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Muslim Brotherhood relationship with Jordanian regime

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By Shehab Al Makahleh

The most prominent historical epochs the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) of Jordan has undergone since its establishment in 1945 had been when the then then Jordanian King Abdullah I welcome the movement. On the inauguration ceremony of the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan, the then king sent his personal envoy to attend.

The relationship between (MB) and the Jordanian regime was based on coexistence. This has been considered a unique relationship between a regime and a movement in the Arab world. One of the most important elements such coexistence is that the MBs have realised the weakness of the Jordanian state as it had to depend on external economic, military and political support.  This prompted King Abdullah I and King Hussein bin Talal to be flexible when dealing with the movement and its members as Jordan had been in war with Israel and had troubles from some neighbouring Arab regimes which plotted many coup d’états. The state of coexistence between the Jordanian regime and the MBs was due to the plots at that time by Jamal Abdul Nasser to control the whole region and to freeze the activities of Islamists.

However, this relationship of co-existence entered a very critical stage later due to international interventions in the region and the peace deal between Jordan and Israel in 1994 or the so-called Wadi Araba. Since then, the gap between the movement’s position and the regime became has become wider.

Between 2006 and 2008, the arrest of four members of the Islamic Movement for their visits to the house of condolence of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after he was killed in an American airstrike in Iraq has aggravated the situation between both parties. What added salt to the wound was when the then Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit attacked leaders of the Islamic Movement for not working for the stability of Jordan. The rift can be attributed to many reasons. One of them is that MB leaders called for a ​​constitutional monarchy in Jordan.

Since then, the movement started to have an internal rift fuelled by the government. The internal conflict within the movement has strained its relationship with the state. Because Jordan’s relationship with the movement is that of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Amman has not listed the MBs on the terrorist list in 2014 and the Jordanian state has less aggressive stance towards MBs unlike the other countries of the Middle East.

Jordan believes that the best tactic is to have a strategy not to counter but to resort to attrition through splitting the movement. This has been the objective. In 2015, the state has maintained the Islamic Action Front and legalised Zamzam as well as other splintering groups that stem from the main movement. The Jordanian state succeeded in splitting the movement into many conflicting subdivisions and this has served better the state, weakening the movement and its performance at the Jordanian political and social levels.

After the fall of the regime of President Mohammad Morsi in Egypt in mid-2013, some Arab countries intensified their campaigns against the movement, mainly UAE, KSA, and Egypt, which are three allies so the United States of America. Yet, Jordan, which is one of the strongest allies to the West in general and the US in particular has been amongst the first states in the region which has believed in co-existence between all political spectrums. The four kings of Jordan: King Abdullah I, King Talal, King Hussein, and King Abdullah II believe that the Islamic movement exists in Jordan as it dates back to foundation years of the kingdom in 1945 and 1946, the year of the establishment of the movement and the independence of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

In 2011, the “Arab Spring” came as a straw that broke the camel’s back. The Islamic movement showed an excessive enthusiasm for the Brotherhood’s victories in several Arab countries. Thus, the honeymoon, which lasted from the time of the establishment of the kingdom until the early years of King Abdullah II, has been strong until 2011.  For more than two decades, the kingdom has witnessed many coup attempts supported by the Nasserists of Egypt and the Baathists in Iraq and Syria. This has fostered the alliance between the Jordanian political system and the Muslim Brotherhood to counter common threat of Communists, Nasserists, Baathists and nationalists at the local and regional levels.

The Islamic movement has reaped numerous benefits of this alliance, providing the MBs with the opportunity to strengthen their influence and popular bases and to establish a solid infrastructure in the form of network of schools, institutes, universities and social and health networks.

With the end of the Cold War, the fall of the socialist camp, the erosion of revolutionary regimes and movements in the Arab world and the decline of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian national movement in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, alliances and relations were shaken. King Hussein did not sever ties with the movement despite his deep understanding that the factors to do so are ripe and stronger. King Hussein was betting on the movement as a key to restore the West Bank to his throne in the face of the Palestinian independence movements in a bid to achieve a lasting peace.

