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Viewing cable 09AMMAN1689, JORDANIAN SOCCER GAME HALTED AMIDST ANTI-REGIME

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09AMMAN1689 2009-07-28 14:02 2010-12-28 21:09 SECRET Embassy Amman
VZCZCXRO8322
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDH RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHAM #1689/01 2091427
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 281427Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5609
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 001689 

SIPDIS 

EO 12958 DECL: 07/23/2019 
TAGS PGOV, KDEM, SOCI, JO 
SUBJECT: JORDANIAN SOCCER GAME HALTED AMIDST ANTI-REGIME 
CHANTS, HOOLIGANISM TOWARD PALESTINIANS

Classified By: Charge d’Affaires Lawrence Mandel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S) 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.

Faisali 0, Wahdat 0, PPD (Riot)
------------------------------- 

2. (C) 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.)

A Storied Rivalry
----------------- 

3. (U) Faisali and Wahdat serve as the proxy champions of the East Banker and Palestinian communities, respectively. Faisali, whose name refers to the Hashemite King Faisal, is controlled by a prominent tribe (the ‘Udwan) which hails from the East Banker stronghold of Salt. It is known as the favored team of tribal East Bankers, even though many of its players are of Palestinian origin. Since the formation of the Jordanian Football Union (JFU) in 1944, Faisali has won thirty national championships.

4. (C) Wahdat, which takes its name from the large Palestinian refugee camp on the southern side of Amman, is seen as the favored team of Palestinian-origin Jordanians. Wahdat has won eleven national soccer championships since 1944, including the last three. The club’s current president is Tareq Khoury, a successful businessman who allegedly bought his seat on the Wahdat board. He has since leveraged that position into a political career, and was elected to the Lower House of Parliament in 2007.

Game Over
--------- 

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.

Official Fallout
---------------- 

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
AMMAN 00001689 002 OF 002
--------------------------------- 

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.

Comment
------- 

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. Mandel