The Delicate Dance

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Jordanian lawmakers enacted a repressive cybercrimes law last year, to the alarm of human rights advocates who forecast that officials in the Middle Eastern kingdom could use it to subdue dissent. Now, those very same advocates say that Jordanian authorities have harassed, arrested, and detained scores of people who participated in pro-Palestine demonstrations in the country.

These demonstrations were generally in support of the rulers of Gaza, Hamas, who attacked Israel in October 2023, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 240 people hostage, eliciting a devastating Israeli response that critics of Israel have compared to genocide.

“Jordanian authorities are trampling the right to free expression and assembly in an effort to tamp down Gaza-related activism,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a press release. “Recent government assurances that the new cybercrimes law would not be used to infringe on rights crumbled in less than two months as the authorities deployed it against Jordanians to stifle their activism.”

The repression is a sign of the forces that have put Jordan, a near-landlocked nation bordering the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria, under enormous pressure in recent months.

Jordanian fighter jets, for instance, flew with American warplanes that recently attacked Iranian-backed militias in Syria after the militia attacked US forces within Jordanian territory, killing three American soldiers. The question is whether this move would deter Iran and its proxies – or push them to escalate, debated analysts at the Atlantic Council. The kingdom might have also participated in joint airstrikes with the US in Iraq, Middle East Monitor added.

Also, Jordan was the second country to diplomatically recognize Israel, in 1994.

Still, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Khasawneh has also felt impelled to demand that Israel refrains from displacing the millions of Palestinians who are now cowering in the southern part of Gaza, as Israel forces pound the north and central Gaza and move toward Rafah, the Times of Israel wrote. Jordan was supporting South Africa’s ongoing case in the International Court of Justice that accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza.

Khasawneh and his boss, King Abdulla II, are especially familiar with the Palestinian diaspora, comprised of the millions of Palestinians who fled their homeland in the wake of the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars that Israel won. Today, 20 percent of the people living in Jordan, or 2.3 million people, are registered refugees, reported the New York Times. That’s more than the population of the Gaza Strip. At the same time, millions more Palestinians are now Jordanian citizens, Human Rights Watch noted.

As the Middle East Research and Information Project noted, the king and Khasawneh must walk a line between quieting the pro-Palestinian voices in their midst, while also showing everyone who is in control – or risk losing it.

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