Back to Homepage
Font Size : 12 point 14 point 16 point 18 point
:: Opinions > Other Opinions
Islam and Democracy.... Read more
Islam and Democracy.... Read more
Islam and Democracy, Jordan and the Muslim Brotherhood Presented at Kyoto University, Japan 17 July 1999 Azzam Tamimi
From ancient times to 1922 the lands to the east of the Jordan River were culturally and politically united with the lands to the west of the river. Muslims conquered the area, which was Roman rule, in the 7th century. The Ottomans took control in the 16th century and their rule continued until 1920 when the territories on both sides of the river Jordan were covered by Britain’s Palestine Mandate.
Share with Facebook Facebook Share with Digg Digg Add to Yahoo bookmars Yahoo
Share with Delicious Share with reddit reddit Add to StumbleUpon bookmarks StumbleUpon
Share with Mixx Mixx Add bookmark to Google Google Bookmark and Share
Wednesday, June 20,2007 08:19
by Dr. Azzam Tamimi

From ancient times to 1922 the lands to the east of the Jordan River were culturally and politically united with the lands to the west of the river. Muslims conquered the area, which was Roman rule, in the 7th century. The Ottomans took control in the 16th century and their rule continued until 1920 when the territories on both sides of the river Jordan were covered by Britain"s Palestine Mandate.

The Emirate of Transjordania was established in 1921 on the east bank of the Jordan River when the British installed Prince Abdullah, son of the ruler of Hijaz in Arabia, as Amir of autonomous Transjordan. By a Treaty, signed in London on 22 March 1946, Britain recognised Transjordan as a sovereign independent state. On 25 May 1946, the Amir Abdullah assumed the title of King, and when the treaty was ratified on 17 June 1946 the name of the territory was changed to that of `The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan".

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the east and west banks of the Jordan River were united in order to save the parts of Palestine which remained under Arab control after the 1948 war from further Israeli occupation. Unity was ratified and declared in 1950. Seventeen years later, the West Bank was occupied by Israel during the 1967 war. On 31 July 1988, King Hussein announced that Jordan was to abandon its efforts to administer the Israeli-occupied West Bank and surrendered its claims to the territory to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Since its establishment, the country has been ruled by four monarchs: King Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein (1921-1951), King Talal Ibn Abdullah (1951-1952), King Hussein Ibn Talal (1952-1999) and recently King Abdullah Ibn Hussein.

Currently, Jordan shares borders with Syria to the north, Iraq to the east, Saudi Arabia to the east and south, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the south and Israel and the West Bank (forming together historical Palestine) to the west. The country"s total area is 89,544 square kilometres (34,573 square miles). About 88% of Jordan is arid, with the fertile areas extending along the western strip.

Jordan"s population according to the 1994 census was about 4.1 million, with an annual growth rate of 3.4%. The population is generally young, with 47.2% under 14 years of age and only 2.7% over 65. Nearly 70% of the population is settled in urban areas. Jordan"s population is predominantly Sunni Muslim with a sizeable Christian minority estimated to be 8%. The official language is Arabic and English is widely spoken.

A large segment of the population is of a Palestinian origin, estimated to be between 40 to 60 percent of the total population. Ethnically, 98% of the population is Arab. The remaining 2% are Circassian and Chechens

Jordan"s economy is based primarily on agriculture, industry and services. It is a relatively modest economy by regional standards. A foreign exchange shortage in 1988 led to a 50% devaluation of the Jordanian dinar and the launching of the first economic readjustment programme in 1988-1989. However, the economy remains vulnerable to regional turbulence and reliance on external sources of income. Agricultural production is the basic source of income for approximately 10% of the population. Chief crops include grains, olives, vegetables and fruits. Industries account for 16.9% of the GDP. Major industries include textiles, food processing, mining, and the manufacturing of cement, fertilisers and refined petroleum products. The main minerals are phosphate and potash. These alone account for more than one-third of Jordan"s domestic exports. Jordan"s Constitution was written in 1949, promulgated in 1952 and amended several times (notably in 1974 and 1976). It stipulates that Jordan is a hereditary monarchy with a parliamentary system. The Constitution outlines the powers and functions of the state, enforcement of laws, interpretation of the Constitution, emergency powers and constitutional amendments, and also separates the legislative, executive and judiciary branches.

