Meet the Badris

By A.N.

Abd al-Aziz al-Badri
Sheikh Abd al-Aziz al-Badri

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the self-declared Islamic State, was not produced in a vacuum. In fact, he comes from a tribe with a long history of support for Salafism. The following is a brief window into this extended family.

 

In the first letter calling for bayʿa (swearing of allegiance) to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Turki Binali needed to prove that Baghdadi was a descendant of the Quraysh in order to establish that he was entitled to become a caliph. Binali, from Bahrain, now holds an important position as one of the top jurists in IS, and despite being very young, is referred to by some as the “grand mufti” of IS. The requirement that a caliph be descended from the Quraysh is based on the dominant understanding of a saying of Mohammad in which he declared that the Quraysh were the best tribe. This has been understood by the Sunni schools to mean that the office of caliph should be exclusive to the descendants of the Quraysh tribe.

In proving Baghdadi’s eligibility, Binali not only attempted to demonstrate that Baghdadi descended from the Quraysh, but traced Baghdadi’s lineage to Mohammad himself, through Ali and Fatima (the daughter of Mohammad), by saying that that Baghdadi is: “From the the descendants of Armoush bin Ali bin Eid bin Badri bin Badr al-Din bin Khalil bin Hussain bin Abdallah bin Ibrahim al-Awah bin al-Sharif Yehia Ez al-Din bin al-Sharif Bashir bin Majed bin Atiah bin Yaala bin Douwed bin Majed bin Abdulrahman bin Qassem bin al-Sharif Idriss bin Jaafar al-Zaki bin Ali al-Hadi bin Mohamad al-Jawad bin Ali al-Rida bin Mossa al-Kazem bin Jaafar al-Sadeq bin Mohamad al-Baqer bin Ali Zein al-Abidin bin al-Hussain bin Ali bin Abi Taleb and Fatima, daughter of Mohammad.”
عرموش بن علي بن عيد بن بدري بن بدر الدين بن خليل بن حسين بن عبد الله بن إبراهيم الأواه بن الشريف يحيى عز الدين بن شريف بن بشير بن ماجد بن عطية بن يعلى بن دويد بن ماجد بن عبد الرحمن بن قاسم بن الشريف إدريس بن جعفر الزكي بن علي الهادي بن محمد الجواد بن علي الرضا بن موسى الكاظم بن جعفر الصادق بن محمد الباقر بن علي زين العابدين بن الحسين بن علي بن أبي طالب وفاطمة
Turki Binali did not need to do much research to find this out: this is the lineage that Abu Baker al-Baghdadi’s tribe claims for itself. Abu Bakr’s real name is Ibrahim al-Badri, and his full name is Ibrahim bin Awad bin Ibrahim ibn Ali ibn Mohammad bin Badri bin Armoush (the same Armoush who kicks off the tribe’s lineage). He belongs to the Bou Badri tribe named after Badri who was the son of Armoush.
Bou Badri is an Iraqi tribe present in Samra’, Baghdad, Missan, Wasset, and Diala. The eponymous father of the tribe, Badri, moved to Samaraa from Medina in the 1700s, married locally, and had 5 children. Today the tribe numbers around 25,000 people, most of whom are Sunni, but with a population of about 1,500 Shiʿis, as well.
The tribe includes notable figures in Iraqi history, some of which worked toward Islamist objectives and were heavily involved in religious activism. Five of these are profiled below, one of which personally supervised Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s religious studies. Most of the below are direct quotes translated from Arabic sources online. (Note that some members of the al-Badri tribe use the “al-Samera’i” nisba which refers to their town of Samarra, rather than “al-Badri.”)

Sheikh Abdel al-Aziz al-Badri (1929 – 1969) — One of the founders of the Iraqi branch of the Hizb al-Tahrir and later emir of Wilayat al-Iraq (a Hizb al-Tahrir designation)

