"We do not have ‘shaab yurid,'" he said, referring to the opening line of the slogan of the Arab Spring: "The people want..."
"Everyone loves the monarch. When King Hussein died, all the leaders of the world came to his funeral," he said, before quickly reverting back to a topic of conversation with which he was happier -- soccer.
"I love Manchester United!" he said. "England is number one in the world for football hooligans!" Some images remain hard to change.
I drank tea in a café in a trendy part of Amman with a brilliant analyst, a young American in search of his Jordanian roots. Iraq's President Nouri al-Maliki had visited Jordan the previous week, ostensibly to agree to extend an oil pipeline through Jordan, thereby making Iraq less dependent on Turkey and Saudi Arabia for exports. Maliki had also offered Jordan 100,000 barrels of oil for free, as a goodwill gesture.
While this only amounted to one day's consumption for Jordan, it was significant all the same. The Arab Gulf countries had promised Jordan $1 billion a year over five years to help the country with its economic crisis. However, only the Kuwaitis had paid up. The Saudis and Qataris had been withholding their aid, pressuring Jordan to play a stronger role in helping overthrow the Syrian regime.
The Maliki visit prompted a response. The fear that Iraq -- and by extension, Iran -- was buying Jordanian neutrality on Syria apparently propelled Saudi Arabia to cough up the $250 million it had promised Jordan. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also visited on the same day as Maliki to discuss Syria's chemical and biological weapons. While the "secret" visit had been all over the Israeli media, the average Jordanian remained unaware of it.
The young analyst noted that a rise in fuel prices had led to protests recently in Jordan. While a few had publicly called for the overthrow of the king, most in the kingdom remained supportive of the monarchy. They did not want Jordan to end up like Syria -- bring down King Abdullah, and who knows what would come next.
Abdullah gained his legitimacy from the legacy of his father, but he lacks Hussein's personal connection with the people as well as his diplomatic skills, which allowed Hussein to manage the elites. The analyst felt that the young king had missed the opportunity to implement reforms that would empower moderate, secular forces. Instead, he had unintentionally strengthened the Muslim Brotherhood. Across Amman, the streets were plastered with campaign posters for the Jan. 23 parliamentary elections. The contest marked the first time in Jordan's history that the parliament -- rather than the monarch -- would choose the prime minister.
Over dinner, a well-connected Jordanian reinforced the point that citizens were not looking to foment a revolution. "No one wants the overthrow of the monarchy," he said. "The opposition only go as far as saying they would like him to reign rather than rule."
Conspiratorially, he leaned toward me. "There is a new Sykes-Picot agreement being planned," he said, referring to the post-World War I deal that divided up the Middle East. "They are seeking to create a large Sunni region in Jordan, the West Bank, western Iraq, and Syria. That is why Maliki came to Jordan -- he wanted to stop it."
He did not elaborate on who "they" were.