Jordan’s Brotherhood feels the pressure of regional changes
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the conventional wisdom that what is taking place in Egypt has far-reaching echoes across the region is proving to be true. Jordan is no exception.
After the Egyptian army’s removal of Mohammed Morsi from office, and the subsequent clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood there, the increasingly strained relationship between the Jordanian government and Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has entered a new phase, predominantly characterised by criticism, anxiety and mutual distrust.
Emboldened by events in Egypt, the Jordanian government has recently arrested and put on trial many active members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and stepped up its antagonistic rhetoric and policies against the organisation and its prominent figures.
Pro-government columnists, especially in the government-controlled Al Rai newspaper, for example, have accused the group of being anti-democratic, opportunistic and seeking to impose strict religious rules. Analysts also pointed out that the group’s leaders are loyal to an international organisation that has an external agenda completely opposite to the Jordanian public’s interests.
For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood continued its three-year policy of criticising the Jordanian government, and it led the opposition movement, a coalition of tribal and secular and Islamic forces.
The last three years of rocky developments have left its devastating toll on relations between the two parties. These relationships were transformed from being relatively peaceful and sometimes based on partnership as they had been in the 1950s and into troubled and increasingly critically sensitive ones.
For the first time in Jordan’s recent history, the relationship between the two parties descended into unprecedented levels of hostility when King Abdullah II reportedly described the Muslim Brotherhood in his famous interview with The Atlantic magazine in March 2013 as “wolves in sheep’s clothing”, and “a Masonic cult always loyal to their leader”.
Moreover, the king did not hide his extreme sensitivity towards Islamists in Egypt. He was the first among the Arab leaders to welcome the decision of the army to remove Mr Morsi.
He sent a telegram to the head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansur, congratulating him on being named interim President of Egypt.
As of now, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has found itself in a middle of a multilayered crisis. After long being the most powerful opposition force in Jordan under the guise of “the Islamic Action Front”, it has split now into competing camps.
Last year witnessed the formation of a new Islamic movement called the National Initiative for Building, or Zamzam, which gained more than 500 members since its establishment in December 2012. The newly established movement is seen as a more conciliatory and moderate Islamic force that has gained the support of several prominent national figures from across the Jordanian political spectrum.
On the other hand, the political gains of the Wasat party, a relatively moderate political party that has won 16 seats in the Jordanian 150-seat parliament, has dealt a major blow to the Muslim Brotherhood.
This important victory helped the Wasat party secure the largest bloc of seats in the parliament, putting it in the forefront of Jordanian politics and positioning it as a strong rival, if not a de-facto alternative, to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front, once the dominant opposition force.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that the Wasat party victory would not have been possible if the Muslim Brotherhood had not boycotted January’s parliamentary election – a decision, or a miscalculation, taken to undermine the election’s legitimacy.
One more setback the Muslim Brotherhood has suffered recently is the decline of its support base.
Muslim Brotherhood calls for street protests against cuts in food and fuel subsidies are drawing diminishing crowds.
Fewer people are heeding the organisation’s calls to protest against the government, a sign indicating that the organisation’s popular influence and standing is, for now at least, eroding.
The decline of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan does not necessarily mean they no longer exist. But it does mean that their political clout in the Jordanian political calculus is diminished, and thus their political options are becoming slimmer.
This loss could be explained by many factors such as the political manoeuvring skills of the Jordanian monarch, the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the devastating civil war in neighbouring Syria that made the Jordanian people fear a similar tragic scenario if they took to the streets.
But it should be recognised that many of the Muslim Brotherhood wounds are self-inflicted.
Their grave mistakes in Egypt, their paranoid approach to the power-sharing process, their monopoly of Islamic discourse that alienated the public in the kingdom, their miscalculation and negative attitudes towards the political process and, above all, their inability to come up with real and tangible reform plans, not mere slogans, all contributed to their downfall.
Abdullah Bani Ali, from Jordan, is a doctoral student at the University of Bath, the United Kingdom