Splitting Jordan's Brotherhood is a dangerous game

Splitting Jordan's Brotherhood is a dangerous game
Comment: The government breakup of the Muslim Brotherhood flies in the face of 70 years of tolerance, when tolerance is the very thing that is needed, says Osama Abu Arshid.
6 min read
08 May, 2015
A demonstration in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, Amman, 16 April 2014 [AFP]

It is not clear yet where and when the regime's escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan will end.

Will it content itself with clipping its wings, by remoulding it and redefining its national role? Or will it go all the way and outlaw the Brotherhood, after 70 years of the group operating publicly, legally and officially?

A history of tolerance

There is one thing that had been clear until now, namely that the regime in Jordan has for decades been characteristically tolerant and accommodating of its opponents, including Islamists. This helped spare Jordan many crises and shocks that hit other countries.

Jordan has for decades been characteristically tolerant and accommodating of its opponents, including Islamists.

This relative tolerance and accommodation, in a tribal country that has enjoyed coexistence between its two main constituencies, the so-called West Bank Jordanians and other Jordanians.

However, the demographic equation is changing today. There are hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Last month the minister of planning, Imad Fakhoury, said that Jordan now hosts about 1.4 million Syrian refugees on, the equivalent of 20 percent of the population of Jordan.

This staggering number means a significant burden for a poor country with limited natural resources facing a water crisis, with crumbling infrastructure undergoing a population boom amid widespread unemployment.

The most serious aspect of this issue is that those refugees on Jordanian territory are in fact the result of the conflict raging in Syria, as a result of the brutality of the regime there against its people, a conflict that could well spread to Jordan. That conflict is not limited to Syria, it is also rages in Iraq, another neighbour of Jordan.

This is without even mentioning the political impasse in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and what this could entail in terms of renewed Israeli threats to the Jordanian entity by threatening from time to time to pursue the so-called "Jordanian option" or the "alternative homeland", which would resettle the Palestinians in Jordan.

This means Jordan is facing by crises internally, and on its borders to the north, the east and the west.

Even along its southeastern border with Saudi Arabia, the situation is not very reassuring. Saudi Arabia is now engaged in a fully fledged regional rivalry with Iran and its proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

If we add to all this to the destructive chaos sweeping across much of the Arab region, and the expansion of a radical group like the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, then Jordan's problems become too many to count.

In the eye of the storm

During the Arab uprisings, the Muslim Brotherhood held back the street, limiting their demands to constitutional and political reform.

The existential dilemma surrounding Jordan is very important in the context of our analysis of the tense relations with the Brotherhood. For one thing, the group in Jordan has for decades served as an element of social and political equilibrium in the country.

The Jordanian Brotherhood always acted as an facilitator of coexistence between Jordanian and Palestinian identities. On the other hand, the group, despite always playing the role of a political opposition, were also one of the most important elements of political stability for the country and its regime.

Indeed, the Brotherhood have always been rational and aware of the limits of their political opposition and "mischief". Even during the Arab uprisings, the Brotherhood held back the street, limiting their demands to constitutional and political reforms but did not adopt slogans calling for regime change.

The rationalism of the Brotherhood remains the main determinant of their political practices. Their move to cancel their 70th anniversary celebrations earlier this month, to avoid a confrontation with the regime that would have been disastrous for all sides, is proof of this.

However, it does not seem that the regime now has the same rationalism that previously characterised its conduct.

Indeed, the regime today is seeking to divide the group from the inside, after approving an application by splinter Brotherhood leaders for a licence to establish a "Muslim Brotherhood association", while moving to delegitimise the original Brotherhood, which has been operating politically and at the grassroots level for seven consecutive decades.

During those decades, Brotherhood MPs were elected into parliament and even assumed ministerial posts. The organisation's leaders met many times with the late king Hussein and with King Abdullah II in their capacity as the leaders of the group.

The regime knows the new group, headed by former comptroller general of the Brotherhood, Abdul-Majid Thunaibat, cannot attract thousands of members and supporters in the Jordanian street, and that it could never replace the parent organisation politically and at the grassroots level.

An unneccessary confrontation

And yet, it seems the regime's security services insist on fighting a bone-breaking battle with the Brotherhood, regardless of the consequences for Jordan. It is no secret here that were the splinter group not backed by the regime, it would not have threatened the parent group.

The escalation with the Brotherhood in Jordan undermines the country's security and stability.

The escalation with the Brotherhood in Jordan undermines the country's security and stability, in light of the inflamed situation locally and regionally. While the regime might score some tactical points against the Brotherhood, Jordan as a whole will stand to lose strategically.

What is happening in Jordan, in short, is an attempt to hijack the history of an established Jordanian group, according to a plan carefully devised in the corridors of the security agencies.

The attempt is to substitute a splinter and obedient Muslim Brotherhood minority for a broad and popular movement - a minority that rightly or wrongly is a rival of the leadership of the parent group.

Some of the security services could succeed in scattering an organisation that has operated for a long time in Jordan, and that helped protect the country and safeguard its security and stability.

However, they will not be able to eliminate that group. At any rate, what they are doing does not further the interests of Jordan.

The splinter group might take control of the brand, but they will not be able to win legitimacy or rally its supporters, most of whom are opposed to this misadventure.

The hope remains that decision-makers would rectify the situation and the wise people around them to normalise relations with the Brotherhood.

These childish practices do not benefit Jordan, its security, and its stability, especially as we are witnessing major changes in the alliances in the region in light of the new Saudi role and in the context of the overwhelming chaos that has not yet run its course.

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

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.