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Jordans Islamists are absent silent they are to blame

Published: Updated:

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has been noticeably and surprisingly absent from the political scene of a country going in a matter of few weeks to parliamentary elections but, with just an in-depth look at the internal conflicts the movement is currently facing, absence would probably be the best approach to hide dilemmas and divergence.

The "brothers'" silence these days has to do also with being busy in revising their policies and approaches as it has been their tactic, since the beginning of protests in Jordan two years ago, to always observe the public mood and trends and then make the necessary reaction and action.

Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist and a commentator on regional political affairs
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist and a commentator on regional political affairs
Sources from within the Islamist movement confirmed that the Kingdom's largest opposition force and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), is currently suffering from internal differences and heated disputes among its leaders with intensive reconciliation efforts being exerted to dissolve the dilemma and settle the split.

The Islamist movement has been craftily keeping its affairs highly confidential, never disclosing any of the internal differences among its leaders although it owns Jordan’s al-Sabeel Arabic daily. Even in their answers to their close friends, the Islamist leaders, who have successfully managed to show themselves in full harmony, said - in embarrassment and cunning diplomacy - that the whole matter has to do with a marginal disagreement on the group's organizational structure.

No matter what, members of the group are not at ease, plagued with a fierce dispute on policies and tactics that are at the heart of their movement's goals, future plans and high-profile agenda.

The Islamist movement has been absent and silent as it is seemingly unable to dissolve the dispute between its two main currents – the so-called hawks and doves – who have long held different views over a set of decisive issues, including Jordan's reform endeavour, organizational links with Hamas, the nature of relationship with other opposition powers in the kingdom and other internal and external policies.

It is becoming no secret in Jordan that the dispute is among members of the group's Shura council, its highest decision-making body. The council has rejected the resignation of Rheil Gharaybeh, Mamdouh Muheisen, Ahmad Kafawin and Mohammad Qudah who all belong to the organization's "dovish camp."

The four executives have been pushing for an end to the organizational links with Hamas – a request that has been opposed by the Hawks, who see in the ties with the Gaza rulers a necessity to stand firm against alleged designs to make Jordan an "alternative homeland" for the Palestinians. The pro-Hamas group inside the movement is headed by the Islamists' overall leader, Hammam Saeed.

For the doves, in contrast, ending the group's links with Hamas, would put down fears of "substitute homeland."

In a bid to resolve the dispute over the Hamas issue, a top Islamist figure has proposed an initiative that would entail an organizational restructuring of the group’s permanent offices. Under the initiative, offices in Palestine would no longer be able to vote in the Shura council or other influential bodies in Jordan, as a prelude to permanently splitting ties with Hamas.

In line with the group’s confidentiality approach and apparently out of fears of facing disciplinary proceedings, the Brotherhood source, who spoke to a local newspaper and requested anonymity, has not disclosed the name of the Islamist leader who proposed the initiative nor elaborated more on whether a deal has been reached or not.

The Islamist movement has been craftily keeping its affairs highly confidential, never disclosing any of the internal differences among its leaders

Raed Omari
The dispute over Hamas is part of the differences among the Islamist leaders on what ought to be the major priority that determines the course of action.

For the dovish camp, depending on their moderate statements, mostly uttered by professor Gharaybeh, the internal situation of Jordan has to be the top priority and any course of action has to be shaped according to the Kingdom’s distinctiveness, while for their counter camp, the Hawks, the group in Jordan is an inseparable component of the International Muslim Brotherhood Movement and that its agenda are more externally determined than internally and are “borrowed and not made.”

Leaders of the Hawks camp, especially Zaki Bani Rsheid, the IAF politburo chief, have said extremist statements and made several visits to Egypt, Tunis and Morocco, the Islamists ruled countries which have made people of Jordan suspicious of their agenda and have decreased the popularity of the group.

There is an image held by a majority of Jordanians about the Islamists as taking orders from abroad, mainly from their brothers in Egypt and Hamas leaders.

What to be reformed and how in Jordan is another major point of contention between the Islamist leaders that has been affecting the group’s ability to politically manoeuvre in the reform process and its popularity.

With just a quick look at the movement’s reform-oriented demands in Jordan since the beginning of the Arab Spring, it can be noticed that the decades-old movement has not presented a cohesive vision of the reform process, showing in a contradictory discourse a fragmented vision of what needs to be politically reformed in the Kingdom.

As a matter of fact, it is not the Islamists that began the protests in the kingdom but a group of angry youths from the village of Thiban, some 30 kilometres south of Amman, with upgrading living conditions and creating job opportunities being their major demands.

After they joined the public movements in Jordan two years ago, the Islamists demands were cantered around eliminating corruption and preventing the security agencies’ interference in the country’s political scene. Their only demand from the government at the time was a guarantee that the parliamentary election be held with complete transparency and fairness. Their only response to consecutive governments calling on them to take part in the election has been, “assure us that the polls will be fair aside from the interference of security agencies and we will participate,” a statement said by several Islamist leaders.

