The transnational side of the Syrian civil war continues to grow out in numerous directions. As the flow of arms, money, fighters, and refugees continues to cross borders, the conflict increasingly impacts “the neighborhood.” Much has been written on the various cross-border dimensions of the war, and it is further complicating an already complex picture. The risks associated with the spillover may begin to change the relationships between antagonist parties and induce some levels of cooperation, particularly on basic security matters. The following on recent developments related to Jordan’s considerations of its northern border next to Daraa via al-monitor.
The southern Syrian governorate of Daraa has become a security issue for Jordan as much as it is an existential challenge to the Damascus regime. In recent weeks, anti-Syrian regime rebels have tightened their grip over most of its territory. Recently, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a visiting Jordanian delegation, “Daraa has become a Jordanian problem.”
In response, Jordan government spokesman Mohammad Moumani told a local newspaper that Amman viewed Assad’s comments positively and, “Daraa was a Jordanian–Syrian problem.”
I went to an excellent talk by Rami Khouri on Syria at CUMERC this past Monday evening. I was intending to write up some thoughts, but didn’t have time after the event. Syria Direct has some excerpts from the talk, though, and can be found here.
It’s worth a quick read, but its brevity doesn’t do justice to the depth of knowledge and insight Khouri delivered on what is happening in Syria, what it means for the region, and how things may unfold going forward. It was being recorded, so perhaps CUMERC will post it soon.
The Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Amman held a conference to announce the English translation of an excellent book I had been working through in Arabic by Mohammed Abu Rumman and Hassan Abu Hanieh. The focus is on the contemporary Islamist Movement in Jordan of the last ten years or so, though there is significant historical background. The book maps the diverse field of Islamism in Jordan, delving into differences between the Muslim Brotherhood (and its political party in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front), the Islamic Centrist Party, and the varying threads of the Salafist trend (including Quietist and Jihadi). Chapters cover the relationship of Islamists with the state in Jordan, the poor performance of Islamists in the 2007 elections and the subsequent boycott of the 2010 elections, Islamist political discourses, and the development and ideological program of Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, among others.
Compelling interview about the spoken word artform in Jordan following a recent slam poetry event. A friend and fellow Fulbrighter wrote a story for the ‘Daily Beast’ about the primarily female underground slam poetry scene in Jordan in the context of the Arab Spring.
Aysha, born and raised in Jordan and educated in America, holds two national collegiate titles in slam poetry. She is at the helm of Amman’s spoken word scene, working with young poets and organizing events that draw crowds of up to 200 people. In Jordan, this small group of women who regularly perform poems falls outside the norm.
“There is an idea in this society that a woman is someone that you have to shelter,” Aysha says. “People aren’t used to seeing a woman get on stage and talk. It’s shocking.”
A hallmark of spoken word poetry is its unfiltered honesty, which can be difficult in a place like Jordan, where public and private space is very distinct.
كشفت صحيفة واشنطن بوست الأميركية بعددها الصادر الخميس عن وجود عشرات الميليشيات الشعبية على الحدود الشمالية بين الأردن وسوريا للدفاع عن المجتمعات المدنية التي تعيش على مقربة من الحدود مع سوريا.
وذكرت الصحيفة، فغالبية أعضاء الميليشيات يحملون الاسلحة النارية ويتدربون على استخدام بنادق الكلاشنيكوف في حقول وادي اليرموك الفاصل بين الاردن وسوريا.
و تقوم الميليشيات بدوريات مسائية في المنطقة الجبلية الحدودية لترصد ما يصفه المسؤولون الاردنيون ونشطاء المعارضة السورية بالتصعيد العسكري السوري في الجنوب. ويخشى السكان في المنطقة الحدودية أن يكون التصعيد مقدمة لغزو محتمل.
واكدت الصحيفة انه بالرغم من حركة الدبابات السورية باتجاه الحدود، يقتصر التوتر بين الجيشين السوري والاردني على تبادل إطلاق نار بين الحين والآخر وطلقات تحذيرية من الجيش السوري للوحدات الاردنية في حال حدوث خطأ ما في تحديد أهداف قذائف الهاون.
وقالت الصحيفة انه مع التصاعد العسكري السوري الذي يدوم منذ قرابة الشهر والذي أدى الى السيطرة على معقل رئيسي للمتمردين في جنوب سوريا، أكد المقيمون في شمال الاردن ان تبادلا لاطلاق النار يحصل يومياً عبر الحدود مما يؤدي الى احراق الاراضي الزراعية والحاق الضرر في المنازل وإجبار عشرات العائلات على الفرار الى مناطق أكثر أماناً. كما أعلنت المجموعات المقيمة على الحدود الاردنية السورية عن مقتل ما لا يقل عن 4 أشخاص، فيما نفت السلطات الرسمية هذا العدد من الضحايا وأكدت أنه لم تحصل أي حالة وفاة.
وكشفت “واشنطن بوست” ايضا أن القرويين فرضوا انقطاع التيار الكهربائي ليلاً لمنع المتمردين السوريين من استهداف منازلهم التي تقع على بضعة أميال من الحدود، ظناً منهم بأنها ثكنات عسكرية ومكاتب جمركية.
Dozens of local residents in the southern governorate of Karak on Friday set ablaze a building belonging to the Shi’ite Bohra sect.
Angry residents set the building on fire in the Southern Mazar region, expressing rejection of the presence of the Bohra in the area and refusing to allow visitors from the sect to the region. The Bohra are a subsect of Shi’a Isma’ili Muslims, mostly prominent in India and some in Yemen.
