Jordan Shows How to make a Nation from Bedouin Tribes
and what to do when threatened by a large “other” within.
Zaina Siyam wrote her masters thesis for the Departmen of Law at the American University of Cairo, entitled, “Legal Construction of Nationalism and National Identity in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan“.
I have always been curious about how Jordan developed a national spirit out of a group of unrelated Bedouin tribes headed by a King imported from the Hijaz. How did they get these tribes to over-ride their tribal loyalties and pledge allegiance to King and country? The fascinating history of how Jordan’s tribes were fashioned into a nation is described in Yoav Alon’s book, The Making of Jordan. And what about the Palestinian-Jordanians? How do they fit into the national fabric? That is the subject of Siyam’s thesis. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:
… in order to maintain the nation, law is used as the tool to protect a nation’s sovereignty and the dominance of a certain national identity. … The Jordanian nation has carried out processes of Jordanization throughout the years in order to keep its population made up of real Jordanians, but there is a long history between real Jordanians and their Palestinian neighbours.
This made me wonder if Jordan has something similar to Israel’s Nation State Law. In fact, it turns out that Jordan’s Constitution states that Jordan is an Arab state and part of the Arab Nation. The national religion is Islam, the official language is Arabic and the design of the Jordanian flag is defined in detail.There is no mention of a national anthem or other national symbols. Jordanian nationality is defined by law but this law is not part of the constitution. This latter is the subject of the thesis reviewed here.
Of course, my curiousity was aroused by the term, “real” Jordanians.
While the question of who is really Jordanian has not been openly addressed or faced in Jordan, it is evident in their policies when it comes to granted nationalities or citizenships to Palestinians.
Who is a Jordanian?
The real Jordanians (aka Transjordanians) are those who were in Transjordan in 1928 (Bedouins) when the Jordanian Citizenship Law was passed. The situation is confusing, however, because, of the population of about 10 million Jordanians today, some claim that less than or about half are Palestinians and others that up to 80% are Palestinian in origin. The matter of the proportion of Palestinians in Jordan is a very sensitive topic in Jordan. In fact, 80% of the population of Amman are Palestinians and about half of the populations of the next two largest cities, Irbid and Zarqa, are Palestinians. The population of Amman in general is just under half the population of the entire country.
UNRWA states that:
In Jordan, Law No 6 of 1954 on Nationality classifies as Jordanian nationals “any person who, not being Jewish, possessed Palestinian nationality before 15 May 1948 and was a regular resident in [Jordan] between 20 December 1949 and 16 February 1954”; many Palestine refugees obtain Jordanian nationality on this basis.
In addition to a large number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and Egyptian expatriats, there are over 2 million UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan. They fall into one of a number of categories which Siyam describes but that are put more succinctly in an UNRWA report: These categories are:
1.Refugees from 1948 [those whose permanent place of residence was in what became the State of Israel – they generally have full citizenship]
2.Displaced from 1967 [those whose permanent residence was in Judea & Samaria (aka the West Bank) and became refugees as a result of the 1967 war – they generally do not have citizenship, or only temporary citizenship needing to be renewed every two years and with no regulation of this seemingly arbitrary process]
3.Refugees from 1948, then displaced in 1967 [someone who fled to the West Bank from their permanent place of residence in 1948 in what became Israel and then had to flee again in 1967 — seems to be similar to right of those in 2 above]
4.From the Gaza Strip [someone who fled Gaza in 1967 and most of these were people who had fled TO Gaza in 1948 — there are over 370,000 such stateless refugees living in UNRWA camps]
5.Non-refugees [Jordanians of Palestinian origin who do not regard themselves as refugees and are not registered with UNRWA. This is the great bulk of the Palestinian citizens of Jordan.)
Reading a number of papers on this topic, it becomes clear that Jordanians of Palestinian origin face discrimination when seeking employment in government, the military, the public sector and in education. Everything written about the population of Jordan talks about two Jordanian peoples: the Transjordanians and the Palestinian-Jordanians. The former dominate in the public sectors and the latter in the private sector as their only option for economic activity.
Jordanian Identity and Law
Siyam states that
Jordanian identity is synonymous with the loyalty to the monarch and the Kingdom.
and it is possible [likely] that Jordanians of Palestinian origin are loyal to Jordan, but there are laws:
distinguishing Jordanians from Palestinians and reinforcing national identities creating throughout the years.
This is considered essential because:
On one hand, the Jordanians do not want the Palestinians to overpower them with their identity, because when the Palestinian identity takes over and becomes superior and becomes the prominent identity of the state, then that non-Jordanian imagined community may as well turn into a Proxy Palestinian state. And on the other hand, Palestinians in Jordan need to keep their identity separate in order to keep the cause alive, and to preserve their right to return [to what is now Israel], . . . .
In order to sustain the idealized future they hold for the Palestinians,
Palestinians in Jordan are perceived as guests rather than asylum seekers or refugees
The separation of the majority Palestinian-Jordanians from the minority population of Transjordanians is not different from the way that the UAE does not give citizenship to expatriates from other countries who make their homes and work there, often for decades. Since only 20% of those residing in the UAE are Emiratis, their national identity would easily be overwhelmed by those of the immigrants were they to offer a path to citizenship.
Jordan, an Artifical Country
Siyam uses the term “imagined community” repeatedly throughout his thesis along with the idea that the Jordanian national identity is something that was created out of nothing.
Jordan is indeed an imagined community built on common history and shared grievances.
first against the Ottomans, then and until now against Israel.
The modern Jordanian state is in essence an outcome of European extra regional interests rather than an internal aspiration for independence expressed by a national movement against colonialism.
