Muslim Brotherhood Weighs Options in Jordanian Protests

Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood is seeking to position itself as a winner in the current protests in Jordan, Rouba al-Husseini writes.

al-monitor Riot policemen stand guard as protesters from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties demonstrate following an announcement that Jordan would raise fuel prices, including a hike on cooking gas, after Friday prayers in Amman, Nov. 16, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

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protests, jordanian regime, islamist, food

Nov 16, 2012

The Jordanian government’s plans to call for early elections have failed to quell Jordanians’ discontent this time, as the results are known in advance, according to opposition members.

Although King Abdullah II has previously reversed the decision to raise prices in order to avoid the public’s wrath, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had the final say to that effect.

Thus, the Jordanian streets in Amman and other provinces were bursting with anger, sending a warning message from the Jordanian people to the inside, and to other Arab regimes that may choose to favor the interests of international neoliberal institutions at the expense of their own people. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government is preparing to take similar economic measures in the context of negotiations with the IMF in order to obtain a loan.

Since yesterday evening [Nov. 14], it appeared that the Jordanian people have resolved to reverse the decision to lift subsidies on fuel prices, which is an economic measure often imposed by the IMF on governments as a condition for borrowing. Thousands of people thronged the streets in angry demonstrations, reminiscent of a similar popular uprising that shook Jordan at the end of the 1980s. However, this time the Jordanian uprising came along with a massive wave of protests that have rocked the Arab world since the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

It is known that the Jordanian economic system is associated with international monetary organizations, and is in debt to influential countries with their unending conditions.

The regime has been relentlessly trying to prepare people for the decision to raise subsidies, which “stems directly from the American will,” said Hadi Khaitan — a member of the Jordanian Democratic Popular Unity Party. He added that the regime is trying to “mobilize the media,” in an attempt to absorb the people’s anger, but was surprised that Jordanians were not only demanding the reversal of this decision, but have gone as far as to call for the downfall of the regime.

The Jordanian monarchy has long underestimated young Jordanian demonstrators, who have spent the past year waiting for the spark of anger that would take their protests to the next level. They are well aware that the latest decision represents the corrupt economic regime alone.

It’s ironic that Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour did not find any other excuse but to blame the “Jordanian popular movement” and the “Arab Spring” of being behind the price rises.

It appears that the Jordanian regime is not yet ready to give up its economic system, which makes strong grounds for the Jordanian people to topple the regime. Jordanian author Mohammed Faraj told As-Safir that “since the beginning, people were betting on further provocations on the part of the authorities. The regime has yet to change its economic policies, which are based on systematic looting. As usual, it tried to distract people by holding legislative elections on the grounds that they will be the final step of the reform process. But the regime has never succeeded.”

According to Faraj, the most surprising thing is the timing of the decision to raise prices, which came before the elections date. This raises many questions as to the relationship between the Jordanian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Do the price rises come in the context of an arrangement between the US and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jordanian regime, designed to smoothly manage the dispute between the Jordanian regime and the Brotherhood? Does the regime need an event as an excuse to postpone the elections in order to return to the negotiations table with the Muslim Brotherhood?” Faraj asked.

Moreover, Faraj stressed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s economic policies are no different than the Jordanian regime’s policies. However, the decision of raising prices has never been on the Islamic group’s list of priorities. Thus, what happened in Egypt and Tunisia should be avoided.

“Any potential popular uprising must be promoted and nurtured away from the political debate between the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime. Hence, a popular front is to be formed and to be removed from both sides,” he said.

Khaitan, on the other hand, does not totally agree with this proposal. He believes that “although there is constant fear that the Brotherhood will rally around any popular movement, at this moment or in the future,” it is better to focus on the economic dimension of the demands, at the moment, and deal with the political part later on.”

Zaki Bani Arshid, the deputy controller general of the Muslim Brotherhood, reflected the movement’s position in an interview with As-Safir. He confirmed that the Brotherhood is determined to stay in the streets and participate in all popular movements until the government reneges on its decision.

In response to a question about the Jordanian youth’s persistent demands to topple the regime — even if the government reversed its decision — Arshid said: “Previous experiences prove otherwise. There have been previous decisions to raise prices. However, as soon as these decisions were reversed, disturbance was quelled and calm was restored.”

It appears that the Brotherhood’s members are playing the same card as they did in Egypt, where they participated in the Egyptian revolution three days after it erupted, when they noticed that the balance of power was titling towards the rebels of Tahrir Square.

Faraj believes that this scenario is playing out in Jordan once again, “as those (Brotherhood members) who were present during the protests at Interior Ministry Square on Nov. 13 represented only 10% of the movement.”

It seems that the protest at the Interior Ministry Square has imposed itself on the Brotherhood, as they have always rejected demands to topple the regime. However, during the past two days the Brotherhood found itself surrounded by angry crowds chanting slogans against the regime.

According to Khaitan, demonstrators have been chanting slogans saying “Bread, Freedom, Social Justice.” However, these slogans did not take long to escalate into calls for the government to go. “The people want to topple the regime,” was one chant heard during the protests.

According to Faraj, it is interesting that the Brotherhood’s members are not as present in Amman as in the provinces, even though the “demonstrations were the most aggressive” in the provinces. This suggests that the Brotherhood is not active in the Jordanian popular movements. “The movement is rather lying in wait. As soon as the regime responds to their conditions, it will dispense with the protests.”

These statements are reflected in the words of Arshid, albeit unintentionally, as he stressed that his group demands “reform.”

“We wish to bring about reforms in the regime. However, will not change our position until such reforms take place,” Arshid said. He added that the main demand of the Brotherhood is to amend the election law, and “sit down at the national dialogue table with the regime.”

Faraj believes that it is not possible to anticipate events in Jordan, as the kingdom has always been prone to “overwhelming” protests. He described the eventful days of protests as “an extraordinary scene.” Meanwhile, Khaitan suggested two scenarios.

First, he believes that in the event that the decision is reserved, the situation is likely to escalate. “People have become convinced that the upper echelon of the regime is rife with corruption. Thus, should the situation drag on this way, change is inevitable.”

Another scenario could play out: the government will renege on its decision, but the people have already experienced the “power of the street,” and have become more confident that they can impose decisions and change.

“The first time prices were raised, the decision was reversed by the king. However, the following day the IMF issued the decision, which indicates that the king is a part of it and it is difficult for him to change it,” Khaitan said.

Both Faraj and Khaitan agree that the forthcoming elections are designed to turn the economic issue into a political one, and link it to the Syrian situation and the internal Palestinian conflict.

“Saudi Arabia has requested Jordan to open its border to face the Syrian army, while the U.S. and its allies demand the annexation of the West Bank to Jordan,” Khaitan said.

Thus, any change in Jordan must be tied to an alternative US plan, which could be represented by “political Islam” and the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular. Indeed, this was what actually happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Jordan is next, unless Americans preempted the situation and reconciled the Jordanian regime with the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s most powerful opposition group.

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