Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood: Divided but for how long?

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood: Divided but for how long?
Comment: Current divisions in the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood are worrying, especially due to its historical role as a strong political and social player.
4 min read
14 Mar, 2015
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has been a strong political and social player [AFP]
During its five decades of expansion, Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood has operated like a state within a state.

The group has its own society and social norms as well as its own economic institutions such as the Islamic Bank. It also has charity organisations like the Islamic Centre, educational institutions including private schools and the private al-Zarqa University, medical facilities such as the Islamic Hospital and media organisations such as the daily Assabeel newspaper and al-Yarmouk satellite television channel. The reality is that Muslim Brotherhood has too many institutions in Jordan to count.

Due to its specific social norms and service institutions, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood seemed to exist in its own world. However, this is not the only reason why the spilt in the group is so dangerous and important.
     The group had been a prominent political player in Jordan since the 1957 political crisis.

The group had been a prominent political player in Jordan since the 1957 political crisis. During the crisis, leftist forces in Jordan led by the Nasserite leaning National Socialist Party headed by then-Prime Minister Sulayman al-Nabulsi, were threatening the Jordanian system of governance with their Nasserite ideals. The Brotherhood supported the state at the time and continued to support it during later crises: after June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, during the 1970 crisis with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, and in 1989 when Jordanians demanded reforms causing King Hussein to annouce "the resumption of democratic life".

The Brotherhood remained a support base for the state during those decades. At the same time, other political forces were prohibited and suppressed due to martial law imposed on the country after the 1967 war and until 1989. The Brotherhood no doubt benefitted greatly from being used by the state, and its institutions, popularity and influence grew.

Perhaps the most dangerous role played by the Brotherhood was when they were indirectly charged with shaping the educational curricula in the 1970s. They heavily influenced the Arabic and Islamic Studies curricula with their conservative rhetoric, banned the teaching of philosophy, and marginalised the arts. This affected the education and upbringing of generations of Jordanians.

In the two decades following Jordan's peace agreement with Israel in 1994, the Brotherhood's relations with the state fluctuated between closeness and distance, alliance and animosity, especially after nationalist and leftist opposition forces were defeated in the late 1980s.

The Brotherhood was the only organised political force left in the country, and was typically viewed as the opposition especially concerning the state's relations with Israel. This caused the government to tailor election laws to reduce the movement's political space. However, despite this the group did not turn against the government and state. It remained an essential component of the country's stability and social cohesion.
     The government wants to keep the Brotherhood, but it wants it to be a Jordanian Brotherhood.

Therefore, the government's indirect intervention in the Brotherhood's internal crisis, by registering defectors from the group as a separate legally recognised political entity, does not necessarily mean it wants to weaken the organisation or marginalise its social and political influence. Instead it seems the Jordanian government wants to pressure it into changing its public discourse and relations with the group's regional allies, especially Hamas and the International Organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo.

The government wants to keep the Brotherhood, but it wants it to be a Jordanian Brotherhood, which is what the new Brotherhood group aims to be. This opens the way for a revival of old relations between the Brotherhood and the state, when the state socially and culturally used the group, and in return the group enjoyed greater influence over public life.

Since the 1990s this relationship has been damaged with the appearance of Hamas and the Jordan's peace deal with Israel. It was later exacerbated by the appearance of Salafi-jihadist movements that the Brotherhood did not clearly criticise. The Arab Spring and its repercussions, especially in Egypt, were the final blow to the relationship.

The fears of a Brotherhood split along its lines of origin - Jordanians of Palestinian descent have typically remained loyal to the original group, while east Jordanians have supported the new group – are not accurate. It is unlikely that the two groups will continue to operateseparately as one group will probably absorb the other.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition. 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.