  • He called for the revival of the caliphate
  • In the early 1950s, Hizb al-Tahrir approached several Islamic figures in Iraq including Abdel al-Aziz to create an Iraqi branch
  • He traveled to Jordan and met with Hizb al-Tahrir founder Taqiuddin al-Nabhani and returned to Iraq to form a Hizb al-Tahrir branch. He presented the party credentials to the Iraqi government, seeking to register the party, but they refused to give the founders a permit and later proceeded to persecute them
  • He fought against the Hashemites, the communists, and the Baath party
  • He left Hizb al-Tahrir in 1956
  • He grew closer to the Muslim Brotherhood and became one of their symbols in Iraq
  • He was arrested 14 times in addition to numerous house arrest orders by each of the various rulers that controlled of Iraq during his lifetime
  • Baath forces arrested him and tortured him for 17 days until he died, and then returned his body to his family for burial in 1969
  • Witnesses have said that he was beaten by Nazem al-Kazaz, head of the Baath regime’s General Security Forces for defying the Baath. Kazaz was later killed after a failed attempt to overthrow Ahmad Hassan al-Baker and his deputy Saddam Hussain in 1973
  • He worked with the Shiʿa and strove to develop good relations with them. He visited Karbala and Najaf to ask the ulama there to intervene with Gamal Abd al-Nasser to stop the execution of Sayed Qutb
  • He wrote several books including The Position of Islam on Socialism (he concludes it is kufr), Islam Between the Scholars and the Rulers (in which he condemns scholars that work for rulers), and Islam: A War Against Capitalism and Socialism

 

Subhi al-Samerai al-Badri

Subhi al-Samerai

Subhi al-Samerai [al-Badri] (1936 – 2013) — One of the founders of Salafi movement in Iraq

  • A leading Iraqi muhaddith
  • Bin Baz (Saudi mufti) said about him “this man is one of the remnants of the people of hadith in Iraq”
  • He was one of the founders of the Salafi movement in Iraq and belonged to the branch that preferred to work independently and focus on combating tashayuʿ (conversion to Shiʿism) more than other Salafis
  • He kept a library full of Shiʿi books that became a destination for other Salafi sheikhs who wanted to learn about Shiʿi beliefs
  • He was a policeman from 1951 until he retired in 1977
  • When Baath came to power in 1968, he was forced to cease his anti-Shiʿi activities and limited his preaching to a group of his friends and students
  • He was finally able to express himself again after he went to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, where he taught at al-Masjid al-Haram
  • He lectured at university of Mohammad bin Saud
  • He also lectured at the King Abdallah University where he gave his most well known lectures in the science of shiʿi hadith
  • He came back to Iraq in the 80s and was appointed to a mosque in Baghdad. People that attended the mosque knew of his dislike of the rafida (Shiites) and whenever somebody mentioned rafida during his hadith lesson, he would forget about the lessons and start preaching about the rafida in anger
  • In 1989, he taught in the University of Islamic Sciences in Baghdad [the same university where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi got his bachelors, and his alleged masters and PhD], where he raised his voice loudly against Shiʿa.
  • He did not publish many books because of the oppressive regime in Iraq but he did write an introduction to a book in which he tried to prove the Shiʿi admission of the existence of Abdallah bin Saba (a supposedly early Jewish convert to Islam who was supposedly the first to call for Ali to become Mohammad’s successor, invoked by Sunnis trying to demonstrate that Shiʿism is a Jewish invention) because some Shiʿi and Orientalist authors were publishing books denying his existence
  • He lost popularity because of his soft tone towards the Baath regime
  • Between 1990 and 2003, Islamic daʿwa started spreading in Iraq as the government was being weakened; due to this he gained a bigger following
  • He also went on trips with al-Albani (influential and founding Salafi sheikh) in Jordan starting in 1991
  • He was elected as an honorary emir of Salafism in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad
  • He was part of the Hayat Ulama al-Iraq
  • In 2003 he knew that the Shiʿa would end up ruling Iraq so he left with his family to Jordan. From there he moved to Syria where warned against the Nusayris saying ,”these people are kuffar and are not of Islam”
  • He eventually made it to Lebanon in 2009 where he also preached against Hezbollah and had a small following
  • He died in June 2013 at the American University hospital in Beirut
  • One funny anecdote that the sheikh would recount is that once while traveling he found a possessed man, so he performed an exorcism on him. During the exorcism he discovered that the jinn that possessed the man was a Iraqi Shiʿi rafidi from a well known Shiʿi city so he asked him: “What brought you here?” [he had such a great sense of humor]
  • He traveled the world in search of Islamic manuscripts and visited Berlin, Dublin, and Princeton
  • He supervised Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s studies of the Qur’an and hadith [the Newsweek article linked to misspells Subhi’s nisba]
  • Youtube videos of him

 

Lieutenant General Nassif Jassem al-Samerai

Nassif Jassem al-Samerai stands to the left of Iraqi President Abd al-Karim Qasim in the late 1950s

Nassif Jassem al-Samerai stands to the left of Iraqi President Abd al-Karim Qasim in the late 1950s

