Fear of isolation drives Jordan’s Islamists to participate in election

Analysts say electoral laws that favour tribal areas rather than cities, where Islamists enjoy most support, mean that Brotherhood sympathisers are unlikely to dominate the vote.
Tuesday 22/09/2020
An April 2016 file picture shows men standing outside the main entrance of the Muslim Brotherhood’s office in the Jordanian capital, after it was shut by police. AFP
An April 2016 file picture shows men standing outside the main entrance of the Muslim Brotherhood’s office in the Jordanian capital, after it was shut by police. (AFP)

AMMAN--The political wing of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition party, said Monday it would take part in parliamentary elections in November.

The Islamic Action Front’s announcement came two months after Jordan’s top court dissolved the country’s chapter of the Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist movement.

The IAF, which holds 16 seats in the current legislature, said Monday it had decided “to take part in the coming parliamentary elections” set for November 10.

“The Islamist movement is clearly being targeted and faces vigorous attempts to undermine it due to its national role and charitable efforts,” it said in a statement.

“We believe our absence from parliament would be a withdrawal from this battle and a derogation of responsibility.”

However, the Islamists, who boycotted elections for a decade until 2016, warned they could reconsider their approach if IAF candidates came under state pressure to drop out.

Analysts say electoral laws that favour tribal areas rather than cities, where Islamists enjoy most support, mean they are unlikely to dominate the vote.

With the Islamists aware of this reality, they could later blame the government for any electoral loss. A tendency to adopt such a manoeuvre was already quite palpable in the most recent statements of the IAF.

“We call on the government to lift its …security grip over these elections in all its aspects,” said Murad al Adailah, general secretary of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood.

He said any repeat of irregularities that had marred previous elections would stoke public discontent as Jordan grapples with its worst economic crisis in many years, with unemployment and poverty aggravated by the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Meddling in these elections is playing with security and stability of the country…In such conditions, it would create a social explosion,” Adailah said. “We don’t accept any pressure from anyone, or a diktat as to whom we nominate or don’t.”

The Islamists’ comeback in the 2016 election, when they gained 16 of parliament’s 130 seats as part of a broad civic alliance, ended a decade of boycott that had reduced voting to nominal contests between tribal leaders, establishment figures and independent businessmen.

Adailah claimed an Islamist voice was needed in parliament to help expose rampant corruption and stand up to tough laws restricting public freedoms as well as oppose any normalisation deals with Israel, with which Jordan has a peace treaty.

According to observers, the Islamic Action Front’s statement was populist in rhetoric.

While listing several motives to participate in elections, the Muslim Brotherhood appeared most concerned that a boycott could lead to more political and public isolation.

Observers also believe that the Muslim Brotherhood’s late announcement that it would participate could be due to divisions within the ranks of the organisation.

Dozens of Islamists opted for a boycott, even from within their parliamentary bloc, according to head of the bloc Abdullah Al-Akayleh, who previously said that a boycott would be the best response to government policies against the group.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, has both charitable and political arms across the Muslim world.

It has faced years of pressure, especially since the 2011 “Arab spring” uprisings, and has been outlawed as a “terrorist” group in Egypt and banned in several other countries.

Amman had tolerated the group’s political arm for decades, but since 2014 authorities have considered it illegal, arguing its license was not renewed under a 2014 law.

It continued to operate, but its relations with the state deteriorated after the government in 2015 authorised a splinter group, the Muslim Brotherhood Association.

In 2016, security services closed Brotherhood offices across the country and transferred their ownership to the splinter group in a step the movement denounced as political.

In mid-July, after a long court battle to retrieve the properties, Jordan’s Court of Cassation ruled the group dissolved for “failing to rectify its legal status under Jordanian law.”

The Brotherhood argues that it had already obtained licences to operate under previous laws in the 1940s and 1950s.

The IAF took part in legislative polls in 2016, winning 16 seats, after boycotting previous polls in 2010 and 2013.

The Brotherhood, banned in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, has widespread grassroots support in Jordan and is supported by Turkey and Qatar.

The breakaway Muslim Brotherhood Association authorised by Jordan aimed to sever ties with the Brotherhood in Egypt, where hundreds of supporters have been killed and thousands detained since the army ousted Islamist president Muhammad Morsi in 2013.

Elections are set to go ahead despite the novel coronavirus crisis, which has infected 4,779 people in Jordan and left 30 dead.