Summary: Anti-Palestinian hooliganism and slogans denigrating the Palestinian origins of both the Queen and the Crown Prince led to the cancellation of a July 17 soccer game between the rival Faisali and Wahdat clubs, who traditionally represent the East Banker and Palestinian communities, respectively. Matches between the two teams have a long history of violence, but the specific digs at the royal family marked a new low. The clubs have been fined and their fans publicly chastised, yet official media reporting and commentary has been noticeably thin. The game exposed the growing rift between East Bankers and Palestinians in Jordan. The King’s silence on the event is noteworthy, as is a reluctance among our contacts to discuss the issue. End Summary.I knew there was friction in Jordan between the communities, but this is much bigger than I thought.
Jordanian police intervened to stop fan violence and the chanting of anti-regime slogans during a July 17  match between Amman soccer clubs Faisali and Wahdat in the industrial town of Zarqa. The unrest began when Faisali fans started to chant slogans against Palestinian-origin Jordanians, including Queen Rania. Some Faisali fans threw bottles at Wahdat players and their fans. The coaches of both teams ordered their players off of the field in the middle of the game for their own safety, and the remainder of the match was canceled. (Note: It ended in a scoreless draw. End Note.)
¶5. (S) Faisali-Wahdat games have a long history of hooliganism and politically motivated violence. Past matches have been shut down by the police following riots spurred by offensive slogans shouted by both sides. Those slogans have over time become a popular barometer of tensions between East Bankers and Palestinians. The slogans and cheers on the Faisali side during the July 17 match were particularly divisive and controversial, as they were directed at members of the royal family for the first time. Faisali supporters chanted about the Palestinian origins of Queen Rania with the cheer, “divorce her you father of Hussein, and we’ll marry you to two of ours.” The newly appointed Crown Prince did not escape comment either, as he is half Palestinian (and one quarter British) himself.
¶6. (SBU) Official reaction to the match was surprisingly pro-forma. Prince Ali, half-brother to the King and chairman of the Jordanian Football Union (JFU), issued a statement calling the behavior of Faisali fans “unacceptable” and “a red line.” In addition to a relatively meager 5000 JD (USD 7000) fine on Faisali, the JFU indicated that larger security restrictions would be placed on future games. Members of parliament also sent a missive to the press denouncing the chants of Faisali supporters as “contrary to Jordanian values.” The statement was read by MP and Wahdat president Tareq Khoury on the floor of parliament. The Faisali club issued a press release of its own, promising to identify the “outcasts” among its fans and deal with them accordingly.
Media Silence, Internet Cacophony
¶7. (C) Despite all of the official condemnations of Faisali and its supporters, none of Jordan’s self-censoring media featured descriptive news stories about the game and why it was called off. Columnists and commentators, even those who are usually used to advance pro-government views, were noticeably silent. The heads of the Faisali and Wahdat fan clubs were allegedly invited to appear on Al-Jazeera, but refused in recognition of the sensitivities surrounding criticism of the royal family.
¶8. (SBU) Internet news sites, however, were full of commentary on the game and its implications. Many defended the Faisali supporters as “real” Jordanians fighting against undue Palestinian influence. Some commentators believe that Prince Ali failed to remain neutral in the conflict by only chastising Faisali supporters, and called for Wahdat to receive similar opprobrium.
¶9. (S) There is broad recognition throughout Jordan that the Faisali-Wahdat incident exposed the uncomfortable gap between East Bankers and Palestinian-origin Jordanians -- one that most would rather keep well-hidden for the sake of political stability. The connection between this rift and the Hashemite monarchy, including the newly-appointed Crown Prince, makes the incident even more unsettling. Even our most forthcoming contacts are reluctant to talk with us about the issue, recognizing that it strikes at the core of Jordanian identity politics. One contact reluctantly admitted that the game brought out the “ugly side of Jordanian ultranationalism” and said that it would be difficult to contain now that it was publicly expressed. Another pointed to the “increasingly explicit and provocative” Faisali slogans as proof that status quo-oriented East Bankers are uncomfortable with the increasing pressures for reform that will inevitably lessen their near-monopoly on political and social power.
¶10. (S) The King’s silence on the game and its political implications is deafening. High level government contacts and members of the diplomatic community are puzzled by the King’s failure to respond to a verbal attack on his family that also dips in to Jordanian identity politics. While he is on “internal vacation” in the southern part of Jordan, the King’s public exposure has been limited to meetings with scattered foreign officials. While perhaps unintentional, the King’s silence has effectively empowered the pro-status quo establishment.
I need not mention that if any Israelis had shouted anti-Palestinian Arab slogans in a soccer game, it would be broadcast all over the world to prove Israeli racism. Jordanian bigotry against their own Arab brothers, on the other hand, is not going to get reported.
(After I found this, I saw that JPost had already covered it.)