Jordan Muslim Brotherhood
In this article, we shall discuss the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood, its domestic politics, and also international relations. We will examine the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, examine the relationship the Political Islamist group has had with the Jordanian monarchy, and also compare the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and also the Syrian Brotherhood. We will also discuss the recent developments of the New Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, the relations between the New Muslim Brotherhood and the Jordanian monarchy, and the Brotherhood and the 2016 Parliamentary elections in Jordan.
History of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan was set up in 1942. However, the Brotherhood was not only heavily influenced by the ideas coming out of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, but it was also members of the Ikhwan in Egypt that were given safety in Jordan following Gamal Abdel Nasser’s crackdown of the organization, following a failed assassination attempt in 1952 (Luck, 2016).
Like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood was created to work on societal and political issues through the prism of Islamic-based activism. Because of their extensive social activism, they gained popular support amongst Jordanians. Throughout the decades, the brotherhood in Jordan did what gave rise to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: they capitalized on the ability to connect with Jordanian civil society, and offer an extensive range of social services (Luck, 2016). In addition, they took up the Palestinian cause, offering services to refugees in Jordan. This only increased their popularity in the country.
The King at the time, Hussein, did not view the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood as a political threat, since they were kept out of the political space, resigned to the social and religious affairs. For example, in the 1950s and 1960s, “In the two most serious political crises the country faced (between the palace and the leftist/nationalist opposition in the 1950s and between the regime and Palestinian movements in the late 1960s), the Brotherhood stayed neutral (Brown, 2006) (and did not turn to violence (Brown, 2011)). Thus, when both crises resulted in a sharp political crackdown, the Brotherhood was exempted. Although its members and even leaders were sometimes arrested for brief periods, the Brotherhood as a whole was allowed to continue operating” (Brown, 2006: 5).
Plus, King Abdullah, until his assassination in 1951, had common interests with the Brotherhood on other matters. For example, Abdullah benefitted from having the support of the Brotherhood when he worked to unify Jordanians through religion (Wessel, 2009). Plus, “The regime in Jordan was eager to enhance its relationship with the Brotherhood since their goals of liberating Palestine from Israel dovetailed with the throne’s desire to further expand the territory of Jordan across all of Palestine. In addition to territorial ambitions this favorable relationship continued because of Jordanian King’s need to secure popular and ideological support in his struggle against leftist and nationalist trends opposing the Jordanian monarchy” (84). Then, the Brotherhood in Jordan continued to offer support to the new King Hussein, arguing that he would be a leader who would protect the faith against communism (Wessel, 2009).
This is where the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has differed from the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and the Ikhwan in Egypt; whereas the Brothers in Egypt and Syria were often in direct conflict with the ruling government, the Jordanian Brothers have traditionally operated with much more acceptance of the monarchy. Interestingly, some have suggested that there existed “a tacit alliance between the Brotherhood and the regime” (Brown, 2006: 4).
However, some of this changed in 1989 following the King’s calls for reestablishing the parliament (Luck, 2016). Since this time, the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood took issue with the continued powers of the monarchy, especially since the Parliament could serve as the power holder in Jordan. In fact, this has been something that the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood stressed to King Abdullah II; he should acquiesce some of his authority to the elected parliament (Luck, 2016).
Over time, King Abdullah II and the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship drifted further apart. For the Brotherhood, they felt that King Abdullah II was an authoritarian leader not serious about true democratic reforms in Jordan. And for King Abdullah II, he has said that the organization was ““a Masonic cult” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing” in a 2013 interview“” (Baker & Sweis, 2016).
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Jordanian Monarchy
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has had a complex relationship with the Jordanian monarchy. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has not been officially recognized as a legal association since 1965, although the group has been able to operate in non-political affairs (such as social services). The monarchy in Jordan, whether under King Abdullah I or King Abdullah II has allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to operate, largely uninterrupted, is because the organization itself has not been openly hostile to the King. Part of this stems from the lack of involvement of the Brotherhood on matters threatening to the state. For example, “When the regime confronted its most severe challenges—from nationalist movements in the 1950s and Palestinian movements after 1967—the Brotherhood stood aloof, earning a reputation as being less threatening. It was therefore allowed to operate in many social spheres and even run candidates for the parliament, often criticizing government policy (especially on cultural and Islamic issues) but not posing a direct challenge to the regime” (Brown, 2006: 5).
