••• The International Writers Magazine:Middle East Politics
Jordan Islamists and the precipice
The current tensions between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is clearly rising to the boil with no end in sight, appearing after a long traditional accommodation between the state and the Islamic movement that spanned well over at least 70 years, since the 1940s.
The latest spate of closures of Muslim Brotherhood offices through out the Kingdom, and its headquarters in Amman, may be indicative of the galloping change of the times on the local, regional and international levels to put the Islamists back into place where extremists like Daesh, Al Qaedah and moderates are lumped together in the same saddle bag with little difference. Suddenly the notion of political Islam is no longer to be entertained in a world were terrorism, violence and extremism are the new words in our lexicon.
But this maybe short-sighted. Just because of what has been happening abroad, region, Europe and even the United States doesn't necessarily mean it is the same in a country like Jordan which is of special nature and has unique characteristics. Here, or it was thought, the Islamists had a more fundamental, special relationship with the Hashemite crown, state apparatuses and long played an important role in the political, economic and societal dynamics of the Kingdom with the grass-roots carefully nurtured through multiple-faceted aspects like welfarism.
More recently, and in the parliamentary-leaning-democracy since 1989, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Islamic Action Front (IAF) have been at the forefront of the political pluralism taking place, and regardless of its short-comings. Along with other political parties, they became enthusiastic participants in the political life of the country and parliament. There were hiccups, potential blow-ups and loggerheads under the parliamentary dome but it was contained through debates, discussions, amiable nod and winks if those words can be used and amicable-agreements with occasional arm-twisting of course; but this is the nature of Arab politics, regardless.
The problem with what is happening now, office closures, abrasive methods, unbecoming police tactics, threats, accusations and the courting of one faction against the other - the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan split last year - there is the ushering of a new negative, divisive relationship that is hostile. Islamists are as much to blame as the government because of rank-and-file alienations, evident backbiting and a general willful state that is dividing the movement and the government in a point-of-no return as was the case with Egypt and Saudi Arabia when they banned the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Is Jordan likely to follow a similar path. Judging from past experience, political diction and interplay between the government, society and culture, this doesn't seem to be the case. Regardless of how things may still yet unfold and played out - there is now a new registered Muslim Brotherhood Society, and a Muslim Center Party created in 2001 as a counterweight to the IAF and presently has 16 Lower House deputies - the traditional relationship is likely and in due time, to pass over the present muddy waters. Both sides are careful not to indulge in a mud-slinging match and trying to lower the tone of the controversy taking place. But obviously this view depends on people you talk to because of the fluidity of the new political game which is more unstable and complex than it was before.
Although many are saying that there is a clear slippery-slope to the banning of the Muslim brotherhood, some, and in the state establishment, are refusing to be pushed over the edge for obvious domestic and regional reasons.
Nobody denies the fact recriminations between the state and the Islamic movement continued over the years, with ebbs-and-flows between them, hotting up times, simmering down on odd occasions and periods with occasional honey moons and patching up. Many in Jordan agree that the situation has never been so low as it is today with the metaphorical cloaks and daggers being out and occasional saber-rattling but there also seem to be a sustaining political culture that exists in Jordan, that is not found elsewhere in the region which states "don't go to zero point. or else you won't know what's around the corner."
The Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF has always been part-and-parcel of the Jordanian political system. It is true, and maybe a source of irritation to the leadership of the country that they have boycotted the parliamentary elections since 2007 and a reminder of what they did in the late 1990s, this is not the end of the road between the state and the Muslim brothers who many see as continuing to grip mass popular support in the Jordanian street and act as a political barometer in the Kingdom.
Lastly, although political pundits are refusing to put two and two together, but after the closure up of the MB offices in Amman and elsewhere, the government of Abdullah Nsour announced a limited government reshuffle and guess who was in for the chop! It was non other than Interior Minister Salameh Hammad, the man under whom important decisions like closure must pass through. Dr Khaled Khaladeh is also moved from being Minister of Political Development and Parliamentary Affairs to head the Independent Electoral Commission. There is of course no direct connection but it does point to the wheeling and dealing of politics and goes back to the relationship between the state and the brotherhood whose tension must remain within bounds, unless of course there is a brewing political earthquake that non of us can foresee.
© Marwan Asmar April 24th 2016