Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Jordan: In Bed With Islamists

by Mudar Zahran

In the aftermath of protests in Tunisia, the Jordanian public and activists groups have been engaging in sweeping protests against the extreme living conditions and inflation, and calling for the resignation of the government.

Amazingly, the Muslim Brotherhood was the only political faction in the country that announced boycotting the protests.

While this might come as a surprise to those outside Jordan, the Jordan's history with Islamic movements suggests an affair that is very different from what the supposedly moderate Jordanian government has been saying for decades.

It is not a secret that the Muslim Brotherhood has always been closer to the government than each side -- the Brotherhood and the government -- would like to admit. For a start, Jordan is one of the very few countries in which the Muslim Brotherhood is a registered charity with a legal political party.

The Muslim Brotherhood has always been the Jordanian government's chosen connection to its Palestinian majority. While the Jordanian government isolates Palestinians from any political engagement, and excludes them from the vast majority of civil and military jobs, the Muslim Brotherhood has served the Jordanian government for decades by providing a de facto political outlet for the politically-drained Palestinians as they are banned by the government from all political activities except joining the Muslim Brotherhood.

Further, the government in Jordan has been constantly telling the Palestinians there that they are "guests," and not natives, of the land -- despite their holding citizenships -- and that they therefore "should someday return to Palestine," a notion that has been highly quoted by senior Jordanian officials. The Muslim Brotherhood has also been promoting the same concept to the Jordanian Palestinians for decades, saying that that they should wait until "Palestine is liberated," and consider their stay in Jordan temporary.

The fact that the Jordanian government claims that Palestinians favor Islamists has given an excuse for it to further isolate them from political and legislative representations. The Palestinian majority is therefore controlled by a minority of elitists who are almost strictly of non-Palestinian origins, such as the Bedouins, the Circassians, and even the Syrians.

In exchange, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been enjoying prosperous economic and political operations in Jordan -- running profitable charitable organizations, and regularly securing senior government and legislative jobs; a look at the list of Jordanian officials and legislators confirms this.

Today, the Muslim Brotherhood's monopolization of Palestinian politics is almost gone. The Palestinians have voted them out of office because of their uncompromising support to unfavorable government decisions such as increasing prices of basic goods and fuel, raising taxes, and practicing further political discrimination against the Palestinians. For example, Taher Masri, the last Palestinian Prime Minister of Jordan, one of only a handful of Palestinians to fill the position, was voted out of office by the Islamists parliamentarians back in 1992. No wonder the Palestinians in Jordan have come to support secular Palestinian nationalists instead.

Still, the Muslim Brotherhood has served the Jordanian government well in helping to obstruct the growth democracy and change in Jordan. The Jordanian government has always claimed that the Palestinian majority in Jordan supported Islamists, and therefore, "should democracy be implemented; Islamists would come to power." Therefore, Jordan has promoted its oppression of the Palestinian majority and lack of democracy as legitimate -- in fact a "necessity for both the US and Israel" to avoid the rise of the allegedly pro-Islamist Palestinians.

This doctrine has proven too effective in convincing the US to tolerate Jordan's oppression of the Palestinians, despite generous US aid, which was originally supposed to improve the livelihood of the Palestinians. It now only ends up financing the lavish life style of the Jordanian monarchy and the ruling Bedouin elite.

The US has turned a blind eye towards the Jordanian government's abuse of aid money, just as it has too readily accepted Jordan's lack of democracy, Supporting the isolation of supposedly "Palestinians Islamists" has come with a serious failure to probe if the allegations about the Palestinians' pro-Islamist leanings are even true, as well as with a total lack of transparency.

The claim that Palestinians in Jordan support Islamists does not hold. Most of the leaders and members of the Board of Directors of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan have been native Jordanians, not Palestinians. Rather, the native Jordanians are the ones who support the Islamists in Jordan -- not the Palestinians.

The Palestinian majority in Jordan is highly educated, Westernized, and passionately engaged in business and modernization -- in contrast to the conservative and traditionally orthodox native Jordanians, who prefer the Islamists and openly express hostility toward both the US and Israel.

In 2008, the number of Islamist parliamentarians dropped from sixteen in the previous parliament, to only six; many from non-Palestinian constituencies in Jordan. While in the 2011 election, the Palestinians gave the greatest number of votes to secular Palestinian candidates, such as Khalil Ateyah, who has been gaining consecutive landslide victories -- with the unbroken record of more than 20,000 votes representing the Palestinian refugee camps.

Moreover, the second-highest score winner was a Palestinian Christian, Tareq Khoury, whose voters were predominantly Palestinian Muslims.

In latest parliamentary elections, the Jordanian government changed the electoral law, banning Palestinians from voting in their preferred constituencies; this resulted in Tareq Khoury not being able to have his Muslim Palestinian supporters from the refugee camps voting for him. Khoury, since then, has become a symbol of Palestinian nationalist secularism, and has been under constant government harassment, including a mysterious conviction that was brought up overnight, in which he was sentenced to "two years in jail for threatening a police officer."

Possibly to save face, the Muslim Brotherhood, in 2010, banned its members from running in the parliamentary elections; nonetheless, six of its members ran, but only one of them won -- in a town with a non-Palestinian majority.

Still, the Jordanian government's secret affair with the Islamists goes beyond the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2008, Muhammad al-Dahabi, the powerful and agile director of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, held meetings with Hamas leaders. According to US Embassy-Amman cables recently made public by Wikileaks, Jordanian officials were not shy or reluctant about their affair with Hamas, and even defended it before American diplomats.

This should come as no surprise as Muhammad al-Dahabi, shortly after his retirement from the General Intelligence Department, had an interview with the prominent Lebanese newspaper, al-Nahar, in which he called for Arab countries to support "resistance movements," and called for reviving the "morale of resistance" against Israel.

Al-Dahabi was in charge of all counter-terrorism activities of the Hashemite Kingdom, including coordination with the Israelis and the Americans; today, his name is still circulated as a candidate for a future senior job at the Jordanian government, possibly a prime minister.

Recently, the government-controlled Jordanian media has been calling for closer ties with Hamas; of course such calls usually reflect Jordanian government policies. This culminated in a recent trip to Gaza, during which the director of the military operations of the Jordanian Armed Forces met in Gaza with Hamas's Prime Minister, Ismail Haniah.

Jordan's love affair with the Islamists can be easily explained. The more prominent the Islamists are, the more Jordan can claim that democratization and giving more rights to its Palestinian majority would bring an Islamic state into existence. So long as Jordan keeps claiming that the Palestinians support the Islamists, Jordan can keep obstructing democracy and oppressing its Palestinian majority, while using the Palestinians' alleged love of the Islamists as a bogeyman to blackmail the West and Israel.

The fact that Jordan's Islamists are still close to the government, and have been
calling for Israel and America's annihilation for decades, would seem to indicate that Jordan actually fears democracy -- not Islamic fundamentalism.

Jordan should stop using the Islamists as a democracy-scarecrow while at the same time aligning with them in secret. Countries involved in the peace process must realize that Jordan has been supporting the Islamists and promoting them; and that most Palestinians are not necessarily pro-Islamists. Therefore, democratization in Jordan should be promoted and supported.

Democratizating Jordan would further support regional peace and avoid unrest. Jordan's distortion of the facts and its secret alliance with the Islamists are jeopardizing a much larger and deeper matter; peace itself.

Original URL:http://www.hudson-ny.org/1841/jordan-in-bed-with-islamists

Mudar Zahran

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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