So, with the Brotherhood working within the rules of the game, they are able to survive; the King has not went after the organization like what took place agains the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in Syria and Egypt.
This has not meant that the the Muslim Brotherhood was completely outside of elections and politics. In fact, they did run candidates in the 1950s and 1960s, although the victories were few (Brown, 2006). The big shift came however in 1989 when parliamentary elections took place again. It was in this year that the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood gained 22 out of the total 80 seats (Brown, 2006), and also running five of the states ministries (“education, health, justice, social development, and Islamic affairs”) (Stemmann, 2008: 8) making them a major political actor in Jordan. This development led to further political activities by the Brotherhood.
Then, in 1992, following a political party law, the Brotherhood established its political wing, the Islamic Action Front (Brown, 2011). Due to the introduction of a new election law in Jordan, the Brotherhood only won 16 seats in 1993 (Stemmann, 2008). Tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and the monarchy in Jordan increased after 1994, when the government of Jordan signed the Wadi-Araba peace agreement in 1994 with Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood and King Abdullah II
While King Hussein of Jordan allowed more room for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, the monarchy under King Abdullah II toughened up their stance on the Brotherhood in the country. Following coming to power in 1999 after the death of Hussein, King Abdullah II suspended any electoral voting until 2003 due to events in Palestine, and also the terror attacks on the United States in 2001. The Jordan Muslim Brotherhood ran in the 2003 lower parliamentary elections, winning 17 seats (out of a possible 110 seats) (Stemmann, 2008).
During the recent two decades, the Muslim Brotherhood has increased their political activities. For example, the Brotherhood would field candidates in professional associations, whether it was law, medicine, or other associations). Furthermore, the Brotherhood’s condemnation of the US invasion in Iraq caused the Jordanian monarchy additional concerns. In 2007, despite preparing for the election, the Islamic Action Front did not run, saying that there were election irregularities by the Jordanian government. Overall, of those who ran, they only won a total of 7 seats, which was a sharp decline from their prior success in elections (Stemmann, 2008).
Throughout this time, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood continued to be active in charity work. However, the government monitored their work. In 2006, the government cabinet went as far as changing the board members of the Islamic Center, which was the Brotherhood’s main charity organization.
More recently, “[o]ver the past two years, the group lost its license to operate as a political movement, its assets were frozen in a court battle and security services shuttered its headquarters in Amman, the capital. The government issued a license to a new pro-regime splinter group, the New Muslim Brotherhood, a band of Brotherhood renegades who lack the support and numbers of the original group” (Luck, 2016).
The reason that Jordan has still allowed the New Muslim Brotherhood to operate (whereas other Brotherhood branches have faced extensive crackdowns (in countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia) is that allowing the group to still participate in elections will help reduce the number of Muslim Brotherhood members who might move to use violence (Baker & Sweis, 2016).
As for the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, they continued their critique of the increasingly authoritarian nature of Abdullah II. Because of the frustrations with the lack of democracy in Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood boycotted elections in 2010 and also 2013 (Majid, 2016).
While this attitude existed for years, it intensified in 2011 during the period of the Arab Spring. Witnessing democratic protest movements throughout the region, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan understood that this was not about their particular challenges with the regime, but rather, that their role was part of a larger democratic movement against authoritarianism. So, “This strengthened its existing alliances with leftist and communist groups, and led to the formation of relations with new opposition groups, like the veterans’ movement and several rural and semi-rural protest movements” (Bondokj, 2016, 3). The Jordan Muslim Brotherhood became much more willing to work with non-Islamist groups during this time. Furthermore, the Jordan Brothers themselves shifted on their previous belief that they were the only reformists in the country; there were many others who shared common political objectives (Bondokj, 2016) (However, this alliance broke apart due to opposite positions on the Syrian Civil Conflict).
