Jordan’s Islamists to compete in September polls

Sunday 19/06/2016
Murad Adaileh, spokesman for the Islamic Action Front, speaks to journalists following a police raid, last April.

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.”