Jordanian soldier Ma’arik al-Tawayha was sentenced this week to life imprisonment with hard labour for shooting dead three American soldiers in the al-Jafer military base in Ma'an back in November 2016.
Al-Tawayha, who belongs to the large and influential Howaitat tribe, was serving at the base when a convoy of vehicles carrying American 'Green Beret' trainers arrived at the entrance of the base. The video footage from the incident was released this week and shows the following scene:
Three US soldiers died at the scene as well as a Jordanian soldier who was accompanying them in the vehicle. The motives behind the shooting still remain somewhat unknown. Investigators say that there are no indications whatsoever that Sergeant al-Tawayha had extremist views which would have led him to kill the Americans.
Very little information was initially released about the incident by Jordan and the US, but it has recently emerged that the American soldiers, who were actually 'Green Beret' trainers, were also training the Free Syrian Army at the same military base when the shooting took place.
The verdict sparked mass street protests among members of al-Tawayha’s influential tribe, the Howeitat, who believe he acted within the rules of engagement and is being punished unfairly to placate a powerful political ally.
The tribe blocked some of the major transit highways to the south of Jordan, burning tyres in protest. It was also reported that the tribe baracaded the entrance to the US embassy in Amman, where dozens of al-Tawayha's relatives and tribe members stood in solidarity with him and protested for his release.
The tribes in Jordan wield significant power and influence, particularly when it comes to an issue which concerns one if their own tribe members, and even more so when an incident takes place on their own land - as was the case in the al-Jafer case.
Who are the Howaitat?
The Howaitat are a large tribal confederation who have lived in the southern part of what is now modern day Jordan since before the 18C. The tribe is made up of several branches, including the Ibn Jazi, the Abu Tayi, the Anjaddat, and the Sulaymanniyin.
Historically well known for having supported the Hashemites during the Arab Revolt, former Sheikh of the Howaitat Auda Abu Taya famously mustered a force of Bedouin tribesmen to Aqaba under the banner of Prince Faisal bin Hussein, leading them to victory.
Their pivotal role in the history of the creation of the modern state of Jordan has been documented in T. E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom, as well as in the 1962 British made film of Lawrence of Arabia.
Those famous abu Tayi, of whom Auda, the greatest fighting man in Northern Arabia, was chief. Only by means of Auda abu Tayi could we swing the tribes from Maan to Akaba so violently in our favour that they would help us to take Akaba and its hills from their Turkish garrisons: only with his active support could we venture to thrust out from Wejh on the long trek to Maan. Since our Yenbo days we had been longing for him and trying to win him to our cause
— T.E Lawrence - Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Nowadays, the Howaitat are in possession of large areas of land from the Wadi Rum desert stretching all the way to Saudi Arabia. Now semi-settled, they predominantly farm, as well as manage several tourism camps in Wadi Rum, a UNESCO world heritage site which currently brings in around 105,000 tourists per year.
(A photo of His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan and Prince Hamza with the Sheikh of the Howaitat tribe Faisal al-Jazy, 1997, @alhowaitat1 facebook page)
The Howaitat Respond to al-Jafer Shooting
Aside from releasing the video of the shooting at the demands of the Howaitat, the Jordanian government and military court have been careful and somewhat limited with the amount of information they have released about the al-Jafer incident.
This is likely down to the fear that the incident will damage the currently very proximate relationship between the US and Jordanian security services. It may also be down to worry over the reaction of the Howaitat, who clearly hold influence over Ma'an governorate territory.
The limited information from the government has put the spotlight massively on the Howaitat and their stance on the incident. The tribe live in the area of the al-Jafer, where the military base is located, and are in the know about what goes on inside, there are also have many soldiers from the Howaitat who serve in the same military base, some of whom were eye witnesses to the incident.
Footage in the video below details the stance of the Howaitat on the incident.
The tribe believe that al-Tawayeh acted in defence of the Jordanian armed forces and of the country, carrying out the duties that were required of him.
One interviewee claims that the soldiers were killed by the Free Syrian Army, who were training in the same military base. They also believe that the verdict served a very political agenda, to appease the Americans.
Angered by the verdict of the military court, the tribe started an extensive online campaign, using their facebook page as a platform to raise awareness for Ma'rek and what they consider to be his wrongful arrest.
The Government Ban Tourism to Wadi Rum
A report from the Jordan Times details how the ministry of tourism reportedly issued a ban over tourists visiting the Wadi Rum desert due to fears over their security. Instructions were issued to travel agencies asking them not to take tourists despite the tribe insisting that tourists will be kept safe.
The tribe posted the following message on their facebook page:
Shooting in the Israeli embassy in Amman
The Howaitat also addressed the contraversial decision of the Jordanian government to send back an Israeli embassy worker who was responsible for shooting dead two Jordanian citizens this Monday.
The following statement was released on their facebook page:
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