Furthermore, things were not much better for the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood in recent years and months. For example, looking at 2016, “In an interview with Middle East Eye, IAF Spokesman Murad Adaileh admitted that the levels of democracy have receded in the country while critiquing the lack of adequate political reform. Constitutional amendments ratified just two months ago granted King Abdullah dramatically more powers over the security forces. The government has continued arresting activists, most notably the 14 June detainment of Amjad Qourshah for criticising Jordan’s war against the Islamic State (IS) group, and this has intensified the Brotherhood’s distrust of the government” (Majid, 2016).
Reforming the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood
Historically, the Jordanian Brotherhood has been viewed as maintaining an unwavering stance on a series of positions, which have included the necessary role of Islamic law (Shariah) within Jordanian society. In addition, they were critical of a United States’ relationship with Israel, and the US’ ties (and aid support) to the Kingdom (Brown, 2006). They have also been closed off to the idea of inclusivity with regards to working with other political parties, and have been criticized for not providing equal opportunities for female members to run as political candidates.
However, in recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has embarked on a massive reform within its organizational structure. Much of this began in 2012, in which the Jordanian Brotherhood, as well as the Islamic Action Front, began carrying out major changes within the political organization. As Bondokji (2016) notes “When analyzing the current status of the MB and IAF in Jordan, four prominent challenges and areas for reform emerge. These are: the overlap between the political party and the MB; the issue of female membership and inclusion in the party’s organizational structure; the ongoing ideological shifts and reorientation of the movement’s political discourse; and finally, the tensions between the MB’s younger and older generations” (4).
Part of reforming the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan meant that the organization’s leaders would look to gain legal status for the political association (something granted in early May of 2015) (they were recognized as a charity organization). For the Brotherhood, this would help protect them in the case that the state wanted to label them a terror organization (Bondokji, 2016).
In addition, as mentioned earlier, the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood has tried to better define their roles, particularly within the organization itself, since there exists the Muslim Brotherhood (which has served more as the religious, charity, and dawa based entity), and the Islamic Action Front, which is the political element of the association. There were questions about what the roles and responsibilities of each were, and whether there was clear separation between the Muslim Brotherhood and their activities, and those of the Islamic Action Front (due to ability to operate within both, and voting rights of the IAF to have some say within the Muslim Brotherhood) (Bondokji, 2016). Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood’s history is much longer, and they are more known than the IAF. But, more recently, they have tried to bridge these gaps.
The Jordan Muslim Brotherhood and Islam
One of the biggest elements to the Brotherhood’s platform in Jordan historically has been the role of Islam. Historically, the organization was structured on its Political Islamist message. However, in recent months (in 2016), the Jordan Brotherhood has minimized the presence of Islam in its message. For example, during a September 2016 rally in West Amman, “Gone were the green flags emblazoned with crossing swords. Instead, young men waved white banners with the word “reform” written across them. Christians and women took center stage, and Islam was not mentioned once. Many in the crowd swayed to nationalist pop music and Bedouin folk songs” (Luck, 2016).
The Brotherhood has looked to find other ways to minimize Islam within their message. For example, historically, not only did the respective Muslim Brotherhood organizations within the Middle East and North Africa advocate for Islam, but they viewed Islam as paramount to their objectives, seeing the faith as the remedy to the problems of society. This could be seen within their slogan: “Islam is the Solution.” However, in the case of Jordan, this slogan is no longer used. In its place, simply the word “reform” (Baker & Sweis, 2016), as well as another longer slogan, which reads ““renaissance of the homeland, dignity for the citizens” (Luck, 2016). Furthermore, “In a bid to mollify skeptics, [Zaki] Bani Rsheid [who is the deputy leader of the the Brotherhood in Jordan] formed the Islah, or reform, coalition, removing the name “Muslim Brotherhood” from campaign material, banners and its Facebook page. He now also serves as Islah’s chief election strategist” (Luck, 2016).
