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City Spotlight: Greater Karak, The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Greater Karak Municipality is an ancient town in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, dating back to 8000 B.C. It has a population of more than 200,000 people and lies 125 kilometres south of the capital city of Amman. Since joining the Strong Cities Network in 2016, Karak Municipality has engaged with the Network on a number of occasions. This includes benefiting from Strong Cities support which enabled the city to launch a multi-actor local prevention network in 2017. The Municipality also took part in the inaugural workshop of Strong Cities’  Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Hub in Rabat (Morocco) in March 2023.

What is the local government concerned about?

Karak Municipality, like the rest of Jordan, faced a number of security challenges in the past decade, primarily stemming from the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in neighbouring Syria and Iraq. According to some estimates, more than 3000 Jordanians crossed the border to join militant groups, making Jordan amongst the 10 countries with the highest number of foreign terrorist fighters.

Further, in December 2016, Karak itself was targeted by a group of Jordanian ISIS members, who on civilians and security forces, and then fled to Karak Castle, where they held several tourists hostage. The attack and consequent standoff with the Jordanian military killed 19 –  including the five attackers –  and injured 37.

The terrorist threat in Jordan has decreased since 2019. However, the Municipality remains concerned about high unemployment rates, high levels of poverty and a lack of digital literacy and critical thinking skills, particularly the insecurity that this fosters and that this leaves young people vulnerable to exploitation by extremist and other violent groups.

How is the local government responding?

The attack prompted the Municipality of Karak to become more involved in the prevention of hate and extremism, seeking to build its capacity and implement structures to proactivelyidentify and address vulnerabilities that may lead residents to engage in violence and other harmful behaviours.

In a recent consultation with Strong Cities Network’s MENA Regional Hub, city officials shared that as a first step, the Municipality focused on building partnerships with local organisations and with institutions across Jordan’s different tiers of government, including the Ministry of Interior, security authorities at the governorate level, and entities at the local level.

Following this, the Municipality – with support from Strong Cities – developed a multi-actor local prevention network. This new body brought together community leaders, civil society actors and various municipal departments to inform policy, identify risk factors, deploy programmes to mitigate identified risks and raise awareness of hate and extremism amongst residents. Chaired by a municipal official, it launched a number of initiatives to foster greater social cohesion and cultural acceptance between different religious communities and otherwise isolated groups in the city.

For example, to increase awareness amongst residents about issues of hate and extremism, the Municipality coordinated a number of its departments, community-based volunteers and organisations to jointly develop and deliver education campaigns about both a) extremism and related threats and b) municipal services (with the intent to build trust and understanding about how the local government serves its residents). Volunteers were recruited to help deliver these campaigns at scale and represented the city’s diverse communities; among them were religious leaders from various faiths, youth leaders, and members of a range of associations.

A designated youth team was established to ensure programmes developed by the Municipality were informed by youth perspectives, particularly important given the awareness campaigns primarily targeted schools and households on the understanding that youth particularly vulnerable to exploitation, with high unemployment rates leaving them idle and unable to make a living. The local prevention network also partnered with youth leaders to conduct local needs assessments, again to ensure consequent policymaking was informed by youth perspectives.

Lessons Learned

When asked by the MENA Regional Hub to share recommendations for building a sustainable prevention network in other cities, Karak officials pointed to two primary lessons:

  1. The importance of having a well-designed and long-term strategy: such a framework should consider how prevention efforts can continue even in the absence of support or funding from national, regional or international actors. Further, having a long-term plan of action demonstrates a formal commitment to prevention from the local government, which in turn can motivate community-based partners to engage (or remain engaged) in such efforts, and can show residents that the Mayor and other officials are dedicated to building safe communities that are inclusive and tolerant of all residents.
  2. Collaboration with provincial (e.g., governorates) and national government: when the prevention network was established, the Municipality received an official letter of endorsement from the national government, which helped facilitate buy-in and participation in the network and its activities from different municipal and governorate departments.

What’s next?

By involving a variety of stakeholders across society – on the national, regional and local levels – the city was able to successfully establish a sustainable and long-term prevention framework to make the city more resilient to future threats associated with extremism, hate and polarisation.

Strong Cities’ MENA Hub will continue to engage with the city of Karak, including to explore how practices from Strong Cities’ two recently launched guides – one for mayors and the other for cities can be implemented both with support from and to supplement the local prevention network. Further, Karak city representatives will continue to be invited to Strong Cities’ regional and global activities to share lessons learned and experiences regarding local prevention efforts with other stakeholders from the region.

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