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Jordan and the challenge of the Muslim Brotherhood

August 21, 2017 at 5:06 pm

The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front achieved good results in Jordan’s municipal and governorate elections on 15 August. It proved itself to be the sole political party able to achieve electoral victory; most of the other parties failed to achieve convincing results.

Despite the “crisis” in relations between the Islamists and the state, which has lasted many years, and the unprecedented tensions in recent years, especially during and after the Arab Spring, the predictions of the political elites close to the decision-makers in Amman were not negative about the Islamists’ win. Instead, they considered their participation to be a sign of “clean” and inclusive polls. That is a point in the government’s favour, and a means to regain the people’s trust in the credibility of the political process.

This time, the true challenge was not posed by the Islamists, but by polling stations which witnessed a blatant violation of the integrity of the electoral process in the Central Badia district, where the stations were attacked by armed individuals who stole ballot boxes. The elections were cancelled in the area and the Independent Election Commission (IEC) decided to re-run the polls there. This reflected negatively on the generally positive image of the elections, not due to state interference, as was the case in previous polls, but due to the intervention of some civil society groups.

The truth is that such incidents damage an important part of the political, social and societal developments in Jordan and the shifting of challenges after the elites viewed the Islamists as the main obstacle in every election. Today, their views are different, and the participation of the Islamists is a positive indicator of a peaceful opposition party engaging in the political process.

Analysts: Jordan vote win tests Brotherhood popularity

Jordanians shout slogans during a protest against the closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Amman, Jordan on 15 July 2017 [Salah Malkawi/Anadolu Agency]

Muslim Brotherhood members shout slogans during a protest against the closure of the al-Aqsa Mosque, that Israeli policemen closed to worship, in capital Amman, Jordan on July 15, 2017. ( Salah Malkawi – Anadolu Agency )

The main challenge that has been growing in recent years and imposing itself on the state and society is the bullying and open rebellion by various civil society groups that in the past were considered to be major pillars of political stability in the Kingdom. However, the effect of the victory of the Islamic party will be like a coup against the state’s economic role and the major political developments. The civic groups in question have a mysterious and tense relationship with the state, its institutions and the rule of law, which the government is trying to restore. This is referred to in the media as the “prestige of the state”, which has been tarnished in recent years due to fundamental imbalances in official domestic policies that have tended to appease specific sectors in society, thus reinforcing the aforementioned bullying.

The realisation of the difference in the nature of the challenges and the position of moderate Islamists in all of this is growing among the political elite. However, it is being denied by official intuitions that are trying to maintain the traditional but outdated status quo. Today, though, they are being faced with real facts since the state’s prestige isn’t being challenged by an official party committed to political activity, but by a rebellion against the state itself and through the growth of dangerous phenomena, such as administrative corruption, drugs and extremist Islam. This extremism is represented by the supporters of the Jihadist Salafi movement, whose numbers and activities have grown significantly in recent years.

Although the Islamists won a good number of seats last week, it is still fairly humble given the growing area, tribal and regional rivalries on the ruins of other political forces that have become isolated and limited popularly and socially. They barely win anything in the parliamentary elections.

Will the official denial of the need to take these developments into consideration when drafting policies mean that there will be continued hostility toward and restrictions on moderate Islamists? These policies are related to Jordan’s regional alliances, especially its Arab “allies” and their position on the Muslim Brotherhood, democracy and the moderate Islamist trend in general. Are the decision-makers trying to re-think the relationship with the moderates and their backbone, the Muslim Brotherhood?

Logic pushes us to rethink the relationship between the Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front within a new context to determine the new rules of the political game. It also pushes us to utilise these forces in order to reinforce the concept of peaceful opposition in order to face the bullying and rebellion against the state, as well as the extremist trends that believe in violence or radical options when dealing with the state, and reject the political process in its entirety.

Translated from The new khalij, 20 August, 2017

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.