The Muslim Brotherhood organization appears to be reaping the benefits of the Arab uprisings that took place in several Arab states including Egypt and Tunisia and to some extent Jordan. Historically, the Brotherhood was either banned or marginalized and many of its members were jailed and prevented from legally forming political parties. Such was the case of the Egyptian Brotherhood which is considered the “Mother Organization” because Egypt was where the Brotherhood was founded in 1928.
In Egypt and Tunisia the organization, in addition to being banned and fragmented, it was used, moreover, as leverage by the “Ancien Régime” with the West; using them as a “Straw Man” to scare off the West of the “Islamic threat” should they reform the political system or open up their countries to democracy. The fear was that political reform might empower the Islamic group as part of a new democratic system. Although there should be nothing wrong with Islamic parties being part of the political system like other right or left wing groups, and even win power, if real democracy is the goal here.
After the Egyptians revolted and toppled the corrupt regime of former president Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood seems to be on the verge of capturing the Presidency as well after it took the majority seats in both houses of Parliament. The same process took place in Tunisia where the Brotherhood-linked political party, al-nahda” holds has majority seats in Parliament and in government.
In Jordan, however, the Brotherhood is facing a tough smear and libel campaign by the Jordanian intelligence services, the “Mukhabarat” by linking it to the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British Military Intelligence (MI5) and by using it as leverage to scare off Jordanian citizens.
What fueled the pro-democracy and pro-reform movement In Jordan is the Political and economic stagnation and corruption that transformed the country in recent years into a fragile state teetering on collapse. The debt has reached over $ 17 Billion in 2011 and that compounded economic problems even further because servicing the debt takes up half of the US aid to Jordan of $660 million a year. This is huge in a country that has total GDP of only $ 27 billion that is smaller than tiny Lebanon’s GDP of $ 33 billion a year.
Political corruption and bad economic policies, moreover, has rendered Jordan’s National Security a meaningless concept. The country is almost completely dependent on US foreign aid programs and on financial assistance from Saudi Arabia. More, the Jordanian military is alone in the region that does not have a reserve system to call at the time of war, and is too small to defend the Jordanian territories which leaves the country dependent in its existence on the good-well of others in the region and the United States.
In this political environment well-known Jordanian journalist Osama Rantisi wrote an article in the Jordanian daily “al-ghad” based on sources in the region stating in it that the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Dr. Hamaam Saeed and former Egyptian Brotherhood leader Dr. Kamal Halbawi had met last June in Istanbul, Turkey with former CIA deputy director Steven Kappes, and former MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller.
Both Kappes and Manningham-Buller were retired from the service when the alleged meeting took place .Kappes had retired from the CIA in April of 2011 and went to work for a financial investment firm in Washington, while Manningham-Buller retired from the service in 2007 and became a Baroness and a member of the British House of Lords and Chairman of the Imperial College Council in London.
Rantisi, who is an influential and columnist in Jordan, and now writes for the daily,Al Arab al-Youm, quoted in his report that Kappes and Manningham-Buller pledged in the meeting that “The US government and its intelligence services will support the Muslim brotherhood goals of reaching power and urged them to fight terrorism and to have peace with Israel.”
The Brotherhood denied the allegations in the report and sued Rantisi and al-ghad newspaper for libel and asked for $1.5 million in damages.
I asked Rantisi whom I reached in Amman, if he confirms the contents of his article and whether he stands by it, he said “Yes.” He added that his information was based on that unofficial report or minutes of that alleged meeting.
But unlike its sister organizations in Egypt and Tunisia, the Jordanian brotherhood has not always been in opposition to the Jordanian regime. Political analyst Mohamamd Abu Rumman said to me, citing King Hussein’s memoirs about that era, that “the Muslim brotherhood had allied themselves with the regime against Arab Nationalists and leftists during the fifties and sixties; they also sided with regime against the Palestinian movements that operated in Jordan in the Seventies.”
In the late eighties and nineties until now, however, the organization moved into the opposition for various reasons especially after Jordan and Israel had signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 which they oppose.
Brotherhood leadership argue, however, that they never considered themselves “ allies” of the Jordanian regime, rather, shared a common threat in the nationalist and leftist movements that swept the Arab World when Nasser came to power in Egypt in the 1950s. Nasser’s brand of Nationalism contradicted their universal Islamic message where the emphasis is on commonality of faith as opposed to Nationalism, Baathism, or Socialism.