  • The brother of Subhi al-Samerai
  • Nassif Jasem was head of the military academy in the 1960s
  • Was head of the logistics unit at the time of the coup against the communists. Played a role on the Baath side
  • He executed 25 communists without trial during the coup in February 14, 1963
  • He became deputy commander-in-chief of the Iraqi army under the Abdul Salam Arif government
  • He played a major role in the Iran-Iraq war
  • He became a military adviser to Saddam
  • He was arrested by US forces in 2004 along with his son in a raid on his house

 

Haitham Sabah Shaker Mahmoud al-Badri — Mastermind of the 2006 al-Askari mosque bombing; was al-Qaida Emir of Salahudin Province

  • Haitham al-Badri was the al-Qaida Emir of Salahudin Province and the Emir of Samarra before that
  • His brother was killed in a US air force bombing
  • He had connections to the supporters of the fallen Baath regime
  • He was connected to Ansar al-Suna before he moved to al-Qaida
  • He planned the 2006 bombing of the al-Askeri mosque in Samarra, and extremely important religious site for Shiʿis that housed the tombs of two of the twelve Shiʿi imams. He gave the order to to 4 Saudis, 2 Iraqis, and one Tunisian to carry out the bombing
  • He was accused of killing al-Arabia reporter Atwar Bahjat himself but the Iraqi government later accused and convicted someone else for her killing
  • He allegedly refused an offer by Izzat al-Douri in 2006 to coordinate with the Baath
  • He was killed in an airstrike in 2007 during a US forces raid in Samarra
  • In September 2012, Iraqi police arrested his brother “Hisham Sabaa Shaker” who later became a prominent leader of IS in the Jazeera area. He was preparing to commit a suicide bombing in the center of Mosul when he was captured

 

Abdel Al-Satar al-Badri — Salafi Sheikh

  • Pupil of Bin Baz (Saudi mufti)
  • He worked to spread Salafism in Dayala
  • His son died fighting American forces in 2007
  • Possible twitter account
  • He, along with another sheikh from the tribe, built the al-Khoder mosque in Dayala. Several people that attended this mosque were killed fighting US forces. Most of them were al-Badris

 

Video presents views of al-Qaida’s European jihadists in Syria

A few days ago, al-Jazeera English aired a documentary called “People & Power – Western Jihadis in Syria.” The film, which includes an interview with Dr. Landis, presents discussions with articulate, English-speaking jihadists in Syria’s al-Qaida organization, Jabhat al-Nusra. As members of al-Qaida, such jihadists maintain a position involving: 1) opposition to the self-declared Islamic State, 2) a struggle against the Assad regime (specifically because it “oppresses Muslims”), and 3) a war against America and the West who are blamed for trying to prevent the development of a prosperous and powerful Muslim nation.

 

Other films from the makers of this documentary, Tom Greenwood and Nagieb Khaja, who went to Syria and tracked down Nusra members for his interviews at great personal risk, can be found on the website for their organization, North Bridge Film.

Train-and-Equip: Fight for Pluralism in Syria

Nick Herasby Nicholas A. Heras

This month, the United States and several of its Middle Eastern allies will begin training Syrian fighters through a revamped train-and-equip program that will form the core first class of Syria’s non-jihadist armed opposition. At this stage, the program will seek to identify, train, and support 5,000 Syrian rebel fighters a year for three years, and will likely involve the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and could also include Jordan. Optimally, the end game of this reportedly more robust train-and-equip program will be a Syria that emerges from its civil war with a pluralistic government, the Assad regime removed, and the more ideologically radical elements of the Syrian rebel movement defeated and marginalized.

The need for a competent rebel force on the ground is heightened by the reality that the large segment of the Syrian population that supports the uprising will continue to need protection and security, but will want it provided by an alternative to the Assad regime. This force will also need to be strong enough to secure the local areas in which it is located and to impede the advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), currently the major policy objective driving the revamped program. As proposed today in a Foreign Policy article by former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, a refashioned rebel army with a unified command and control structure that can enforce discipline within the ranks will be vital, as will its need to appeal to Syria’s minority communities.

Ford referred to the current train-and-equip program as “too little, too late,” and he makes a compelling argument for the administration’s need to either “undertake a major effort or walk away.” But while a target of 15,000 fighters trained over three years may sound insufficient to fundamentally shift the conflict, the effort can have great impact if it serves as a standard-bearing “train-the-trainer” model that builds up over time, from community to community.

