By Ala’ Alrababa’h and Ghazi Jarrar
The question of whether the Muslim Brotherhood could rise to power or not depends, first and foremost, on the process of reform in Jordan. Currently, the Jordanian regime faces a dilemma – it wants genuine political reform, but it fears the consequences.
February of 2011, after Marouf al-Bakhit was assigned to form the first government after the Arab Spring, King Abdullah II said:
The Letter of Designation to the new government is clear: I want quick results… The most important step is to study and develop all laws governing political and civil activities, particularly the Election Law. There should be consensus on this law and on its goals, which must encourage collective political work and the emergence of political parties as well as increasing public participation in decision making.
There are multiple reasons that make the regime sincere in its quest for political reform. Firstly, pressure from the street is increasing by the day. By not seriously pursuing political reform, the Jordanian regime was able to bring together Jordanian youth, tribes, women, communists, Islamists, and trade unionists in protests calling for the end of corruption, economic reform, and genuine political freedom.
The United States encourages Jordanian efforts to implement reforms that will secure a better future for the Jordanian people.
Despite these reasons to pursue political freedoms in Jordan, the various Jordanian governments are not trying hard enough to reform the country. This can be seen in the controversial 2012 electoral law. The law adopts the old single non-transferable vote (SNTV) system, while designating 19% of the seats to a national level. The SNTV makes it difficult for parties and coalitions to win seats in the parliament. More recently, the government has tried to censor the Internet. Although the government claims this effort is targeted at pornographic sites, many, including a former Jordanian minister of ICT, have spoken against these efforts.
How does all that relate to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood?
The logic is simple. As the government drags its heels on real political reform, the Jordanian public is growing unimpressed. As a result, various sects of the society will rally around the Islamic Action Front (IAF), since it is the main opposition group to the government. There are few possible ways with which this could end. Possibly, the government will come out on top by neutralizing reformist, and make most Jordanians accept the current lack of genuine political freedom. Or the Jordanian regime would finally give in, and implement reforms that lead to a real representative parliament. If this happens, the prime minister might get popularly selected through parliamentary coalitions. But until this happens, the Muslim Brotherhood’s popularity in the street might keep growing. Currently, it is not clear how much popularity the Muslim Brotherhood has in Jordan. Former Deputy Prime Minister, Marwan Muasher, estimates that the Muslim Brotherhood would not be able to get more than a third of the seats in the Parliament if elections were held under the current electoral law. He also claims that their popularity in the street is probably below 30%. However, if the Brotherhood’s popularity keeps growing, as they are the natural opposition to the government, then they might be able to get a majority in the parliament if genuine reforms were implemented years from now.
The sweeping victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia is another factor that could lead to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. This could help the Jordanian Brothers in two ways.
First, it is a source of inspiration for the once hopeless organization. The victory of fellow Brothers in Egypt and Tunisia made the Jordanian Brotherhood credible not only in the eyes of the electorate, but also the regime. In fact, many read the recent willingness of the Jordanian regime to engage the Brotherhood in regional politics as a response to the regional triumph the organization has had.
Second, the moderate stance of the organization in both Tunisia and Egypt has watered down the fears that Arab regimes incited over the years among liberals. The Brotherhood is no longer seen as an extreme party. The same applies to the West. During Hilary Clinton’s last visit to Egypt, she backed the Brotherhood’s President Morsi and called the former military rulers to make way for democracy.
On the contrary, some read the recent secular triumph in Libya as a sign that Arabs have grown fearful of a Brotherhood, or an Islamic, takeover. And while this may indeed be true, one needs to be careful of reading too much into the Libyan elections. For one, the Justice and Construction Party, the Libyan version Muslim Brotherhood, falls behind with regards to preparedness and cohesion in comparison with its Egyptian, or Jordanian counterparts, who have been active for many years. Additionally, others have argued that the NATO campaign in Libya “moderated” the anti-western feeling that aids the Brotherhood elsewhere in the region.
This being said, some think that Jordan has its unique social dynamics, which set it apart from Egypt, Morocco, or Tunisia. The argument goes that many in Jordan prefer to cast their votes along tribal lines, instead of ideological ones.
And while Jordan may indeed be different, we must not forget that Jordan’s previous parliaments, with the exception of the 1989 parliament, were elected through an unrepresentative electoral law. This law did not fairly represent Jordanians who lived in urban areas. In other words, the number of people per seat in Amman and Zarqa was much higher than in rural areas.
The Brotherhood must be credited for surviving over the years despite the hostile political environment in the country. In the meantime, Jordanians remain with no serious alternatives. Other parties tend to be young, fragmented, or outdated.