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Jordan and Saudi Arabia in a changing region… Is Amman seeking new alliances?

December 15, 2017 at 7:02 pm

Jordanian King Abdullah II (L) meets with Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (R) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 13 December 2017 [Bandar Algaloud/Saudi Kingdom Council/Anadolu Agency]

Saudi Arabia had a “low key” reaction to Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, compared to the Jordanian reaction, both on the popular and official level. This was evident in Saudi Arabia’s delayed reaction to the decision, the low level of Saudi representation at the summit on Jerusalem in Istanbul, as well as in the Saudi Arabian media’s limited and cold reporting on the protests against the decision, the summit in Istanbul, and the international reactions against Trump’s decision, Meanwhile, Jordan’s high ranking officials participated in the summit, while the state and private media dedicated their coverage to following the developments regarding Jerusalem.

Observers believe that Saudi Arabia had prior knowledge of the American decision regarding Jerusalem, and that it could have at least “convinced” Trump to back down from his decision and warned him of its outcomes. However, Riyadh treated the Jerusalem issue as “a card it could play in the context of its geopolitical competition with Iran, while Jordan treated the issue as an existential one, said Jordanian political analyst Hassan Al-Barari.

Jordan expressed strong objection to President Trump’s decision on Jerusalem with a great deal of strength and self-confidence. This was demonstrated by the King’s calm demeanour offering an official speech in a clear and audible tone, which portrayed the message that Jordan is disturbed by the decision but not uneasy and that its playing cards were carefully prepared. What is the source of that confidence? What are the strong cards that give Amman this level of comfort to speak up against the decision and leave it able to face the expected blackmail in light of the economic hardship that has always blatantly been used against it? Can we consider the Jordanian move towards Turkey to be a step towards using its strong cards?

Read: Muslim leaders call on world to recognise East Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Jordan immediately moved towards Turkey, which has been a fierce rival of Saudi Arabia, as they are competing over leadership of the Muslim world for the past ten years. This rivalry manifested with the launch of the Arab Spring, when Saudi Arabia found that its leadership of the Sunni Muslims was threatened by Turkey, especially after the latter strengthened its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and worked alongside Qatar to support the new forces that rose to authority in the Arab Spring countries. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia was working to foil the revolutions, which it considered to be against the old Arab system, of which Riyadh is a pillar. It also feared that the success of the revolutions would result in strong Arab alliances with Turkey, dethroning Saudi Arabia.

Jordan has been a strong Saudi ally in the past five years and an important supporter of its policies regarding the hot issues in the region. As a result of this, Jordan has had to withstand great popular and economic pressure, which Saudi Arabia did not deal with on the required level. Instead, it adopted a policy of marginalising Jordan’s role, which became more apparent last year, ultimately reaching the current contrasting positions of both countries regarding the American decision on Jerusalem.

Therefore, we can consider Jordan’s move towards Turkey as an immediate message responding to Saudi Arabia’s policy, namely its position on Jerusalem, and its attempt to overstep Jordan in most situations. Amman wants to portray the message that it is capable of managing the helm and sail in different directions in the event that Saudi Arabia continues with its current policies.

Read: What does Trump’s Jerusalem decision actually mean?

It is possible that Saudi Arabia did not realise that Jordan has many important strong cards and that it cannot do without it due to the importance of the issues shared by the two parties.

Saudi Arabia will realise in the coming days that the geopolitical location of Jordan on the world map has forced it to be a pivotal country and that any political position or decision adopted by Jordan negatively or positively affects the region. It will also realise that any attempt to marginalise or overstep Jordan is considered a leap into the unknown. This will prompt Saudi Arabia to revise its considerations, especially since Jordan has left the door open in many issues, such as the Syrian issue as well as relations with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 15 December 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.