International American Council

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Middle East and North Africa

Adjacent to Syrian conflict, Jordan left to pick up the pieces

The Kingdom of Jordan had an easier Arab Spring than many other countries in the region, all things considered. King Abdullah al-Hussein has remained on the throne, bringing stability to the country, if not true change. There has been no need for foreign intervention, unlike in Libya. And most importantly, the protests and grievances have not escalated into civil war, as they have in neighboring Syria. Although by no means all of the protesters’ demands have been met, the gestures made by the Jordanian government have placated the protesters and likely staved off widespread violence.

However, Jordan’s stability relative to its neighbor Syria to the north has led to the kingdom taking on an outsized role in the Syrian civil war, relative to the country’s size and international power. 

Ever since the Syrian civil war began in March 2011, Jordan has been absorbing an enormous number of refugees fleeing the conflict, along with Syria’s northern neighbor, Turkey. Altogether, 1.4 million people have fled Syria as of last month, out of a population of 22 million. A little under half of these refugees, about 500,000 people, have attempted to settle in refugee camps in Jordan. Jordan was welcoming to these refugees at first, with a relatively free border and asylum policy, but after two years of constant influx and no sign of an end to the Syrian conflict, Syrian refugees have consumed low-wage labor jobs, as well as food and water, in a country where jobs, food prices, and water shortages have already caused widespread protests.

In addition to the nonviolent aid Jordan is giving to Syrians in the form of refuge, the kingdom is being slowly but surely pressured into engaging or becoming involved militarily as well. The United States has moved over 200 troops to Amman, ostensibly to help the Jordanian Armed Forces improve battle readiness and provide some training, but many Jordanians believe it is actually to prepare for major spillover from the Syrian conflict. Jordanian information minister Mohammad Momani called the U.S. deployment a “boost [to] the Jordanian armed forces in light of the deteriorating situation in Syria.” 

Jordan has resisted becoming a key player through military action as the Syrian conflict becomes a regional one. Oraib Rintawi of the Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies claims that Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been pressuring Jordan to aid the rebels in an active way, but Jordan has been resisting. Allowing more U.S. troops on Jordanian soil is, in a way, a concession to this pressure. 

If Syrian president Bashar al-Assad makes good on his previously vague threats to Jordan and uses conventional or chemical weapons against the Jordanian people, Jordan may feel compelled to take even more drastic steps in defending itself, escalating the Syrian civil war into a more regional fight. And if the Jordanian government does enter into such a conflict, and the refugees continue to pour in, straining already scarce food and water supplies, the tenuous relations between the government and the general population will likely collapse.

By Laura Gates

Source: Agence France Presse, Huffington Post, The New York Times

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