From the outset, however, the train-and-equip program will have to answer questions about how its objective for the state will be an improvement over the current Syrian republic which encompasses diverse sectarian and ethnic backgrounds, despite the authoritarian power of the Assad family, the corrupt Ba’ath syndicate deep state, and its brutal security system. Nevertheless, the current Syrian republic, its advocates point out, has a longer and more practiced history of relative pluralism than that of the Syrian opposition, which has largely been splintered by factionalism and its armed groups heavily influenced by militant Islamist ideology. These are valid points, and the United States and its allies will need to address them in order to build up the capacity of the opposition to participate in a transition from the Assad regime.

Thus, United States’ strategic objective for guiding the train-and-equip program should be to build into the training a firm ideological component that seeks a pluralistic and democratic order in Syria, promoting the equal rights of all of Syrians. This will be a challenge, as the U.S.-led effort must reconcile the previous influence of its participating partners, particularly Qatar and Turkey, who have much-criticized records of influencing the armed opposition toward a more militantly Islamist ideological position. It will also need to respect and incorporate, but also moderate, the conviction of many Syrian rebel fighters that they are on a religious mission to fight a corrupt regime. Achieving the right balance in this ideological model, and making it stick for the entirety of the rest of the conflict to follow, would be an accomplishment with potentially exponential effects on the course of the war and its aftermath.

In theory, empowered Syrian rebel groups could stand their ground against both ISIS and the Assad regime, strengthening local governance, and coordinating humanitarian assistance distribution. If performed in a careful, phased manner, the train-and-equip program could focus on the local level to empower rebel communities through humanitarian assistance that is funneled through the vetted rebel groups. The focus should be on building the capacity of the vetted armed opposition to deliver social goods to their communities that are in dire need. This is a means to unify military and humanitarian assistance to the rebels in order to maximize the soft power of the United States on the Syrian opposition.

If the train-and-equip program begins to show success in accomplishing this objective, it will present an active threat to the Assad regime’s narrative that the Syrian rebel movement is a terrorist front bent on targeting and destroying Syria’s pluralism. This would make it the target of the regime and its Iranian allies and their auxiliaries, such as Hezbollah and Shi’i jihadist militias, likely producing another policy dilemma for the administration: whether or not to actively protect the empowered rebel movement it has been building. This will be an important question that could bring the U.S. closer to war with Iran, as it would spell a legitimate threat to their important proxy. This type of rebel rule could potentially establish a pluralistic precedent that could assuage the fears of Syria’s regime-loyalist communities, many of them ethnic and sectarian minorities such as Christians, Druze, and Alawites whose eventual buy-in and participation would be required to achieve a transition from the Assad regime.

However, at this initial stage of the revamped train-and-equip program is the complicating reality that throughout the country moderate Syrian armed opposition groups actively cooperate with the often more powerful rebel factions that seek to establish a fully-functioning sharia state in post-Assad Syria. Syria’s armed opposition is largely, although not completely, composed of groups whose fighters are Sunni Arabs. These factions range from militant Salafist groups such as the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, to groups that have a vision of a state governed by Islamic law that more closely resembles that espoused by the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Liwa al-Tawhid, Jaysh al-Islam, and Suqur al-Sham. Many of the fighters in these groups originally joined rebel militias that did not promote a sharia state. However, over time they came to adopt this ideology due to the devolution of the Syrian conflict into one characterized by sectarian anger and ideologically influenced by financial backers in the Gulf Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait.

It is difficult to know for certain which of these groups can be integrated into an expanded train-and-equip program, or if the fighters of these groups are, on average, true ideologues seeking a post-Assad sharia state. Some joined the more militant Islamist factions merely for financial reasons, and may be able to pass the requirement of supporting a pluralistic, inclusive Syria. Nevertheless, Washington is presented with a significant policy dilemma. The pressure of the war has led to greater convergence, operational cooperation, and resource sharing within Syria’s rebel ranks across the ideological spectrum, and the task of vetting fighters and separating them according to ideological distinctions will likely be quite difficult.

The train-and-equip program will thus need to build a sustainable ideological model for the Syrian armed opposition movement. It should seek to work slowly and methodically, acknowledging that not all of the fighters for the revamped opposition army were always perfectly aligned with the vision for a democratic and pluralistic Syria. Realizing this, however, does not preclude the U.S. and its allies from acting now, with the soft power of financial assistance and the hard power of weapons and training, to forcefully insist on an ideological standard for the new rebel army. This effort is as much a struggle to build a pluralistic and democratic model for the Syrian armed opposition, as it is to bring the fight to ISIS and transition from the Assad regime.