Article 28 of the Jordanian constitution stipulates that the throne of the Kingdom is passed on through inheritance within the dynasty of King Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussein, in the direct line of his male heirs. Following the recent death of King Hussein, his eldest son Abdullah became king after having been appointed just before his father"s death as crown prince in place of his uncle Hassan who had been holder of that title since 1965. Abdullah"s younger stepbrother Hamza is the newly appointed Crown Prince.

According to article 30, the King is head of state and is immune from all liability and responsibility. Other articles grant him the powers to ratify the laws and promulgate them, direct the government to enact and enforce bylaws and regulations, exercise judicial authority by Royal Decree, and inaugurate, adjourn, suspend and dissolve the lower house when he deems necessary. The King also appoints the Prime Minister and may dismiss him. He also appoints the ministers and may dismiss them.

According to the constitution, the legislative power resides with the King and the parliament. The latter is comprised of an upper house (Senate) of 40 members appointed by the King and a Lower House (Chamber of Deputies) of 80 members elected by universal suffrage, with men and women over the age of 18 eligible to vote.

On 5 February 1976 both Houses of Parliament approved amendments to the Constitution by which the King was empowered to postpone calling elections until further notice. Consequently, the Lower House was dissolved because no elections could be held in the West Bank, which had been under Israeli occupation since June 1967. Parliament was reconvened on 9 January 1984. By-elections were held in March 1984 and six members were nominated for the West Bank bringing Parliament to 60 members. Women voted for the first time in 1984. Elections were held on 8 November 1989 after amendments increasing the number of seats to 80 and restricting representation to the territory east of the Jordan River.

The Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood)  

The Jordanian Chapter of the Ikhwan was founded on 19 November 1945 under the chairmanship of Abdullatif Abu Qura. The declared objective and the methodology pursued were not different from those of the mother movement in Egypt, established in 1928 by founder Hassan Al-Banna. On 26 December 1953, Abu Qura was succeeded by Abdurrahman Khalifah who assumed the title of Al-Muraqib al-"Amm (inspector general). A statement issued by the movement on 3 April 1954 sought to outline the Ikhwan"s perspective on major issues. It read in part: "Jordan is an inseparable part of the Muslim world. Government in accordance with the Shari"ah (law) of Allah is the objective and aspiration of the Ikhwan in this life. The Palestinian issue is an Islamic issue for which all material and moral resources ought to be mobilised so as to liberate Palestine from global Judaism and international crusade".

The manner in which the Jordanian Ikhwan dealt with the regime has, since their founding (which incidentally coincided with the independence of Jordan), derived from a conviction on the part of the group"s executives that intrinsic as well as extrinsic factors limited Jordan"s ability to perform freely or act independently. It never slipped from the minds of these executives that the State of Jordan had been one of the by- products of the World Order established following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War. Hence, Jordan"s political decisions had always been influenced by that World Order, which had intended Jordan to remain intact but weak and dependent on foreign aid. However, the discourse of the movement did not always reflect an acknowledgement of this reality, at least not until the Movement in the early nineties became a partner in a cabinet that could hardly do much to resolve the intractable problems of a very small resourceless and heavily indebted country. Since their inception, the Jordanian Ikhwan adopted a policy that reflected their recognition of the legitimacy of the Hashemite regime. In other words, the movement did not see the possibility of a better option. The regime in turn recognised it as a legitimate group and relied on it often, particularly during crises, for the maintenance of social order and domestic peace. However, the bitter experiences of conflict with regimes by other Ikhwan chapters, primarily in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, led to the emergence and growth in the wake of the 1967 six-day war with Israel of a radical trend within the Jordanian Ikhwan. Henceforth, the discourse of the Ikhwan became increasingly less conciliatory having been influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb and his disciples.

Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), who was imprisoned for ten years in 1954 and then executed in 1966, became the leading ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood from the mid-fifties.

His book Milestones, which was written in response to President Nassir"s persecution of the Ikhwan, acquired a wide acceptance throughout the Arab world after his execution and following the defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 War. In it, he put forward the thesis of jahiliyya (ignorance, barbarity or idolatry), from which Islam came to deliver the world.

Muslim society, according to him, was itself divided into two realms, that of Islam and that of jahiliyya. Drawing from the theory of Mawdudi (1903-79) that as Islam has reverted to a state of jahiliyya, true Muslims find themselves in a state of war against the apostates, Sayyid Qutb concluded that true Muslims, the tali"a (vanguards), are and must be set apart within the ambient infidel society as a sort of `counter-society". This line of thinking drove Qutb toward rejecting the concept of democracy, denouncing it as alien, incompatible and jahili. Borrowing Mawdudi"s term hakimiyya (sovereignty), Qutb was adamantly opposed to any reconciliation with democracy. In the beginning, he was opposed to the idea of calling Islam democratic and even campaigned for a just dictatorship that would grant political liberties to the virtuous alone.

Radical Jordanian Islamists, who adopted the same discourse, became very popular and enjoyed the support of the majority of the Ikhwan members during the seventies and much of the eighties. This trend started losing to a more moderate trend only when the movement participated vigorously in the 1989 parliamentary elections which brought 22 Ikhwan members plus no less than ten other independent Islamists into the House of Representatives. This was not the first Ikhwan parliamentary experience. The group had participated in elections and occupied a few seats in parliament since 1954. Nevertheless, the 1989 round of elections represented an important landmark in the political development of the group. In addition, this development restored to the movement its traditional moderation and pragmatism.

The Ikhwan in Parliament 

Historically, the Ikhwan treated the Parliament as an opportune arena or platform where their message to the people could be delivered and their opinions on various issues could be made public. The movement"s ambition did not go beyond having a few voices inside the House of Representatives to `enjoin good and forbid evil". Prior to the 1989 election, none of the parliamentarians supported by the Ikhwan claimed to represent the group or speak on its behalf. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood did not consider itself, nor sought to be recognised as, a political party. It was officially registered as a Society by virtue of a special permission from the Prime Minister"s office in 1953, and has since preserved this status.

In the aftermath of the 1967 war, King Hussein suspended the Parliament, which remained in recess until reconvened on 9 January 1984. Four years earlier, the Ikhwan had tasted the sweetness of democracy when they scored an unprecedented massive electoral gain at the municipal level. It was free democratic process that enabled the Ikhwan to take over the Municipal Council of the town of Madaba (about 35 km south of the capital Amman), which for decades had been monopolised by the town"s Christian community. The experience in Madaba encouraged the Ikhwan to support two of their own members in addition to an independent Islamist in the by-elections of March 1984. Thus they succeeded in sending a few more MP"s to the House of Representatives. The municipal and parliamentary elections provided the Ikhwan with an opportunity to test their popularity amid a growing popular sympathy for Islamic politics. They also provided them with an opportunity to learn the techniques of mastering the tactics of campaigning, lobbying and even forging alliances. The most important lesson, however, had been the realisation that so long as the elections were clean, fair and free from intervention or manipulation, democracy was on the side of the Islamists.

However, soon afterwards, the government of Zaid Rifa"i, who was concerned with improving relations with the Syrian regime, imposed restrictions on the Ikhwan.

