The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has been noticeably and surprisingly absent from the political scene of a country holding parliamentary elections in a few weeks. However, given the movement’s internal conflicts, absence would probably be the best approach. Its silence is also attributable to its tactic, employed since the beginning of protests in Jordan two years ago, to observe the public mood before taking action.
Brotherhood sources confirm that the kingdom’s largest opposition group is trying to resolve internal divisions - which have been traditionally hidden or downplayed - regarding important policies such as Jordan’s reform process, its relationships with other opposition groups in the country, and links with Hamas.
Hawks and doves
The Brotherhood’s dovish camp opposes organizational ties with the Palestinian Islamist movement for the same reason that its hawks support it: to thwart alleged designs to make Jordan an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.
The doves emphasize the movement’s identity within Jordan, whereas the hawks see it as an inseparable part of the international Brotherhood whose agendas are determined externally. Visits to Islamist-ruled Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco by the politburo chief of the Jordanian Brotherhood’s political arm - the Islamic Action Front - have decreased its domestic popularity among those suspicious of foreign influence.
The decades-old movement has not presented a cohesive vision of Jordan’s reform process. In fact, it is not the Islamists that began the protests in the kingdom, but youths from the village of Thiban - some 30 kilometers south of Amman - angry about living conditions and unemployment.
After it joined the protest movement in Jordan two years ago, the Brotherhood’s demands centered around eliminating corruption, preventing the security agencies’ interference in politics, and a guarantee that parliamentary elections would be transparent and fair. 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.
With protests growing and new opposition movements emerging, the Brotherhood began demanding that the election law be revisited and parliament be dissolved. The Islamists refused to be part of the National Dialogue Committee - formed under King Abdullah’s directives - and were the first to reject its outcomes. Several political powers, especially leftists, accused the Brotherhood of scuppering the initiative.
Amending the constitution to create a constitutional monarchy then became its new demand, having seen Islamists taking power in Tunisia and Egypt. Once again, the Brotherhood was not the first to raise this issue, but leftist youths unaffiliated with any political party. The Islamists were unconvinced by the formation of a royal committee that suggested amendments to 42 articles in the constitution.
Paradoxically, and as a sign of its internal conflicts, the Brotherhood started demanding that the election formula proposed by the National Dialogue Committee be adopted, and that parliament - whose dissolution it had long called for - be reconvened to amend the election law. Several attempts to convince the Islamists to participate in the elections and the parliamentary reform process have failed.
The Brotherhood’s doves and hawks agree on the importance of political reform, but not on the approach. The doves support a gradual process, and believe that this should happen via electoral participation. The hardliners are suspicious of the government, believing that pressure from the street is more effective, and will achieve results faster.
The recently announced National Initiative for Building, or the Zamzam Document, marked another dispute within the Brotherhood. The document highlighted the need to preserve state sovereignty, adopt gradual reform, and select trustworthy people for decision-making posts.
The initiative was announced after moderate Brotherhood leaders met with politicians unaffiliated with the group, and came up with a cross-party plan to address Jordan's thorniest issues, particularly the economic crisis.
However, the Brotherhood’s conservative Shura council rejected the document, saying it already has its own reform plan and does not need further initiatives in this regard. The group’s executive office urged its members and supporters to avoid any interaction with the document, describing it as “malicious.”
The Brotherhood is Jordan’s largest and most organized political power, but it has been unable to effect change in the kingdom, gain a parliamentary majority, resolve its internal disputes, enter a serious and constructive dialogue with the authorities, or alleviate public concerns about foreign influence. This has resulted in a state of hibernation and isolation for the movement, and its increasing detachment from the kingdom’s affairs.
(Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and 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, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2)