Photo: HKJ Today

Muslim Brotherhood Protester in Jordan

By Ghazi Jarrar (twitter:@ghazijarrar)

اضغط هنا للنسخة العربية

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has lately found itself trapped in a tricky spot. The organization has become less capable of mobilizing big protests in Amman. And partly due to disagreements on Egypt, the Brotherhood’s alliance with a number of reformist powers, including leftists and Nasserites, has mostly dissipated. More significantly, the downfall of Mohammad Morsi was embarrassing for the organization. The Egyptian Army’s ouster of Morsi has casted doubt on the competence and ability of the Brothers to rule an Arab country.

These problems are serious. They constitute a rare opportunity for the organization to assess its approach. Change may potentially be on the horizon. But whether it happens depends more on the Jordanian regime than on events in Egypt.

Regime Escalation

The Jordanian regime may see the recent ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as a good opportunity to do the same at home. The regime could use the anti-Brotherhood momentum in the region to establish a united front against the organization. The united front would include the traditional Brotherhood foes, the conservative powers, and the liberal forces in Jordan, who interpreted Morsi’s rule as evidence that the Brotherhood is an undemocratic organization.

Instead of reflection and change, regime escalation will harden the Brotherhood’s stance. The organization has traditionally become more conservative when it found itself under pressure from the state. For example, Mubarak’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt after its 2005 electoral victory contributed to empowering the hardline wing within the movement.

While it remains unclear whether the Jordanian regime is choosing to escalate against the Brotherhood, signs suggest that it has already started. On the days following the transition in Egypt, state-sponsored media launched anti-Brotherhood campaigns. For example, al-Ra’i newspaper’s front-page read, “The Brotherhood gambles with Egyptian blood.” The state sponsored paper also described the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a “guide to disorder.” Perhaps more seriously, the regime hinted at launching a legal battle against the Brotherhood, which is officially registered as a charity organization.

In the light of the disparity between the regime’s and the Brotherhood’s responses to the events in Egypt, confrontation appeared more imminent. The regime quickly welcomed the transitional process in Egypt, and King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to visit post-Morsi Egypt. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood reacted with strong condemnation. Deputy leader, Zaki Bani Rsheid, described the transition as a “crime.” He even called for a Syrian-style “Free Egyptian Army,” but quickly retracted his statement. On his part, the head of the Brotherhood’s Consultative Council, Hammam Sa’id, described the events as “the biggest conspiracy in the history of the nation.”

Surely, confrontation with the regime will allow the organization to play the role of the victim. As it had done for a long time, the Brotherhood will be able to propagate its image as a helpless movement that battles an oppressive state. This will help the organization to regain momentum on the street.

The Alternative

On Tuesday, Ammon News, a Jordanian news website, reported that the Muslim Brotherhood conducted a ‘brainstorming session.’ Reportedly, Hammam Sa’id and Zaki Bani Rsheid, two hardliners, came under scrutiny at the session. The two leaders were allegedly condemned for releasing a number of “provocative” statements to the media.

Given the turbulent state that the Brotherhood is in, it is expected that the current leaders (mostly hardliners) would come under pressure. Potentially, the current context will give rise to the more moderate forces within the organization. But by escalating against the Brotherhood, the Jordanian regime may reinforce the hard-liners’ grip, and miss out on a potential change of guard.

Should the regime decide against escalation, moderate initiatives, like Zamzam, will have better chances of rising to the surface. Launched in the end of 2012, Zamzam calls for reform within the Brotherhood. One of its founders, Rheil al-Gharaibeh, said the initiative was founded to combat the “shallow political partisan life” in Jordan. The regulations of the initiative emphasized gradual reform towards democracy, which is based on consensus and wide participation.

In a recent interview with al-Ghad newspaper, al-Gharaibeh, admitted that the organization needs to reassess its political vision. The moderate Brotherhood member also said that the organization has monopolized a “narrow” Islamic rhetoric, and has been unable to bridge its differences with other political forces.

Indeed, the crisis within the Brotherhood is an opportunity to empower the likes of al-Gharaibeh. But it is partly up to the Jordanian regime to allow for such change to take place. Regime escalation will almost surely reduce moderates’ chances of defeating their hardline counterparts. Ultimately, the Jordanian regime has a say in how (and if) change takes place in the Muslim Brotherhood.