The immediate impact of the Syrian conflict on Jordan’s fragile polity is twofold: the influx of refugees into Jordan and the outflow of jihadists from Jordan into Syria to join the fight. According to U.N. figures, some 183,000 Syrian refugees have already made their way to Jordan, and the real number may already be higher — and likely to grow while an end to the civil war remains elusive. And even in the misery of the sparse tent camps in which they’re being forced to endure a brutal winter, those refugees impose a further strain on an economy already struggling to meet its obligations to its base. Tensions are reportedly rising in those camps over lack of food and resources. And the refugee issue carries a political undertone for the tribal Bedouin support base of the Hashemite throne, whose traditional prerogatives have long been threatened by a Palestinian refugee population that constitutes Jordan’s demographic majority.
Jihadism creates an even more immediate security impact. Syrian Islamists have begun using Jordan as a rear area from which to stage their insurgency in the south, according to Nicolas Pelham of the International Crisis Group, while public calls from Jordanian Salafis have seen hundreds of young radicals cross the border to join the fight in Syria’s civil war. By some accounts, the main body of foreign fighters in Jabhat al-Nusra — recently branded a terrorist organization by the U.S. — are Iraqi and Jordanian. Security officials in Amman fear that the return home of this cohort of battle-hardened and radicalized Islamists will result in a recurrence of the domestic security nightmare faced by Arab regimes when volunteers who’d fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s went home a decade later.