Nicholas A. Heras is the Research Associate in the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)

Interviewing Asad — by David W. Lesch

David W. LeschInterviewing Asad

by David W. Lesch

There has been a spate of interviews of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad by Western reporters or media personalities in the last few months. The most recent one was conducted by the BBC, while another notable interview appeared in Foreign Affairs. There have been many since the beginning of the almost four-year conflict. As they are difficult to arrange, each one is treated as something of a media event. As expected, on every occasion immediately thereafter, other publications, commentators, academics, websites, and even the interviewers themselves in one way or another dissect the interview, most of the time employing Asad’s responses as evidence of his perfidy.

For my part, these interviews elicit a collective yawn. I understand the nature of the questions, but they are repeated over and over by each interviewer: Did you (Asad) makes mistakes in the beginning of the uprising? Did you or do you now use chemical weapons? Do you admit atrocities carried out by Syrian armed forces? Are you using barrel bombs? When Asad denies any and all of these accusations in a specific sense—the most he will allow is something along the line of “all wars produce civilian casualties and all humans make mistakes”—the post-interview analysis almost unanimously concludes he is delusional, detached, disconnected, or an out-an-out liar. Frankly, he probably is all of these things to some extent, but on the other hand, what does anyone expect him to say?

The interviewers, searching for that “wow” moment when they can somehow get Asad to admit to one of the many atrocities purportedly carried out by his regime, invariably fail to do so. What becomes notable is the dance itself, i.e. the reporter’s attempts with statistics, quotes, and direct observation to trick (or shame) Asad into a less defiant posture. Asad is too smart to let this happen; indeed, since most of the interviewers are asking the same questions over and over, he has had quite a bit of practice at evasive maneuvers.

Asad understands that to indicate any culpability for something such as the use of chemical weapons or barrel bombs is also to punch a one-way ticket to the International Criminal Court. In addition, and maybe more importantly from his point of view, he is trying to come off to the West as the sane choice at the same time that the Islamic State is burning people alive. He seems calm, cool, and collected, as if he is, indeed, in control—a decent ally to have in the war against the far more evil Islamic State. He isn’t really doing a great job at endearing himself to the international public, though, as Syrian government officials have traditionally been inept at public diplomacy. Asad has been much better at it than ever was his reclusive, taciturn father, Hafiz al-Asad, but even the younger version still operates within a conceptual paradigm that is governed by paranoia and a default understanding that the United States and its allies have been consistently trying to get rid of him. So he comes off as out of touch, unrealistic, and even flippant, especially because his English—his third language—can sometimes work against him.

Asad is also not going to admit anything that would pit him against “his people.” The majority of Syrians are innocent bystanders to the war, and keeping most of them on the side of the government—or at least not on the side of the Syrian opposition—is crucial to maintaining power and providing a credible alternative inside and outside of Syria. He is not delusional in the sense of being crazy. It is a combination of strategy as well as the truly held belief, delusional or not, that he is, indeed, trying to save the country from terrorists. For him this is an easy conclusion to make since he believes he has had a target on his back for some time, long before 2011. It is how he views the world, and only if you spend a great deal of time in Syria do you understand that Asad and many of his supporters really do believe this, that it is not some sort of grand deception.

As someone who has met with and interviewed Asad numerous times in the period from 2004 to 2009, in terms of his demeanor and outlook, he still gives the same types of interviews. I had the good fortune, however, to be able to speak with him for hours on end on many occasions. Because of that, I was able to get past the talking points. I always felt that 90% of what he told me was fairly scripted. But it was the other 10%, when he let his guard down a bit, that was pure gold. The BBC interviewer, the respected Jeremy Bowen, was getting there at the end of his interview, when he asked Asad about the pain and suffering of war, and Asad mentioned the fact that he had also lost family and friends. I could see his guard come down, but the allotted time was over, and Bowen ended the interview. I wish he was able to continue along that more personal line. Now that would have been truly interesting.

 

David W. Lesch is the Ewing Halsell Distinguished Professor of Middle East History at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX and is the author or editor of 14 books, including Syria: The Fall of the House of Assad.