Although the pressures to which some Ikhwan members were subjected were mild compared to what had been going on elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, they led to unprecedented tension between the movement and the regime. Influential members were dismissed from their jobs, including prominent moderate figures such as Dr. Abdullatif Arabiyat, who later became Parliament Speaker and who had been occupying the position of Education Under Secretary when he was dismissed. Many of the casualties were university professors, several of whom were later elected to Parliament. In general, well-known or suspected Ikhwan activists joined the long lists of political activists who were banned from travel or were denied employment by both public and private sectors. A certificate of good conduct became mandatory for any citizen who applied for a passport, or wanted to travel abroad or sought employment. This atmosphere led to a sense of deep desperation and frustration, and resulted in bolstering the position of the radicals who portrayed the situation as if a conflict with the regime similar to those that occurred before in Egypt and Syria was imminent. The build-up of discontent and anger within the ranks of the movement coincided with a violent wave of economic protests that erupted in April 1989. The riots started in the southern town of Ma"an but later spread to other towns in the south and the north. It emerged soon afterwards that the Ikhwan, who were hastily accused of igniting the riots, had nothing to do with them. Nonetheless, the measures adopted by the King afterwards to contain the `revolution" and placate the indignant population were to result soon afterwards in major political reforms, which relieved the pressure off the Ikhwan and paved the way for their power-sharing transaction.

The Experiment

In the summer of 1989, the King sacked Prime Minister Zaid Rifa"i and instructed his successor, Zaid bin Shakir, to prepare for parliamentary elections, which he promised would be clean and fair. Some of the Ikhwan, and the radicals in particular, were sceptical and thought that the King"s decision was only a manoeuvre to quell the anger of the disgruntled masses. Some others believed that the King"s move was genuine, and that it was a natural consequence of the democratic breeze that had been blowing through many parts of the world. The sceptics raised several questions regarding the permissibility, feasibility and practicality of participating in such an exercise. Some of the questions were ideological and some were only technical. Thus, the decision to join the race took some time to make and involved long debates and heated discussions at various levels all the way up from the base to the Shura Council. The movement"s Shura Council is directly elected every four years by members of the Ikhwan who belong to shu"ab (sing. shu"bah meaning branch) that are spread across the country. Each shu"bah elects its representatives to the Shura Council, which then elects a seven-member Executive Office to run the affairs of the movement under the leadership of Al-Muraqib Al-"Amm (Chairman or inspector general). Both the chairman and the Executive Office answer to the Shura Council.

While it is true that the Ikhwan had been democratic, it was the national democratic process introduced in 1989 that tested their own democracy. The question of whether the movement should take part in the proposed parliamentary elections was referred to the shu"ab for deliberation. A majority vote in favour of participation was the outcome of an internal democratic exercise. Those who argued that the advantages of taking part outweighed the advantages of staying out of the game had won. Those who argued that Islam and democracy were incompatible had lost. A new Islamic discourse was emerging. In contrast to the discourse of the seventies, democracy was now being spoken of as a mechanism rather than an ideology. It was perceived as a set of tools aimed at preventing of despotism and at safeguarding civil liberties and human rights.

The moderates presented a set of compelling arguments that silenced their opponents. For even if the elections were to be manipulated and the whole exercise turned to be a `theatrical play", the Ikhwan would gain more by being in than remaining out. In spite of the fact that the Parliament would have very limited powers and could indeed be suspended by the King anytime, it would be better to have an Islamist voice inside the chamber than to be totally absent. Several advantages were envisaged. During the campaigning period the Ikhwan would have the opportunity to talk to the masses directly and openly. They would be able, like never before, to discuss freely the country"s problems and propose solutions. Campaigning would provide them with a platform for da"wah (spreading of the message), which could now be exercised with immunity from harassment by the security authorities. Furthermore, the exercise would test the popularity of the Ikhwan and the degree to which their Islamic agenda appealed to the masses. It would also enable them to assess their strength and effectiveness and the efficiency of their offices and members.

