Jordan’s Quiet, Growing Role in Syria’s Uprising

Jordan is doing its part to shelter Syrian refugees and aid rebel army forces.

King Abdullah II or Jordan participates in the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World at the Dead Sea in Jordan, October 22, 2011
King Abdullah II or Jordan participates in the World Economic Forum Special Meeting on Economic Growth and Job Creation in the Arab World at the Dead Sea in Jordan, October 22, 2011 (World Economic Forum/Nader Daoud)

With the daily death toll in the Syria civil war reaching an average of nearly one hundred, a growing number of Syria’s neighbors are ramping up their support of those fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Most attention has been directed at Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, a group of Sunni dominated countries that have sent the largely Sunni opposition in Syria money and weapons and provides shelter and training.

Turkey’s support has grown to such an extent that Bashar al-Assad himself has blamed Ankara for much of the violence.

But neighboring Jordan has also begun to increase its commitment to the anti-Assad rebellion.

Unlike their Gulf allies, there is no evidence to date that suggests the Jordanians are sending weapons to the Free Syrian Army but their assistance to the opposition is being felt in a number of other ways. The country has opened up its doors to a steady flow of Syrians who are trying to escape the regime’s airstrikes and shelling. Thousands of Syrian civilians have been entering Jordan by the day. Exact figures are unknown. More than 78,000 Syrians are registered with the Jordanian authorities as refugees. Tens of thousands more have probably entered the country unregistered.

In addition, the kingdom has played host to hundreds of military officials who defected from the Syrian army. They are allowed cellphones to reach out to rebel army officials across the region. Afraid that some of these defectors could be found and killed by the Assad regime, Jordanian security forces are watching the men 24 hours per day and have repeatedly denied Syrian government requests for their extradition.

Last November, Jordan’s King Abdullah II was the first Arab leader to openly call for Bashar al-Assad’s resignation. “If Bashar has the interest of his country [at heart],” he said, “he would step down.” Those comments came just as Jordan had joined eighteen other Arab nations in revoking Syria’s membership of the Arab League, a decision that contributed to a series of diplomatic embarrassments for the Assad regime.

So while Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are basking in the limelight, the Kingdom of Jordan is slowly increasing its role, albeit in its own way. The Free Syrian Army may have its logistical headquarters in Turkey but they also have a partner in King Abdullah who has opened the floodgates for Syrian refugees and for some of the very same people who have been fighting Assad for more than a year and a half.

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