When this issue of the relationship between Islam and the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood came up, The Deputy Secretary General of the political wing, Ali Abu al-Sukkar was quoted as saying that “Our slogan of reform does not conflict with our Islamic values,”” and also that “They are not two contradictory things” (Baker & Sweis, 2016). However, again, the rhetoric is one without Islam as its centerpiece. So, previous calls for Shariah are no longer a part of the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, references to Palestine are few, which is in sharp contrast to the history of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan (Luck, 2016). Moreover, the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood also severed their ties with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood counterparts in February of 2016 (Majid, 2016b), who have been facing severe repression during the rule of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. All of this seems to suggest a sharp shift in ideology and political activity.
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and Women
Another reform position within the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Action Front in Jordan has been including language and activities within the organizations that are more supportive of women. Part of this stemmed from the role of women in the Arab Spring; the organization felt that they had to offer more support for women in the Islamic Action Front (women have been very active within the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, working as teachers and also administrators) (Bondokji, 2016). So, among the political reform efforts within the IAF has been the expansion of female participation within the Consultative Council (CC). More recent amendments 11 seats (out of 80 total seats) are marked for women. Furthermore, women are able to contest the other 69 seats through elections.
The Jordan Muslim Brotherhood and Democratization
One other major area of reform within the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Action Front has been their position on matters of pluralism in the political space, as well as on the importance of constitutional reforms in Jordan. This move towards democratization has been a sharp distinction from previous positions on matters of democracy. Members within the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood have been looking within the Islamic faith and tradition (such as the political structure during the time of the Prophet Muhammad) to find support for pluralism in the political (and also religious) space. Here, thinkers like Abdel Fattah Moro and Rachi Ghannouchi (of the Ennahda Party in Tunisia) are being read, and their ideas shared among Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
So, as Bondokji (2016) explains, “Since 2011, MB internal discourse has presented the concept of a civil state as one in conformity with Islamic principles, shown a more pronounced commitment to plural politics manifested by new alliances such as with the National Reform Front, and embraced calls for a constitutional monarchy” (6). This was a change from previous positions, and one that the Brotherhood hopes will put them further in line with calls for democratization.
Overall, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has drastically changed their positions on matters within the organization, on politics, and other non-Islamist actors in Jordan.
The Jordan Muslim Brotherhood and the 2016 Elections
The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan decided that they would reverse position regarding boycotts, and compete in the 2016 Parliamentary elections in Jordan. While the Jordanian monarchy was not more democratic than in years past, there was an increasing demand within the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood organization internally to still participate in elections. Part of this has to do with the benefits that running in elections could offer; “Elections also allow the IAF to organise numerous public events with their base while reaching out to new supporters, a practice that has been severely limited given the recent government restrictions. Underlining the difficult atmosphere for the IAF, Rantawi said the Interior Ministry even refused to grant a permit for his independent think tank to hold an academic conference on the Brotherhood’s future in Jordan” (Magid, 2016).
In addition, civil society was becoming increasingly frustrated with the economic, and also political conditions within the country. So, they Brotherhood in Jordan felt that they could step in and offer an electoral alternative to what citizens were frustrated with. Still, another important reason for the willingness of the Jordanian Muslim Brothers to run in elections was due to the more recent developments regarding the King’s actions towards the Brotherhood. Given the further crackdown, running in elections would allow them to not only challenge the King’s power, but also help build legitimacy in Jordan (Majid, 2016). Furthermore, “Elections also allow the IAF to organise numerous public events with their base while reaching out to new supporters, a practice that has been severely limited given the recent government restrictions. Underlining the difficult atmosphere for the IAF, Rantawi said the Interior Ministry even refused to grant a permit for his independent think tank to hold an academic conference on the Brotherhood’s future in Jordan” (Majid, 2016).
Given their reclaimed willingness to run in Jordanian elections, the Islamic Action Front, which is the political wing within the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood, put forward candidates for the 2016 parliamentary elections in Jordan. The Islamic Action Front made their position on the elections known on June 11th, 2016 (Majid, 2016).