Since the administrative ties between the East and West Banks were severed two years earlier a number of reforms were introduced. On the one hand, the number of parliamentary seats was increased from 60 to 80. On the other, a new system of allocations was introduced. In certain constituencies, a given number of seats were allocated to Christians, Circassians, Chechens and Bedouins. These seats amounted to a little less than thirty per cent of the total number of parliamentary seats. Since there were no Christians among the Ikhwan and very few of them came from Circassians, Chechen or Bedouin communities, these allocations were restrictive. Nevertheless, the Ikhwan thought this was still a very good opportunity to test their power at least in the constituencies where they had significant following or support. They submitted a list of 27 nominees competing in 15 different constituencies. It should be noted here that each constituency was represented in parliament by more than one seat; some were even allocated up to seven seats. In other words, polling would not have been on the basis of one-man one-vote because voters in one constituency could elect, and thus vote for, 2, 3 or more candidates depending on the number of seats allocated to the constituency.

The Ikhwan published and distributed throughout the country a booklet containing the Movement"s election programme and the photographs and brief biographies of its candidates. Election rallies proved very effective. No other political groups or individuals could compete with the Ikhwan in attracting crowds. The movement mobilised its members and supporters across the country to secure the success of election campaigns and to ensure that its sympathisers had registered their names and collected their voting cards. The women section (al-akhawat) mobilised its affiliates to encourage women voters to register. By virtue of the fact that the predominantly male armed and police forces were by law not allowed to take part more than 65 percent of eligible voters were women.

Several non-Ikhwan Islamists nominated themselves in the same constituencies where the Ikhwan ran. Since the total number of contested seats exceeded the number of Ikhwan nominees deals were struck with the independent Islamists. In some constituencies Ikhwan and independent Islamist candidates ran on a single card. The Ikhwan might have relied on some alliances to minimise the chances of unwanted candidates, especially those who were staunchly opposed to Islamisation. In four different constituencies the Ikhwan struck deals with Christian candidates. In two of these cases the Ikhwan-supported candidates the won.

The Islamic Parliamentary Block    

The Ikhwan would have been glad to win ten seats out of the 27 they competed for.

The government had expected them to win between four and six seats, but no more. The Movement won 22 seats, and in terms of the number of votes its successful candidates came first almost in all constituencies. Ten other independent Islamists got through and together with the Ikhwan they formed a formidable Islamic Parliamentary Front.

The first few days of parliamentary activity involved tough negotiations between the newly appointed Prime Minister, Mudar Badran, and the Ikhwan"s leadership. Mr. Badran offered the Ikhwan 5 to 7 portfolios in his cabinet and requested them to grant him a vote of confidence. The negotiations over the portfolios failed ostensibly because the Ikhwan insisted on the Education Ministry, which was not on offer. The real reason for the failure of negotiations was, however, the failure of the Ikhwan to make up their minds on the question of participation in this unprecedented experiment of power- sharing. There was still strong opposition within the Ikhwan to taking part in the government; the radicals believed that it would be a violation of the fundamental values of Islam to be part of a government whose policy is not based on Shari"ah. It turned out later on that a fatwa document issued and signed by a prominent group of Ikhwan scholars from various Arab countries had already existed since the early eighties. But the fatwa, which legitimised taking part in a non-Islamic government, had been concealed by leaders of the radical Ikhwan trend who had for much of the eighties been in total control of the Ikhwan"s Executive Office.

Eventually, the Ikhwan MP"s granted a vote of confidence to Mr. Badran"s government in exchange for a promise to fulfil 14 conditions. The first and most important condition was the demand that "the Government should incline itself toward the implementation of the Shari"ah and amend all existing laws that contradict the second article of the Jordanian constitution" which states that Islam is the religion of the Jordanian State. To explain their position to the public, the Ikhwan published their vote of confidence address, including the 14 demands, in a leaflet titled "This is why we granted the vote of confidence".