Syrian Refugees Collectivizing in Jordan Becomes a Security Issue — by Katy Montoya

Katy Montoya, an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, has undertaken some ambitious research on the situation of Syrian refugees in Jordan. Following previous work on refugees in Jordan posted on Syria Comment (here, here, and here), some excerpts of Katy’s work are re-posted below; read her entire research article at the Institut de recherches et d’études sur le monde arabe et musulman. Follow Katy: @K4TYMONTOYA

Katy Montoya refugees Jordan IREMAM

 

… Jordanian policies toward entering and residing Syrians have evolved simultaneously with the three-and-a-half year conflict. Jordanian border security has, from the beginning, played a generous role in facilitating border crossings, ending the long, often dangerous journeys of fleeing Syrians. Various Jordanian officials in my interviews emphasized the extent of humanitarian care that Jordan provides for entering Syrians, in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), from the border in. Unlike nearby Lebanon, the Jordanian government has worked with the UNHCR to open the al-Za’tari and al-Azraq refugee camps. Other camps include Cyber City, a holding facility for “illegal” Palestinian refugees from Syria (often referred to as PRS) and the Emirati (UAE-funded) camp.

Keeping a close count of registered Syrian refugees is difficult. Many Syrians enter Jordan illegally by bypassing official checkpoints. Increasingly, this is due to intensifying battles over border crossings between Jabhat an-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, and al-Asad’s forces, and Jordan’s subsequent closing of bordering crossings.[5] Meanwhile, about a hundred thousand Syrians who once resided in Jordan’s refugee camps have voluntarily returned to Syria. Many have also escaped the camps for Jordan’s cities and rural areas in order to seek better conditions and work opportunities.[6] Thus, roughly twenty percent of Syrians in Jordan face poor camp conditions.[7] Overcrowding and poor sanitation prevail, especially in the al-Za’tari and Cyber City camps, despite the efforts of camp officials.

Meanwhile, eighty percent of Syrians now live outside Jordan’s refugee camps and struggle to obtain necessary goods and services. With the help of UN subsidies, Jordan has kept its public hospitals open to Syrian refugees for over three years, allowing refugees to access free healthcare. State officials abruptly announced the termination of these services in late November 2014, citing the heavy debts Jordan has accrued through extending free Health-care to Syrian refugees.[8]

… During the summer of 2014, rumors began to circulate in the international media concerning Jordan’s repatriation of illegal Syrian workers and the strict cap imposed on Syrian refugees awaiting entry at the border. Syrian social workers reported cases of Jordanian authorities forcefully relocating unregistered urban refugees to live in refugee camps. The interviews I conducted this summer with Syrian social workers upheld such claims. Meanwhile, the official Jordanian press denied Jordan’s involvement in deporting refugees back to Syria.[9] Months later, however, international organizations and researchers have indeed been able to substantiate the claims.

A November 2014 report released by Boston University (BU) compiles interviews with international organizations and the testimonials of impacted Syrians, providing conclusive evidence of Jordan’s practice of forced repatriation. In fact, escalating concerns over refugee control and domestic security have created a charged political climate surrounding these matters. It is becoming clear that new security priorities have prompted Jordanian authorities to deport threatening and nonthreatening Syrian refugees alike. As the BU report states, “Syrian nationals are being deported in some instances for violating laws, such as working illegally. Others are deported for posing security problems, usually as a result of political action, regardless of specific affiliation.”[10] Through this practice, Jordan may damage its international image, even though it is true that the kingdom is not a signee of the 1951 Refugee Convention. As my initial research problematic hypothesized, security concerns have come to dominate the Jordanian government’s approach to hosting Syrian refugees.

A Survey of Syrian Social Networks in Jordan

In his study of Islamist organizations in Jordan, Quintan Wiktorowicz concludes that the Jordanian state exercises authoritarian control over civil society formation and practices.[12] Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate, the Mukhabarat, are a major force in regulating the contents and activities of political parties, charities, and cultural organizations. While this holds true for Jordanian organizations, I discovered through my survey of civil society formation in Syrian refugee communities, that among this population, Jordan is only selectively regulatory. In other words, the state allows some organizations and groups to operate freely while others are closely monitored or banned altogether. An exploration of what is permitted, and under what conditions, should contribute to reveal the logic which is currently steering Jordan’s refugee policy, and by extension, what its political position towards the Syrian war may be. …

… In Irbid, the only surviving Syrian family support center (as of July 2014) has gone to a lot of trouble to abide by strict regulation requirements. The founder (a former activist from Dera’a) not only has sought the assistance of a European NGO partner, but also created two salaried positions for Jordanian workers, a heavy burden for a struggling non-profit, in order to justify its right to operate in Jordan. “If I didn’t do this, the authorities would close me down immediately,” she explained, referring to Jordan’s Ministry of Social Development. …

… Another member of the Syrian community in Irbid has established a sort of civil registry office in his living room, reprinting legal documents for Syrians who left their papers behind or whose documents have expired. Syrians come to his home office from various communities in North Jordan, seeking his services. For over a year, he has also assembled teams of Syrian activists to document human rights violations and civilian deaths wherever they have occurred in Syria. Volunteers in his office use testimonies and different methods of verification to create reports with titles like, “Violence Against Girls and Women in Dera’a” and “Attacks on Field Hospitals in Aleppo.”