On par with their newer message of reform (and reaching out to non-Muslims as well), the Muslim Brotherhood had four Christian candidates who ran in the elections. In addition, attempting to expand their support among women, the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood also slated a number of spots for female candidates (Baker & Sweis, 2016) (with 19 women being nominated) (Majid, 2016b).
Out of the total of 130 seats within the Jordanian parliament, the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood won 10 seats on their own, and their allies gaining an additional five (for a total of 15 seats) (Abuqudairi, 2016) , which equated to them being the largest political bloc within the government. At the same time, this bodes well for the monarchy, which is trying to present an image of democratic openness in Jordan (Majid, 2006).
With the re-entrance into Jordanian politics, it will be interesting to see how the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood approaches their relationship with the monarchy following the 2016 elections. What will also be interesting to see if whether the tensions within the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan itself can resolve; there have been fractures within the organization as of late. For example, “Brotherhood members have split off from the mother organisation to launch the Zamzaminitiative, which aims to emphasise the movement’s Jordanian identity and promote better relations with government authorities. In March 2015, Amman recognised the new group led by Abdul Majid Thneibat as the country’s official Muslim Brotherhood. Furthermore, last December, 400 Brotherhood members – including former IAF Secretary General Hamzeh Mansour – resigned from the party over disagreements with the Brotherhood’s leadership” (Majid, 2016). So, these upcoming months and years will be interesting, not only examining how the Jordan Brotherhood responds politically to holding seats in the government, but also what will happen within the organization itself.
Jordan Muslim Brotherhood References
Abuqudairi, A. (2016). Can Jordan’s New Parliament spearhead political change? Al Jazeera. 26 September 2016. Available Online: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/09/jordan-parliament-spearhead-political-change-160926054613800.html
Baker, P. & Sweis, R.F. (2016). In Appeal to Voters, Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan Soft-Pedals Religion. New York Times. September 20th, 2016. Available Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/world/middleeast/jordan-muslim-brotherhood-islamists.html?_r=0
Bondokji, N. (2015). The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan: Time To Reform. Brookings Institute. April 2015. Available Online: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/en-muslim-brotherhood-in-jordan.pdf
Brown, N. (2006). Jordan and Its Islamic movement: the limits of Inclusion? Carnegie Endowment. Democracy and Rule of Law Project, Number 74, November 2006. Available Online: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/cp_74_brown_final.pdf
Brown, N. (2011). The Muslim Brotherhood. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, HUMINT, Analysis, and Counterintelligence Washington, D.C. April 13, 2011. Available Online: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/0413_testimony_brown.pdf
Leiken, R.S. & Brooke, S. (2007). The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood. Foreign Affairs. Vol. 86, No. 2, pages 107-121. Available Online: http://www.ikhwanweb.com/uploads/lib/ABADX86KZ5EPRDG.pdf
Luck, T. (2016). Reinvention of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood involves women–and Christians. The Washington Post. September 20, 2016. Available Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/a-rebranded-muslim-brotherhood-attempts-a-comeback-in-jordan/2016/09/19/b9be80a6-7deb-11e6-ad0e-ab0d12c779b1_story.html
Majid, A. (2016). Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood ends election boycott. Middle East Eye. July 13, 2016. Available Online: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/analysis-jordan-s-muslim-brotherhood-ends-election-boycott-1119065410
Majid, A. (2016). Will Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood celebrate a historic success? The Jerusalem Post. September 18, 2016. Available Online: http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Ahead-of-elections-in-Jordan-467889
Stemmann, J.J.E. (2008). Islamic Activism in Jordan. Athena Intelligence Journal, Vol. 3, No. 3, pages 7-19. Available Online: https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/91064/Vol%203%20-%20No%203%20-%20Art%20A.pdf
Wessel, J. (2009). The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan: A History of Modern Islamic Fundamentalism. Master of Arts in Middle East Studies/History. The University of Utah. Available Online: http://content.lib.utah.edu/utils/getfile/collection/etd2/id/1794/filename/1845.pdf