by Randa Habib
AMMAN, JORDAN - Popular discontent took a new turn with unprecedented public criticism of King Abdullah II's wife, Queen Rania, who stands accused of "corruption" by large tribes, the bedrock of Jordan's regime.
"We call on the king to return to the treasury land and farms given to the Yassin family (of the queen). The land belongs to the Jordanian people," 36 tribal leaders said this week in a joint statement.
By so doing, they have broken a taboo in the desert kingdom, where criticism of the royal family is punishable by a three-year imprisonment.
The palace has not been available for comment on the accusation.
"The events in Tunisia and Egypt have given courage to Jordanians to publicly say what they have been whispering about for a while," a political analyst told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"Arab peoples used to fear their authoritarian regimes. Things have changed and now Arab leaders fear their peoples."
A member of a large tribe said Jordanian authorities had "pressured some tribes for several days and told them to be careful in what they say to the international press."
"We still have loyalty to the Hashemite throne, but we believe that King Abdullah should stop his wife and her family from abuse. Otherwise, the throne might be in danger," he said, also without wanting to be named.
Tribal leaders have warned that Jordan suffers from a "crisis of authority," and growing influence of "corrupt businessmen in the entourage of the executive power, affecting political decisions and ignoring national interest."
They urged the "trial of the corrupt who have looted the country and public funds, regardless of who they are and irrespective of their rank and importance.
"Jordan will sooner or later be the target of an uprising similar to the ones in Tunisia and Egypt due to suppression of freedoms and looting of public funds," the group warned.
Public discontent in Jordan has led to several protests, inspired by the revolts which ousted Tunisia's strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and threaten the regime of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.
They warned against the "interference in executive decisions by those who have no constitutional powers," in an apparent reference to the queen.
"The queen is building centres to boost her power and serve her interests, against the will of Jordanians and Hashemites," the leaders said, comparing her to the wife of Ben Ali.
The tribes represent nearly 40 percent of Jordan's population and they play a vital role in its politics and stability. Their loyalty to the Hashemite ruling family has been crucial in times of crises in the past century.
The statement also made reference to unconfirmed reports that the queen's office has helped 78,000 Palestinians obtain Jordanian nationality between 2005 and 2010.
A large number of Jordan's 6.3-million population are of Palestinian origin and Jordanians fear the addition of more Palestinians could facilitate Israeli plans to turn Jordan into a substitute homeland for the Palestinians.
Queen Rania is herself of Palestinian origin and was born in Kuwait. Her family fled the Gulf country after the 1990 Iraqi invasion and settled in Jordan, where she married Abdullah in 1993 when he was a prince.
The queen is a highly popular figure on the international scene where she has celebrity status as an attractive and influential woman, and she has often been cited as one of the world's most influential people.
But her lifestyle has also often come in for criticism on the home front.
In September, she celebrated her 40th birthday in the renowned Wadi Rum desert of southern Jordan, after which the tribes complained of "the party's colossal cost ... at the expense of the treasury and the poor."
"They do not like the queen's lifestyle and overexposure, especially on local political appointments," said human rights activist Labib Qamhawi, who is also of Palestinian origin.
"Criticism against the queen is not motivated by her Palestinian origin," according to Qamhawi. --AFP