An Independent Election Commission to oversee the election was formed under a provision added to the constitution but that did not convince the Islamists to participate in the polls.

Islamists' demands

With protests growing more and more in the Kingdom and with the emergence of new public movements, the Islamists’ began demanding that the election law be revisited and that the parliament be dissolved.

The Islamists refused to be part of the National Dialogue Committee, which was formed under King Abdullah's directives and were the first to reject its outcomes. Several political powers, especially the leftists, accused the Islamists of failing the initiative.

Amending the constitution to reach at a constitutional monarchy became then the Islamists' new demand, having seen their brothers in Tunis and then Egypt taking power. But, it is also a matter of fact that the Islamists were not the first to raise such slogan but a group of leftist youths belonging to no political parties.

The Islamists remained unconvinced and kept pushing for more reforms although the king has formed a royal committee that suggested amendments to 42 articles of the constitution.

Paradoxically and as a sign of their internal conflicts, the Islamists started demanding that the election formula proposed by the National Dialogue Committee be adopted and that and the parliament, they long called for its dissolution, be reconvened to amend the election law.

Several attempts carried out through individual initiatives or delegated by the government, have failed to convince the Islamists to participate in the elections and be part of the reform process in parliament despite the fact that mediators reportedly offered the movement the possibility to amend the election law by giving voters a third vote.

This state of discrepancy is nothing but another disagreement between the doves and the hawks. Both camps agree on the importance of political reform but disagree on the approach.

The dovish camp, led by Gharaybeh, supports a gradual transition in the political reform process and believes that this should happen via the movement's participation in the election.

On contrast, the hardline hawks believe that pressure from the street is more effective and will bring about results faster. They are cynical and have no confidence in state intention to hold free election.

‘Zamzam’ document

The recently announced National Initiative for Building, or the Zamzam Document, marked another dispute among leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially its two major currents, the doves and the hawks.

The document, named Zamzam after the hotel where the initiative members met, highlighted several issues, particularly the need to preserve the sovereignty of the state, adopt gradual reform agenda and select trustworthy people in decision-making posts.

The initiative was announced after leaders from the moderate wing in the Brotherhood, the doves, met with other politicians not affiliated with the group and came up with a cross-party action plan they said would address the country's controversial and thorniest issues, mainly the economic crisis.

The initiative is led by Gharaybeh, who stressed in previous remarks to local press that the new initiative is not affiliated with a certain political party.

The document sprang tension among members of the group and that was seen in the Islamists' announcement that they will open dialogue with the initiative's authors. Following a meeting of its Shura council, the group announced its rejection of the Zamzam document, saying in a statement that it already has its own reform plan and does not need further initiatives in this regard.

Moreover, the group's executive office issued a circular urging its members and supporters to avoid any interaction with the Zamzam Document, describing it as "malicious."

In remarks to al-Quds al-Arabi, Bani Rsheid, expressed his reservations towards the Zamzam initiative, indirectly hinting that it targeted the group, mainly him and the hawks camp.

The movement's inability to change Jordan's internal situation and the conservative mentality of the majority of its people in a way that ensures them to gain a parliamentary majority and then rule is the movement's major dilemma manifested in the disputes among its leaders as once said by one of its former leaders.

Noticeably, the constitutional monarchy and the parliamentary governments have never been the Islamists' priority in Jordan but, having seen their brothers ruling Egypt, Tunisia and Egypt, that turned out to be their irreversible demand.

Right, the Islamists are the kingdom's largest and most organized political power but what can they do in a country still immature, in a partisan state whose people are still governed by the conservative mentality?

Surely, they will be perplexed and confused. In Jordan, there are conservative figures, most of them are ex-premiers, ministers and politicians, including Abdul Rauf Al Rawabdeh, Taher Al Masri, Abdul Salam Al Majali, Ahmad Obeidat and Abdul Karim Al Kabariti, who are all except for leader of the National Current Part, Abdul Hadi Al Majali, belong to no political party and, if they decide to run the parliamentary elections or form national lists, will no doubt gain more than the Islamists.

Plus, there are certain politicians, who belong to major tribes in the Kingdom, like veteran MPs Abdul Karim Al Dughmi and Saad Hayel Srour, who are also very influential in Jordan's political scene and can be fierce competitors of the Islamists.
Even when it comes to the veteran MP Khalil Atiyyeh, the conservative Jordanian politician of Palestinian origin, the case is similar. Atiyyeh, who is running the election, has no doubt more popularity among Jordanians of Palestinian origins more than any Islamist figure.

All these factors, coupled with the Islamists' inability to resolve their internal dilemmas and their failure to enter a serious and constructive dialogue with authorities to arrive at common grounds and in a manner that alleviates peoples' worries about them as serving foreign agenda and receiving orders from abroad, have resulted in putting the movement in a state of hibernation and increased its isolation and detachment from the kingdom's affairs.

(Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert and a commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached on his e-mail: raed_omari1977@yahoo.com or Twitter account: @RaedAlOmari2)