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Tuesday Feb. 8, 2011 7:49 PM (EST+7)
Jordan's tribes criticize queen's role, Palestinian heritage

Read more: Queen Rania, King Abdullah, Hashemite, Jordan

AMMAN, Feb 8 (Suleiman al-Khalidi/Reuters) - Jordanian tribal figures have issued a petition urging King Abdullah to end his Palestinian wife's role in politics, in a new challenge to the monarch grappling with fallout from uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Evoking comparisons with the wives of Tunisia's former strongman Zine al Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, the signatories attacked Queen Rania's Palestinian origin and accused her of using state funds to promote her image abroad without concern for the hardship of ordinary Jordanians.

The 36 figures are drawn from conservative East Bank tribes who form the backbone of the Hashemite monarchy's support -- as opposed to Jordanians of Palestinian, or West Bank, origin who are the majority of the country's 7 million population.

She is building power centres for her interest that go against what Jordanians and Hashemites have agreed on in governing and is a danger to the nation and the structure of the state and the political structure and the institution of the throne, the petition said.

Disregard for the content of the statement will throw us into what happened in Tunis and Egypt and what will happen in other Arab countries, it added.

The unusually blunt statement reflects the deep rift between nationalist East Bank Jordanians and the majority Palestinian population, rather than a direct challenge to Abdullah's rule.

But it keeps up pressure on the monarch who responded to anti-government protests last week by dismissing the cabinet and appointing former army officer Marouf Bakhit as prime minister.

The move, which followed a $500 million package of state aid to raise civil service salaries and curb price rises, aimed to address East Bankers' alarm over economic liberalisation by the previous government which threatened their state benefits.


Publicly attacking royal figures is taboo in Jordan under tough sedition or lese majeste rules that limit discussion of Jordan's royal family.

But the signatories, drawn from within the ruling hierarchy's chief tribal groups such as the Bani Sakhr, Abadi, Shobaki and Manaseer, said their concern for the country and throne had prompted them to speak out.

The signatories said the legitimacy of Jordan's Hashemite monarchy, which claims descent from Islam's Prophet Mohammad, depended on the consent of the East Bank tribes.

Mindful of the status of the monarch, Faris al-Fayez, who helped draft the petition, told Reuters the statement emphasised that aside from the monarch there should be no legal immunity for any corrupt person regardless of his title.

Hardline nationalist East Bankers have taken issue with both Queen Rania's Palestinian background and her highly visible role in the country's male-dominated society.

The queen, who meets top Western delegations alongside her husband, is an articulate advocate of Jordanian women's rights, including the right of women to pass on their citizenship to their children if they marry foreigners, a right which is absent in most of the Arab world.

By supporting a law that could naturalise more Palestinians, the queen has raised fears in Jordan's ruling hierarchy that the demographic balance could tilt further in favour of Jordanians of Palestinian origin.

They also argue that empowering Jordanians of Palestinian origin before a Palestinian state is created will give Israel a pretext to keep denying any Palestinian right of return and solve the issue at Jordan's expense.

The petition is the most sweeping personal attack on the 40-year-old queen since East Bank fans at a high profile soccer match chanted slogans denigrating her Palestinian background and even urging the monarch to divorce her.

Political analyst Labib Qamhawi said Rania's Palestinian background meant she was an easy target for critics seeking to portray her as non-Jordanian, even though she is not the first queen to hail from outside the East Bank. King Hussein -- Abdullah's father -- had four wives, none of them East Bankers.

Society is more conservative and liberal and they always look at the role of woman in the shadow of a man and not as a direct and independent figure, Qamhawi added.






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