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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rare Attack on Jordanian Queen Heightens Soccer Tensions

In a rare attack on the Jordanian royal family, scores of prominent East Bank Jordanian tribal leaders have issued a scathing statement denouncing Queen Rania of corruption.

The attack on the queen, who is of Palestinian descent, highlights mounting tensions between East Bank Jordanians of Bedouin stock and Jordanians of Palestinian origin that exploded late last year in soccer riots in the capital Amman. It is certain to focus attention by security forces on forthcoming Jordanian Professional League matches.

The riots erupted after a match between arch rivals Al-Wehdat, a Palestinian club founded in the Palestinian refugee camp with the same name on the outskirts of Amman, and Al-Faisali associated with East Bank Jordanians, which left 250 people, including 30 police officers, injured.

Al Faisali owes its name to the Hashemite King Faisal who was first king of Syria and then of Iraq in the 1920s and 1930. The club is controlled by the prominent East Bank Udwan tribe but has many Palestinians among its players.

Al Wehdat President and well-known businessman Tareq Khouri was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison barely two weeks after the riots for insulting a police officer during a an earlier Al Wehdat-Al Faisali match in March of last year.

Khouri, who according to a US diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks, “bought” his seat on Al Wehdat’s board, voiced widespread Palestinian complaints about discrimination in his November 2009 election campaign that failed to return him to parliament

The statement by 36 tribal leaders charged that Queen Rania, "her sycophants and the power centres that surround her" are dividing Jordanians and "stealing from the country and the people."

The statement warned that if King Abdullah failed to tackle corruption and introduce reform "similar events to those in Tunisia and Egypt and other Arab countries will occur." Internet and satellite television had made it impossible for regimes to stifle public access to information about events in the region, the statement said

Anti-government protests last month toppled Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali and have paralyzed Egypt for the past two weeks with President Hosni Mubarak rejecting demands for his immediate resignation. The tribal leaders noted that corruption charges against Tunisia and Egypt’s first ladies had fuelled the protests in the two countries.

The Jordanian statement was initially published on www.ammonnews.net, which later said it had been removed by international hackers.

The US embassy cable underlined warned that tensions between Palestinians and East Bankers could erupt on the soccer pitch. It said that slogans shouted at Al Wehdat-Al Faisali matches “have over time become a popular barometer of tensions between East Bankers and Palestinians.

The slogans and cheers on the Faisali side during the July 17, 2009 match were particularly divisive and controversial, as they were directed at members of the royal family for the first time,” the cable reported.

It quoted an embassy contact as describing “the ‘increasingly explicit and provocative’ Faisali slogans as proof that status quo-oriented East Bankers are uncomfortable with the increasing pressures for reform that will inevitably lessen their near-monopoly on political and social power.”

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