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April 21, 1954

The Situation in Jordan

This document was made possible with support from Youmna and Tony Asseily



The situation in Jordan


Before detailing the events that took and are taking place in Jordan, it is necessary to look at the various elements that make up the Jordanian people.


Before separating from Syria, Jordan, like Hauran, was home to Bedouin tribes the three most important among which are: Bani Sakher, al- Majali, and al-Rsheidat. Bani Sakher is the strongest, and is based in Eastern Jordan, al-Majali live in Kerak and its surroundings, and al-Rsheidat are based in lrbid and its surrounding area. The Turkish State had settled groups of Circassians in Amman and Zarka.


When Prince Abdullah bin al-Hussein arrived in Jordan, the British declared it an Arab Emirate with Amman as its capital. The British used it as a base from which to pester the French Mandates in Syria and Lebanon and hatch plots against France. Jordan became a safe haven for revolutionaries and those with sentences pending against them, and for people pursued by Syria and Lebanon. Amman prospered and several Syrian traders and manufacturers came to Jordan and established commercial and manufacturing enterprises in Amman. A number of educated Palestinian young men also settled in Amman and were hired by the British in various government positions.


All of these obtained the Jordanian nationality and succeeded in attaining high government positions. There is rivalry among them and the population was divided into supporters of this and that politicians.


The British Commander Peake Pacha, and after him Glubb Pacha (Abu Hneik), established the Jordanian Army, and in doing so, favoured the sons of Jordanian tribes and brought tribal leaders closer to them. Glubb Pacha trusted them, was certain of their loyalty, and never thought of confiscating their weapons.


Glubb Pacha firmly shaped Jordan from the military, social, and economic points of view; he trained the Bedouins to behave according to strict military rules and fostered in them a spirit of order and sacrifice. He did away with unemployment by recruiting jobless youths into the army and succeeded in establishing his control over individual soldiers, their families, and tribes, by constantly caring for their welfare and checking on each and every soldier's condition. This earned him the nickname al-Saheb (the friend); Jordanian Bedouin tribes only call Glubb Pacha 'al-Saheb'.


Glubb Pacha became the real ruler of Jordan and was known as the uncrowned King of Jordan.


Glubb Pacha prevented Jordan's assets from being used to aid Palestine; on the contrary, he used to send army brigades to fight Palestinians thus creating an enmity and a schism between Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Palestine and its leader, and King Abdullah and the Hashemite family. The Arab Armies in Palestine accused the Jordanians of treason and of acting against them as the British do.


The situation remained thus until the events in Palestine took place and the majority of the Palestinian people sought refuge in Jordanian cities and in the parts of Palestine that were annexed to the Kingdom of Jordan. The number of Palestinians in Jordan was estimated at 900,000, a higher number than the country's original inhabitants. The cities in which the Palestinians live are Jerusalem, Nablus, Tulkarem, Hebron, Ramallah, and Jericho, as far as Palestinian territories, i.e. the West Bank is concerned, and 120 thousand in Amman, 60,000 in Irbid, 20,000 in Zarka, and a few thousand in Salt.


After King Abdullah's assassination and the dispatching of King Talal to Turkey for medical treatment leaving the throne at the mercy of leaders of Palestinian origin like Ibrahim Pacha Hashem, Fawzi al Mulqi, Samir al Rifai, Said al-Mufit and Walid Salah, parliamentary elections were held in 1953. 22 deputies from the West Bank and about 20 from Jordan (the East Bank) won seats, of which one third is of Palestinian origin. The resulting Cabinet therefore, was majority Palestinian.


Thanks to the Palestinians' hatred of the British and Americans for having helped the Jews occupy Palestine and causing their subsequent exile, Jordanian policy started shifting away from supporting the British to becoming their enemies an opposing their policies. Saudi policies found in that an apt vehicle for their propaganda aimed at driving a wedge between Jordan and Iraq.


Egypt followed suit when enmity developed between it and Iraq over the Iraqi-Turkish Treaty, and the Syria on account of its economic and social clout in Amman. In addition, there are internal elements such as the considerable influence of Haj Amin al-Husseini over the overwhelming majority of Palestinian city and village inhabitants and among the refugees in Jordanian cities.


