Jordan clans rally to prevent state from stripping them of their weapons

Authorities’ move follows post-election armed demonstrations
Sunday 22/11/2020
Jordanian policemen stand guard near Amman, Jordan. (REUTERS)
Jordanian policemen stand guard near Amman, Jordan. (REUTERS)

AMMAN--The official crackdown in Jordan on carrying personal weapons is raising the concerns of the tribes and clans, as they see themselves the primary target of the campaign. They are even more worried by the fact that the campaign has been approved by King Abdullah II himself, who has clearly decided to resolve this issue of unauthorised weapons which has seen a great deal of controversy and disputes in recent years.

Voices emerged stressing the importance of keeping weapons in the hands of the clans, indicating that they represent a safety valve for the kingdom, and considered that the real danger lies in the spread of the phenomenon of owning personal weapons in urban areas and cities that host the majority of Jordanians of Palestinian origin, and what this could pose in terms of a future threat to the state and its system of government.

Clans in Jordan consider carrying weapons part of their identity and tribal heritage and a sign of strength and prestige. In recent years, they have resisted attempts to have their weapons taken away from them through the introduction of new legal frameworks regulating arms possession and use.

Jordanian political sources believe that the issue with the tribes goes beyond weapons being a mere legacy that must be preserved. Rather, it is intertwined with political considerations, especially in light of the delicate political conditions the kingdom is going through at the internal and external levels.

The sources pointed out the importance of holding weapons for the Jordanian clans, as they are a source of power through which to put pressure on the central authority, and thus stripping them of their weapons means weakening them.

In the outgoing parliament, the representatives of the tribes strongly opposed a bill aimed at making an amendment to the current law, dating back to 1952, regulating possession of weapons. The new bill which was introduced by former Minister of the Interior, Salama Hammad.

The clans fear that the recent events that followed the announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections last week, will be used to pass this project into law by the new parliament.


— Royal instructions —

Several regions in Jordan witnessed a state of tension with demonstrators brandishing and firing automatic weapons, following the announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections. These demonstrations constituted a great embarrassment for the authority, especially since the state of chaos took place while the country was in a state of emergency as part of the measures to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Minister of Interior, Major General Tawfiq al-Halalmah, had to resign because of the incidents.

King Abdullah II was furious about what happened. He wrote on Twitter, “The unfortunate demonstrations that we witnessed on the part of some following the electoral process are clear breaches of the law, violating the safety and health of the whole society, and do not express the true awareness of the vast majority of our citizens in all governorates of our dear country.”

The Jordanian monarch called for the full implementation of the law, thus giving the green light to the security services to strike back with an iron fist against everyone who had used weapons.

Security services in several cities – including Ma’an, Mafraq and Amman – moved to confiscate weapons, amid tribal concern that the measure would be extended to them, especially that King Abdullah II stressed that “the law applies to everyone and no one is exempted.”

The Director of Public Security, Major General Hussein Al-Hawatmeh, announced the arrest of 18 candidates for the parliamentary elections and their transfer to the Administrative Governor. He also talked about arresting 324 people for firing their weapons, and seizing of 29 firearms and 478 vehicles.

Tribal elders in Jordan had publicly condemned the demonstrations and the events that took place, in an attempt to distance the clans themselves from those events, explaining that most of these transgressions took place in cities. Their stance seemed to be an attempt to play the cards of regionalism and cultural identity.

Former Interior Minister Samir al-Habashneh said that the weapons in the possession of the tribes in Jordan have never been brandished against the state at any time, pointing out that the problem is in the cities.

The former security official proposed that all weapons be licensed in the kingdom, stressing the importance of this step for the kingdom’s security, especially since the tribes are “auxiliaries of the armed forces.”

Observers considered Habashneh’s statements to have dangerous implications, especially in terms of referring to the danger posed by cities.

They unanimously agreed that the clans are trying to play on the traditional concerns of the higher levels of authority in Jordan towards Jordanians of Palestinian origin, and said that the use of firearms in recent events occurred mostly in tribal areas.

The Jordanian tribes consider that their role in confronting the uprising of the so-called “Black September” of September 1970, instigated by the Palestine Liberation Organisation which relied on its armed fighters and the support of Palestinians with Jordanian nationality, was a decisive one, since otherwise, the kingdom would have become an “alternative Palestine.”

At the time, King Hussein of Jordan relied on the army, formed primarily from tribesmen, to deal a devastating blow to the Palestinian forces, which found no other alternative but to leave Jordan and move to Lebanon, while the civilian Palestinian population remained in the country on the basis of keeping away from influential political action. The problem, however, is that this population went back to political activism, this time, and for the past decades, under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood which has succeeded to make significant breakthroughs and inroads within the tribes as well under the pretext that the Islamic identity transcends all other identities.

Observers ruled out that the tribes’ manoeuvres and pressures would find any echo with decision-makers, for whom the continued possession of weapons by the tribes is a source of concern and apprehension, comparable to the danger of Jordanians of Palestinian origin.

Professor of Sociology Hussein Al-Khuzaie attributed the clan’s use of weapons to reminding the central government that they have an important political presence, as if these clans were telling the authorities, “We’re here and don’t you forget us, especially with regard to the distribution of public funds.”

In statements to local media, Khuzaie pointed out that unemployment and the absence of economic development forced the youth to return to clan life.

“They feel that the clan provides them with a community safety net better than the one provided by the government,” Khuzaie said, and this is a matter of mounting concern for the central authority, which has begun to move to address this anomaly.