Jordan: Fugitive from Bullets

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Though it is separated from Yemen by 1,000 miles of barren desert, Jordan has a major stake in the seesawing war. "Nasser is out to destroy everything." says King Hussein, 27—and Hussein ought to know: almost from the moment he was proclaimed King in 1952, assassins incited by Nasser propaganda have been gunning for him. In the decade since, Hussein has struggled manfully to develop his little land; today he happily supplies Yemen's royalists with money and munitions to stave off a Nasser victory that might sweep away the fruits of progress in his own country.

Hungry Camels. Long dismissed as a desert backwater with scant hope of achieving self-sufficiency, Jordan is astir. Last week 200 enthusiastic students checked in at the new University of Jordan, the country's first. In Amman, the advance wave of a Christmas tide of 25,000 Holy Land tourists gaped at the freshly built Amman Grand Hotel, a ten-story luxury hotel of white stone.

Jordan's gross national product has tripled to $262 million in Hussein's decade, with the help of $573 million in aid, mostly from the U.S. and Britain. Per capita income among Hussein's 1,800,000 subjects has doubled to $168 in the same period. Factories are being built almost as fast as Bedouins pitch tents, turning out practically everything from potash byproducts on the Dead Sea to Surf detergent near Amman. Thanks to a gigantic natural hothouse in the Jordan River valley, 65 miles long and as much as ft. below sea level, Jordan is now the region's biggest exporter of vegetables. Irrigation experts are siphoning water from the Yarmuk River and tapping long-unused Roman cisterns to make 75,000 acres of desert bloom. One project had unexpected results: 5,000 hungry camels found the new grass so tasty that the army had to be used to rout them out. "With any luck," says one economist, "Jordan will become a selfsupporting, viable nation." Fingers crossed, U.S. observers figure another decade should do it.

Not that Hussein's troubles are over.

Jordan quivers with every political quake from Egypt to Iran. If Nasser gains a foothold in Yemen. Hussein fears his next target will be Saudi Arabia's oil, and if the Saudis go, "I go too." Within his own borders is an enormous potential fifth column — the 600,000 Palestinian refugees on U.N. relief rolls, dispossessed during the Israeli-Arab war and enthralled by Nasser's unfulfilled promises to return them home.

Occupational Hazard. Cairo Radio still beams shrill demands that "the criminal King of Jordan" be overthrown, and Hussein never leaves his palace without a loaded pistol in his shoulder holster. But plucky little Hussein — scornfully referred to by Cairo as "transistor-size" because of his 5-ft. 6-in. height — has a king-size knack for survival. This year alone, he escaped three murder attempts, all laid to Nasser. "Assassination." says Premier Wasfi Tal dryly, "is an occupational hazard for the King and his Cabinet."

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