Jordan’s King Fears “Jihadist State” in Syria

The monarch warns Syria could become “a base for extremist and terrorist groups.”

King Abdullah II of Jordan answers a question at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25
King Abdullah II of Jordan answers a question at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25 (WEF/Sebastian Derungs)

Jordan’s king Abdullah II fears that neighboring Syria will become “a regional base for extremist and terrorist groups” and emerge a “jihadist state” out of its two year civil war which has driven up to half a million refugees into his country.

“Another extremely dangerous scenario is the fragmentation of Syria which would trigger sectarian conflicts across the region for generations to come,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday.

The monarch’s words echoed those of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki who told the same news agency last week that the Syrian conflict could destabilize the Middle East. “The most dangerous thing in this process is that if the opposition is victorious, there will be a civil war in Lebanon, divisions in Jordan and a sectarian war in Iraq,” said Maliki.

However, unlike Abdullah, who insists Syria is “past that point” where President Bashar al-Assad can hold on to power, Maliki argued that the Alawite leader will not be deposed. “The Alawites will fight with other minorities against militants like Sunni extremists,” he predicted.

Syria’s civil war pits majority Sunni Muslims against Assad’s minority Alawite regime which still controls the northwest of the country as well as the capital Damascus. Insurgent groups have pushed loyalist troops out of towns in the north as well as the oil rich eastern part of the country around the city of Deir ez-Zor on the Euphrates River.

Jordan has been more reluctant than Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, all majority Sunni states and allied to the United States as well, to support the opposition against Assad.

But Abdullah was also the first Arab leader to call on Assad to resign and his government has played host to Syrian defectors and refugees.

Jordan has adapted to the “Arab Spring” uprisings, which probably fueled the unrest in Syria at least in part, with political reforms. Twenty-seven out of 150 seats in the lower house of parliament are now filled through elections as are mayoralties and city councils.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition movement in the country, has boycotted recent elections, however. Abdullah told The Atlantic this month he fears a “Muslim Brotherhood crescent developing in Egypt and Turkey.” In the former, the Islamist group was able to claim a plurality of the seats in parliament as well as the presidency after Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in early 2011. The king said he had doubts about Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s commitment to democracy. Under his conservative leadership, Turkey has shed some of its more stringent secular laws and traditions.

In his interview with the Associated Press, Abdullah said he will “will take a step back” as king, “in line with our reform road map for a party based parliamentary government system.” In his vision, Jordan’s monarchy will function as a “safety valve of last resort in case of impasses” among the political parties which are so far still defined more by tribal than ideological affiliations.

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