Journalists Accuse Jordanian Security Forces of Pressuring the Media

Article Summary
In Jordan, a recent clash in the town of Al-Mafraq has highlighted the diminished credibility of the Jordanian regime, and increasing intrusion of the state security forces into the offices of the press. At a time when Jordan is preparing for parliamentary and municipal elections, Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Al-Khasawneh may be attempting to whitewash his close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, writes Rana Al-Sabbagh

In Jordan, the first anniversary of the largest-ever popular uprising demanding reforms against corruption has passed peacefully. The escalation warned of by Islamic leaders was averted. [This scenario] was also echoed by journalists as part of a media campaign seemingly encouraged by the security forces in a bid to mobilize those [in the streets] against the opposition.

Most of the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Action Front Party - [the Brotherhood’s] political arm - did not [participate in the protest] after Friday prayers. Unusual [numbers] of security forces [were present] in downtown [Amman]. Palm Square, where the hours-long sit-in was held, was left to the people of the provinces, and to those from the tribal and marginalized city of Theban in particular. A year ago, [Theban] was at the orgin of the first march calling for government reform, as well as the prosecution of corrupt [leaders].

It seems that there are multiple reasons why the Islamic movement preferred to reduce the size of the crowd and abstain from delivering on the promises it had made a few days earlier. [Jordanian] Prime Minister Awn Al-Khasawneh met with Islamic leaders on the eve of Friday's protests, and the two parties exchanged reproaches over the Muslim Brotherhood's refusal to postpone their intervention in al-Mafraq, two weeks ago. [The Brotherhood intervened in Al-Mafraq] to avoid the escalation of tension, but [ensuing clashes eventually] led to the burning down of their headquarters [in the city]. This disturbed the president, who has been trying to [build good relations with the movement] since the formation of his government three months ago.

Meanwhile, [the government organized] a fierce media campaign against the Islamic Movement in an effort to mobilize the largest possible [number of people] "opposing the opposition" in a final attempt to keep the Islamists from escalating [their protests]. Numerous large Jordanian families have joined the public institutions’ efforts against Islamists, despite the risks posed by such a coalition in a country where half the population is of Palestinian origin - the majority of which has not yet joined the [Jordanian] Social Movement.

The [situation continues to escalate] amid mounting disputes between the powerful security forces and [Jordanian Prime Minister Awn Shawkat] Khasawneh over his [close ties] with the Muslim Brotherhood. [The Brotherhood has been a] former ally of the [regime] for the past five decades before the two parties’ agendas split [after the turn of the century].

The security forces condemned the [burying] of the Muslim Center [Party] issue, which has been pending for five years. Khasawneh started studying the issue prior to the incident at al-Mafraq, and he had no intention of appeasing the Islamists after their headquarters was reduced to ashes. The timing of the government announcement was inappropriate.

Certain [information] leaks indicate [a surge in] discussions among the security forces about the possibility of dissolving the Muslim Brotherhood Movement and withdrawing their party license as a result of their [show of force], which included military displays after their headquarters was burned. Moreover, these [security] forces are not excited about Khasawneh's attempt to improve relations with Palestinian [Islamist group] Hamas, an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood that has strong bases [of support] within [the Palestinian] camps [in Jordan]. This may constitute an opportunity [for Hamas] establish a "national identity through the [international institution of the] Muslim Brotherhood.”

Security [Based] Approach Widely Undertaken

Last week, newspaper articles voiced speculations that the Islamic and popular movements were going through with their plans for escalation, which would likely to culminate on Friday with the slogan "[the people want to] overthrow the regime." This slogan will become a popular demand that will subsequently be adopted by the movements. [The newspapers also] contend that the Islamic movement is trying to imitate the success achieved by its counterparts in the [countries affected by the Arab Spring]. [They allege that it is] stirring up clashes with the security forces and shedding blood to disrupt the civil peace that Jordan is known for.

Within the context of this media campaign, semi-official newspaper Al-Rai published a report containing information about alleged military training operations that the Muslim Brotherhood inside [Jordan]. This [allegation] was repeatedly denied by the movement, which Islamic leader Sheikh Hamza Mansour called a fabrication aimed at tarnishing its image.

In the aftermath of the incident in Al-Mafraq, the Government of the [current Prime Minister, a former] international judge, who insists on restoring all power to the [government], seemed unable to protect the peaceful movement. [His failure in this regard has popularized] the sentiment that he has become a "lame duck.” By refusing to comply with the wishes of Khasawneh - that is, of not going to al-Mafraq - the Muslim Brotherhood embarrassed him and "demonstrated the political opportunism and short-sightedness of its factions.”

This atmosphere has re-ignited the “war of wills” between the [competing centers] of influence [within the Jordanian power structure]. This is affecting the dignity of the State and the credibility of the regime. [The fact] that a written request King Abdullah II to Khasawneh and the Director of General Intelligence on the eve of his appointment [was ignored, underlines the regimes loss of credibility]. [In this letter, King Abdullah II] urged the Director and Khasawneh to implement reforms aiming at rectifying the ongoing overlap between political bodies - namely the return of the intelligence [apparatus] to the security forces.

