As Jordan deals with growing economic difficulties and civil disturbances, jihadists from al-Qaida’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State could try to take advantage of the circumstances by gaining new recruits, a study finds.
The author of the study, David Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former official dealing with the Middle East for the Pentagon, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he does not think the Salafi/jihadi threat to Jordan is being overhyped.
“Given what’s happening in Syria and Iraq, concerns about the security and stability of Jordan are well warranted,” said Schenker, noting that “Islamic State recruitment in the region is largely driven by sectarian sentiment.”
“My experience in the kingdom – which much of the media coverage seems to confirm – is that Jordanian jihadis, whether from the Islamic State or the Nusra Front, are not uniformly impoverished.”
In fact, many come from the middle class, he said.
“Still,” added Schenker, “there is a growing level of frustration in the kingdom primarily related to the economy and the lack of opportunity, and this could contribute to the growth of Salafism.”
And the line “between Salafism and jihadism is exceedingly thin.”
King Abdullah has a plethora of problems to deal with, but if the economy is not improved, it will exacerbate them, he said.
Schenker’s study, titled “Preventing ISIS Inroads in Jordan” and published by the Washington Institute, states that the Islamic State is threatening to open up “a new front inside the kingdom.”
Jordanian security forces are on high alert and over the past few weeks authorities have arrested dozens of Islamic State and Nusra Front supporters as reports of local funerals for Jordanian jihadists continue to come in.
The country’s army has also prevented infiltrations from Syria.
Worryingly, notes Schenker, Islamic State support appears to have increased in Jordan as a result of the group’s gains in Syria and Iraq.
Schenker says that Abdullah is correctly concentrating on the economy, which has been impacted negatively by around 1.5 million Syrian refugees.
“The official unemployment rate is 12 percent, but it is widely believed to be near 30%, and perhaps even higher in some regions. Nearly 80% of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live outside of camps, and their entry into the domestic labor market is exacerbating the problem – late last month the Ministry of Labor announced it had shuttered 125 companies illegally employing Syrian expatriates, presumably at lower wages,” said Schenker in the report.
Jordan’s debt increased by $5 billion to $27b. last year, which is nearly 85% of gross domestic product. In addition, “Jordan’s fuel imports accounted for nearly $3b. in the first six months of 2014 – an increase of 27% from the same period last year – while its trade deficit rose by 10%,” it said.
And as part of reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund, the government has lowered subsidies, which has led to higher prices for staple goods.
In addition, notes Schenker, Jordan’s nuclear energy plans would cost an estimated $10b., raising the ire of even close domestic allies.