Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has been widely criticized by moderate Islamist figures for sacking three prominent members last week for their role in launching the Zamzam Initiative, a reform movement that seeks reconciliation with the state. The three men, Irhail Gharaibeh, Nabil Kofahi and Jamil Dheisat, were tried in absentia by the group’s internal tribunal after charges were brought against them last December.
Although the ruling was expected, the timing was not. The Muslim Brotherhood has been under pressure since the fall of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi last July, and more recently when Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates designated the group as a terrorist organization. While the Muslim Brotherhood remains legal in Jordan, pro-government commentators have been waging a media campaign to discredit it.
The Zamzam Initiative was unveiled last October at an event that was attended by former prime ministers and ministers, in addition to public figures. The initiative proposes a number of reforms under the auspices of the regime and encourages Islamist participation in elections as well as working to guarantee a democratic, pluralistic and civil society. It also seeks to focus attention on Jordanian affairs rather than regional ones.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is controlled by hard-liners, has boycotted the initiative and called on its members not to support it. Last week, the organization issued a statement saying that “an internal tribunal has unanimously decided that this initiative violates the Brotherhood’s regulations and principles,” adding that “any Brotherhood members taking part in the reform initiative will be punished in accordance with their seniority and position.” The three sacked members, all East Bank Jordanians, belong to the "doves" flank of the group. The initiative is backed by the group’s youth members and sympathizers.
One expelled member, Dheisat, told a local website that he and his colleagues were more concerned with preserving the unity of the Muslim Brotherhood than those who had expelled them. He said he does not recognize the authority of the tribunal behind the unjust ruling. The Zamzam Initiative issued its own statement on April 20 saying it will continue its political work and build a model for moderate thought in spite of the latest dismissals.
For his part, Gharaibeh told Al-Monitor that the Zamzam Initiative was not a break-away movement, and that the decision to turn it into a political party was not his to take. He accused the Muslim Brotherhood of “mass political assassinations” and of “illegal use of religious sentiments.” He said the present stage requires the group to move on and address the entire society rather than its followers. He added that the group should have a “national program” to break the “siege” that the Muslim Brotherhood faces today.
But Zaki Bani Irshaid, second-in-command of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, refuted reports that divisions are taking place within the organization as a result of the recent expulsions. He told Al-Monitor that even if Zamzam turns into a political party it will not affect the group’s unity as such attempts have in the past. He said the recent court ruling will have no influence on upcoming internal elections.
Mohammad Abu Rumman, an expert on Islamist affairs, wrote in Al-Ghad daily that the group’s ruling will hurt the Muslim Brotherhood internally and externally. He described the decision as “vengeful” and “lacking wisdom,” and that it will affect the unity of the group. Abu Rumman added that the group has failed to learn from the lessons of Egypt, and that “the mentality of exclusion has dominated,” which will reflect on its ability to “organize its own household.” He said the decision will alienate the group’s historical leadership, which had warned against firing the three members. Finally, he hinted that the expulsion will “reinforce the image of the group as a representative of one social element [Jordanians of Palestinian origin] at the expense of the other … and that will make it easy for its enemies to classify them.”
But former chief of the Consultative Council of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abdel Latif Arabyiyat, a moderate, dismissed the possibility of mass resignations from the Brotherhood following the latest ruling. He told e-journal Al-Maqar that problems can be resolved through dialogue and understanding and not through resignations. But head of the IAF Consultative Council, Ali Abu Sukkar, said the tribunals ruling was not final, and that the three expelled members can appeal the verdict. His statements appeared to underline growing reservations within the rank and file of the group.
It is not clear what the next step will be for the Zamzam Initiative. Ironically, since the unveiling of the movement last year, little else has followed. By sacking the three prominent members now, the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in focusing attention again on the initiative and its co-founders. Islamist commentator Hussein Rawashdeh agrees. He wrote in Addustour daily that the expulsions represented a “gift from the Muslim Brotherhood to Zamzam.” He added that the three members behind the initiative had not dissented from the group, nor have they declared a mutiny. He said the dismissals will only give the group’s opponents fresh ammunition.
So far, no actual resignations had taken place in protest, but observers believe the decision will have immediate effects on the internal unity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. The organization is getting ready to hold elections for its Executive Committee and Consultative Council. The recent events will reflect on the results of these elections.
The latest crisis comes a few weeks after Muslim Brotherhood candidates won an overwhelming majority in the elections of the teachers’ union, the largest in the kingdom. The results restored beliefs that the Brotherhood remains the most organized and influential political party in the country. But the showdown with Zamzam will almost certainly create internal rifts within the Brotherhood, which could cast doubts on the future of the Islamist movement.
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