Thorn in flesh of Hussein faces jail

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The Independent Online
THE MAN who Kept the King Waiting is waiting to hear how Jordanian judges will deal with his latest spat with the royal family. The King, of course, is His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan. The man is Leith Shubeilat, head of the Jordanian engineers' union and a leading member of the Muslim Brothers, who has been appearing in the country's State Security court charged with arranging an illegal demonstration - a protest against America's threat in February to bomb Iraq because it was forbidding United Nations arms inspectors access to Saddam Hussein's palaces.

He kept the King waiting last year when - following Israel's attempt to murder a Hamas leader in Amman - the Jordanian monarch turned up at the Al-Juweida jail to release Mr Shubeilat. He had been imprisoned on that occasion for criticising Queen Noor for weeping at the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Why, Mr Shubeilat had asked, did the Queen show no emotion at the earlier murder, by Israel, of a Palestinian militant killed in Malta?

The King came to the prison to pick up Mr Shubeilat but was told that Mr Shubeilat wanted time to say good-bye to his fellow inmates. King Hussein, as courteous a monarch as ever ruled a Middle East nation, duly waited in an ante-room while Mr Shubeilat went the rounds of the prison to say goodbye to his friends, before driving the prisoner home in his own car.

Less generosity is likely to be shown Mr Shubeilat now. Appearing cheerful and in good health in the State Security court again, Mr Shubeilat, who was arrested on 19 February, says he has been well treated - but claims he never encouraged the illegal demonstration, in which one man died. He did speak against an American attack on Iraq; but King Hussein himself had been warning the United States and Britain not to launch an assault on Saddam Hussein.

In reality, Mr Shubeilat is one of the most eloquent Jordanian voices to be raised against the so-called "peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Jordan. The collapse of the peace (largely conceded by the US this week) strengthens his stand. But the leader of Jordan's engineering union seems bound for another sojourn in the Al-Juweida prison, with little hope this time of a visit from the King to unlock his jail door.