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What's in a flag? Raising Jordan's red standard high Open in fullscreen

Paul McLoughlin

What's in a flag? Raising Jordan's red standard high

The Hashemite flag caused controversy in Jordan [screenshot from Royal Hashemite Court]

Date of publication: 10 June, 2015

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Analysis: King Abdullah decided that the Hashemite flag - filled with Islamic symbolism - should be raised on army day, rather than the national banner. Many have questioned why.
It was supposed to be a simple ceremony for the king and his army.

But Jordan's army day sparked whispers and intrigue when the monarch broke with tradition and the dark red Hashemite banner was hoisted above the parade ground.

The fact that some of the soldiers yesterday wore their shemaghs (headscarves) the wrong way round, and covered their faces, has led to a number of conspiracies in the Hashemite kingdom.

Banner of sacrifice

Many believe King Abdullah's decision to use an emblem of his forefathers rather than the flag of the nation had political conontations.

The question is - what is the message behind the 500-year-old banner?

It was the first time many had seen the Hashemite flag flying in a modern setting.

Jordan's royal court was quick to post an infographic on its Twitter page explaining its relevance and the Arabic-Islamic inscriptions on the banner.

The red banner was first used by al-Sharif Abu Numi in 1515, and has been an important banner for the Hashemite family when they were based in the Hejaz.

It combines the al-Shahada (the declaration of faith), and two blessings - "In the name of God, most gracious, most Merciful" and "Praise be to God, Lord of all worlds".

The seven-pointed star represents the opening seven verses of the Quran, which is also featured in the modern-day Jordanian flag.

The dark red colour is supposed to symbolise sacrifice.

Many Jordanians have dismissed the Hashemite standard as an archaic symbol of the ruling family. Others pointed to its religious symbolism.

The royal court was keen to point to its historical significance.

Sharif Hussein - a Hashemite - raised the banner during the Arab Revolt in the First World War, when Arab tribes from the Hejaz helped defeat the Ottoman empire.

Rather than leading to an independent and united Arab state it led to the Balkanisation of the Arab world with the Sykes-Picot agreement.

Jordan was formed and has been ruled by the Hashemite  family ever since.

Redrawing the map

MP Wasfi Rawashda wrote on his Facebook page about the historical implications behind the banner.

"I believe that this is a clear message that the region is in the process of drawing a new map in which the borders of Sykes-Picot will be altered and the Arab Orient will be redrawn under new names," he said.

Rawashda alluded to a belief among many in the Jordanian Left that Israel wanted to annex the West Bank and make Jordan a new home for Palestinians.

The turmoil caused by the Arab Spring and revolutions has been part of that plan, they say.

"This will be in preparation for a final solution to the Palestinian cause and the establishment of a Jewish Israeli state amid a bad Arab situation," Rawashda continued.

     We must remember that the banner is not new but old, and displaying it publicly is a message.
Maher Abu Tair, journalist

Maher Abu Tair, a columnist with ad-Dustoor newspaper, said on his Facebook page that what happened "was not ordinary".

"We must remember that the banner is not new but old, and displaying it publicly is a message and a theme for the coming period especially in relation to rearranging the region," he said.

"It is a response to challenges, and a message to those who use religious slogans to justify their actions, to tell them that the al-Shahada [on their flags] is not theirs alone," he said.


Many Twitter users had their own theories about the Islamic symbolism of the flag.

Jordan is part of the international coalition against the Islamic State group.

The fight against IS became an existential battle for the "moderate kingdom" after Jordanian pilot Muaz al-Kassasbeh was murdered by the group.

The appearance of fighters on Jordan's Syrian border has led to a heightened state of alert in the country.

The reversed shemaghs can be used by the wearer to symbolise an impending act of revenge.

Since the brutal killing of Kassasbeh, revenge has been on the minds for many, particularly after the recent success of the group on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq. Jordan's military still has more battles to fight with the jihadis, they say.

Islam al-Sawalha, a Jordanian journalist, wrote that the banner and its religious slogans should be viewed in context of the war on IS.

"It is an attempt to delegitimise IS and stress that the caliphate historically and religiously should belong to the heirs of the Arab revolt, which might actually upset neighbouring Saudi Arabia."

The Hashemites claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad, and this has been an important part of the monarchy's legitimacy.

Jordan's al-Rai newspaper said of the banner was a response to the "kharijites (old extremist group) and murderers" who are attempting to hijack the Islamic banner that was used by the Hashemites "and descendents of the Prophet" to fight for Arabism.

The use of Islamic symbolism by the ruler of a  progressively minded and relgiously mixed country has been criticised as reactionary and defensive.

Nouha Youssef tweeted: "The Jordanian parliament decided to reject any religious political parties (good move). Yesterday a banner that resembles that of IS appeared but its colour is red. Congratulations."

Later in the day, rumour spread that the flag could replace the current one. Some appear to like the idea: 

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