Joining the Cabinet

The first year of parliamentary life refined the attitude of many Ikhwan members and not just their MP"s. Democracy had a sweet taste at times. Restrictions imposed on freedom of speech were lifted and the intervention powers of the Intelligence Services were curtailed. However, coming to terms with the realities of the status quo had a bitter taste and produced a sense of frustration. Jordan had a foreign debt of about $13 billion and its democratic experiment sent shock waves to neighbouring Arab countries. The second year was marked with the election to the post of Parliament Speaker of the head of the Ikhwan"s Parliamentary Bloc, Dr. Abdullatif Arabiyat. Prime Minister Badran renewed his invitation to the Ikhwan to join the cabinet and participate more actively in reforming the country. This time the Ikhwan were offered the portfolios they asked for: Awqaf, Education, health, Justice and Social Affairs. This was during the apex of the Gulf crisis when the country had never seen such national unity and mutual understanding between the regime and its opponents. The four months of honeymoon and power-sharing came to an abrupt end when the Prime Minister was replaced in preparation for the U.S. sponsored Middle East peace process.

The Islamic Front     

In preparation for political pluralism, the King formed a 60-member Royal Commission to draw up a national charter aimed at regulating political life and setting the rules of the formation and registration of political parties. The members of the Commission represented various sections and trends and included ten Islamists six of them from the Ikhwan.

Concurrently, the Ikhwan started working on a plan to form a political party. Islamic groups and individuals were invited to take part in preliminary meetings to discuss the formation of a single party. None of the groups invited, including some Sufi trends, Salafis and Hizbuttahrir, agreed to join the proposed party. Eventually, the Islamic Action Front, which consisted of the Ikhwan and several independent Islamic personalities, came to being. The Front was not supposed to be a coalition of parties but was instead meant to provide a common platform for all Jordanian citizens who believe Islam to be the ultimate frame of reference. The Ikhwan could not live up to the promise that the front would not be an Ikhwan organ but an independent political party with its own charter, bylaws and administrative, organisational and decision-making systems. To encourage others to join in, the Ikhwan denied that the front would receive instructions from the Ikhwan"s leadership or that it would be under their control.

But this turned to be impossible to comply with. The classical Ikhwan argument for not transforming themselves into a political party had been that "they did not want to reduce or confine their wider functions and vision to the narrow framework of a political party because they had a more comprehensive programme." In fact the Ikhwan did not have much confidence in the political process. Should democracy suffer a relapse, and as a consequence political parties banned as did happen in 1957, the Ikhwan wanted to make sure that their Organisation remained untouched.

Reversal of Democratisation

The legislative elections of November 1993, which came after the government changed the election law, resulted in reducing the parliamentary share of the Islamic Movement. In addition to the restrictive amendments to the law, the government was accused by opposition parties of intervening in certain constituencies to make sure that few seats went to its opponents. An inter-Ikhwan dispute, as a result of the change in the law, over who should stand and who should not cost the Islamists a few more seats. The number of Ikhwan MP"s as a result of the 1993 election was reduced from 22 to 16. The tactics used to disempower the Islamists was not restricted to parliamentary elections. On the run up to the 1995 (municipal) council elections, the Jordanian government resorted to an old method intended to disrupt the opposition"s organisation. Civil servants suspected of supporting the opposition were arbitrarily transferred from their constituencies to distant areas and were replaced by pro-government civil servants mobilised from elsewhere in the Kingdom. On the eve of the election, a number of (IAF) key members, who were involved in the organisation of its election campaigns and of supervising the polling stations, were arrested and detained allegedly because of traffic violations. In the meantime, the IAF accused the security apparatus of embarking on an intimidation campaign to discourage citizens from voting for the IAF.

The government"s main target had primarily been the province of Zarqa, one of the strongholds of the Islamic Movement and its traditionally guaranteed win. If the Islamists could be made to lose this important den of theirs, it would be easier to contend that their popularity had dwindled in favour of the state, and hence in favour of the peace process.

On 11 July, the election day, coaches loaded with army conscripts posing as illiterates arrived at various polling stations in Zarqa and Rusayfa with ready-filled voting cards bearing the names of pro-government candidates. Under the guise of illiteracy they went in and voted in spite of the fact that they were not on the register. Hundreds of legitimate voters arrived in the morning to find their names struck off the lists and thus could not vote.

