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The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan The Beginning : law and order


King Abdullah I declaring the Independence of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan after the end of the British Mandate.
The photo shows Ibrahim Pasha Hashem the Prime Minister and Abbas Pasha Mirza, Director of Interior. Amman, 25th May 1946.

Abdullah, later to be known as King Abdullah the First, was the second son of the Sharif Hussein bin Ali of the Hashemite rulers of Mecca. He was his father's right-hand man, and highly popular among the Arabs. He had been the prime mover in the revolt from the beginning - indeed, in many ways, it might be said that Abdullah had created the Arab Revolt. He was cheerful, extrovert, cultured and sophisticated, of strong character, highly intelligent, worldly-wise, experienced, blooded in battle and a superb chess player.  He had represented his father in several meetings with leaders in Istanbul and Damascus among other places and was reputed to be an excellent judge of men and of situations. The British wanted nothing to do with him!

In Faisal, his younger brother, they found a much more malleable figurehead for their operations in Palestine. (See the page on Lawrence of Arabia.)

Abdullah supported his brother loyally, and when Faisal was exiled from Syria by France, he organized an army to fight back - to the consternation of the British and the fury of the French.  Assembling a motley force of about 2,000 tribesmen, he moved north from Mecca, halting in Amman in March 1920. At the same time, the security of the region was threatened by the incursion of Wahhabi sectarians (adherents of a puritanical Muslim sect who stressed the unity of God) from Najd in the Arabian Peninsula). It became clear to the British that Abdullah, who remained in Amman, could be accepted as a ruler by the Bedouin tribes and in that way be dissuaded from involving himself in Syria.

In March 1921, Winston Churchill, then British colonial secretary, convened a high-level conference in Cairo to consider Middle East policy. As a result of these deliberations, Britain subdivided the Palestine Mandate along the Jordan River-Gulf of Aqaba line. The eastern portion - called Transjordan - was to have a separate Arab administration operating under the general supervision of the British commissioner for Palestine, with Abdullah appointed as Emir. At a follow-up meeting in Jerusalem with Churchill, High Commissioner Herbert Samuel, and Lawrence, Abdullah agreed to abandon his Syrian project in return for the Emirate and a substantial British subsidy.

Prince Abdullah with Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for the British colonies, at the Jerusalem Conference, March 1921; the photo shows Mrs Churchill, Sir Herbert Samuel, the High Commissioner of Palestine, Mrs. Samuel, General Ghaleb Pasha Sha'alan, Colonel Fu'ad Sleem, and Colonel  Aref Al-Hassan.

At its inception in 1921, the Emirate of Transjordan had fewer than 400,000 inhabitants. Of this number, about 20 percent lived in towns. The balance were farmers in village communities and pastoral nomadic and semi nomadic tribespeople. British officials handled the problems of defence, finance, and foreign policy, leaving internal political affairs to Abdullah who ruled directly with a small executive council, much in the manner of a tribal sheikh.

The lands included in the Emirate were under the control of local tribal chiefs, who were most definitely not in favour of any central control - in fact not in favour of any limit whatsoever being put on their powers, and these powers in several instances were great.
Stories of 19th century travellers - and also of early twentieth century travellers - abound with anecdotes regarding the safe conducts being sought along the way, together with the obligation to employ a go between to negotiate them, and also a "local guide" at an inflated price, dictated by the local sheikh. Without these safe conducts no trip was safe, and travellers had to wait until a series of safe conducts had been negotiated to allow them to continue on the next stage of their trip.
However, in 1933, we have the reports of travellers who made their way freely from one destination to another, often through the heart of the Bedouin territories, and being greeted like friends by the Arab Legionaries stationed in the different forts along the way.
How did this come about?


