Muslim Brotherhood Woos Palestinian Bloc in Jordan

Article Summary
The government and the Muslim Brotherhood are fighting over the Palestinian bloc in Jordan, writes Tamer al-Samadi, which is a major political player. The Brotherhood’s attempt to win over the bloc can be seen as a tactic to put pressure on the state for other concessions.

For over a year, Jordanians of Palestinian origin refused to join the popular movement. However, their reluctance to join the movement is gradually declining as a result of the mutual escalation between the government and its bodies on one side, and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other. The majority of the Muslim Brotherhood members in Jordan have Palestinian origins.

Observers and political analysts interviewed by Al-Hayat in Amman spoke of a competition between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood to gain the favor of what Jordanians call the Palestinian bloc. National statistics say that this bloc constitutes 43 % of the total population, which equates to more than six million people.

The Palestinian bloc has always been considered the stronghold of the Brotherhood's activities and the main source of their votes in parliamentary elections. Those who are observing the rising level of tension and bickering in Jordan’s public can clearly see that this bloc has been sitting quietly on the fence since the protests broke out in January 2011. 

In the past, none of the Palestinians have taken part in the movements that demanded reforms except for the supporters and members of the Islamic opposition. Another exception is the small number of Palestinians that have historically been counted as part of the nationalist and leftist trends.

However, the largest segment of the people who live in the refugee camps — and who are part of the groups that were formed from within them — remained reluctant to join the demonstrations. According to observers, the Palestinians are reluctant because they fear they may lose the economic gains that they have achieved over the past decades through trade and liberal professions.

The state views the Palestinians in Jordan as the economic lifeline of a country torn by external debt and an over $21 billion budget deficit.

The Palestinian bloc also fears that participating in the protests could lead to the formation of a politically leading right-wing movement that would hold a grudge against them. This fear has prevented the Palestinians from joining the movement, which has largely been comprised of East Bankers.

As the Brotherhood and the Jordanian government did not reach an agreement regarding the election law and constitutional amendments, the Brotherhood is now starting to appeal to the Palestinian camps. These camps had never been part of the political calculations of the state and the opposition before.

The Brotherhood's visit to the Al-Hussein refugee camp in downtown Amman — which is the oldest camp in the country — [recently] shuffled the political scene and confused the government and its concerned institutions. The Brotherhood carried out certain reform activities in the camp that were similar to the ones that were previously conducted in other northern and southern cities.

According to informed political sources, the Brotherhood's new strategy forced senior state leaders to organize closed-door meetings. In these meetings, they are discussing the appropriate response to the Brotherhood's new movement.

The official response came faster than the Brotherhood had expected. The websites and newspapers that belong to the authorities rushed to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood's involvement in the camps.

One of the official newspapers of the country carried a headline that reflected the official discontent of this Islamist-led escalation. The headline read: "The awareness of the camp’s residents surpasses the Brotherhood's attempts to aggravate the situation."

State institutions even went beyond this, sending  warnings to the Islamists through the media and political mediators. They clearly stating that "[the Muslim Brotherhood’s] involvement in the camps will lead to the involvement of other political forces." This is a reference to "the Palestinian Fatah" movement, which is considered the "arch-enemy" of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

According to information that was leaked from within official circles, the state urged some Salafists in the traditional political bloc to enter the Palestinian camps. Once there, they were to form a national front under the slogan "And Hold Fast," aimed at breaking the "Brotherhood's influence" in those areas.

Politicians believed that the recent meetings of Palestinian factions in Amman to discuss the Palestinian National Council election law reflected the unwillingness of the Jordanian government to engage the Palestinian bloc in the council elections. Palestinian sources that attended the meetings expressed the same sentiment. They told Al-Hayat: "We have noticed that Jordan does not want to involve the Palestinians who live in Amman in the council elections. This could force us to appoint representatives for those Palestinians."

Some observers reason that the government is unwilling to allow its citizens of Palestinian origin to participate in any political process because it may bring back the  "who is Palestinian and who is Jordanian?" controversy.

However, writer Yasser Abu Hilala described this aforementioned unwillingness as "an attempt by the government to win the favor of the Palestinians by emphasizing their full rights as citizens in Jordan. They are saying that the Jordanian House of Representatives is the legislative institution that represents them."

On the other hand, the Brotherhood interpreted this unwillingness in a different way. It said that it will not accept political participation based on the current rules of the game. According to the new elite leadership brought about by the hard-line trend, the Brotherhood's participation depends on the reformation of the election law. The group must move, according to the classifications of senior Brotherhood figure Zaki Bani Rsheid, from mere political participation to a full partnership in the political scene, until the next government is formed.  Bani Rsheid says that "we want a respectful election law, and we want constitutional amendments that allow the people to select their government. Otherwise we will enter every corner in Jordan, including the camps."

Mohammad Abu Rumman, a researcher at the Jordanian government-funded Center for Strategic Studies, talked about "the many activities that have begun to focus on the concerns of the people in the camps."

He says that the decision-making circles "have started to witness the formation of youth movements within the Palestinian communities that are demanding equal citizenship and denouncing political marginalization."

Abu Rumman noted that the Brotherhood "is escalating in every direction, including within the camps, which have long been set aside in the political game."

He added, "The group’s new activities aims to pressure the government into finalizing the formation of an election law that enables the Brotherhood to receive the majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, thus making it able to form the next government."

Oraib Rantawi, the director of the Jerusalem Center for Strategic Studies, said, "Although this tactic of the Muslim Brotherhood is aimed at exerting pressure on the state by threatening it with the camps, the people in these areas are Jordanians according to the laws that have been applied for decades."

Rantawi believes that the camp’s residents "are disgruntled by their living conditions and they have the right to make their voices heard by officials."

According to Rantawi, who is of Palestinian origin, a solution can be reached if the state organizes a national dialogue that includes different political orientations. The task of this dialogue would revolve around preparing the plans necessary for achieving the desired reforms.

While the Jordanian government avoided responding to questions regarding its position toward involving the camps, a senior official told Al-Hayat that "the Islamist movement should show more seriousness in dealing with sensitive issues. The movement should also sit at the dialogue table with the government to discuss these controversial issues."

A few days ago, the Islamists had refused an invitation from the government to take part in a dialogue to discuss the electoral law. This refused under the pretext that the government "does not hold the keys to the solution."

Found in: refugee camps, palestinians in jordan, palestinians, palestinian bloc, palestinian, national dialogue, jordanian muslim brotherhood, jordanian government, jordanian election law, camps

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