The founder claims that when his documents first began surfacing, their factsWere at variance with the information published by the Syrian National Coalition (SNC). He relates this to the Jordanian Mukhabarat’s attempts to shut down his center—that is, until the Jordanian authorities had assessed the quality of his work. He provides legal documents in the hope they will be recognized by the Jordanian government and by international organizations. Meanwhile, his human rights work ties his center to political leaders, various armed opposition groups, journalists, activists, arms-traffickers, and local coordinating committees in Syria and neighboring countries. The capacity to obtain quantifiable evidence on events in Syria from Jordan is a testament to the organization and coherence of the transnational networks which bind the larger Syrian community together.

Extending Support to Non-Civilians

The informal networks that include non-civilians, particularly those that connect Syrian refugee communities to armed opposition groups in Syria, work in fairly similar ways. As Syrians collectivize to address civilian needs, it is not uncommon for them to engage with Syrians who have political and military affiliations. In my own experiences of visiting ostensibly civilian Syrian community centers, I encountered individuals who play more direct roles in the Syrian opposition on a regular basis: field doctors from battle sites in Dera’a, leaders of different divisions of South Syria’s FSA, prominent political activists and dissidents, and arms collectors. They often share family or hometown ties to Syrian community leaders in Jordan and use the resources made available by community networks to collect funds and supplies, relocate their families to Jordan, spread news, and discuss opposition strategies. As more Syrians flee to Jordan, the dynamics of civilian versus non-civilian have become increasingly complex. …

… The relative ease with which Syrians in Jordan connect with and support members of Syria’s opposition occurs in the context of implicitly partisan (non-neutral) practices. It is relatively well-known that the Syrian-Jordanian borders are spaces of cooperation between the Jordanian military and the FSA. My interviews with leaders of South Syria’s Military Council (i.e. the FSA), as well as with various media sources, confirm that implicit agreements between these military groups enable the free movement of FSA leaders across the border. Moreover, at one of the last border crossings to remain open at Ruwaishid, Jordanian intelligence and military actively facilitate the transport of arms, food, and medical supplies across the border into Syria, as well as the entry of refugees into Jordan.[14]

… The same standard applies to Jordan, as the kingdom has exercised diplomatic caution since early on in the conflict and claims to be a neutral bystander in the ongoing war.[16] In this context, the overlaps and contradictions between caring for Syrian civilians and managing the interests of the Syrian opposition are constant and ongoing. Keeping non-civilians out of Jordan becomes more complicated when dealing with Syrians who haven’t deliberately left their homes for Jordan (and are not actively seeking refugee status) but rather have been rushed to the borders by the FSA. As war casualties, they come from both civilian neighborhoods and from the battlefield, and their injuries largely exceed the capacities of Syrian field hospitals.

Although the Jordanian military and intelligence employ strict identification screening methods throughout the registration process for refugees, they generally apply much looser policies to Syrian casualties seeking medical treatment. The procedures set up to manage this influx supposedly privilege civilian victims and Syria’s moderate opposition (the FSA), yet Jordan’s open-door policy inadvertently extends to wounded fighters from al-Qaida’s affiliate, Jabhat an-Nusra, and possibly other groups active in Syria’s southern region.

Jordanian security, intelligence, and medical personnel are undoubtedly aware of this. Officials actively control the movement of Syrian trauma patients in Jordan in order to counterbalance their humanitarian open-door policies. Such practices were common when Palestinian refugees from Iraq living in Jordan’s Ruwaishid camp use to seek medical treatment in Jordan’s cities after the US invasion in 2003.[17] Today, members of Jordan’s Civilian Defense escort wounded Syrians to their first stop at the public Ramtha Government Hospital. From there, police officers supervise each patient’s stay, whether unaccompanied male or patient plus family, at one of the country’s several private, specialized hospitals. This route officially terminates at the Joint Registration Center at Ruba’a al-Sarhan, close to the Syrian border in the al-Mafraq governorate. There, individuals are registered and officials assess whether they should be sent to al-Za’tari camp (to be escorted by police to further medical appointments at a later date) or back to the dangerous zones in Syria from where they came.

