"The Jordanian authorities repressed last Thursday 30 August a demonstration by more than 1000 livestock farmers who were protesting the government’s decision to lift subsidies on feed. The demonstrators blocked the airport road with burning tires. The police used tear gas and sticks and the demonstrators, most of whom are Bedouins and tribesmen, threw stones at the mayor of
I seize this opportunity to post about the Bedouins of Jordan (Baduw al Urdunn) because: 1) it is impossible to fully comprehend the significance of this news item without knowing the changes in Bedouin society over the past 150 years. 2) my friend Mustapha Mond has asked me earlier to write about the pastoralists and tarch (animals that are herded). Here’s to you MM.
Before starting, one must realize the following:
1) There is a global increase in the prices of food and feed due to: a-the removal of some subsidies in the EU, b-droughts attributed to global climate change, c-the biofuel industry which is displacing food and feed production, and d-increased demand by China and India on limited world food and feed supplies.
Paradoxically, the Bedouin are also socially and financially less favored than other classes in
Jordanian Bedouin tribes were fully nomadic and camel-dependent during the
The modern transformation of Bedouin society started in 1867 when a Turkish expedition defeated the Bani Sakhr and abolished the practice of “khuwwa”. Concurrently, demand on wheat and on some other crop products increased in
However, the Bedouins continued to keep camels. Their transhumance route took them to Wadi Sirhan (in today’s
Several events took place concurrently in the late 1920s-early 1930s, when
1)The camel market shrank as the consumption of camel meat in
2) Motorized trucks replaced camels for transportation
3)The Ikhwan rebellion led by Ibn Saoud was particularly murderous. The raids of the Ikhwan (a conglomeration of warrior tribes held together by the Wahhabi doctrine) were particularly murderous as they sanctioned the physical eradication of their enemies, not just the appropriation of their belongings. Ibn Saoud annexed Wadi Sirhan to
4)The tribes also had to pay a tax to the mandatory authorities for their summer grazing in
5)A major drought and a concurrent locust invasion took place in two successive years.
The Jordanian tribes experienced famine as a result of these combined factors.
The British mandatory authorities interfered and provided help to the tribes. Besides the obvious humanitarian reasons, this emergency relief also aimed at preventing the tribes from revolting and joining the ranks of the Ikhwan and of Ibn Saoud. Taxes on livestock were reduced, subsidies were given to the sheikhs and tribesmen were employed in the Desert Force Patrol. The process of sedentarization was initiated in order to calm the ardor of the nomadic tribesmen by changing their society and cultural values.
Most of the camels of the Jordanian tribes had died during the drought, and herds needed to be rebuilt. However, female camels are slow breeders, and herds are difficult to rebuild naturally, through offspring. Traditionally, tribes who had experienced hardship such as droughts reconstituted their herds by raiding other tribes to whom nature had shown more clemency. But raids (gazou) had been prohibited by the government, and enforcing this ban was the responsibility of the Desert Forces Patrol. This led most tribes to abandon camel herding. This was the end of the traditional camel-dependent nomads of
The aid measures introduced by the Government under the direction of John Glubb (Glubb Pasha) saved the Bedouins from famine, but created dependency on the state support system. The policy of sedentarization meant that communal lands were distributed to the sheikhs as well as to the tribesmen as private property. Seeds were offered in order to encourage land cultivation. More employment opportunities were created, especially in the armed forces. Glubb gained tremendous influence over the Bedouins. By a combination of carrot and stick policies (small carrot and big stick), he brought in the tribesmen and their sheikhs. The tribes were turned into a collaborating elite. The sheikhs became large landowners and joined the “palace clique”, a role they continue to play to this day.
In spite of the land “reform”, Bedouins did not become fully sedentary: they just reduced their area of transhumance by becoming sheep herders. Sheep produce milk, meat, wool and lambs. With these products, the Bedouins entered a broader market economy. With the income from the sheep products, they bought luxury items, like tea and sugar.
It is, once again, droughts that caused the decline of the Bedouin herds. The droughts of 1959 and 1960s decimated the sheep flocks of
In spite of motorization, the sheep farming system remains dependent on the vagaries of the climate. This is compounded by the squeezing of flocks into tighter grazing areas which makes them more vulnerable to droughts. Land is increasingly moving into urban, military or industrial use, to the detriment of sheep herders. As a result, traditional Jordanian Bedouin society has all but disappeared.
The Bedouin tribes of
In 1989, the implementation of the IMF reform package caused a price increase in basic commodities, such as bread. Riots erupted in the town of
The events of August 30, 2007 are very reminiscent of the Maan 1989 riots. They were also triggered by economic policy reforms of the type that is promoted by the IMF.
In writing this post I have used 2 main sources:
Tell, Tareq. 1993. Paysans, nomades et etat en Jordanie Orientale : Les politiques de developpement rural (1920-1989). In : Steppes d’Arabie. Bocco, Jaubert, Metral eds. Presses Universitaires de France.