Will Jordan Brotherhood Serve Moderate or Radical Islam?

Article Summary
While Muslim Brotherhood affiliates throughout the region are gaining power, Jordan’s Brotherhood faces growing challenges. Its past links to Hamas, its moderation during the 1990s and political maneuvering on the part of radical factions affiliated to Hizb al-Tahrir all contribute to its ambiguous political identity, writes Ibrahim Gharaybeh.

Although moderate Islamists are likely to win the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s internal elections, Islamists in Jordan face a major crisis shared by no other groups like it in the region. The Brotherhood groups in Egypt and in the Arab countries have shunned the Takfiri movement which emerged within the group during the 1960s, most notably in Egyptian prisons. This movement, which was influenced by the ideas of Sayyid Qutb and the Hizb al-Tahrir (Party of Liberation), made its way to Jordan, where it dominated the leadership of the Jordanian Brotherhood.

A new internal conflict has emerged between the mainstream Brotherhood members and those of the Takfiri movement, which has called the existing political regimes infidels and has argued against political participation on the part of Islamist groups under such regimes. Although the movement views the present societies as non-Islamic, it contends that purely practical involvement with the prevailing political systems, institutions and communities does not undermine the ideology of al-mufasalah. (Al-mufasalah pertains to the withdrawal from society out of Islamic piety). The Takfiri movement sees such participation in the political system as a necessity rather than a choice — like Joseph the prophet, who was forced to deal with the infidel king of Egypt.

Many Muslim leaders and members have been influenced by Takfiri ideas. Many see their citizenship as a legal commitment, not as a social contract with the state and the participating communities. However, some other Brotherhood members expressed radical separatist sentiments and withdrew from society and the state even before being influenced by the ideologies of Hizb al-Tahrir and Sayyid Qutb. Following the exposure to such ideas, these individuals' social separatism were coupled with ideological and religious seperatism. This has generated a situation even more dangerous than that arising from the traditional withdrawal from society (mufasala). These new communities and groups see the Takfiri members of the Muslim Brotherhood as their political and social representatives.

Another significant factor that contributed to the establishment of this new social demographic and ideological force was Hamas’ influence on the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. Hamas has been perceived by a large segment of the Jordanian population as a social and political umbrella. A strong alliance was created within the Brotherhood in Jordan between supporters of Hamas and the Takfiris, which slowly started to win broader levels of support in Jordan.

However, when Hamas turned its attention to Palestine — ending the organizational overlap between the Palestinian Brotherhood represented by Hamas on one hand, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan on the other — this alliance broke down. The Hamas supporters within the Jordanian Brotherhood reclaimed their traditional positions as moderates.

In 1990, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan adopted more moderate policies relating to public participation and an openness to new ideas. However, the wave of political tension prevailing in Jordan and Palestine due to the lack of democracy, the major dispute over the signing of the 1995 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel and the boycott of the 1997 parliamentary elections contributed to the rise of hardliners within the group and led to divisions among moderates.

Finally, the last major blow to the Islamist moderates was dealt during the late 1990s when Hamas leaders were expelled from Amman, which resulted in subsequent internal divisions and political tension. These major successive events strained the Brotherhood and divided views and positions. A large group of influential moderates took sides with radical factions of the many stripes of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The most surprising thing is that Hizb al-Tahrir has lost ground in the Jordanian arena will it is making strong advances within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is now possible to observe people who belong to the Brotherhood organizationally while in fact adopt the ideology of Hizb al-Tahrir. The outcomes of the 2007 municipal and parliamentary elections were further proof that the Islamist moderates were facing a coalition of the government and Brotherhood members adhering to the ideology of Hizb al-Tahrir.

Today, as Muslim Brotherhood groups in other countries rise to power, the question is: Will they embark on a moderate path or will they turn to radical ideas and concepts which burden Islamist and national political activism?

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