enjoyed the traditional support of the East Bank beduin tribes. Considered the backbone of the Hashimite monarchy, the Arab Legion was composed of intensely loyal beduins, whose equipment and salaries were paid for by Britain.
The majority of Jordan's population, however, did not consist of beduins. Between one-half and two-thirds of Hussein's subjects were Palestinians, whereas the government elite was mostly from the East Bank. This elite was more conservative and traditional in its political attitudes than the Palestinians, whose spokespersons often reflected a radical brand of Arab nationalism. In Cairo the successful coup d'état carried out by the Egyptian Free Officers movement (headed by Gamal Abdul Nasser) had overthrown the monarchy in July 1952 and established a republic. Palestinians, who generally blamed Britain, the United States, and the Hashimites for their misfortunes, regarded Nasser as a champion of Arab nationalism.
As border incidents with Israel escalated into a succession of reprisals and counterreprisals between Palestinian infiltrators and Israeli security forces, Hussein's problems grew. The Arab Legion tried to secure the armistice line and prevent infiltration, but its numbers were inadequate to provide complete and continuous coverage of the border. In response to the terrorist attacks, Israel adopted the technique of massive retaliation that often went deep into Jordanian territory.
In 1953 and early 1954, Israel tentatively accepted a United States plan (the Eric Johnston Plan) for distribution of the water taken from the Jordan River. Although the plan was recognized as technically sound from an engineering standpoint, ultimately it was rejected by Jordan and the other Arab states concerned because it involved cooperation with--and the implied recognition of--Israel. Given the stress of inter-Arab political relationships, it was impracticable for Jordan to initiate a settlement with Israel, even though there were strong incentives to do so.
Britain agreed to a new financial aid arrangement with Jordan in 1954 in which London evinced an interest in coordinating military and economic aid to Amman, with Jordanian participation, in the context of an overall Middle Eastern defense system. In February 1955, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan joined Britain in signing the Baghdad Pact, which ultimately became the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). A high-ranking British military delegation visited Amman to discuss conditions under which Jordan might also become a participant. The purpose of the visit was generally known, and Arab nationalist propaganda, especially from Palestinians and Radio Cairo, raised a storm of protest denouncing the pact and the monarchy as "tools of Western imperialism" and a "sellout to the Jews." In December Hussein asked Hazza al Majali to form a government. Majali came from a distinguished family of tribal shaykhs and was known to be pro-Western. Shortly after forming his cabinet, he stated unequivocally that he intended to take Jordan into the Baghdad Pact. Three days of demonstrations and rioting in Amman began after the announcement, and the Arab Legion was called in to restore order. The Majali government resigned after only a week in power, and it became clear that Jordan would not become a signatory of the Baghdad Pact.
In March 1956, Hussein, responding to the public reaction against joining the British-sponsored Baghdad Pact, attempted to show his independence from Britain by dismissing Glubb as commander of the Arab Legion. Glubb's dismissal precipitated a diplomatic crisis that threatened to isolate Hussein from his principal benefactor, Britain. Relations were strained for many years although the British subsidy was not withdrawn.
Hussein designated Ali Abu Nuwar, an officer known for his nationalist sympathies, as Glubb's successor in the Arab Legion. The name of the force was officially changed to the Jordan Arab Army, and British officers were phased out of the service.
Border incidents with Israel were a continuing source of anxiety in 1956. In October an Israeli task force, supported by aircraft and artillery, attacked the West Bank village of Qalqilyah, killing forty-eight persons in reprisal for a guerrilla attack in Israel. Palestinians clamored for war, and in this crisis atmosphere Jordanian politics ventured into anti-Western nationalism.
In the parliamentary elections of October 21, 1956, the National Socialist Party received a plurality of votes, and Hussein designated its leader, Sulayman Nabulsi, as prime minister. Several National Front Party (Communist Party of Jordan) members and members of the Baath Party (Arab Socialist Resurrection Party) also gained seats in the National Assembly, although independents and the older, conservative parties were represented about equally with the leftists and nationalists. Nabulsi was an ardent admirer of Nasser and shaped the policies of his government accordingly. Nonetheless, when Israel attacked Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula on October 29 and after British and French forces landed at Port Said on November 5, Nabulsi suddenly proved indecisive. Hussein proposed that Jordan attack Israel at once but Nasser discouraged him from wasting Jordan's forces in a war that by then was already lost. British participation in the attack on Egypt made it politically imperative that Jordan end its special relationship with Britain.
Under the Arab Solidarity Agreement that resulted from the Arab summit meeting in Cairo in January 1957, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria undertook to pay Jordan the equivalent of US$35.8 million annually for ten years, with Saudi Arabia paying an amount equivalent to that paid by Egypt and Syria together. The money would effectively free Jordan from the British subsidy. Saudi Arabia, however, made only one quarterly payment; Egypt and Syria made no payments. The Anglo-Jordanian Agreement of March 1957 abrogated the basic Anglo-Jordanian Treaty of 1948, terminated the British subsidy, and initiated the turnover of British installations and the withdrawal of all British troops still in Jordan.
In early 1957, Jordan's internal political scene shaped up as a power struggle between the monarchy and the Nasserist Nabulsi government. Hussein and the conservatives suspected that Nabulsi was maneuvering to abolish the monarchy. Nabulsi began negotiations to open diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and obtain Soviet arms aid. As political tension increased, in April Hussein, exercising his constitutional prerogative, demanded the resignation of the Nabulsi government.
The situation was further confused when, commander of the Jordan Arab Army (then still popularly known in English as the Arab Legion), Ali Abu Nuwar made a statement to Said al Mufti, who was then attempting to form a caretaker government. Said al Mufti misinterpreted the statement to be an ultimatum that any new cabinet be approved by the army. A sequence of dramatic events followed that became known as the "Az Zarqa affair." The public in Amman, sensing the explosive political atmosphere, became restive. Rumors that the king was dead spread at the main army base at Az Zarqa. Taking Abu Nuwar with him, to demonstrate that he, the king, was very much alive and that he was in control, not Abu Nuwar, Hussein set off for Az Zarqa. En route he met several truckloads of troops, who were overjoyed at seeing the king alive but who demanded the execution of Abu Nuwar. At Abu Nuwar's request, Hussein allowed him to retreat to the safety of the royal palace. Continuing to Az Zarqa, Hussein spent several hours amid wildly enthusiastic troops anxious to demonstrate their loyalty to him and to the throne; he returned to Amman after reassuring and quieting the troops. On the next day, Abu Nuwar fled the country. During the balance of April, several cabinet crises occurred, as the remnants of the Nabulsi faction fought a rearguard action against Hussein. Ibrahim Hashim, a Hussein loyalist, eventually succeeded in forming a government and outlawed all political party activity.
Hussein had won a remarkable political victory. What had mattered most was the loyalty of the combat units of the army, and that loyalty clearly belonged to the king. But Jordan was beleaguered--Nasserites were arrayed against the king, the British subsidy was gone, the Arab Solidarity Agreement had evaporated, and the rift was wider than ever between the East Bank and the West Bank. To counteract these disabilities, Hussein unequivocally placed his country in the Western camp and sought a new source of aid--the United States.
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