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Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood Raises Its Political Profile

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Jordan's monarchy largely stifles vigorous political dialogue, but the Muslim Brotherhood, banned for decades in neighboring countries, has long had a prominent voice in the kingdom. As Jordanians demand greater representation in their kingdom, the Brotherhood appears poised to step up even more.

Jordanians' demands for change have been growing stronger, fueled by economic hardship and boiling over at times into a direct challenge to the monarch. But the Muslim Brotherhood, the most organized political force in the kingdom, says it wants no part of regime change.

"So we are a peaceful movement and what we are asking for are reforms under the auspices of the monarchy," said Nimer al-Assaf, a top official in the Brotherhood's political wing.

Since its founding in the 1940's, Jordan's branch of the movement has played it safe, working with the government as it slowly built a following. But with the Arab Spring and the civil war next door in Syria, momentum has increased.

Political analyst Oraib al-Rantawi observes, "They spent more than one year-and-a-half waiting for what will happen in Syria because they feel if Muslim Brothers there reach power, this will empower them by default.”

Even as the ranks of Syrians taking shelter in Jordan swell, the Brotherhood, while keeping an eye on the conflict, said it isn't taking an active part. Al-Assaf said they don't send jihadis to fight, though he argued it is their right.

Al-Rantawi asserted that any encouragement is short-sighted, with hardened fighters likely to return and, as in Saudi Arabia, turn on those who supported them.

"They keep on following the same track and expect to reach a different result, for [them] to go somewhere else. This is really a stupid game being repeated time after time," said al-Rantawi.

The ultimate goals of the Brotherhood here are unclear. It holds views in keeping with hardline Islamists - refusing dialogue with the United States and Israel, despite Jordan's peace treaty with the Jewish state.

Nimer al-Assaf said this would change should they come to play a leading political role. "Things become different. You have to deal with the world, whether you like them or not.”

The promise of talks with Israel, though, is no guarantee of a smooth future.

"Maybe [we] will have a referendum through the Jordanian people and they can decide about the treaty," said al-Assaf.

With most Jordanians of Palestinian origin, some change would seem inevitable.

Opponents of the Brotherhood see the rise of Islamists in Jordan and across the region as a hijacking of the aspirations of the Arab uprisings. Al-Rantawi faults wealthy, conservative Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

"From my point of view they are part of the counterrevolution of the Arab Spring,” said al-Rantawi.

The Muslim Brotherhood dismisses the notion of conspiracy, linking its rise to the expression of popular will.

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