Inflating the Salafi Threat in Jordan

Atlantic Council 

Jordan’s government-influenced media has declared the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) as an affront to Islam and human dignity and availed itself to the coalition fighting the militant group. Jordan hosts an undisclosed number of US troops and advisers, alongside drones and combat aircraft. Its intelligence directorate regularly collaborates with the CIA, and advanced radar systems, anti-missile batteries, and battle tanks—all provided by Western allies—line Jordan’s border with Syria and Iraq. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s November visit underscored the kingdom’s role as a multilateral staging ground. As coalition jets pound targets in Syria, Jordanian special forces have attacked ISIS units in Iraq. The recent deployment of French aircraft to Jordanian soil, alongside recent news of a fatal crash involving an American F-16 jet (the first official US death from Operation Inherent Resolve) only adds to this tension. In this anti-ISIS fervor, some Western analysts have urged crackdowns against a latent threat to regime stability—Jordan’s 20,000-strong Salafi movement, whose brand of conservative Islamism stands apart from the kingdom’s larger and more moderate Muslim Brotherhood.

Some of these Salafis back ISIS, and have few qualms about an Islamic “state” coming to Jordan and toppling the Hashemites. Indeed, more than 2,000 Jordanians have left to fight in Syria. While the public generally supports efforts to contain ISIS, it also rejects the possibility of contributing troops for a ground war. The implication of this bodes ill for the ever-controversial issue of democratic political reforms, which have been mired in a stop-and-start pattern for decades. For alarmists, the Hashemite monarchy should not consider the notion of greater democracy, which might devolve power away from its near-absolutist reign and potentially transfer it to unsavory opposition forces. It must maintain internal stability all costs.

Such alarmism needs recalibration. Undoubtedly, the Hashemite kingdom is in a tough spot. It saw thousands of demonstrations during the 2011-12 Arab Spring, including unexpected protests against corruption within tribal communities long portrayed as the state’s loyal bastion. It is not only struggling to deal with more than a million Syrian refugees, the government is also broke. It needs Western and Gulf aid while dealing with enormous foreign debt—financial scarcity so onerous that it has quietly raised billions of more dollars by issuing Eurobonds guaranteed by the US Treasury on the international market. Yet does it follow that a credible threat against the monarchical regime exists in Jordan?

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