Election Boycott Divides Jordan's Brotherhood

Plans to boycott upcoming elections are dividing Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, Tamer al-Samadi reports. Some moderates accuse the group's leadership of fumbling negotiations with the government, pointing out the boycott hasn't wrung any concessions from the monarchy, but leaders say the government's stubbornness is to blame.

al-monitor A woman flashes the victory sign as she demonstrates with others from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties, in the largest demonstration since Arab Spring-inspired protests, to demand political reforms, in Amman, Jordan October 5, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

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jordanian muslim brotherhood, jordanian election law, abdullah ensour

Oct 19, 2012

Ongoing discussions within Muslim Brotherhood circles in Jordan are revealing deep regrets by influential decision-makers in the group. For the past few months, these leaders have stood by their decision to boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections, demanding constitutional amendments that would limit the powers of Jordanian King Abdullah II.

Prominent leaders in the group’s Executive Office — which is controlled by the group's more radical elements — expressed their shock over “the regime’s disregard for their decision to boycott.”

A senior leader interviewed by Al-Hayat went so far as to say that “the group's leadership did not expect that degree of obstinacy from state institutions,” referring to the insistence of senior government authorities not to make any new concessions to the Islamists.

The leaders of the Executive Office, which is a mini-government that runs the group’s affairs, are trying to keep similar statements out of the radar of the popular base, especially youths, who want to know what will happen after the elections.

Such statements also prompted leaders who represent the moderate current to demand an urgent session by the group’s Shura Council — the Brotherhood’s highest leadership body — to ask the current leadership to provide an “account” of how it has handled previous offers made by the government to coax it into participating in the elections.

Well-known Islamic thinker Arhil Gharaibeh, a leading figure in the moderate current, told Al-Hayat that “some of the current leaders failed to deal with the requirements of this historical moment due to a lack of political maturity.”

Zaki Bani Arshid, second-in-command in the current Muslim Brotherhood leadership, denied in a statement to Al-Hayat that “the leadership has reversed its previous decisions or [is feeling a] sense of failure.”

In other news, active leaders within the moderate elements, the independents (the Golden Mean) and other elements close to the government revealed to Al-Hayat the highlights of the confidential discussions between the state and the Brotherhood.

The discussions go back to the day international judge Aoun Khasawneh was appointed as head of the first government, in the wake of the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions.

Khasawneh tried to bridge the gaps between the group’s current leadership and senior authorities who believed that the Brotherhood seeks to control the reins of power, similar to the Egyptian experience.

According to sources close to Khasawneh, he faced resistance from government figures and officials in the Brotherhood. He proposed to the Brotherhood leadership amending the electoral law to become a 3-vote law [in which each voter gets three votes], in exchange for the group abandoning its demand to amend the constitution, but to no avail.

The sources close to government institutions said that Khasawneh expressed an interest in knowing how many seats the group wants in the next parliament, in an attempt to understand what the Brotherhood really thinks.

However, representatives from the group’s Executive Office refused to give numbers and insisted on their demands, seeing the popular movements as “an additional factor that can help them obtain the whole package of demanded amendments.”

Meanwhile, a series of security reports to senior government authorities warn against making any additional amendments to the electoral law or the constitution.

The reports note that such a move could give the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood a chance to reproduce the experience of their Egyptian counterparts, should they manage to obtain a comfortable majority in parliament. These reports did not rule out the possibility that the group — in the event that it achieves a majority in parliament — would seek to gradually withdraw the powers of the palace through a comprehensive “coup” on the constitution.

Such reports clearly explain the insistence of General Intelligence Department (GID) Director Faisal al-Shobaki not to amend the electoral law, expressed during a meeting he held  months ago with leaders from the Executive Office headed by Bani Arshid. However, he hinted at the possibility of amending some provisions of the constitution while preserving the majority of the palace’s powers.

Bani Arshid told Al-Hayat that Shobaki categorically stated that “amending the electoral law is a red line.”

This meeting was not the last. Under three successive governments — most recently that of Abdullah Ensour — the state sponsored multiple mediation efforts pushing for the Brotherhood’s participation in elections in accordance with the current rules, with guarantees of integrity.

But these offers were insufficient for the group’s leaders, who many have said seek to head the first parliamentary government.

As some attempts continue even today, a conservative current in the country does not hesitate to express concern over the rise of the Islamic current. This explains why former Prime Minister and Parliament Speaker Taher al-Masri said in a previous interview with Al-Hayat that “there are hard-line heads in the state, and the Muslim Brotherhood seek to foil any agreement.”

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