Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood fails to grasp new rules of the game
The relationship between the Jordanian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood has always been based on two pillars.
The first was related to the Hashemite kings’ ambition to be major regional players, drawing on religious authority derived from being members of the house of the Prophet Mohammad and being the inheritors of the Great Arab revolution.
The second pillar lies in the common interests shared by the regime and the Brotherhood during the Cold War: Both were fundamentally opposed to leftist and communist ideologies and in favour of Arab nationalism.
With the end of the Cold War, one of the pillars crumbled but relations between the monarchy and the Brotherhood would continue for another decade. The regime wanted to use the Brotherhood to counterbalance the growing influence of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) among Palestinians in Jordan and the West Bank.
The late King Hussein never agreed to the secession of the West Bank in favour of the PLO and this historical detail probably explains the glaring contradiction in Jordan’s foreign policy during the 1990s.
Jordan was then a central player in the camp of those Arab parties seeking a permanent settlement with Israel. At the same time, it gave refuge to the political bureau of Hamas. In 1999, King Abdullah closed Hamas’s offices in Amman and deported its head, Khaled Meshaal, and his comrades to Qatar.
Unlike his father, Abdullah has not shown any particular designs on the future of the West Bank. His dealings with the Palestinian leadership were characterised by cooperation rather than competition.
Thus, the second pillar sustaining the relationship between the regime and the Brotherhood has suddenly become irrelevant. Besides, the new king, given his Westernised upbringing, is not particularly sympathetic to the Brotherhood or to its fundamentalist leadership.
In a March 2013 interview with the Atlantic magazine, Abdullah spoke about his antipathy for the Muslim Brotherhood, calling it a “Masonic Brotherhood” and “wolves in sheep’s clothing”. He was quoted as saying his “biggest battle” would be to prevent the Brotherhood from rising to power.
This interview was three years prior to the crackdown on the Brotherhood’s offices in Amman. However, the Brotherhood’s ageing leadership failed to grasp the scope of the change in the relationship.
For the past three years, it has continued to live in a state of denial and defiance despite warnings from friends and foes. These leaders are under the impression that their historical alliance with the regime will find them in good graces with the latter considering that its supposed need for the Brotherhood far outweighs other considerations.
The Muslim Brotherhood leadership did not realise that the entire region, not just Jordan, has grown restless and impatient with movements belonging to political Islam.
In dealing with the Brotherhood, Jordan looked at experiences in other countries but chose its own direction. Morocco and Tunisia, for example, have opted for integrating Islamist movements into the political process. In Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent, Saudi Arabia, the choice was exclusion and eradication. Jordan opted for gradual marginalisation.
The process started with encouraging defections from Brotherhood’s ranks, followed by hostile media and political campaigns and entanglement in legal measures. The Brotherhood was finally declared an “illegal” organisation and its offices sealed.
The regime has clearly laid out the new rules of the game with the Brotherhood; no matter how big or powerful it may become, it will always remain subordinate to the regime and the law, just like other players on the Jordanian political scene.