Unending crises undermine Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood

Friday 19/02/2016
Popularity is eroding

AMMAN - Tough times lie ahead for the Muslim Brotherhood. Once Jordan’s largest po­litical party and a fiery voice for reform, it has been discredited by the state and undermined by internal bickering.
Political, ideological and or­ganisational schisms between the party’s hawks and doves, the hu­miliating defeat of the parent party in Egypt and the failure of the Jor­danian branch to find alternatives to the country’s political and eco­nomic woes resulted in Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood splitting into factions.
Traditionally, the Brotherhood had been loyal to Jordan’s Hashe­mite dynasty despite policy differ­ences, especially on relations with Israel. The group advocates Israel’s annihilation.
However, with the Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt in 2011, the Jordanian branch shifted positions, publicly criticising the government and daring to call for diminishing the king’s absolute power under the constitution.
The group’s popularity eroded due to public revulsion at crimes committed by fanatic Islamists, such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front in Iraq and Syria.
But what was particularly nig­gling to many was the ambivalent Brotherhood reaction to the killing of a Jordanian Air Force lieutenant who was burned alive in a cage by ISIS militants in January 2015, days after his plane was downed over Syria.
Jordan’s pro-US government has been on the lookout for the fallout from the Brotherhood’s gradual disintegration, such as some of its younger members, frustrated by the lack of job opportunities, form­ing more militant underground cells or joining ISIS.
Before its recent troubles, the Brotherhood was battered by its long-time organisational link to the Palestinian Hamas, which took over the Gaza Strip from the Jor­dan-backed moderate Palestinian Authority in 2007.
Jordan banned Hamas and exiled its leaders in 1999 on grounds that the group used Jordanian territory for unspecified “illicit” activities, including stirring the Brotherhood to disrupt Jordan’s 1994 peace trea­ty with Israel — one of the pillars of much-needed US aid to the cash-strapped Arab kingdom.
Many Jordanians within the Brotherhood were also largely op­posed to the proximity with Hamas in view of a local demographic con­cern that hard-line Israeli politi­cians would insist on moving the remaining Palestinians in the West Bank to Jordan.
The kingdom is home to 2.1 mil­lion Palestinians and their descend­ants — the largest Palestinian popu­lation outside the West Bank — who fled or were forcibly removed from their West Bank homes in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. An influx of more Palestinians would make Jordani­ans a minority in their own coun­try.
“The shift towards Hamas raised questions about the Brotherhood’s priorities and agenda, creating another internal rift,” said politi­cal analyst Oraib al-Rantawi, who heads the Amman-based al-Quds Centre for Political Studies. “The Brotherhood was clearly torn be­tween focusing on Jordanian or Palestinian matters.”
Jordan’s Brotherhood began to splinter in 2012, a year after the “Arab spring” revolutions, which have taken a heavy toll on Islam­ist groups across the Middle East. That year, Rheil Gharaibeh, a leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the Brotherhood’s political arm, established the Jordanian Ini­tiative for Building, what he called Zamzam.
The plan was praised in many circles as a viable reform but the Brotherhood’s leadership react­ed by expelling Gharaibeh and a handful of other top leaders, who are now vying to create a political party.
The Brotherhood, which thrived over the years by calling for sweep­ing political, economic and social reforms, suffered another setback when prominent dove and former movement head Abdul Majeed Th­neibat broke away to establish the Muslim Brotherhood Society.
Exploiting the rift, the govern­ment licensed the society in March 2015 and transferred the Brother­hood’s assets to the splinter fac­tion, indirectly declaring it the country’s authorised Brotherhood, moves that infuriated the group’s old guard.
“The way the society was en­couraged, approved and promoted showed the Muslim Brotherhood was being targeted,” observed Brotherhood spokesman Muath al- Khawaldeh. “Transferring the as­sets to the society was illegal and unconstitutional. It set a danger­ous precedent.”
Society leader Ibrahim Abu al- Ezz rejected the accusations, say­ing: “We’re not targeting anyone and we highly respect our Islamist brothers. We have simply legalised the Brotherhood’s status and we will continue to serve Islam and Jordan.”
In a more recent blow, 400 IAF leaders quit the party in December over policy “differences”, Khawal­deh said. He said the resignations were rejected and reconciliation ef­forts were under way.
Although Khawaldeh down­played the issue, some observers said veterans among those who quit, dubbed the “Group of El­ders”, might form a separate politi­cal party, further complicating the situation for the Brotherhood.
Hassan Abu Hanieh, a Jordan-based expert on Islamist groups, said the Brotherhood was facing its “most dangerous crisis”.
“The Brotherhood as we know has changed, and more divisions are expected in the future, deeply impacting the group,” he said.