The thesis describes how
. . . the promotion of a uniquely Jordanian national identity, for example, is recent.
There were no Jordanian ancestors on the land, but there was a Bedouin population.
. . . The artificially drawn borders that outlined a new state did not come from a preexisting political community but were drawn to create a new one.
Prior to 1920, there was no Transjordanian territory, there were no people, and there weren’t any national movements, neither Transjordanian nor Palestinian. . . . The land beyond the River of Jordan was nothing more than a southern extension to Greater Syria.
The majority of the population in that area was Nomadic consisting of Bedouin populations that identified by membership to a kin-group or village. These identity associations are still seen in present day Jordanian populations, mainly kinship. The Ottomans were primarily interested in Transjordan in terms of the importance of its location to the pilgrimage route to Mecca, and being an Empire built on the religion of Islam, this was very important to them. So they built the Hijaz Railway in 1908 extending from Damascus to Mecca . . .
The creation of Jordan
could be seen as a collaboration between the British and the Hashemites; mainly with Emir Abdullah I. In exchange for maintaining security of the area against anti-French and anti-Zionist expansion, Abdullah remained in charge of Transjordan.
Interestingly, in spite of having leadership over a new nation,
Abdullah, until his death, kept proposing his Greater Syria project, which called for the unification of Syria, Transjordan, Palestine, and Iraq under a single Arab Kingdom . . .
National identity is now promoted in the education system. School history texts
… reinforce a sense of national belonging amongst Jordanians from a young age, by teaching them history in a context that shows the greatness of the state, and how it fought for its independence, as well as the achievements of the ruling family, . . .
. . . advocate identification through Pan-Arabism and PanIslamism, neglecting the Palestinians who constitute the majority of the population of Jordan. The textbooks appeal to the future rebirthing of and assimilation into PanArabism. Instead of tracing the territorial history of what Jordan used to be, it appropriates Arab history as its own.
Jordanians of Palestinian Origin
Siyam writes that
[the] nationality [of the Palestinian people] did not shape their history, because it did not play a part in it, but the existence of the occupation and the oppression they face, constructed the sense of nationalism and loyalty within Palestinians, . . .
Due to the influx of Palestinian refugees after the Arab Israeli wars, the Partition Plan, and the Intifadas, the majority of the Jordanian population today are essentially of Palestinian origin. Palestinians in Jordan, however, recognize the alternative homeland scenario [Jordan is Palestine] that aims to destroy the right of return, . . .
It [right of return] is a cornerstone of Palestinian nationalism, and the hope that keeps the resistance alive, in order for future generations to return to the land.
Since 1988, and especially over the past few years, the Jordanian government has been arbitrarily and without notice withdrawing Jordanian nationality from its citizens of Palestinian origin, making them stateless. The Jordanian government explains such an act by saying they did this in order to maintain a Palestinian population to prevent Israel from emptying Palestine of its original inhabitants, they even went as far as saying it is a national duty and that they should be thanked for doing so. This could also be seen as an act of creating a separation between Palestinians and Jordanians, because if all Palestinians are granted Jordanian citizenships, then the country essentially turns into a proxy state of Palestine, hindering the Jordanian identity that the ruling family has been trying so hard to create.
This leads to:
. . . debate about whether Palestinians are guests in the Jordanian territory that will at some point return to their homeland, and therefore should appreciate and respect Transjordanian hospitality and not interfere in state affairs, or if they are full members of Jordanian society and contribute to it.
Historically, Palestinians have contributed to Jordanian society, and after the economic liberalization and privatizations in the 2000s, Jordanians dominated the public sector, whereas Palestinians built strong roots in the private sector as foreigners, where Palestinian businessmen benefited from the reforms economically, but suffered politically with regards to their status as citizens of the state.
. Transjordanians argue that Palestinian Jordanians are more than compensated for their political exclusion by their control over the private sector.
At the same time, Siyam makes the point that
. . . although they may be subject to discrimination in certain respects in their social and political lives in Jordan, it is in a manner which does not cross the threshold from discrimination to persecution or breach of protected human rights.
However, it is hard to see how this does not cross the threshold into violation of human rights:
With the revocation [of Jordanian citizenship], thousands of Jordanian nationals of Palestinian origin lost their right to residency, public healthcare, education, and lost their freedom of movement between Gaza, the West Bank, and Jordan. Once the citizenship is revoked, the Palestinian refugee is left with no political, civil or economic rights. This limits their right to marriage, child registry, employment, or even receiving payment through a bank.
And, in fact, Human Rights Watch shares heart-breaking stories of the break-up of families, loss of livelihood and more in a detailed report of the impact of withdrawing citizenship from Jordanian Palestinians. They are not notified of the revocation of their rights, but when they seek to renew a driver’s license, passport or access medical services or more, they are then told they have to pay the higher fees charged of non-Jordanian nationals.
Siyam concludes her thesis thus:
Jordan needs the laws that it has in order to separate Palestinians from Jordanians, because if all Palestinians were to be accepted as nationals of Jordan, then the Jordanian national identity is at risk of losing the battle of the identities.
The point in this is to say that regardless of the Palestinian state and the Jordanian state being two completely different entities, their national identities cannot be separated. There is too much shared history between the two populations to a point where one cannot speak about Jordan without speaking about Palestine and vice versa.
Transjordanian fears about Palestinian citizenship are really unconscious fears about the vulnerability of the Jordanian state. And the use of legal instruments in order to reinforce Transjordanian national identity, is only an attempt to make sure it stays legitimate and uncontested.
Jordan does not identify as a territory that was at one point in time part of the same mandate as Palestine but identifies as a traditional Arab state that was built from Bedouin routes, and has solidarity towards the Palestinians.