Mutual Mistrust Breeds Brotherhood-Palace Truce in Jordan

Article Summary
As public protests grew more heated in recent months, rivalry between Jordan’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the royal palace seems to have simmered down for the moment.

The violent protests that rocked Jordan in the past few months have significantly receded. However, internal and external fears of instability, especially after the adoption of the new and expected rise in prices (to secure a conditional loan from the International Monetary Fund), suggest deeper troubles for the kingdom.

There is no doubt that the current relationship between the royal palace and the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition group in the country, has become closer to "no to war" and "no to peace," as stated by active leaders in the group. According to sources close to the decision-makers, this relationship is “like a forced marriage,” which is only linked by “a thin line.”

Nevertheless, any talk about the domestic arena has to involve both the palace and the Brotherhood, which derives its strength from the Jordanians of Palestinian origin, and to a lesser extent from the tribal communities in the border cities.

Certainly, neither one of the parties has the option of [boycotting the other] or engaging in an open confrontation. This option is reinforced by the palace's inability to take a decisive step toward resolving the Brotherhood’s problems. One of the reasons behind this is that the decision will lead to a conflict with unresolved results in light of the political, economic and social setbacks that the country is going through, not to mention the rapid regional developments.

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On the other hand, the Brotherhood seems unable to go toward more stringent scenarios, especially if it decides to overthrow the regime, mainly because it does not know how to answer the question of what will happen the day following the overthrow.

The Brotherhood's boycott of the first Jordanian parliamentary elections, following the outbreak of the Jordanian Arab uprisings more than two years ago, led to the election of a parliament dominated by conservative tribal figures and some businessmen.

Popular demonstrations were organized on a smaller scale than that of the demonstrations that toppled the presidents of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, as Islamists called for broad reforms and constitutional amendments that would affect the powers of Jordanian King Abdullah II.

Some of the king’s advisers told Al-Hayat that he is ever skeptical about the intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood organization aspiring to power. This organization has, in fact, confirmed since the beginning of the Arab Spring, the need to change the rules of the game, and talked about its aspirations to govern the country while preserving the monarchy, albeit with restricted powers.

The concerns of the Jordanian monarch were revealed in March 2013, when he said that the Muslim Brotherhood in his country is “a wolf in sheep's clothing,” “a Masonic sect” and “their allegiance is always to their supreme guide.” Jordanian Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said last week that the group's leaders offer false promises, “use the people’s complaints and pains to their advantage,” and “their positions will change once they come to power.”

Unprecedented upheavals

The relationship between the regime and Brotherhood cannot be interpreted separately from the regional changes and positioning. Jordan fears that the steps taken by the Egyptian regime — which is led by the Brotherhood’s main branch — to control the state’s main posts could succeed. It has also fears that the Brotherhood’s rise to power in Syria in the post-Assad phase might encourage the Jordanian Brotherhood, and increase their expectations. This would probably push [Jordan] to suggest new approaches that ensure broad concessions in the domestic arena.

Mohammad Abu Rumman, a researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan and a political commentator, said that “the relationship between the two parties may need a new vision. ... It has witnessed unprecedented upheavals in recent times. Unfortunately, this vision is still missing.”

He added that the Brotherhood “is not likely to offer any initiative to demonstrate its good intentions, for fear of being interpreted as an effort to conclude new deals with the regime, or as a retraction from the public’s demands.”

The same applies to the regime, which “fears finding itself in a weak position.”

He continued, “The relationship between the two sides should not be based on self-perceptions. … This relationship is undoubtedly closely linked to the domestic situation. Moreover, external factors will assume a decisive role in reshaping it.”

Talk about the relationship between the palace and the Brotherhood has emerged amid rumors that the group's popularity has fallen, particularly in countries where the Brotherhood rose to power. This comes while the Brotherhood’s leaders ascribe their failures to the heavy legacy of ousted dictatorships.

