Jordan's King Hussein flew to Saudi Arabia today on the first leg of a tour of five Arabian Peninsula oil-producing states and a round of consultations with fellow rulers on the tumultuous developments in the region.
Hussein was expected to consult with his hosts in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman about the strategic implications for the area of the crisis between Iran and the United States and the recent Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Hussein's trip comes two weeks in advance of a conference of Islamic foreign ministers in Islamabad, Pakistan called in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Jordan has not commented on the Soviet action, although the Arabian Peninsula oil states have voiced strong condemnation.
[In Washington, Jordanian Embassy press attache Nayef Mawla said he had received no official word whether Jordan would attend the conference, but that it was a "reasonable expectation" that it would.]
Both the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel and the Iran and Afghanistan crises have shifted world attention away from the Arab-Irsaeli conflict, which has been the main focus of Jordanian foreign policy, to the strategically important Persian Gulf oil-producing area.
Meanwhile, the shift in regional attention has been accompanied by a move inside the Hashemite kingdom toward increased political decentralization, reflected by the government of Prime Minister Sherif Abdul Hamid Sharaf.
Jordan has enjoyed nine years of relative stability since the 1971 civil war, which led to the forcible expulsion of the armed Palestinian guerrilla organizations from the country. Political opposition has been kept under firm control. During the past six years the average annual growth rate of the Jordanian economy has been 9 percent.The country's gross domestic product topped $2 billion last year, compared to $900 million in 1975.
Prime Minister Sharaf stressed in an interview that economic development had to be matched by political development.
Mindful perhaps of the regional unrest in Iran that surfaced after the fall of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Sharaf said, "We want to give power back to the provinces and the regional centers, to allow communities to develop and run their own affairs, both on the socioeconomic and political side.
"By decentralizing, we will be giving more political power to the people in the provinces, which is healthy and necessary for us here in Jordan. There has been too much concentration of power in the capital, at the expense of efficient socioeconomic planning and development, and also at the expense of political participation. We want to reverse this."
The prime minister added that "the major problem will be for the people and the political leadership of Jordan to find a suitable formula for popular participation in the running of the government. That is essentially where we will either succeed or fail as a government."
The attitude of most Jordanians has been to wait and see if the government's deeds match its words.
But the strategy of decentralizing what has been, to date, a tightly controlled, uncompromising power structure has received added impetus from the results of Jordan's first census in 19 years, conducted in November.
The census puts the population of the East Bank of Jordan at 2.5 million, growing at the very high average annual rate of 4.8 percent.
It also reveals the extent of rapid urbanization in Jordan.
The capital region of Amman and the northern area around the city of Irbid together account for 83 percent of the total population, with the Amman region alone accommodating 55 percent of all Jordanians.