Jordan’s Islamists to compete in September polls
Amman - Jordan’s beleaguered opposition Islamists are trying to resurrect their political vigour and call a truce with the state by announcing plans to contest parliamentary elections in September.
Traditionally loyal to Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty and tolerated in the country for decades, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been ruptured by infighting, suffering a steep erosion in popularity, and smothered by the government to prevent a repeat of the Brotherhood’s moves in neighbouring Egypt.
The Brotherhood’s relations with the government have become strained since the 2011 uprisings. Recently, the movement was declared illegal and its headquarters was sealed.
The Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), is Jordan’s most organised and largest opposition party. It still operates legally, despite the ban. Recently, the IAF announced it was fielding candidates to contest the September 20th elections.
“We call for preserving the integrity of the electoral process as well as independent observers to monitor the election,” said Mohammed al-Zyoud, IAF secretary-general.
“The executive office of the IAF will determine aspects of participation and take appropriate decisions at any stage if the authorities interfere in elections or if they are rigged.”
The IAF boycotted elections in 2010 and 2013 over alleged fraud and to protest a controversial one-person, one-vote electoral system that undermined political parties in favour of tribal and other pro-government candidates.
Jordan reformed the election law in March, enabling political parties to submit lists and dividing the country into 23 electoral districts.
Following the election announcement, and in a bid to make peace with the state, the MB formed an “interim committee” led by reputedly moderate Abdul Hameed Thneibat, replacing hawkish Hammam Said.
The formation of the committee, which groups Islamist centrists and unionists, is unlikely to change the fact that the MB is illegal and has limited options to deal with the crisis.
“They had two choices to continue their work legally: Operate under their political arm, the IAF, or form a new society or association with a national agenda. There are no other legal ways,” said Musa Shteiwi, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan.
Exploiting the Islamist rift, the government licenced the breakaway Muslim Brotherhood Society, led by Abdul Majeed Thneibat, and transferred the original group’s assets to the new faction, indirectly declaring it the country’s authorised Brotherhood. Two other factions also splintered and plan to establish political parties.
Earlier, the government had banned the MB’s internal election to pick an overall leader, saying the group was unlicenced. The Islamists re-elected Said anyway, enraging the state.
The state seems to loathe Said, a hardliner suspected of ties with radical clerics outside Jordan. Said called for toppling the king at the height of the “Arab spring”; other MB leaders rejected the call.
Restrictions imposed by the government on the MB have “brought us back to the days of martial law, which obstructs justice,” the group said in a statement on its website.
“We reserve the right to take all legal and political measures to face these illegal pressures.”
The group was haunted by its close ties with the Palestinian Hamas, outlawed in Jordan in 1999 over unspecified “illicit” activities in the kingdom.
Experts said the government measures seek to empower the new faction to take part in general elections and could lead to proscribing the MB.
A senior government official said that was not the case.
“It is a legal dispute between the licenced Muslim Brotherhood Society and that unlicenced group. The first licenced party is taking legal action, seeking to legally obtain the headquarters, offices and possessions of the second unlicenced party,” the official said.
Most of those targeted by the government’s crackdown are hawkish members of the original MB, a fundamentalist group that calls for imposing sharia law, rejects Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel and close ties with the United States and advocates Israel’s annihilation.
Jordan’s pro-US government has been on the lookout for the fallout from the Brotherhood’s gradual disintegration, such as some younger members forming militant underground cells or joining the Islamic State.
Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordan-based expert on Islamist groups, said it was hard to transform the MB or divide it into hard-line and moderate camps. “We all know the Brotherhood’s moderates and hardliners,” he said. “The hardliners can become more radical but not terrorists.
“If the movement loses this legal battle, it will become outlawed but the state will not blacklist it as a terrorist group. The Jordanian policy on dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood is focused on lawfully separating moderates from the hardliners.”