Prince Abdullah with Sir Herbert Samuel, Sharif Shaker ben Zaid and other officials, Amman 1921.
Source: LTA

In August/September 1920, Captain F. G.  Peake ("Freddy"), late of the Egyptian Camel Corps that had fought with Lawrence and the Arabs, was sent by the British to report on the local police, gendarmerie and the public security situation.  The small police force was found to be insufficient and in October 1920, the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem authorised Peake to form two small forces.  These were "a mobile force" of 100 men to guard the Amman-Palestine road, and 50 men to be stationed in Kerak in the south of Jordan.
It is worth perhaps remarking that the distance from Amman to Jerusalem is 44 miles (or 70kms) as the crow flies. Granted the road is longer than this, but nevertheless this is more than 1 man for each kilometer of road! Apparently the rest of the territory should manage for itself!
When the Emir Abdullah actually arrived in Amman on 2 March 1921 he brought with him a "battalion" (katiba) of about 200 infantry, basically for his personal protection and for the protection of the new capital. He could also call on forces of about 1,000 men including a troop of 100 men on camels, forming his personal bodyguard.
On 22 October 1923 the various forces were merged under the command of Peake who was now an employee of the Emirate. The new force was known officially in English as The Arab Legion. Following the tribal unrest that marked the early 1920's,  "Freddy" Peake actively recruited men for the Legion, but mainly from villagers and  a few townsmen. This did little or nothing  to control the Bedouin tribes, for whom raiding was not merely a sport, but an economic necessity.
Raiding was in fact, extremely lucrative. I have a description of a raid on "Wadi Mousa" at the end of the nineteenth century, carried out by men from Kerak.

"Ibrahim, whose tale I am repeating, was brought to face with life when nineteen years old, when his father was killed by a bullet not far from Tafila. This was a bitter blow for the young man. "I swore to Allah that I would kill ten enemies for the death of my father".

Mohammed Mozally, sheikh of Kerak, organised a formidable raid against the offenders. Led by his son Mosleh, 180 riders left Kerak and made for Shobuk through the valleys to hide their approach. They rushed on the Howeitat camped at Basta, killed five men, and got away with two thousand camels which were taken directly to Kerak by a few riders.

The Kerakians then pressed on for Wadi Mousa and attacked the village of Elgee. The inhabitants were threshing the corn in the square. With the first volley, fourteen men fell; the rest of the population escaped through the rocky labyrinths, abandoning the village to the enemy, who captured the beasts nearby, collected the grain, loading it on donkeys and mules, set fire to the straw and came back to Shobuk with a rich booty.

"This time" explained the narrator, "and contrary to custom, the spoils were not shared out among everybody, but stayed with whoever had seized it. Like that I only got a hundred ewes and a camel - I was very young".

You may be as surprised as I was by the number of animals captured here. Allowing for exaggeration, this is still a very considerable number by today's standards. Inevitably this raid was followed by yet another counter raid to recuperate some of what was lost and the cycle was immovably fixed.

This was what those trying to bring order, and if possible law, to the countryside were faced with. Anyone who didn't raid was likely to lose all that they had.

When I first saw the present day police station in Wadi Mousa, I was struck by the highly defensive position it held then, surveying all the valley and with a wide field of fire on all sides. You can still see it behind the new administration building. This was one of the forts built by the Arab Legion to protect such villages. A great number of them were built in the twenties and the thirties, always close to good sources of water.

During this period, raiding became more and more intensive and the tribes refused to accept any rule from Amman. Not only was Abdullah's government threatened, but peace with neighbouring Saudi Arabia. A British Captain, John Bagot Glubb, was transferred to the Legion in November 1930 as second in command to Peake. Glubb, later Lieutenant General Glubb or "Glubb Pasha", had experienced similar problems while serving in Iraq. He understood the Bedouin very well indeed, and knew how to deal with them.

In February 1931, the Desert Patrol was formed by Glubb to secure the desert region of the country, effectively everything east of the cultivated area that formed Trans-Jordan’s western border with Palestine. Initially the Patrol had 20 men in four trucks with Lewis and Vickers machine guns. Additional men were located in all of the small forts throughout the region and relied on camels for mobility. Glubb assigned himself the task of bringing the Bedouin into the Patrol and persuading them to cease the raids.

