In mid-December, the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the Muslim Brotherhood Society (MBS), wrapped up its third annual conference at the Dead Sea, entitled, “Jordan in the shadow of International Changes”. Held under the patronage of former Prime Minister Abdulraouf Rawabdeh, the high-profile event showered King Abdullah II with praise, saying that he succeeded in “protecting the nation from great dangers”.
A handful of former Jordanian officials were present, including three former ministers and an ex-deputy prime minister. In his speech, Brotherhood leader Sharaf al-Qadat said that the organization was putting final touches on its new “national program”, which it expected to announce “within weeks”.
The timing of their conference—and the warm embrace of Jordanian officialdom—was certainly no coincidence, coming on the heels of a Qatari offer to cut ties with the Brotherhood in exchange for rapprochement with Saudi Arabia. Along with the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, Riyadh had severed relations with Qatar two years ago, objecting to its relationship with both Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. The four countries, known as the Quartet, set out a series of conditions to restore relations with Qatar, primary among them Doha ending its support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Qatari offer to disengage from the Brotherhood was first reported in The Wall Street Journal at the end of November 2019 after an unannounced visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Shaykh Mohammad Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani to Riyadh. If progress is achieved on that front, it would spell out serious consequences for the global Muslim Brotherhood, which has relied heavily on Doha for sanctuary, funds, and media appearances via Al-Jazeera Television. They are also facing the high risk of the Trump Administration designating them as a terrorist organization, no different from Al-Qaeda, which would further complicate their activism throughout the Middle East. A Qatar abandonment or US designation—or both—would cause disarray within the Brethren. Vulnerable and homeless, the Brothers would have only one ally in the region to turn to, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is already at daggers-drawn with nearly all Arab countries, particularly after recent events with the Turks moving into Libya to support the recognized government of Fayez al-Sarraj, which has ties to the Brotherhood.
Conventional wisdom says that members of the Doha-based Brotherhood need to start looking for a new host, and new political cover in the Middle East. Jordan seems like a logical alternative, given that it is the only Arab state where they are licensed to operate and still enjoy a considerable powerbase. “The organization is deeply rooted and has resilient cohorts of loyalists” said Dmitriy Frolovskiy, a Russian specialist on the Middle East. Speaking to EER, he explained: “It likewise is the only capable modernizing forces in the eyes of too many, as well as the major alternative to some corrupt long-time ruling elites”.
The Brotherhood and the Jordanian Monarchy
The Jordanian monarch’s great grandfather King Abdullah I, himself a pious Muslim, looked favorably upon the Muslim Brothers, attending their 1945 inauguration in Amman—at the time it was designated as a charity organization—and saying: “If these are your goals, then register me as a member”. He even offered to make Abdul Hakim Abidin, in-law of the Brotherhood founder Hasan al-Banna, a minister in the Jordanian government.
The Muslim Brotherhood have managed to maintain a cordial relationship with his three successors, King Talal (1951-1952), King Husayn (1952-1999), and the incumbent King Abdullah. When army officers tried to seize power in 1957, the Brotherhood stood by the Hashemite Crown, putting its full weight behind the then-boy king Husayn, who reciprocated by protecting them from the security forces of Egyptian and Syrian intelligence, who were hunting them down throughout the Middle East. The Brethren extended the same support to Husayn in September 1970, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) staged a revolt against the monarchy—this in spite of the fact that many of the Brotherhood members were either Palestinians or Jordanians of Palestinian descent. When the Syrian Brothers rebelled against their government (1979-82) many of them found sanctuary in Jordan.
The group now claims a rooster of 10,000 members and has been represented both in government and parliament, even assuming the speakership of the house in the early 1990s, and at one point, an influential bloc in Parliament. In 1992, they founded a political party called Jabhat al-Amal al-Islami or the Islamic Action Front (IAF).
Post-Arab Spring Ambitions
After outbreak of the Arab Spring, Jordanian members of the Brotherhood started eying power in Amman, inspired by Mohammad Morsi’s victory in Egypt. In January 2013, their leader, Hammam Saed, described Jordan a “state in the Muslim caliphate”. Three months later, in an interview with The Atlantic, King Abdullah snapped, saying the Brothers were “wolves in sheep’s clothing” and preventing them from coming to power “was our main fight”. In November 2014, a secret cell of Brotherhood members was discovered, said to be smuggling money and arms to Islamist militants on the West Bank and setting up a military branch inside Jordan aimed at toppling the government.
In January 2015, King Abdullah met with a delegation from the Brotherhood, calmly saying that he could no longer tolerate their violence or their official affiliation with the Egyptian mother branch of the Brotherhood. The group then splintered between a so-called reformist bloc, being the government-licensed Muslim Brotherhood Society (MBS) and its Islamic Action Front, versus the original Muslim Brotherhood Group (MBG), which was forcefully disbanded. The MBS leader Abdul Majid Thuneibat said that the Brotherhood “must become Jordanian and fall under Jordanian law”, while Hammam Saed described the breakaway faction as a “coup”.
The MBG members were subsequently arrested; their headquarters and media office shut down. Their property was also confiscated and transferred to the MBS. In September 2016, the Islamic Action Front won 10 out of 130 parliamentary seats, giving them greater leverage to pursue their agenda from within the legislative branch. But before running for office, they abandoned their slogan “Islam is the solution” for the more nuanced, “renaissance for the homeland, dignity for the citizens” motto. Thunaibat resigned as leader of the MBS in March 2018, and was replaced by Sharaf Qadah, a member of the Doha-based Union of Muslim Scholars, previously led by the Brotherhood ideologue Yusuf al-Qardawi.
“Despite hardliners in the security institutions often questioning the Brother’s motives, there is no majoritarian view that the Islamist sector in Jordan should be banned”, said Sean Yom, a ranking Middle East scholar and professor at Temple University in the US, the author of academic literature about Jordanian politics. Speaking to EER, he added: “The organization is far weaker today than in the past, thanks to internal divisions amplified by state cooptation of moderate factions within the group.” “It is true that King Abdullah personally does not enjoy the group’s views or religious conservatism, but to concede to geopolitical pressures and remove this element from the domestic equation would shock many Jordanians; it is simply not a high priority on the list of political items.”
All hopes to prop up a Brotherhood regime in Damascus have failed, and so have the hopes of maintaining a Brotherhood regime in Cairo. With Omar al-Bashir out of power in Sudan, their last hopes in the Arab World are currently Libya, Qatar, and Jordan. Though Turkey, which believes moderate Islamists are the best counter to the jihadists, might be able to maintain a Brotherhood-affiliated government in part of Libya with its own forces and Syrian mercenaries, it seems unlikely Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar can be defeated entirely, leaving limited space. If a deal ever materializes between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Brotherhood in Doha could be forced out, and will almost certainly head for Amman. As the Brotherhood does its contingency planning in this new regional landscape, Jordan looks to be its last best hope.
European Eye on Radicalization aims to publish a diversity of perspectives and as such does not endorse the opinions expressed by contributors. The views expressed in this article represent the author alone.
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