When the Islamic State burned a Jordanian pilot to death in a cage in February 2015, King Abdullah of Jordan vowed to crush ISIS until his military runs “out of fuel and bullets.”
Abdullah repeatedly promised a “severe response” to the video, and even appeared in another video training Jordanian paratroopers. Jordan followed up its pledge by launching 56 revenge airstrikes on ISIS, and pledging to work even closer with the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
Jordan’s pledge to militarily strike quickly became tempered by other geo-political challenges. Reports indicate Jordan began to actively participate in the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and became increasingly besieged by its own domestic considerations.
An October PBS Frontline investigation into the U.S. anti-ISIS coalition noted, “commentators have questioned how Jordan will be able to sustain its participation in an air campaign given the strength of its air force, and its heavy dependence on economic and military aid from the U.S. This year, the United States government approved $1.6 billion in aid to Jordan. The Obama administration has pledged to send $1 billion a year until 2017, pending Congressional approval.”
“Given the size of Jordan and its military it has limited options about what it can do inside Syria,” senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies Bill Roggio explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation. Roggio also highlighted the rise in popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan as a domestic challenge.
The Muslim Brotherhood party won 16 seats in Jordan’s September parliament elections, signaling a political comeback, and potential challenge to the government’s monopoly of power. The brotherhood’s Jordanian chapter has instead focused on promoting an “inclusive” message, that will challenge corruption.
“Now is the time for us to evolve from an Islamist movement to a national, inclusive movement that speaks for the aspirations of all Jordanians,” the deputy leader of the Jordanian brotherhood told The Washington Post in September. “We needed to change in order to survive,” he continued.
The brotherhood’s message aside, it has a troubled history with connections to Islamic terrorism.
Roggio warned that an “influx of Muslim Brotherhood is an indication it has an appeal” and that “its not a long reach from the brotherhood to salafism to jihadism.” Much of al-Qaida’s idealogical roots are traced to the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s and 1980s. “The growth in the brotherhood should be of concern to the King and to the U.S.,” he added.
Jordan’s Syrian refugee crisis continues to roil its population, with nearly 650,000 refugees registered by the UN. Syrian refugees now represent 10 percent of the Jordanian population, compounding an ongoing crisis within Jordan. Prior to the refugees’ arrival, 70 percent of Jordan’s population traced its roots to Palestine, leaving many Jordanians already feeling like a minority within their own country.
The brotherhood’s rise in popularity may represent growing sympathy to Islamic radicalism among Jordan’s population. Nearly 2,000 Jordanians were fighting for ISIS as of December 2015, according to U.S. security advisory firm the Soufan group. The 2000+ figure ranks Jordan among the largest contributors of citizens to ISIS.
“Jordan is trying kindler gentler Islam approach,” Roggio said of its counter-jihad messaging, but questioned, “What real effect does this have against the growing tide of conservative Islam.”
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