The uprisings across the Arab world, in the meantime, boosted the fortunes Islamic organizations in places like Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Morocco. In Jordan, however, the Islamic movement there faced a tough enemy in the Jordanian “Mukhabarat” and other security agencies.
Jordanian security apparatus portrayed the Brotherhood as an “alien” Palestinian organization or as abu Rumman said “ Palestinianized” the group. Thus the “Mukhabarat “was able to project the group as an “ enemy” and a threat to Jordan and to the regime in the eyes of the Jordanian citizens . This was deliberate so as to prevent uniting Jordanian citizens from Jordanian and Palestinian backgrounds against the government policies.
Being a large component of the overall Jordanian citizenry, it was convenient for the government to project The Palestinians, as a “threat” to other citizens and at the same time cow the Palestinians from seeking their fair share of power in the country.
Palestinians were not targeted because they are Palestinians per se, but rather, because they happened to be the largest component of the Jordanian population in addition to East Bank Jordanians.
If there was another ethnic or national group larger than the Palestinians, for example, Kurds, or Circassian, the government strategy will look different. Or if the Palestinians were a small minority, their situation will be different and the government strategy will be in the mold of “Kurdish vs. Arab “or we will hear about the Kurdish or Circassian “threat.”
In the meantime, Dr. Hamman Saeed, the leader of the Brotherhood Jordan vehemently denied the allegations that he and others have met with CIA. “The allegations in the article are completely false, fabricated and untrue” he said to me during my conversations with him from Amman. “Such meeting runs against our principles and values especially when it comes to relations with the Zionists entity and our opposition to the peace treaty with it,” he added.
In the meantime, CIA officials denied any contacts with the group in Istanbul Turkey last year. CIA spokesman John Tomszyk told me that “the CIA did not meet with the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey last year.”
What is peculiar about Rantisi’s, report, moreover, is that it used the names of two highest former ranking members in western intelligence, to coincide with an Islamic conference that took place in Turkey at the same time.
This could only mean that whoever placed that report to be published in the Arabic-Language press had to have intelligence resources and capabilities and resources that only a state can have. In addition, placing the names of high ranking intelligence leaders who were no longer in the active service in the CIA and MI5 ensures that that no formal state-to-state repercussions will take place.
With that in mind I spoke to several former high ranking officials in the CIA in Washington and MI5 in London who said to me, during several discussions with them that, no such meeting ever took place.
They also told me that it is unthinkable for western intelligence to operate in this manner. In addition of describing the report as a fabrication; they were surprised that it was published without scrutiny. The officials choose not to be identified for this article due to the sensitivities of their high-ranking former positions with the British and American intelligence organizations.
Egyptian columnist Farrag Ismail also agrees that It is unlikely that Muslim Brotherhood leaders especially in the caliber of Saeed to meet with the CIA or the MI5. Ismail who writes a daily column for the Egyptian daily “ al Gomohiria” and an expert of Islamic groups, thinks that the Brotherhood especially in Egypt, is trying to strike a “ moderate” tone in their message in order to win over the Egyptian electorate and ensure Western support for their tenure in power.
Unlike the Egyptian or Tunisian Brotherhoods who are eager to tailor their messages to please western governments, as part of their new-found transition to realism, Jordanian Brotherhood continues to maintain the lines.
Statements of Brotherhood leaders in Egypt and Tunisia were designed to be less radical in its tones especially toward Israel and the US. Egyptian Brotherhood leader Essam Aryan was quoted in the Egyptian press to have said that he has no problem with the Peace treaty with Israel so long as the US lives up to its financial commitment to Egypt as part of the treaty.
Tunisian Brotherhood leader Rashed Ghanoushi, even though he opposes having any kind of relations with Israel, he, nevertheless opposed including that as part of the new constitution, as demanded by the leftist parties.
The Muslim Brotherhood has proved to be a flexible organization that is not averse to be less committed to ideology in favor of realistic path to power.
The Palestinian Brotherhood version Hamas, transitioned from an opposition group that routinely retaliated with missiles and rockets against Israeli raids, to a governing party that prevents others from doing the same thing it did in order to maintain a de-facto peaceful truce with Israel. Iraqi Brotherhood also shows us that the group can also adapt to changing realities when they joined a US-sponsored Iraqi government during the US occupation of Iraq.
The writer is an Arab American Journalist and writer based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com, and on twitter @clearali.