Trouble in Jordan: Increased fuel prices set off protests

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The rough winds of the Arab Spring appear to be reaching Jordan, a small but strategically located ally of the United States in the Middle East.

Since its creation in 1921, Jordan has been fundamentally unstable. Its population of 6 million is considered to be at least half Palestinians, who fled or were driven out of Palestine by the Israelis starting in 1948. That is only part of the problem. Its monarchy, the Hashemites, are Saudi Arabian by origin and its kings Abdullah I, Hussein and now Abdullah II have never even married Jordanians. One perhaps logical reason for that is that they have preferred not to seem to favor one or other of the Jordanian tribes and families by choosing a bride from among them. As it is, the Jordanian royal family is large, and, by its tastes and size, costs the country an arm and a leg to support.

Jordan has few resources, apart from its location, bordering on Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Israeli-occupied West Bank. Based on that difficult location, it has until now managed to attract sufficient international aid to provide its people a reasonable standard of living. The United States has provided Jordan about $215 million per year since 1951 with $664 million planned for this fiscal year.

Things have become more difficult in the domain of aid, and the Jordanian government, currently on its fourth prime minister this year, earlier this month raised the subsidized price of fuel to the public, setting off riots and protests. These rapidly spread to open calls for the head of the king. There have been suggestions that perhaps he should abdicate in favor of another member of the royal family, but it is unlikely that matters would re-stabilize simply with that change.

Neither the United States nor Israel wants to see the boat rocked in Jordan, especially as neighboring Egypt, Syria and the Gaza Strip suffer insecurity. If the Jordanian monarchy falls, the crash will be felt throughout the region. On the other hand, there is little chance of preventing such change, including with the few hundred American troops now in Jordan, if it gains sufficient momentum.

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