The majority of the Jordanian population turned against the British and their Western allies due to the influence of parties established by Palestinian intellectuals, such as the Socialist Party, Hizb al-Baath al-'Arabi, the Muslim Brotherhood, Harakat al-Tahreer al-Islami, the Supporters of Peace, the communists, and various unions. However, the British were able to keep the friendship of the Jordanian tribes, of old Palestinian leaders, and over other Jordanian elements. They succeeded in dissolving Parliament, a majority of whom was against their policies, and holding new elections during which all sorts of methods were used to sideline the opposition. The result was that only three or four candidates from the opposition succeeded in winning seats. This was done in anticipation of a union between Jordan and Iraq. The British had opposed a union between Jordan and Syria since the end of the Second World War.


The Baghdad-Turkey Treaty, its reasons and outcome


When the Suez Canal Agreement was concluded between Egypt and the British, Egypt pretended to be a friend of the West and especially of America who helped facilitate the process. Egypt remained the target of a campaign by various elements, within and outside Egypt, who accused it of defending the West as part of its commitment to the Agreement, especially to the part that calls for a British reoccupation of the Canal if Turkey, a prominent member of the Western defence of the Middle East, is ever attacked. The Egyptian Government took these attacks in its stride biding its time until it becomes the leader of the Arab world within the context of the region's defence network.


Suddenly, the situation changed when a rift was created among the Arabs at the Arab Foreign Ministers' meeting in Cairo as a result of a dispute between Egypt and Iraq, on account of Iraq's insistence on concluding an alliance with Turkey. When Iraq made good its word and signed this Treaty, Egypt lost all hope of playing a leadership role in the area to Turkey, a larger and better equipped and prepared country. Egypt thus became the flag bearer of the opposition to the Treaty and to Britain and America who stand behind it, and Turkey and Egypt became enemies. Saudi Arabia put all its fervour and might behind Egypt because the Treaty is bound to strengthen Iraq and foster feelings of vengeance in the hearts of the Hashemites against Saudi Arabia.


Sights turned towards Syria which decided to support the Egyptian-Saudi policy of seeking to distance themselves from the Baghdad Pact as a result of public pressure and the influence of the army.


Lebanon adopted a hesitant stance in this regard and refrained from taking a firm position due to the difference of opinion of its President of the Republic, who supports the Pact and had personally contributed to its success, and the vast majority of Lebanese parties, institutions, and sects, that oppose it.


As for Jordan, the prevailing opinion is that their joining the Pact is subject to a decision by Iraq and the British due to the close ties between the Iraqi and Jordanian monarchies and the support the Pact enjoys from Jordanian tribes, cities, and leaders who favour British policies. Western policies were not fully aware of the extent to which Jordanian policies had changed, especially traditional British policies. The position adopted by the people and their success in the first round against the Pact took Anglo-American policy by surprise.


Preparations for Jordan's accession to the Treaty


British policies felt the impact of the propaganda in Jordan against the Pact and decided to pursue a positive policy. They arranged for a visit by the Turkish President of the Republic, Mr Jalal Bayar, to Jordan, and the Jordanian Government prepared to welcome him with pomp and circumstance and took precautionary measures to quell all opposition. The visit, however, was not a success due to adverse reactions as a result of the general strike and protest demonstrations in Amman and the Palestinian cities.


The trip was followed by King Hussein's visit to the Lebanese capital, where the main British policy bureau is located, and by the formulation of a plan in Beirut for Jordan’s accession to the Treaty with the blessing of the representatives of Iraq, the British, the President of Lebanon, and King Hussein. This would take place upon the implementation of the following steps:


Economic assistance from Iraq to Jordan


An undertaking by the British to replace the Jordanian Treaty with a British-Jordanian Agreement.


An undertaking by Lebanon to accede to the Treaty as soon as Jordan does, and refrain from signing the military agreement with Syria. The Jordanian delegation, led by Minister Hazza' al-Majali, which had gone to Baghdad to fulfil the first step, has achieved positive results.


The British appointed Commander Templer to negotiate with Amman about replacing the Treaty upon Jordan's accession to the Baghdad Pact. The British, however, were not fortunate with their choice of this old and stubborn soldier to negotiations with a country as sensitive, precarious (and playing host to a lot of adverse propaganda and opposition elements), as Jordan.


Lebanon did not sign the military defence agreement with Syria and insisted on amending the draft project to make it applicable only to its southern borders.