A former spokesman for the Jordanian government, Minister Samih Maaytah, said that the relationship between the two parties at present is a “transitional relationship due to significant shifts in the Brotherhood’s position. This position was based on calculations [that pushed] the group to shift its goals from [achieving] reforms to pursuing power, particularly since the Brotherhood succeeded in Egypt and Tunisia.” He added, “The Brotherhood thought that the distance that separates it from power is represented by its ability to exert pressure on the ground. Yet, the case in Jordan was different, and the state was able to overcome the most difficult stage.”

Maaytah believes that the future of the relationship mainly depends on the will of the Brotherhood, which still works based on miscalculations, and the logic of seizing power.” He added that the group is not able yet to have a unified vision to manage [the coming] stage.

Murad Adayleh, a leader affiliated with the ruling movement within the Brotherhood (a hardliner), puts all responsibility on the regime. He said that the regime “is responsible for the current deteriorating situation in the country” and argued that “there should be deep reforms that change the rules of the game.”

On the possibility that the Brotherhood might offer an initiative to reduce the distance that separates the group from the palace, he replied, “We offered many initiatives, most importantly that we still support reforming the regime rather than overthrowing it.”

Regarding calls that more than once demanded overthrowing the Jordanian monarch, Adayleh said, “We do not adopt these slogans. We told the authority that we are not responsible for the street slogans and the way it perceives the royal institution.”

There is a widespread belief that differences experienced by the group will have a significant impact on the shape of its future relationship with the authorities. Moreover, if they continue to arise, they will not give the group a chance to think outside the box. This is likely to weaken the group’s ability to maneuver in the [domestic] political arena, which is becoming increasingly complicated.

The Brotherhood has suffered from a severe crisis that may cause the most important split in the group’s history, following a new initiative for reform, called the Zamzam Initiative. It was announced by moderate figures who agreed to participate in the cabinets and parliaments, and preserved what they called “the prestige of the Jordanian state.”

The Zamzam Initiative

While this initiative has been supported by quarters favoring the authorities, the group indicated that those who joined it will be referred to internal courts where they will face sanctions [that could result in] terminating their membership.

The Jordanian Brotherhood experienced several internal crises, most notably in 1997, when prominent leaders submitted their resignation to protest the decision to boycott parliamentary elections.

In 2007, the group's leadership announced its dissolution after a severe loss in the legislative elections. The group also witnessed sharp differences in 2009-2010, due to regulatory issues, including demands to separate what was known as foreign administrative bureaus for having regulatory links to the Hamas movement.

The group settled on separating the bureaus, at the request of the Palestinian movement in 2010.

Arahil Gharaibeh, a founder of the initiative who is affiliated with the moderate movement [within the Brotherhood], told Al-Hayat, “What the country has experienced reflects a real setback that both the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood both are responsible for.” He added, “There are no political prospects, and there are fears of reaching an impasse.” He said that the achieved reforms “did not fulfill Jordanians’ ambitions,” and everyone was “looking forward to gradual changes in a secure and satisfactory way.”

Gharaibeh criticized the Brotherhood's current leadership and said that it “acts as if it is not part of the state. ... They shy away from sharing the responsibility with the regime, although [the group] failed to properly interpret the political scene. … It failed to bridge the gap and resolve differences with the various parties.”

In the meantime, Western diplomats who spoke to Al-Hayat fear that the situation in the kingdom would be unstable in the coming period, after a new price hike is implemented. The influx of 550,000 Syrians due to the ongoing conflict in their country, has limited the resources in a country where 7 million people live, there is almost no oil wealth and it suffers from water shortages.

A Western diplomat said, “The achieved reforms are not enough, and there is a need to change the political and economic rules, or else we will be unable to predict the future of the kingdom for the next two years.”

Another European diplomat said, “We have concerns over the future of the kingdom. The official reforms that have been brought about were general, not specific. They were lacking and did not bring about a change in the composition of the House of Representatives or the government, which was not different from previous ones.”

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