The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was expected by some observers to be the first
Arab Middle Eastern state to experience sweeping changes.
surprised many by remaining relatively calm in the eye of the current regional
storm, but Jordanian- based extremist forces are increasingly fearless about
raising their profile. They are openly issuing calls for the kingdom to be
converted into a fundamentalist state that would be ruled according to a
stringent interpretation of Islamic law, and hostile to Israel and the
In many ways, Jordan, which shares a 500-kilometer border with
Israel, has always been the most important of Israel’s neighbors, a firm bedrock
of stability on the eastern flank in an unstable region.
ruler, the late King Hussein, maintained undeclared relations and cooperation
with Israel for years before the two states formalized ties and signed a peace
treaty in 1994.
The country’s six-million-strong population is made up of
approximately 60 percent Palestinians, between 700,000 and one million Iraqis –
recent refugees seeking shelter from the turmoil of their native land – and an
assortment of Beduin tribes.
While Jordan’s internal fabric has never
been homogeneous or particularly stable, the secular Beduin-ruled monarchy and
its well-trained loyal security forces have for decades found ways of smoothing
over tensions and maintaining quiet.
Like his father, King Abdullah II
has had to tow a delicate line, allowing for economic and some political reforms
while ensuring that the constitutional monarchy retains its old structure, and
keeping radical Islamist opposition forces in check.
AS CHANGE washes
over the Middle East, however, some signs have emerged from Jordan indicating
that jihadi-Salafi forces are losing their fear of the establishment.
Last week, leaders of the jihadi movement made unprecedented threats to carry
out violent action within the kingdom if the government failed to release four
of its members who had been detained in recent weeks.
The statements were
translated and made available by the Middle East Media Research Institute
The leaders said they would hold a sit-in demonstration in
Amman’s central Gamal Abd al-Nasser Square, adding that the “storm of jihad”
would hit Jordan if their demands were not met, according to MEMRI.
week, Abdullah chose to avert a direct confrontation with the Salafis, and
ordered his security forces to release the four. At a celebratory press
conference held in Amman on Monday at one of the homes of the released
activists, radical figures described the negotiations they had held with the
regime prior to the release.
Jarrah al-Rahahla, an important ideologue in
the radical camp, recalled rejecting an offer by the Jordanian General
Intelligence Department to hold a secret meeting with Prime Minister Ma’rouf
al-Bakhit, before meeting with the head of the Preventive Security
“I told them that we had an enormous number of brothers who
were willing to martyr themselves for the sake of Allah tomorrow. [These
brothers] do not want to seek martyrdom in Kabul or Baghdad, but to martyr
themselves in Greater Syria [which includes Jordan] and in Amman... I said [to
the officials]: ‘Isn’t there a single reasonable man among you?’ After the
meeting they called me and said to me: ‘Come pick up your four detained
brothers.’ They urged me to come get them as soon as possible. I sent two
people, and they got [the detainees]... [So] our patience and perseverance were
not without results,” Rahahla said, according to MEMRI.
condemned trials of jihadi activists, and declared that “recruiting young men
for jihad in Iraq is not a crime, [for] this is jihad that Allah the Almighty
commanded us [to wage].”
Another leader, Sa’d al-Hunaiti, said, “We
believe that implementing the Shari’a will ensure the well being of all the
people, and end the oppression, corruption and [Jordan’s] collaboration with the
Americans and Zionists.”
After obtaining the detainees’ release, the
Salafis canceled their planned protest, as per an agreement reached with the
But the state did not take any chances, and flooded Amman
with huge numbers of security forces, just in case.
Jihadis have struck
in Jordan in the past. In November 2005, 63 people were killed when three hotels
were bombed in the country, in a terror attack ordered by the late Jordanian
al-Qaida in Iraq commander Abu Musab al- Zarqawi. Imam Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi,
a Jordanian-Palestinian jihadi ideologue, acted as mentor to
Followers of Islamist ideologues like Sayid Qutb have long
regarded Jordan as an illegitimate Western puppet that has failed to rule
according to their interpretation of Islam. They have declared their goal of
overthrowing the Hashemites.
The Hizb ut-Tahrir party, which calls for
the end of Arab political states and their replacement with an overarching
Islamic caliphate, was founded in 1952 by Taqi Nabhani, a Jordanian-Palestinian
Nabhani asked the Jordanian Interior Ministry for
permission to establish “a political party with Islam as its
ideology.” Instantly realizing that the proposed party was taking aim at
its own sovereignty, the Jordanians turned down the proposal and banned Hizb
DR. BOAZ Ganor, executive director of the Institute for
Counter-Terrorism, a part of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, told The
on Wednesday that the jihadi camp in Jordan had received a
significant boost in numbers due to the influx of Iraqi refugees.
numbers of members of the global jihadi movement entered the state,” Ganor
He added that their threats to carry out “martyrdom attacks” in the
capital was not baseless.
“The security forces are loyal to Abdullah and
are efficient,” Ganor said, but noted that the situation remained
Ganor said he did not observe significant support for the
jihadis from among Palestinian sections of society, but that some Palestinian
groups based in the country had long held that “the path to ‘liberating
Palestine’ runs through Amman” – a doctrine shared by the Salafis.Post
correspondent Ben Hartman, who traveled to Egypt and Jordan in recent months,
found that Jordan’s opposition protesters did, on the whole, look more religious
than their Egyptian counterparts.
Hartman found far fewer women among
Jordan’s protesters compared to Egypt’s, and the women who did show up mostly
wore head coverings. While some secular men were protesting for democracy, he
found many religious bearded demonstrators as well.
The coming months
will show how well the monarchy is able to keep its jihadi foes under
control.The writer’s recently published book, Virtual Caliphate
Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet, takes the readers into the online