The implications of this policy were not lost on Egyptian, Syrian, and Saudi intelligence services which took the necessary precautions and started working on a counter plan that included:


A visit by General Abdel-Hakim 'Amer to Jordan after one to Syria, to warn King Hussein against announcing Jordan's accession to the Treaty;


Arranging a meeting between Minister Sadat and President Camille Chamoun during the former's unofficial visit to Lebanon to discuss Lebanon's foreign policy and seek clarifications concerning Lebanon's position regarding the Treaty, the President’s hesitation before giving an answer, and taking into account Jordan’s position in relation to the Treaty. The Minister is also to contact opposition leaders to warn them about President Chamoun's position and rouse their anger against the Treaty;

Future military implications of Jordan's accession to the Treaty became the issue of the hour of gratuitous and international policy-making in the Middle East. This was due to the opposition’s belief that Jordan's accession to the Iraqi Treaty would lead to the following:


Isolating Syria from Egypt and Saudi Arabia and surrounding it with countries in the Treaty which would force it to accede;


Speeding up the process of Lebanon's accession to the Treaty and closing the grip round Syria’s throat to compel it to accede;


The dissolution of the Tripartite Egyptian, Saudi, Syrian Agreement and suspension of the bilateral agreement between Syria and Egypt;


Isolation Egypt from the Arabs in Asia, limiting its influence to Africa, and distancing it from the above-mentioned countries;


Surrounding Russia with a pro-Western defensive belt;


The Treaty would be able to impose its control over the internal and external fortunes of all Arab countries;


Preventing the rise of potential pro-Russian influence, publicity, and movements in these countries;


Facilitating the resolution of the Palestinian problem between the Arabs and the Jews.


These possible outcome s were of major importance, and a cause for alarm, to concerned countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the communist countries and, in particular, Russia.


In response, these countries hastened to organise a counter campaign. Arms deals were concluded between Egypt and a number of other countries, including communist countries, and the Russians again offered to help Egypt with the construction of the Sad al-‘Ali (the Aswan Dam) Project and proposed to build a petrol refinery in Syria. They also undertook to come to the se countries' assistance if they ever came under attack.


The ominously important meeting between King Saud and the Russian leaders took place in India, and the first Saudi miracle occurred in the form of an alliance between Saudi Arabia and Hindu India at the expense of fanatically Muslim Pakistan from which it sought to distance itself. Work has already started on the implementation of the Syrian-Egyptian and Egyptian-Saudi military treaties.


This is what happened on the international level. On the public level, Egypt and Syria’s Governments and people undertook to rouse the anger of their Palestinian and Jordanian friends and agents, and leftist organisations in Lebanon undertook to rouse the indignation of their colleagues and branches in Jordan.


One should not overlook the influence that Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Harakat al-Tahreer had on fomenting a revolution in Jordan and then taking part in leading it. Haj Amin al-Husseini has spiritual power over the Palestinians, he is an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood, and those who help him carry out his plans in Jordan have their own old, effective, and wily methods of impacting the Palestinian masses. These individuals, who were under orders from Haj Amin to remain in hiding even if they are not pursued or harassed, are to be found in Nablus, Tulkarem, Jerusalem, and Amman, as well as in Damascus and Lebanon, and execute plans with precision and enthusiasm.


Now that this necessary introduction prior to detailing recent events in Jordan is over, we move to the relevant issue:


What has happened, is happening, and expected to happen in Jordan

Commander Templer started his negotiations with the Jordanian cabinet, headed by Said al-Mufti, while his negotiation s with Minister Hazza' al-Majali in Iraq were still ongoing.


Those who follow politics closely were expecting only one result, namely success of the negotiations in Iraq and Amman and the Amman Government's announcement of its accession to the Iraqi treaty.


Activities against the negotiations picked up pace and were taken up by the Syrian, Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Lebanese, and in particular, by the Palestinian masses. Government and popular Egyptian, Syrian, Saudi Arabian, Lebanese and Palestinian leaders started preparing for the conclusion of a public agreement in Jordan that would destroy the Anglo-Iraqi plan and prevent Jordan from acceding to the Treaty. Protest telegrams rained on King Hussein and on the Jordanian cabinet warning them against acceding to the Treaty; these were followed by dire warnings by Palestinian public elements in the West Bank (Palestine) and opposition institutions in Jordanian cities. British policy-makers sensed how sensitive the situation had become and ordered that Queen Zein be sent to Beirut to distance her from her son King Hussein so that she would not prevail upon him to change his mind about announcing Jordan’s accession to the Treaty. The Queen is known for her personal animosity towards the Iraqi branch of the Hashemite family.

Detailed report on the political situation in Jordan following King Abdullah's assassinatio


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Document Information


Emir Farid Chehab Collection, GB165-0384, Box 11, File 30/11, Middle East Centre Archive, St Antony’s College, Oxford.


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Youmna and Tony Asseily