Tug of War between Jordanian Gov and Brotherhood

Jul 18, 2014

           Jordan’s monarchy, having survived the initial wave of Arab uprisings in 2011, is now “confident that it can maintain stability without making major compromises on political or institutional reforms,” according to a new paper by Tareq al Naimat, a visiting journalist at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. Jordan’s government is now engaging with the Muslim Brotherhood on a limited basis, rather than fully cooperating with the group. The following are excerpts from the Middle East Program’s Viewpoints No. 58, “The Jordanian Regime and the Muslim Brotherhood: A Tug of War.”

Hard Times for the Muslim Brotherhood

           The July 2013 military coup d’état in Egypt turned the tide against all Islamist movements in the region and had profound effects on the Jordanian Brotherhood. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was declared a terrorist organization, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a campaign to convince other countries in the region to adopt a similar stance toward their Islamist organizations. The new political climate in the region encouraged hardliners in the Jordanian regime to advocate stricter control over the Brotherhood. 

           The regime, however, did not accept these demands. From the point of view of Jordanian officials, the political situation was improving. Protests were becoming less frequent and less intense, and calls for regime change increasingly rare. With the example of Syria in front them--some 600,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan and news media broadcast daily footage of displaced populations and ruined cities-- Jordanians had become more inclined to put up with their government despite its political and economic corruption. With citizens more passive, the regime resisted the hardliners’ pressure for a major crack down on the Brotherhood.

           The Brotherhood remained divided and one part of it had become unwilling to confront the government. Moderate had launched their own, separate effort to reconcile with the regime, which became known as the Zamzam Initiative. It opened on October 5, 2013 with a ceremony attended by high-ranking government officials. The moderates’ platform called for political and constitutional reform, as well as for developing an Islamist discourse that could become a broad civilizational framework for the entire umma (Islamic community).

           The Zamzam Initiative failed to get the support of the entire Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. On the contrary, it led to the expulsion of the three founding members of the Initiative, including the well-known leader of the dovish faction Rheil Gharaibeh. The expulsions revealed the organizational rigidity that plagues the Brotherhood. Its detractors describe it as a sponge that soaks up all the bright and upcoming talent but does not achieve anything by doing so. The Brotherhood appears focused on maintaining its standing based on earlier political accomplishments rather than on developing its political discourse or improving its organizational effectiveness. It is also experiencing diminished influence in the social realm, especially after the Islamic Charitable Society fell under the control of the regime. 

           Other factors causing a decline in influence include the removal of Brotherhood sheikhs from the traditional roles they hold in mosques and a change in perception regarding the role played by Islamic organizations in society. New religious groups are emerging that believe Islamic-minded individuals should concentrate on social and moral issues rather than politics.

           Despite all the problems, the Muslim Brotherhood still remains the most important political opposition group in Jordan and the only political party that has grassroots popularity. For the time being, the organization is continuing it boycott of the parliamentary elections, but it might change its position again, as it had done earlier. It boycotted the 1997 election over the “one man, one vote” law, but participated in 2003, after concluding that the boycott was not part of a strategy and only prevented the organization from having an impact in the political and social realm. It is possible that it will adopt a similarly pragmatic stance in the future.

           It is thus hard to predict what the relationship between the Brotherhood and the Jordanian regime will become in the long run. For the time being, it is the continuation of the old tug of war between the regime and Muslim Brotherhood that has gone on for decades.

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