The Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF), unlike their counterparts in many other parts of the Middle East, have never taken power in a coup. The military has no direct role in governance, but its shadow looms large in Jordanian politics, especially as the kingdom has been challenged by regional wars, internal conflicts, and (after 2010) by the domestic and regional effects of the Arab Spring (Arab uprisings). The only time Jordan came close to a military coup was in 1957, in an era marked by heightened pan-Arab nationalism and politicization of armed forces across the Arab world. But that coup was foiled almost as soon as it began, leaving the armed forces thereafter to cast themselves as the protectors not only of the country but also of the Hashemite monarchy. Jordan’s armed forces fought in multiple wars with Israel, including in 1948 and 1967, with a more limited role in the 1973 Arab–Israeli war. The military was also involved intensely in internal conflict, especially in 1970–1971, when King Hussein’s armed forces clashed with the guerilla forces of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Although they never overthrew the state nor established a military government in Jordan, the Jordanian Armed Forces nonetheless played a large role in Jordanian politics, society, and even in the economy. The military was also part of a broader array of security institutions, including the intelligence services, the police, and the gendarmerie. An aid-dependent country with limited resources, Jordan faced countless fiscal crises over the years, but its military and security budgets continued to grow. Hashemite kings have tended to dote on the armed forces, ensuring large budgets and the latest in arms and equipment. Even the regime’s attempt to cultivate a strong Jordanian national identity was deeply rooted in the images of the military, the monarchy itself, and the other key security institutions. But while the military’s influence loomed large in public life, it did not necessarily reflect a broad range of Jordanian society, being drawn heavily from Jordan’s tribal, rural, and East Jordanian communities, rather than from more urban, largely Palestinian-Jordanian communities. But in the era of the Arab uprisings across the Middle East (especially after 2010), military veterans—especially those with tribal and East Jordanian roots—played ever more vocal roles in Jordanian politics, remaining loyal to the monarchy, but also feeling empowered to lecture the monarchy about perceived flaws in social and economic policies. The personnel in Jordan’s military and security institutions, in short, were drawn from the same tribes, regions, and communities that were most fervently challenging the regime and its policies in the Arab Spring era, changing the nature of Jordanian politics itself.