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Internal Tensions in Jordan Reflect Unrest among Bedouin Tribes

Filed under: Jordan

Internal Tensions in Jordan Reflect Unrest among Bedouin Tribes
On April 11, 2021, the Jordanian Royal Family visited the Royal Hashemite Cemetery to mark the Kingdom’s centennial and in remembrance of former kings. Closest to the wreath are King Abdallah, his uncle Prince Hassan, and his son Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah II (in uniform). Relegated to the back row were other princes, including the former Crown Prince Hamzah bin Hussein. (Jordan King’s office)

As the news about Jordan’s royal family becomes more evident, it is apparent the Kingdom’s internal rift is not only within the royal family but also in the internal cohesion of Jordan’s tribes, reflecting those loyal to King Abdullah and those loyal to his half-brother, Prince Hamzah.

When the Jordanian Army’s chief of staff, General Yousef Huneiti, came to Prince Hamzah’s home to warn him against talking to tribal leaders and to place him under house arrest, Huneiti said he was representing the security forces and not the King.1  There was a clear message that the Jordanian Army was loyal to the King and would not be dragged into a military coup.

From the outset, however, there was no intention of a military coup but rather to trigger the Bedouin tribes to pressure King Abdullah to resign, keeping their loyalty to the Hashemite crown but led by Hamza. The purpose was a “Jordanian Spring” led by the Bedouins.

The Jordanian Fissures

The concern of the Jordanian High Command was and still is that once Bedouin demonstrators appear in Amman, the Jordanian Army will disintegrate into its tribes, which is a concern Israel shares.

Already, there are differences in attitudes among the Bedouins. The southern tribes in the provinces of Karak, Ma’an, and Tufeila, which provide soldiers to the infantry, have been restive for several years. They have been rioting against the government installations, setting fire to government offices, police stations, and officials’ cars. The tribes of the center and the north do not exhibit this unrest.

King Abdullah II at the Karak Public Hospital
King Abdullah II inaugurated a new section of the Karak Public Hospital to “improve medical services in the southern region” in 2019. (Office of King Abdullah II)2

The Jordanian Army tries not to concentrate members of one or another tribe in any single unit but mixes them all so that there is no military concentration of one tribe.

However, there was a situation in which the ground corps was manned by the Howeitat, Banu Hassan, and Banu Sahar tribes in the south. The tribes of the north were often assigned to specialized units and the Air Force.

While the southern tribes have connections to neighboring Saudi Arabia, the northern tribes are part of the tribes in Syria and have cooperated with the Jordanian government in managing the Syrian crisis for the benefit of the Syrian Daraa tribes.

Members of the Shamar tribe, dispersed from northern Saudi Arabia to Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, issued this statement after the arrest of one of their retired officers:

Retired Colonel Emad Arabiyat was arrested for unknown reasons on April 3, 2021, without mentioning any reason. We know that we are faithful countrymen, and we had a history before [in Jordan]. And now we see that our children are being arrested unjustly, and this affects the personal dignity of every member of the clan.3

The tribes near Amman are indisputably loyal to King Abdullah II, but the northern tribes have grievances over the treatment of Princess Basmah, the wife of Prince Hamza, who belongs to the Bani Ahmad tribe of the north. Over the weekend, these tribes issued calls for the government not to involve the princess in the events, and the words were written in a menacing language with barely a word of support for King Abdullah.

Princess Basmah’s tribe sternly condemned deputy prime minister Ayman Safadi’s remarks that hinted that Princess Basmah was involved in the intrigues against the state and its institutions. “The tribes of Bani Ahmed denounce [the raising of] the name of the Jordanian Princess Basmah Bani Ahmad in the events in our beloved homeland, especially the way her honorable person was addressed by the Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister,” the tribe released on Facebook. “We categorically reject any allegations or hints of Her Highness the Princess’ communication with any internal or external authorities, neither from near nor far. The tribes of Kafrakh warn against addressing these heroes and circulating them from near or far under the legal and tribal responsibility, and we reserve our legal and tribal right to prosecute any individual or side that had any role to play in [insulting] Jordan’s daughter, Princess Basma Bani Ahmed. At the same time, the tribe expresses loyalty to the homeland and the Hashim family led by King Abdullah II.”4

If the tribes really appear in the capital Amman, the problem will be not just between the tribes but within the military, and that is a great danger. This is what should be of great concern to Israel. 

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