He visited camp after camp and was struck immediately by the condition of the Bedouin of Trans Jordan in comparison with those in Iraq (ragged clothes and scanty meals, compared to flowing robes and ample food supplies). He observed the camps, frequently with twenty or thirty tents, and scrawny animals pastured on overgrazed land. "If there was no danger from raids" he pointed out, "you could spread out and the animals would get fat".

While the Bedouin considered this, he moved in from another point of view. "The Government" he told them "is concerned about your well being and your happiness".

This brought outright disbelief. What Government had ever cared about them? Soldiers arrived, gave orders and collected taxes, always more than the Bedouin could afford to pay. "Yes, yes," Glubb insisted. "Both the Government and the Arab Legion want to bring prosperity to the Bedouin".

Gradually the message went home, helped by the insistence of all the members of the Legion on their visits to the camps and when they went home. Slowly at first, and then faster, the Bedouin sought enrolment in the Arab Legion, and the competition was soon such that Glubb could choose the best of them. Companies like the Iraq Petroleum Company started to employ Bedouin as guards and the steady salaries coming in began the prosperous period that south Jordan was to know for the next twenty years.

This is a photo of Attayak Eid of the Zilabia tribe of Wadi Rum. Already a veteran of the march on Aqaba, he was one of the first volunteers for the Desert Patrol.

You can see a photo of him at the age of 95 on the page about "The Bedouin of Wadi Rum". He died not long ago aged over a hundred.

These early volunteers knew themselves an elite and were proud of their unit and of their colleagues. They were indeed "a happy band of brothers" and considered the officers as friends. At the beginning there were only ninety members, but as their success grew, so did the funds available, and any raid coming from across one of the frontiers was quickly dealt with. At the beginning they relied on horses and camels, the Legion became mechanized towards the end of the thirties.

Glubb also used vehicles and even light aircraft to track raiders across the desert; they could no longer disappear into the distance as before. This was emphasized when he successfully followed a murderer and brought him back from the heights of the Tubaiq, a mountainous region on the Saudi border where the Bedouin had considered that they were safe from the authorities. Raids quickly became a thing of the past. (See also the page "Bedouin customs and traditions").

The belief which soon took root that the "Government" cared about them was the beginning of the fierce loyalty felt ever since by the Bedouin tribes towards the Emir and later the Kings of Jordan. Bedouin, and indeed Arabs in general, have little use for impersonal governments, the important thing was the head of them, and Abdullah soon became universally acknowledged by them as "sheikh mushayekh" or "the sheikh of sheikhs". In every civil disturbance since then, the King has been able to count on the loyalty of the Bedouin (King Hussein had their devotion) and they have been the mainstay of all the armed forces.


The Emir Abdullah with Glubb Pasha on his left in 1944.
They are accompanied by the Prime Minister

On the retirement of "Peake Pasha" Glubb succeeded automatically to the command of the Arab Legion and it is his name that is always associated with it today. He commanded them during the 1939-45 war, took part with them in the Victory Parade in London, and led them to victory over the Israeli Army in 1948. (He was cordially hated by the Israelis).

He remained the Commandant of the Legion until 1956 when he was dismissed by King Hussein, who was distancing himself from the British at this point. But mention his name in Jordan today, especially among the Bedouin and it is instantly recognised, even among the young men. Most of their fathers seem to have served with him and they all remember him. "He was our friend", they say. "He knew us - each of us - and he came to visit our tents and sit with us".

I think that Glubb would have been pleased to know that.

He was always particularly proud to think that in Jordan the raids had been stopped with little bloodshed, whereas in both Syria and in Iraq there had been fierce battles between the raiders and the authorities. The mixture of persuasion, pointing out alternatives and showing the tribes that there was no sanctuary if the Arab Legion didn't wish to grant it, worked far better in the end.

As I said earlier, even in 1930 Jordan had become a safe country to travel in. Today it still is!


In 1951 on the annual review of the Arab Legion on Independence Day, behind King Abdullah was his grandson Prince Hussein bin Talal (Glubb Pasha is on the left). The next generation is there.

 

I am indebted to the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs for the contemporary photos - see www.passia.org