Coups and Conspiracies in the Modern Middle East
To cite: "Jordan's Coups." In Ben Hammou, Salah and Jonathan Powell. Coups and Conspiracies in the Modern Middle East. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida
Army Chief of Staff Ali Abu Nuwar (alleged)
ABOVE: King Hussein and his entourage.
Jordan - April 13, 1957
On the evening of April 13, 1957, King Hussein was informed that Captain Nadhir Rashid’s First Armored Car Regiment had been given orders to surround and seize the palace in an attempted coup d’etat. Reports also claimed that infighting broke out between the coup plotters and units loyal to Hussein at the Zerqa camp outside of Amman. Hussein decided to confront the conspirators head on by driving out to the camp. Army Chief of Staff Ali Abu Nuwar was told to accompany Hussein as the king suspected Abu Nuwar facilitated the attempt. En route to the camp, Hussein and Abu Nuwar encountered a brigade marching towards the palace. The brigade was amongst the troops loyal to Hussein and upon encountering their king, demanded the chance to kill Abu Nuwar for his treason. Hussein calmed the troops and instead bade Abu Nuwar to return to the palace while he completed the trip to Zarqa. Upon arriving at Zarqa, Hussein waded through the crowd of soldiers and rallied his loyalists, mostly Bedouin soldiers, to his side. The attempt was squandered.
There is considerable disagreement concerning whether this attempt was a genuine bid for power from Abu Nuwar and his Pan-Arab nationalist comrades or facilitated by Hussein and his loyalists to stamp out the nationalist movement. Those suggesting that Abu Nuwar and his cronies truly attempted a coup usually point to some sparse evidence such as Abu Nuwar’s contacts with the Egyptian and Soviet intelligence forces as well as the discovery of “samples for new Jordanian flags” if the attempt succeeded in Abu Nuwar’s office. Others, assuming it a plot facilitated by Hussein, point to the lack of evidence linking Nuwar with Prime Minister Suleiman al-Nabulsi, who was also accused of being a key advocate for the coup. Years later, Abu Nuwar and officers linked to his Free Officers movement directly accused the regime of facilitating the attempt. The attempt, they claimed, was also aided by the United States intelligence services as a means to stop Jordan from fully aligning with Egypt and the Soviet Union.
Regardless of its validity, the event represented the culmination of tension between the monarchy and the Pan-Arab nationalists in the kingdom. Left-wing nationalist parties such as the Communists, the National Socialist Party and the Jordanian wing of the Ba’ath party emerged as a dominant bloc within the Jordanian parliament following the 1956 elections. Suleiman al-Nablusi, a member of the Nationalist Socialist Party, was selected as Prime Minister and formed a left-wing government. Nabulsi and his ministers pursued and established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union to the disdain of Hussein, who stood firmly as an ally of the United States and Britain. Perhaps more importantly, the leftist government actively supported Egyptian president Gammal Abdel Nasser. Nabulsi and the nationalist parties shared Nasser’s anti-Western and anti-colonial view and sought to empower Jordan’s middle class while also edging out the monarchy in favor of a republic. Pro-Nasser demonstrations signaled the public’s support for the wave of nationalist revolution in the country. The distance between al-Nabulsi and Hussein continued to deepen after the former retired a number of senior government officials and provided the king a list of soldiers loyal to the monarchy to be retired. By the end of February 1957, it became apparent that the monarchy and the government were locked in a fully-realized political struggle.
The Jordanian military also became a hotbed for the nationalist movement. Cliques of nationalist officers with partisan affiliations emerged, particularly the Secret Organization of Jordanian Officers - later renamed the Movement of Free Jordanian Officers - which had ties to the Jordanian wing of the Ba’ath party. These officers shared many of the grievances of the leftists in the government, particularly towards British influence upon the monarchy, and sought to pursue unity with its Arab neighbors. Ali Abu Nuwar joined the Movement shortly after his return from Britain as a student at the war college, attracted to the anti-Western rhetoric. While Abu Nuwar maintained that he never staged a coup and that the attempt was a preempted plot by the king, his views aligned with those of Hussein’s rivals.
Abu Nuwar begged for his life the night the coup failed, bowing before Hussein. Hussein granted him his request and allowed the Chief of Staff and his cronies to flee in exile. Purges of the civilian government and military occured, but the consequences for the accused were relatively light. In addition to the purges, Hussein ordered “the Bedouin-ization” of the military’s leadership, hoping to curb the prevalence of the Pan-Arab nationalists throughout the rank and files. In addition, a new royalist government was formed, headed by Dr. Hussein Fakhiri al-Khalidi, effectively curbing the nationalists out of political power.