The official Jordanian position on what is happening in Syria remains unclear. After nearly two years of revolution in Syria, Jordan has tried to distance itself as much as possible by avoiding getting involved in the conflict. Jordan’s role has been limited to giving advice to Syria and accepting an influx of refugees at its northern border.
Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, Jordanian diplomacy has been characterised by uncertainty, hesitation, and controversy, and continues to be so to this day. The diplomatic stance differs greatly from the popular perspective, which is mostly in full support of the Syrian revolution and in favour of the departure of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad. Until mid-2012, Jordanian decision-makers strongly upheld the belief that the survival of the Syrian regime is better than the possibility of Islamist groups gaining control of Damascus. This outcome would undoubtedly affect the balance of power in Jordan. The Jordanian regime also fears that its northern border with Syria, extending until the Iraqi city of Anbar, will turn into a political hotbed for Salafist groups and al-Qaeda. Due to Jordan’s efforts to avoid getting involved too directly in the complex Syrian situation, Jordanian diplomacy on this matter has been cautious and hesitant.
Jordan’s official diplomatic position, which is extremely sensitive, has attempted to walk the fine line of maintaining both the internal and external regional balances. Although the Jordanian position is based largely on the US position, it has not satisfied international or regional parties. And although the Jordanian Monarch was among the first leaders to advise the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, to resign and pave the way to a peaceful transfer of power, other factors suggest that decision-makers in Jordan have derived their stance based on many concerns affecting the Syrian political scene.
Jordan wants to develop policies based on the political realities on the ground. For this reason, the Jordanian monarch regularly confirms his support for the political will of the Syrian people and supports a peaceful transfer of power in Syria without feeding into chaos in Jordan. At the same time, he also shows direct support for all the Arab League’s resolutions against the massacres in Syria and supports giving the Syrian opposition a seat in the Arab League. Jordan seeks to maintain a position of understanding with Damascus and is avoiding resorting to extreme measures such as expelling the Syrian ambassador from Jordan. For this reason, the Jordanian regime allows for people to rally in protests both in support of the Syrian regime and those in favour of the opposition.
Jordan is trying to maintain a harmonious relationship with international and regional parties that can help them deal with this difficult situation in a way that does not harm the country’s political, social, or economic stability. Although Jordan’s position on the Syrian conflict has been somewhat contradictory, it is based largely on the American position, which has yet to determine how to deal with the Syrian issue. The US has given Jordan advice to manoeuvre through the situation with a moderate stance. Recently the country openly showed a willingness to provide military support to the Syrian opposition. Yet, at the same time they are also willing to cooperate with Syrian politicians, such as Head Minister Riad Hijab, in their efforts to find a political solution that would bring an end to the Syrian crisis.
Caught in the middle of two extremes, Jordan is attempting to balance itself by walking a fine line. Officials in Amman will continue to walk this line if only to buy more time. This would allow for Amman to deal with the political impasse and serve as the catalyst to encourage the international community, especially the US, to be more active when it comes to the Syrian situation. It is likely that ambiguity will continue to be Jordan’s approach unless new developments were to occur. Jordan could also potentially face many regional and external factors when it comes to the complicated Syrian crisis, especially in the domains of military and security, and specifically in the Daraa province. This has prompted many concerns in Amman as Syrian towns in proximity to the Kingdom begun to fall to Islamist forces that have shelled Jordan’s northern border.
The conditions and constraints have prompted Jordanian decision makers to take all precautions necessary to deal with the developments in Syria and to protect the Kingdom, especially since the region as a whole is affected by the Syrian crisis, requiring regional leaders to confront these challenges with new foresight and wisdom. Mohammad al-Momani, the Minister of State for Media and Communications in Jordan, confirmed that the repercussions of the Syrian conflict have begun to threaten Jordan’s national security. He went on to say that there is no doubt that the level of Jordanian involvement in this crisis is dependent first and foremost on the impact that Syria has on Jordan’s national security and second, on the large influx of Syrian refugees. Jordan is dealing with the issue of Syrian refugees based on lessons learned from the Iraqi case.
According to official figures and statistics, the number of Syrian refugees in Jordan has reached a ratio of nearly nine per cent of the Kingdom’s population. This number is even higher in particular areas where the presence of Syrian refugees constitutes nearly 25 per cent of the population. According to a Syrian spokesperson from Anmar al-Hamoud refugee camp, the total number of Syrian refugees who have entered the Kingdom since the beginning of the Syrian conflict is estimated at around 514,830 refugees. In the Zaatari refugee camp alone, the number of Syrian refugees has reached 175,230. The Kingdom continues to receive an average rate of nearly two to three thousand refugees per day and the total number of Syrian refugees is expected to reach an estimated one million by the end of the year 2013.
Official Jordanian statements indicate that the cost of hosting the 460,000 registered refugees in the Kingdom, 330,000 of them migrating and settling in various Jordanian towns and cities, has reached approximately 380 million Jordanian dinars (US$780 million) for the year of 2013. This cost will increase significantly beyond one billion dinars should the number of refugees in the Kingdom double as expected. The cost of hosting Syrian refugees in Jordan is divided in the following manner: 130 million for the cost of commodities, 55 million for energy costs, 40 million for health, 35 million for security, 13 million for education, and 15 million for water among other needs.
At the domestic level, there is a consensus among the Jordanian public that a regime change in Damascus and Bashar Al-Assad’s resignation as president are needed to end the crisis in Syria. However the majority of the public also opposes foreign intervention in the Syrian conflict. The popular Jordanian position on the Syrian conflict is divided between two currents. The first current and the majority of the Jordanian public constitutes those who are in favour of the Syrian revolution and the Islamist opposition who organize numerous demonstrations and sit-ins chanting for the fall of the Syrian regime. These individuals are pressuring the Jordanian government to take a more defined stance against the Syrian regime. The second current is that of the political nationalist and leftist elite that affiliates with the Syrian regime. This group is becoming increasingly worried about the situation in Syria and continues to warn the Jordanian government from taking any ‘hostile’ stance in Syrian affairs and warns against responding to pressure from the West or the Gulf.
Thus, it is clear that there is a consensus in the Jordanian public against any Jordanian military involvement in the Syrian political scene or any military presence in Jordanian territory. Yet, the dispute lies in popular demands between the percentage of the public in favour of the revolution, who call for the departure of Al-Assad and a more solid and concrete Jordanian stance on the conflict, and the nationalist leftist elite who support the Al-Assad regime. Any firm position taken by the Jordanian government could greatly affect and widen sensitive political divisions in the Jordanian scene.
Jordanian public opinion towards the situation in Syria, at least until the point that this article was written, stands against any Jordanian military intervention and the public also opposes the possibility of the Jordanian government granting any facilities or outposts to any foreign military within Jordanian territory. The current political current in Jordan seeks to avoid an Islamist takeover in Syria should Al-Assad resign and also wants to prevent the possibility that Syria will be split into a variety of extreme sectarian groups.
Amman’s position on this matter is the result of many different considerations that stem from the repercussions that the deteriorating situation in Syria has on Jordan, especially the developments that are taking place on Jordan’s northern border. This includes the influx of Syrian refugees, which affects Jordan’s economy, social security, and exerts both external and internal pressure on the country.
The author is a Jordanian researcher. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared on Al Jazeera Net on 10 September, 2013