Arab World: The kingdom’s fearless radicals

Jihadi forces are threatening to carry out attacks in Jordan forcing the state to beef up security. Have Islamists lost their fear of authorities?

Islamist rally in Amman, Jordan 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Islamist rally in Amman, Jordan 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was expected by some observers to be the first Arab Middle Eastern state to experience sweeping changes.
It has 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 West.
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.
Its former 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 (MEMRI).
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.
This 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 Department.
“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.
Later, he 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 government.
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 Zarqawi.
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 Islamic jurist.
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 ut-Tahrir.
DR. BOAZ Ganor, executive director of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism, a part of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the jihadi camp in Jordan had received a significant boost in numbers due to the influx of Iraqi refugees.
“Large numbers of members of the global jihadi movement entered the state,” Ganor said.
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 delicate.
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 jihadi presence.