Jordan faces a crossroads / Op-ed: As Islamists grow stronger, will King Abdullah have to resort to brutality to save Hashemite kingdom? (YNetNews.Com -Yedioth Internet)Yaron Friedman 06/04/12)
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"We shall cut the hand sent against the reforms and against the
Muslim Brotherhood. I wish to Allah that the leadership of this
country will go in the right direction, or else its fate will be the
same as the fate of five other Arab leaders" (A Muslim Brotherhood
young guard leader during a mass protest in Amman, in an interview to
al-Jazeera, December 12, 2011.)
Jordan is one of the first countries where Arab Spring riots broke
out. Thus far, King Abdullah II managed to keep the revolution in the
first phase of street rallies, with minimal bloodshed. Jordanís king
enjoys special Muslim prestige because of his Hashemite ancestry
(said to be part of Muhammad the Prophetí lineage) and the fact that
the Jordanian royal house is the only one among regional Arab regimes
that sanctioned Muslim Brotherhood activity by law.
Generally speaking, the most stable regimes during the Arab
revolution period are royal houses (Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Jordan)
and principalities (the Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar.) Bahrain is the
exception because of the impassioned Shiite majority in its midst.
Yet Jordan is the most sensitive of those states because of the
economic distress and high unemployment rate maligning the country in
Jordanís royal house traditionally relies on veteran Jordanians and
Bedouin tribes, preferring them to the countryís Palestinian
majority. However, privatization and the failure of the kingís
economic policy provoked unrest among some of his traditional
supporters, who also joined the protest against corruption and rising
King Abdullah II made an effort to cope with the riots in his country
cautiously. He dedicated parts of his speeches to the importance of
social reform and pledged in the media to promote government and
economic reforms. However, the reforms he needs to undertake are very
difficult and threaten his ongoing rule in the country. One
indication of the crisis is the replacement of three prime ministers.
The king cannot improve the economic situation as Jordan lacks
natural resources and the kingdom is wholly dependent on foreign aid,
mostly from the United States. Abdullah is also unable to implement
the reforms demanded by the protestors, as such changes would make
him lose power and turn the royal house into a symbolic body only,
just like Britainís royal house.
The rising power of Islamic movements in the Arab world currently
threatens the royal houselís survival. The Islamic movementís power
in Jordan has grown in recent years, and the raising of the voting
threshold left the Islamic Action Front as Jordanís largest and most
organized party. It now constitutes the political arm of the Muslim
Brotherhood in Jordan. In the 2003 elections, the party won almost
one-quarter of parliament seats. Even though Abdullahís father, King
Hussein, expelled Hamas activists from Jordan in 1999, the Action
Front remained the leading legal opposition group.
Another "Black September?"
The latest changes in the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan
should be of great concern to the king. The movementís radical
leader, Hammam Said, was recently elected for a second term. Said,
who hails from Jenin, symbolizes the Palestinian, more radical part
in the movement. After his election, the movementís hawks defeated
its doves. This change, which took place recently, ensures an ongoing
rift between the Islamic movement and the kingís regime.
During the riots, the Islamic Brotherhood showcased its power by
bringing thousands of supporters out to the streets. The groupís
gripe combines demands for social justice and democratization with
protest against Israel. The Action Front clashed with the regime
before, when it boycotted the elections for six years in the wake of
the peace treaty with Israel.
It appears that the rising power of the Muslim Brotherhood raised the
alarm in the kingís palace. The Jordanian royal house has a difficult
history of coup and takeover attempts, always on the initiative of
the Palestinians. In a bid to bridge the gaps with the Islamic
movement, King Abdullah met with its chairman and even initiated a
historical meeting with Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Mashaal.
However, these efforts did not prompt a change in the Muslim
Brotherhoodís position. Jordanís king understood well that the
Islamic movementís demand for democratization is a veneer for its
desire to take over the country via elections.
There is no doubt that Jordanís security apparatuses are the means
for the kingís survival. The Muslim Brotherhoodís demand for
separation of powers and limiting the authority of Jordanís internal
security service hides its aspiration to operate freely and put an
end to the close monitoring of its activity at offices and mosques.
It appears that the decision to operate against the Islamic movement
was made in May. The king appointed the conservative Fayez al-
Tarawneh as temporary prime minister. Tarawneh served as prime
minister and defense minister during King Husseinís era and was part
of the negotiations team with Israel. Meanwhile, regime thugs took
part in dispersing the latest protests in the country and some Muslim
Brotherhood offices were torched in several cities, while security
forces were significantly reinforced to prepare for further
Will the king continue to pursue the restraint policy, which allows
the Muslim Brotherhood and the countryís Palestinian majority to grow
stronger? And when protests escalate and spin out of control, will
the king have to follow the path of the ďBlack SeptemberĒ massacre,
as his father King Hussein did in 1970? There is no doubt that
Abdullahís regime is facing a critical crossroads.
Dr. Yaron Friedman is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He teaches Arabic
and lectures about Islam at the Technion, at Beit Hagefen and at the
Galilee Academic College. His book, the Nusayri Alawis: An
Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading
Minority in Syria, was published in 2010 by Brill-Leiden (Copyright
2012 © Yedioth Internet 06/04/12)
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