Nearly 300 people stormed the building and set it on fire, Ammon News Correspondent in Karak Mohammad Khawaldeh said.
I wrote some commentary to put Jordan’s recent parliamentary elections in context.
Another at Fair Observer: “Reform Not Revolution: Arab Spring in Jordan,” Fair Observer, February 2013
Friday’s protest in downtown Amman was billed as the biggest in Jordan since regular demonstrations began a year and a half ago. Perhaps it was, though I doubt it came close to the 50,000 participants anticipated by the Islamic Action Front, the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and organizer of the demonstration (though counting thousands of people isn’t particularly easy, especially from the street). Nonetheless, it was a significant demonstration of grievances and demands by a large number of different groups with a wide range of interests, and a lot of media to cover them.
These are just a few observations of my own, and below are some pictures I snapped from my phone.
- It was certainly interesting to see the various groupings and affiliations among the crowd, differentiated primarily by baseball hats of different kinds and colors. There was a small group of guys “chained” (not really, though) together wearing navy blue shirts and hats with signs pinned to themselves stating “Prisoners of Conscience.”
- There were a lot more women participating than I expected. While there were few in the large mass of people immediately in front of the King Hussein mosque, large groups of women were very active on the side streets and sidewalks, many of them wearing ball caps on top of their head coverings.
- The chants are great, though more difficult to understand than when having a regular conversation with someone. Shouts over speakers aren’t particularly clear to a non-native speaker, and thousands of voices at once can muffle diction, so I have to make a concerted effort to hear clearly. Quite a lot of it was directed to the King, though without crossing certain lines that led to jail time for some protesters in Tafileh some weeks back. A few I scratched down: “Abdullah, where are our freedoms?” “Our demands are legitimate.” “The people want the reform of the system.” “Abdullah, why protect the corrupt?” “Listen good, Abdullah. We want freedom, not royal favors.” The “music” of the chants is the best though. Reading them here in English just doesn’t do them justice. (Oh, they also did a short “translation” for the benefit of the English-language media. Interesting and kind of funny at that moment.)
- Readings signs and banners is easier. Many of the against corruption. Others wanting “real” reforms. Others against “the system of secret police.” And others generally stating an “order for political, economic, and social reform.”
- Security was heavy as expected. The “front line” of police were without guns (this has been usual practice), and line the main street on either side (and many in or on top of buildings). Things did not feel particularly tense and the police seemed relaxed; talking, smiling, and laughing. Once you move to the surrounding streets, however, you would find the gendarmerie “waiting in the wings” and well-armed.
All in all, an excellent day. I got a fresh squeezed orange juice for the way home and lucked out in getting a cab pretty quickly after leaving the downtown area. It’s kind of surreal being in such a crowded mass of people, then walking for just 2 to 3 minutes and being on completely deserted city streets. But the police block off all roads to that part of the downtown. We’ll see how things go from here now that the King dissolved parliament and new elections are supposed to take place before the end of the year.
A number of people in the U.S. have asked me if there have been any effects here in Jordan from the protests and attacks on U.S. embassies in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen. The U.S. Embassy here in Jordan issued this yesterday (it’s unclassified, so I can repost):
Subject: Planned Weekend Demonstrations at U.S. Embassy Amman
U.S. Embassy Amman has learned that various groups have called for demonstrations in front of or near the U.S. Embassy this evening and tomorrow.
Today at 1700 hours or later: Some groups on Facebook are calling for a protest in front of the Embassy. Police have not confirmed the event, but there will be additional security deployed at the Embassy.
Friday, September 14 following noon prayers: Online media outlets are reporting and the police have confirmed that one group plans to demonstrate in front of Al-Kurdi Mosque (near Abdoun Mall), approximately one-half a mile from the Embassy.
Friday, September 14 at 1800 hours: Another group plans to hold a sit in outside of the Embassy under the slogan “Be With Us.” The police have confirmed this event.
So, yes, there is a reaction here in Jordan but significantly more contained by American and Jordanian security services. Here are a few news stories on Jordan specifically:
Ahram – Jordanians Protest Anti-Islam Film, Torch US Flags
Jordan Times – Hundreds Peacefully Protest Prophet Muhammad Film Near US Embassy
I caught some of the general discussion taking place in the international and American media, U.S. politics, and social media in response to the embassy breaches in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen, and the subsequent protests at U.S. embassies across the region. There’s much to say, of course, especially as much of the discussion degenerates into predictable generalizations of religion and culture that have little benefit (and do some harm) in understanding these events.
In lieu of writing something lengthy, I’ll just share a few things that are perhaps slightly different than the typical coverage on the news:
The “Amman Message” was initiated by King Abdullah II of Jordan in 2005 in consultation with top Muslim religious scholars seeking to “declare what Islam is and what it is not, and what actions represent it and what actions do not.”
One of many responses to the events by Muslims who deplore the actions of the attackers, arguing that:
“…their reaction, which included vandalism and the murder of innocent civilians, completely contradicts the character and message of our beloved Prophet. In a famous Islamic tradition, he stated: ‘It is not allowed to cause harm to others nor to return harm for harm.’ … When lies are spread about our Prophet, we simply respond with the truth. And the most effective response is to embody his merciful character on a daily basis. Violence and vandalism carried out in his name are more offensive than the content of any film.”
I also came across this (quite graphic) Onion “news” story with a satirical, though very pointed criticism of the outrage and violence in response to stupidity and ignorance (like “Innocence of Muslims” film). Both are senseless.