King Abdullah may cave under pressure.
In March, the Dubai police chief warned that the Muslim Brotherhood had a plan for the Gulf monarchies. Instead of regime change, it would make them “figurehead bodies without actual ruling.” That’s exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to make happen in Jordan by demanding “democratic” reforms. And King Abdullah II appears to be wobbling under the stress.
King Abdullah II, the second most influential non-Islamist in the Muslim world, is hinting that he may bow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s demand that he delay the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 23. He is even considering appointing Brotherhood members to the upper house of parliament and amending the electoral law to their liking.
The Muslim Brotherhood says it will boycott the elections because the parliament doesn’t have enough power and the contests are unfair. They are biased towards tribes and against the majority Palestinian population. King Abdullah II appoints the entire upper house and has the power to hire and fire prime ministers at will. The new electoral law also permits the security services to vote, bumping him up about 10% in any contest.
The Brotherhood is also unhappy with the makeup of the parliament. Voters pick a national list, which accounts for 17 of 140 seats and the rest are chosen on the district level. The Brotherhood only runs on the national list so it wants the balance changed. Abdullah tried to appease the Islamists by increasing the allotment for the national lists to 27 seats but added 10 seats to the size of parliament. The Brotherhood seeks 42 seats for national lists.
The pressure on Abdullah and his government skyrocketed in recent months with the largest protests in Jordan's history taking place last week. The country faces a $3.35 billion deficit and about 80% of the budget goes to the military and bureaucracy. Abdullah had to cut subsidies, causing a 53% increase in the cost of heating gas and 12% spike in the price of petrol. The price of electricity is expected to increase about 32% in January.
The Brotherhood officially advocates “evolution, not revolution” but chants demanding the fall of the government are increasingly common. Direct criticism of Abdullah is a new development. In four days of protests last month, 280 were arrested, 75 were injured including 58 police officers and one young man was killed in Irbid when a crowd tried to storm a police station. Casualties have the power to turn protests against policies into cries for changes in leadership.
Hamza Mansour is the Secretary-General of the Islamic Action Front, the name of the Brotherhood party in Jordan. He wants Abdullah to “form a national salvation government that would include Islamists and other opposition figures to change controversial legislation, like the election law, and help parliament regain its independence so that it can impartially monitor the government and official corruption.” If the Brotherhood can expose government corruption, it will be able to undercut support for the government and present itself as a more trustworthy alternative.
The “democratic” reforms that the Brotherhood seeks are part of the same strategy of "gradualism" that it has followed in Egypt. It observed that the monarchies have proven to be stronger than the dictatorships, so it changed strategy by declining to demand the resignation of the leadership. It is important to recognize the undemocratic voice shouting for democratic reforms.
The Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood demands that the peace treaty with Israel scrapped and in June, its website said Israel is a “stinking and festering boil” that will be eliminated in “not too many years.” The group wasn’t envisioning a Soviet-style peaceful collapse. It predicted that “future mujahideen will rid humanity of it.”
It opposed the sending of Jordanian soldiers to Afghanistan in support of the U.S.-led war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban and wants Abdullah to sever all cooperation with the CIA and “Zionist” intelligence services. It says that the “real fascist terrorism is the Zionist terrorism.” Osama Bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, was a member of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.
The top two Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood leaders are designated as unindicted co-conspirators in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation for financing Hamas. Jordanian Brotherhood leader Sheikh Hammam Saeed and Islamic Action Front leader Hamza Mansour are listed as fundraisers for the charity. Saeed’s son released a video warning about his father’s evil and a family friend confirmed that he “is indeed a very manipulative man who plays well on words.”
The Brotherhood’s power grab in Egypt may undermine its support in Jordan and other countries, but it leads a diversified opposition and, as Abdullah told the Wall Street Journal, they are “the only people who are organized.” Unions are now involved in the protests and Abdullah is starting to lose tribal support.
The Brotherhood’s success in Jordanian elections is mixed. In 1989, it was the largest bloc in the lower house of parliament with 22 out of 80 seats and other Islamists won an additional 14. Just prior to the 1993 elections, the Jordanian government banned parties with foreign ties. The Brotherhood therefore renamed its political branch as the Islamic Action Front, the name it still holds today, and won 17 of 80 seats. In the last elections in 2007, the Islamic Action Front lost 11 seats, winning only six of 100.
The struggle within Jordan is coming to a head. A senior Islamic Action Front official said in July that it will put together a shadow government and parliament if Abdullah does not begin implementing reforms. The United Arab Emirates, which has publicly suggested forming a coalition against the Brotherhood, is talking to other Gulf Cooperation Council members about coming to Jordan’s economic rescue.
Expect the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and its non-Muslim partners to begin condemning King Abdullah II, especially if there are more casualties during the protests. They’ll assure us that the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is reasonable, as it is only seeking “reform” instead of regime collapse. This is nothing but an adjustment to reality on the Brotherhood’s part.
The West must learn the lesson of Egypt. Jordan’s Brotherhood may take a different path but the destination is the same.
This article was sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
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