The murder of Jordanian fighter pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by the ISIS has galvanised Jordan and, in its righteous wrath, has sworn to wipe it off the map. What explains such fury? After all, not so long ago, Jordan had been training rebel groups to overthrow Syrian president Bashar al- Assad, even sourcing weapons for them.
Jordan is one of the few countries in West Asia that the Arab Spring seems to have bypassed — well almost. In 2011, when unrest broke out in Egypt, Jordan too had been engulfed with protests with people demanding jobs and greater democracy. Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with the king having sweeping executive and legislative powers and like Saudi Arabia had to buy off its population’s discontent with sops.
But there are inner tensions and dynamics. The kingdom hosts one of the largest Palestinian populations in the world and is wary of any Palestinian unrest spreading. There is an uneasy truce between the indigenous largely Bedouin Jordanian population and the Palestinians, who have over decades contributed towards the making of the kingdom. Many Jordanians, as do many Palestinians, remember Black September, when the forces of King Hussein helped flush out Palestinian guerrillas from Jordanian territory in 1971, after which Yasser Arafat was forced to move his base to Lebanon.
It was in part to sustain this truce that Jordan also entered into a peace agreement with Israel, becoming only one of the two Arab countries to establish full-fledged diplomatic relations with Israel. Like the house of Saud in Saudi Arabia, the Hashemite kingdom in Jordan is always wary of any unrest spilling into its kingdom and threatening the precarious power structure there. Hence, neither the Palestinian intifada, nor the Arab Spring, nor political Islam holds any appeal for the kingdom. And so, Jordan finds common cause with the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council to maintain the status quo in the region, contain the spread of both the Arab Spring, and Iranian style Islamic revolution, and of course any caliphates.
But, during the prolonged incarceration of Kasasbeh, the Jordanian government and monarch, one of the closest US allies in the region, was criticised for joining the American campaign against the ISIS — fighting a war which was not Jordan’s. Kasasbeh’s family, while appealing to the government to bring their son back, also appealed to ISIS by proclaiming Kasasbeh was a ‘good Muslim’. Meanwhile, inevitably, some Jordanians were beginning to admire ISIS.
Now, in the icon that Kasasbeh has become, King Abdullah has found a cause to channel the unrest within the kingdom. And its aerial bombardment campaign directed as much against ISIS is also to reassure its citizens, defuse underlying tensions and show up that hereditary entitlement can combine patriotism.
(Aditi Bhaduri is a journalist and researcher. The views expressed by the author are personal.)