Threats of civil disobedience rock tribal city of Maan in southern Jordan
A Syrian man sits in his tent at the Zaatari refugee camp, near the Syrian border with Jordan in Mafraq in March. AFP Photo
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The southern Jordanian city of Maan, over 130 miles from the capital, has been the site of many popular uprisings in Jordanian society. One such uprising took place in April 1989, bringing an end to martial law, and ushering in a period of so-called “democratic progress.”
A few weeks ago, Maan’s al-Hussein University was witness to some of the most violent tribal clashes in a decade, claiming the lives of four students.
Earlier this week, two Maani fugitives were killed in a police shootout near Aqaba. After their deaths, a video was taken of unidentified men absuing the bodies. Footage of the violence circulated online, depicting the mutilation of the corpses of two wanted men from Maan. Rumours surfaced that it may have been the police involved in the shootout who were responsible for the abuse.
This rekindled unrest in the area, and several were killed or injured in the ensuing protests. Now, activists in the Maan governorate are calling for the results of the investigations to be made public and for the perpetrators to be punished.
Tribal divisions between the city and the surrounding Badia region perpetuate the distrust of the state. Though the population of the governorate of Maan is no more than 110,000, there are demands across the Badia for devolution from the central government.
The prevailing belief here is that the people of the Badia have failed to integrate with the city, and have been marginalized because of policies favoring the latter. Nevertheless, the people of the city of Maan also cite marginalization as the reason for their restlessness.
Another manifestation of this polarization was the city’s initial support for the security services. Later on, the tribes of the Badia would back the security campaign against the city, believing this would put them at an advantage. Yet it seems that the state, including its political, social, and even cultural structures, is totally absent from this region.Civil disobedience now entered its third day amid bread shortage. Almost a quarter century after the 1989 uprising, it seems that the security-based approach is all that is left of the fledgling Jordanian state.
It is all too apparent that social crises stemming from government policies are only endangering the fate of the state. After all, Maan is the poorest governorate in the kingdom, not to mention the site of Salafi jihadi groups and soaring unemployment.
Aside from coming down in full force, the government has done little else to tackle the crisis. In the meantime, a leader of the Salafi jihadi movement in the city known as Abu Sayyaf appealed for efforts to nip sedition in the bud, while asserting that he was not keen on preserving any regime or government.
However, these Salafi groups, once easily swayed by political machinations, may now be outside the control of the government. Socioeconomic changes affecting the composition of Jordanian cities, led by Maan, indicate that the issue is also linked to an entire shadow system outside of state control – whether in relation to its coordination with al-Qaeda’s international organization or its reliance on smuggling weapons and other contraband to raise money.
The intricate link between the security services and extremist elements, and the firm belief among people in power that they can always dictate the rules of the game, will be shattered in light of coming regional shifts.
This most recent crisis may end with a fragile settlement involving a tribal accord or possibly an army intervention. However, the issue of Jordan’s south will only become more contentious, and might lay the groundwork for the emergence of extremist groups that believe in their own strength rather than the law.
By Mahmoud Munir