The movement of Syrians through informal social networks is much harder for Jordan to regulate. Loopholes exist in the surveillance procedures that the state increasingly imposes on Syrian refugees. While Jordanian officials claim it is not possible for recovering Syrian trauma patients to evade the regulated system that leads them to al-Za’atari or back to Syria, certain intermediaries intervene on the behalf of these vulnerable individuals. One such Jordanian, bearing the pseudonym Abu Ahmad, a man from Zarqa City, works full-time in the service of the Syrian community. Since retiring from decades of membership in Jordanian Security, he has used his wasta, a cultural term denoting extensive social connections and a certain privilege and status, to pull young Syrian men out of this often merciless system. He frequently visits al-Za’tari Camp and private hospitals to follow up on special cases that come to his attention through his ties to the greater Syrian community. By mobilizing funds from wealthy Syrian donors abroad, he has established housing units for disabled ex-FSA fighters that provide ongoing medical treatment and rehabilitation as well as living necessities. Even as a well-established East-Bank Jordanian, he is subject to monitoring by the Jordanian authorities. Abu Ahmad explains that the authorities’ primary concern is ensuring that only moderate Syrian nationals—not extremist fighters, Palestinian refugees from Syria, or foreign fighters—find refuge in Jordan.

Jordan has, perhaps, overcompensated to dispel rumors suggesting that it is providing refuge to non-moderate armed oppositions groups. At the same time, the evolution of its policies toward Syrian refugees reflects the increasing security concerns at its borders. An article from the Forced Migration Review notes that since 2013, “Jordan has imposed bans on unaccompanied men from entering the country.”[18] The rising threat of Islamic State fighters entering the country compounds existing fears of Syrian regime agents penetrating the closely monitored borders, as Jordanian border security officials explained to me. The same article describes a common occurrence in conflict-ridden countries, where a separate political logic often applies to male refugees of fighting age (as opposed to families, women, and children).[19] Specifically, host country policies toward adult males overemphasize their potential for taking up arms, and thus discriminate against them as assumed non-civilians. Scoping out possible threats to Jordan’s internal harmony and curbing extremism is increasingly being imposed at the expense of offering refuge to some of Syria’s most vulnerable displaced individuals. …

Syrian airstrike victim in Jordanian hospital

Victim of airstrike treated in ICU in Amman – Photo: IREMAM

 

Circles of Syrian Doctors Working in Jordan

… For over a year, it seemed that as long as Syrian doctors continued filling in for the lack of doctors treating incoming wounded Syrians, and as long as they steered clear of politics, the Jordanian government would continue to turn something of an acquiescent blind eye to these predominantly wageless doctors. However, an article by Human Rights Watch announced the recent deportation of Syrian medical workers “caught” treating Syrian patients at Ramtha Public Hospital as well as at private hospitals around Jordan.[21] It is safe to conclude that Jordanian authorities have already closed, or may soon close, rehabilitation centers and Syrian hospital wards which have provided the materials for a part of this present study.

Monitoring a Situation in Flux

Jordan’s steady deviation from humanitarian obligation reveals the Kingdom’s apprehensions about hosting another refugee population, on a long-term basis. It is indeed relevant to wonder whether Jordan’s growing impatience stems in fact from the utter lack of any solution to Syria’s persistent war. In the light of the escalating security concerns that cooperation with the FSA raises, perhaps the costs of quietly supporting Syria’s moderate opposition are too high. Through its recent political moves, Jordan may be seen to be sending an implicit message to the refugees and to the international community—that is, a desire to reduce involvement in Syrian affairs. However, could it also be that after three and a half years of conflict, the Jordanian government, like a significant number of Syrian refugees, is considering reconciliation with the al-Asad regime?[22]

Most importantly for this research, it is crucial to raise the question of just how far Jordan’s evolving political agenda will affect its treatment of Syrian refugees and the resulting wellbeing of these communities. Can their informal networks withstand repressive host country policies? How will underhand practices like repatriation undermine the resilience and cohesiveness of the larger Syrian community?

Life has come to a halt for Syrians in Jordan, who have little access to higher education, healthcare, and work. For many, Jordan is just a temporary stopover before the refugees move on to Turkey or undertake the dangerous trip to Europe. As European Union member countries and Australia are offering thousands of resettlement and asylum opportunities to Syrians, the common perception is that better treatment and possibilities are awaiting them there.[23] While Jordan is becoming an increasingly undesirable place for Syrians to live and be, most have no option but to stay put and wait it out.

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