Moreover, in the era of the late King, Jordan embraced the headquarters of Hamas, which was established in 1987 as a Palestinian branch of the group and a military arm, despite its deep awareness of the size of the gap that separates the movement from the positions and policies pursued by Jordan. When King Abdullah I came to power in 1999, the decision to close down Hamas offices in Amman and deport its leaders to Qatar was among the first decisions he made. The group sought to maintain a foothold for Hamas in Jordan, the largest gathering of Palestinian refugees, and only a few kilometers from the West Bank, while the king was betting on the movement and people’s positions on the future of the West Bank and Jordan relationship.

The relationship between the Jordanian state and the movement has entered a new phase since 1999 where disdain and divergence have replaced cooperation and the exchange of benefits and services. The mistrust has replaced partnership and cooperation.  Jordan has supported the PLO and the later Palestinian National Authority (PNA) based on a formula: Jordan is Jordan, Palestine is Palestine while the movement placed itself in the trench of Hamas and the “Islamic Resistance Movement”. By the time Jordan supported the political process in Iraq post- Saddam Hussein, the Islamic Movement insisted to end the treason and expiation of those who helped the Americans to occupy Iraq, considering the American presence in Iraq as an occupation that requires resistance.

Jordan supported the March 14 coalition in Lebanon which was formed after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, while the Islamic Movement sided with March 8 Coalition led by Hezbollah. This has been the case until the Syrian conflict broke out in March 2011.

Jordan has supported changes in Egypt in 2013, and approved all measures taken by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi while the movement stood side by side with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Jordan as a state is a major player in the war on terror while the movement looks suspiciously at the goals and objectives of this war in a number of countries in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria.

The Islamic Movement has showed an excessive enthusiasm to the Brotherhood’s victories in several Arab countries. Some of the MB leaders said they were no less inferior to their brethren in, Gaza, Tunisia and elsewhere when they won in elections shortly after outbreak of Arab Spring. Jordan has not yet taken the integration approach adopted by Tunisia and Morocco in their dealings with the political Islam movements although it did not take the exclusionary approach adopted by Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The Jordanian approach came in the middle between these two approaches: Exerting maximum pressure on the movement while keeping the door open to certain levels to help them participate in political life.

Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front

The establishment of the “Islamic Action Front” party is dated back to the elections of the 11th Jordanian Parliament in 1989, and then the need to return to pluralism and political life through licensed political parties. The movement’s executive office commissioned a committee in the planning department of the Muslim Brotherhood to provide a study on the new era. The study was later called the planning paper which included elements for the future of Islamic work, and how to manage it and preserve the movement and its momentum in the Jordanian community.

The foundation elements of the party were to form a front to entail various Islamic spectrums in the Jordanian arena and not only the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore, Atta Abu al-Rashta of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Judge Mustafa al-Rafati of the Tabligh group, and Sheikh Hazem Abu Ghazaleh of Sufis were invited. They all declined to attend any meeting due to the difference in their approach from that of Muslim Brotherhoods. The members agreed on the principle that the Muslim Brotherhood should not occupy more than 60 percent of the party’s leadership positions, and the party should absorb all Islamists who wish to work in a broad framework and be able to participate in leadership positions of up to 40 percent.

On 7th of December 1992, the party was licensed. After the party’s first elections, most of the independent Islamists found themselves outside the party’s leadership positions. It was then realised that the Muslim Brotherhood had been using the party and other Islamists for a sole reason: To obtain the party’s license.  This has led to an overlap in powers and responsibilities between the Muslim Brotherhood and the (IAF) party. Among the challenges and obstacles that hampered the party’s march and the problem of decision-making between the party and the movement was the presence of hawks and doves in their leaderships.

Perhaps one of the most striking differences between Jordanian state and Jordanian Islamists is the nature of relationship between the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas) politically and militarily. This relationship has passed through several phases, which have led to the independence of Hamas as an entity, taking responsibility for the direct action of Palestinian cause.