The 1980S

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.

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