The King's directives were not followed.  On the contrary, the situation which has prevailed for the past two years degenerated. [During these last two years], the King implored the intelligence not to interfere in media and politics for the first time. [The intelligence apparatus] to a large extent followed his directives.

The chairman of the Jordanian Agricultural Engineers' Association, Abdel Hadi Al-Fallahat, [has closes ties] to the Islamic movement. He said, "The events plaguing the Jordanian street are worrying. There are powers that seek to bring the state to a standstill by working through [existing] institutions, and the members of community forces.”  He added, “But they are forgetting that it is the State which is affected and that there will be a high cost to pay.”

Throughout the past few days, there has been a rise in crude intervention by the security forces into media [institutions]. Some journalists mentioned that security officers were asking newspapers not to cover any news related to Islamists.  [They did this] in the framework of a campaign that aims to destroy the influence [of the Islamists] by spreading terror among the vast and silent majority.  [The security forces seek warn the people] about the days to come, amid signs that political Islam will rise in the Arab countries witnessing transition.

Their goal is to muzzle the [Jordanian] Social Movement without carrying out real reforms or dealing with the issues of corruption. This is why they promote the idea that a system of national integrity is sufficient to put an end to further corruption. They want to play the card of the principle "let bygones be bygones.”

Disrupting Reforms

Attempts to limit Khasawneh's agenda come amid the king's confirmations that political reform will in fact be pursued. [The king also confirmed that] he is concerned about the economic situation.

In an attempt to broaden his alliances, Khasawneh met Friday evening with members of the National Dialogue Committee, which was set up by the King in the spring of last year [during the time the opposition was voicing its demands]. [This meeting was organized] to discuss [the Committees] recommendations regarding a new electoral law. [In arranging this meeting, the king] deviated from his previous skeptical positions towards the binding decisions of this Committee. However, he clarified to the members of the Committee that its recommendations will not be his final point of reference, pointing to fact that the Committee lacks representatives from the entire nation.

The dispute is over the electoral system. [The electoral system] is supposed to give birth to a parliament [for which parties parties can compete for representation in] through open proportional lists at the provincial level (There are 12 provinces in Jordan) or open proportional lists at the national level. For his part, the prime minister supported the adoption of the 1989 law - the law of the majority - and has increased the seats of crowded regions, knowing that this would enable Islamists to sweep the polls.

The prime minister will meet with representatives of political parties and the new social movement in the hopes of erasing the widespread impressions that he is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. [He will also discuss] accusations raised against his government regarding its failure to [implement reforms] as quickly as the governments of other countries, such as Morocco. [He will further address] the absence of a timetable for managing reforms, as required by his mandate. He has become aware of the need to build national consensus and convince the political spectrum that he is committed to conducting parliamentary elections in the last quarter of 2012, and municipal elections by mid-2012.

His claims refute earlier allegations that he was planning on postponing the parliamentary elections until 2013. Until the Arab Revolutions emerged on the horizon, [many] thought that he was trying to buy time to stay in office, and that this was taking place with the full knowledge of the parliament. However, the prime minister denied entering into any "devilish deal" with parliament, and he explained that [implementing] reforms [requires] “a compromise between speed and quality.” He also confirmed that his government is neither a "revolutionary" nor a "rescue" government, and emphasized the importance of approving [the new] laws gradually.

He also reinforced his commitment to a timetable, taking inspiration from his legal background. [He stressed the need to] avoid preparing laws in a rush as this would [compromise] the political system and its personal credibility. The problem of Khasawneh - who has no executive experience - is that he lacks professional political [consultants] and is not timely enough when defending his government's plans. Moreover, Jordanian politicians confirm that the official media is unable to deliver his message.

Several attempts have been made to disrupt Khasawneh’s government since it won the vote of confidence without the support of the traditional poles of power. [The government has faced obstacles since it began to] fiercely confront the issue of corruption and try to shift [decision-making processes] away from the intelligence [services].

Before the incident of al-Mafraq, Decision-making centers did nothing but criticize the prime minister and his statements, describing him as naive and saying that his intransigence and talk of resignation were bullying the state. However, [since the incident] they have seemingly decided to [further confront him] and put an end to his independence and his attempts to open up to the Islamists.

The slow pace of the government is also due to the fact that the prime minister has focused on the parliament. On one hand, the parliament seeks to blame [the prime minister] over [his mishandling of] political and personal issues. On the other, members of parliament fear an early cessation [of the parliamentary session] after the adoption of the electoral law.

Politicians and activists fear that Khasawneh will be obliged to resign, thus tarnishing Jordan’s image and shaking its stability - the country has gone through three prime ministers in one year. They believe that Jordan will only emerge from its crisis through genuine elections capable of forming a parliament representing [a greater number of political] factions and is capable of carrying out greater reforms at the expense of the people’s [lives].

Khaled al-Kalaldeh, a leftist member of the National Dialogue Committee, concludes that Jordan's economic woes should be given top priority. However, those who will establish economic reforms will have to gain the confidence of the street by carrying out political reforms, formulating a representative electoral law, defining citizenship, building a civil state and defining the role of the security services. [He says that these tasks should all be undertaken] based on the recommendations of the Committee.

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