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In Jordan, Blacklist Targets Those Suspected of Being Soft on Israel

Mideast: Professionals were jailed for publishing names. Their action reflects popular sentiment. Issue will be felt at Arab summit.

March 26, 2001|MICHAEL SLACKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMMAN, Jordan — It was 2 a.m. when the police pounded on Ali abu Sukar's door, wrenching him awake, then barely giving him enough time to throw a sweater over his pajamas before they handcuffed, blindfolded and whisked him off to prison.

No one has accused Abu Sukar or his six colleagues, also roused from their beds in January in simultaneous raids, of being terrorists, but in many ways they represent something just as threatening to the authorities.

They each face a minimum of three years in prison for their strident leadership of professional associations representing engineers, doctors, lawyers and journalists. What triggered their detention was their publication of a blacklist of Jordanians who they felt had cooperated with Israel. They called it Resistance and named individuals, businesses and government officials who "normalized with the Zionist entity."

This willingness of elites to take provocative actions marks a major new challenge for leaders of the Arab League as they prepare to begin their summit here Tuesday. Across the Arab world, officials are confronted with an increasingly angry and frustrated populace. People have been pushed toward radical sentiments by the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and by the raging intifada, the continuing misery in embargoed Iraq and, for many, their own economic difficulties. In Jordan at least, there is a widespread feeling of having been duped into signing a 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

"There is less and less respect among people for this class of leaders," said Labib Qamhawi, a former professor of political science at Jordan University. "There is less and less ability of Arab leaders during this summit to claim they can do this or that. It has to be something that people are convinced will be implemented. Otherwise, if this continues, don't ever be surprised if you notice some sort of public upheaval here or there."

Public Pressure Alters Focus of Arab Summit

The dilemma facing the Arab leadership is straightforward. As a group it tends to bend to the influence of moderate peers, such as Egypt. That conflicts directly with the growing public desire to see resolute action. The building pressure has already influenced the summit agenda. Where the leaders had wanted to focus on economic ties, they will instead be addressing the Iraqi and Palestinian issues.

Many Arab leaders "are sympathizing directly with the anti-normalization committees," said Adnan abu Odeh, a former chief of the royal court under the late King Hussein.

"Some of the Arab countries are sympathizing, most Arab intellectuals are sympathizing," said Abu Odeh, whose name appeared on the blacklist. "If the situation is not resolved, the tone for anti-normalization will rise and become stronger."

The situation is most visible here in Jordan, host of the summit and where a young, untested monarch, King Abdullah II, has at least openly endorsed the peace policy of his father. Sandwiched between Israel and Iraq, Jordan has a population of 5 million, more than half Palestinian. That does not include more than a million Palestinians who have lived here as refugees since Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War. Jordan has a relatively moderate, open regime, one that tolerates some degree of public criticism.

A coalition claiming to represent 100,000 professionals started the anti-normalization campaign shortly after Jordan signed its treaty with Israel in October 1994. For years the government looked the other way, but recent events created such a tinderbox that it responded to the blacklist with arrests. Last week, anti-normalization activist Ali Hattar was arrested at the airport in Amman, the capital, after returning from Syria and was being held without bail.

"This is illegal," Abdul Hadi Majalib, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said of the blacklist. "There is a difference between what we feel and what is illegal. We hope that the whole [of Jordan] will not normalize, but [it can't be stopped] by force. The treaty allows a relationship with Israel."

Abu Sukar, the anti-normalization committee leader arrested two months ago--and freed on a $70,000 bond after 35 days in jail--says the government is to blame for failing to acknowledge the overwhelming public sentiment. "We hope to have some influence on the leaders," he said, sitting inside an office where one must walk on a painting of the Israeli flag to enter. "The leaders must comply with the streets."

He defended the use of blacklists.

"We think we did a legal thing by publishing the names, without pushing people to do anything," he said. "Those whose names were published can maintain their relationship with Israel, or satisfy the public and deal with their own people."

Blacklist Has Had a Chilling Effect

Although no one on the list appears to have suffered physical harm, the effect has been chilling. Some have received threats; one found a bullet placed ominously outside his door.

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