Jordan has been an ideal buffer state between some of the larger Arab nations and Israel, but the country faces mammoth economic, political and religious problems, a former U.S. Foreign Service diplomat in that country said Wednesday.
Richard P. Robison, a native Utahn who worked at the American Embassy in Amman until Jan. 14, spoke at the Middle East Center at the University of Utah.Discussing the "Gulf War and Implications for Jordan," Robison said one of the major problems facing Jordan is Iraq President Saddam Hussein's success at painting the gulf crisis as a conflict between Muslim and Christian factions.
"Many Muslims regard Saddam as a modern-day Saladin, a crusader-leader who fought against Richard the Lion-Hearted during the crusades. Saddam is compared to fighting the modern-day crusaders as they invade the House of Islam," Robison said.
There are reports, he said, that Saddam has promised to give Jordan's King Hussein the western provinces of Mecca and Medina in Saudia Arabia and to grant him the title of sharif or king of the holy cities.
This is very important, Robison said, because many Jordanians feel that the Saudis are not properly representing Muslims in control of the holy sites and that King Hussein would be a more legitimate leader of the sites.
He said many Jordanians and others believe that the wealth of the "rich and corrupted gulf Arabs would be spread equitably among the poorer Arab nations. All of these things have played well on the streets of Amman," a city of about 1.5 million people.
Robison, who gave details on the impact of the Middle East crisis that led to the current state of affairs in Jordan, said King Hussein faces his greatest internal challenge against the specter of growing fundamentalism in the military, universities, the business community, in government. It is everywhere, he said.
"Saddam Hussein enjoys almost total support from the average person on the street in Jordan," said Robison, who began working for the foreign service after graduating from the U. after attending the U. Middle East Center in 1984.
He worked as a diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait from 1986 to 1989 and was transferred in 1989 to the American Embassy in Amman. His wife and family were evacuated from Amman following the Aug. 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait. Robison remained in Jordan until Jan. 14, just two days before hostilities broke out between the allied forces and Iraq.
Robison said King Hussein has been viewed as an apologist for the Iraqis. He said the king has lost his all-important gulf Arab financial support. He said he may not survive the country's mounting economic and other problems, but that the king may be the only viable choice to lead the country in the future.
The diplomat, who said he decided in 1989 to resign his position effective Jan. 26, 1991, so he could teach and work on a doctorate at the U., noted that Saddam's "Robin Hood credentials are very solid in Jordan." He said Jordanians think Saddam is stealing from the rich to give to the poor.
"They haven't gotten a lot out of it, but they have received a lot of promises," he said.
Additionally, "the strong Palestinian majority in Jordan have looked to Saddam to vanquish Israel, returning to downtrodden Palestinians what they claim they deserve."