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Jordanian politics through the eyes of a football fan

Though usually a quiet kingdom, beneath its surface Jordan sometimes seems like a powder keg about to explode – especially when East Jordan's favourite football team meets the Palestinians' top choice.

Gamal Abdel-Gawad , Tuesday 14 Dec 2010

One dead and tens injured was the aftermath of a football match in Jordan on Friday. It was an extraordinary match between two major Jordanian teams, Al-Wihdat and Al-Faisali, whose historic rivalry is unlike any of those seen in Egypt. Al-Wihdat fans are mostly of Palestinian origin while Al-Faisali fans herald from East Jordan. Football fans around the world are rooted in their politics – something we know nothing about in Egypt, despite fanaticism of many team supporters.

Jordan, a quiet submissive country, sits atop a volcano of tensions, stirring between one half of the country and the other. The Emirate of Transjordan was created after World War I in the area of Badiya on the eastern banks of the Jordan River. This emirate of limited natural and human resources was established for several reasons, most importantly to appease Al-Hussein bin Ali, the Sharif of Mecca, and his sons after the British reneged on promises made during the war in return for the family's revolt against the Turks.

The 1948 war ended with the creation of Israel and so Jordan annexed the remainder of Palestine in the West Bank. Historians disagree if the annexation was based on a Hashemite desire to expand the borders of its desert kingdom or their urge to save what was left of Palestine from Zionist ambitions. Whichever the case, the small kingdom became a larger Jordan. But its new citizens have always had a strong Palestinian identity which at times clashed with their new home and their new Jordanian character.

In the 1967 war, the West Bank was lost and the Palestinians remained in Jordan, making up 50 per cent of the population. Tensions rose between Palestinian Jordanians and other Jordanians, culminating in the 1970 civil war. Since then, a deep unrest lingers beneath the surface and rears its ugly head every once in a while at events such as football matches between Al-Wihdat and Al-Faisali.

Al-Wihdat team was established in 1956 and became the favourite among Jordan's Palestinians refugees. Those in East Jordan support Al-Faisali, created in 1932, and view it as Jordan’s national sports icon.

Football fanaticism and rivalry is found the world over, but when it's drawn along national and political lines it becomes very volatile. Such is the case in Jordan.

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