Protesting through press statements and letters sent to various officials, the Islamic Movement had little else to do apart from instructing its 16 members of Parliament to boycott the day"s session.

The peace process has been ominous to both democracy and the Islamic Movement in Jordan. The peace era necessitated speeding up the process of reversing democratisation. In the 1989 elections, which were almost one hundred per cent fair, the opposition, Islamic and otherwise, had altogether more than 70 percent of the seats. An amendment to the election law prior to the 1993 elections resulted in shrinking the opposition to no more than 35 per cent. The 1997 election saw the cleansing of the opposition out of parliament. But, here one should not blame just the government or the peace process. The Jordanian Ikhwan are themselves to blame because they made what many of them now recognise as the most erroneous decision in their history.

Internal Feud               

The Islamic Action Front attracted the political elite of the Ikhwan, including MP"s and ex-MP"s. In spite of the high calibre of its leaders and members, the Front was completely dependent upon the Ikhwan who had authority to dictate to the Front what to do and what not to do. Instead of delegating all political matters to the Front, the leadership of the Ikhwan, who had seen the coming of new politically novice personalities, were not willing to let the Front pull the rug from underneath their feet. This eventually heightened tension between the two sides and led to a power struggle that ended with a real crisis that brought the front to a standstill and discredited it in the eyes of other political players, including the government.

Ostensibly, the Ikhwan had been unhappy with the measures adopted since the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. Leading Ikhwan members would argue that participating in the political process while Jordan and Israel normalised relations would not be right. So much shadow had also been cast, since the new election law was promulgated, on the authenticity and credibility of the democratic process. Members of the Islamic Action Front would argue that staying out of parliament could be more detrimental than being in it. Some would even go as far as emphasising the advantages of joining the government in spite of the peace process to which they were opposed.

This, in their opinion, would limit the damage caused by normalisation.

An Ikhwan conference was organised on 22 January 1996 to debate the issue of participation. Two papers were submitted, one arguing for and one against. The conference was the culmination of a lengthy debate that was eventually settled through a plebiscite. The result was marginally in favour of boycotting the elections, which the Ikhwan adopted as the official position. Few Ikhwan, including three former MP"s, rejected the decision and cast doubt on the credibility of the plebiscite.

A careful analysis of the result would, however, reveal that the Ikhwan"s executive office had pursued a series of sophisticated measures in order to influence the voting in favour of boycotting. To start with, the Ikhwan"s organ Assabeel was monopolised by the supporters of boycotting. Through its articles and selective emphasis on the issues, Assabeel manipulated the Ikhwan public opinion and contributed to the eventual outcome. Secondly, the Ikhwan system of Usar (families, that is organisational cells) was under the control of the Executive Office which campaigned for boycotting. The Usar is the most influential body within the Ikhwan. Its moral influence outweighs any other because of the religious dimension it embodies. The Usar were evidently used to influence the opinion of individual members. Finally, a smear campaign was launched against those who were in favour of participating in the political process accusing them of having personal ambitions. Mustawzir (ministerial hopeful) was the term used to describe prominent proponents of participation.

The emerging leadership of the Ikhwan simply sought to marginalise the Islamic Action Front and to disempower it. The only way they could do that was to render them unemployed and inactive. This is exactly what boycotting the political process achieved. Instead of becoming the political platform of the Ikhwan, the Islamic Action Front became a competitor, or even an alternative. On the one hand it was feared that the traditional role of the Ikhwan would be compromised while on the other the new leaders of the Ikhwan felt that they would never get the chance to become public figures themselves if the political role of the Ikhwan was curtailed in favour of the Front. Less than two years after the decision was taken to boycott the elections, the Ikhwan are now counting the losses. By disempowering their own political party, and by staying out of parliament, they have had no say whatsoever in what has been going on in the country. They have been subjected to all sorts of restrictions and they lost many platforms, domestically and internationally, that were available to them to speak on a variety of issues including criticisng the government.

To compensate for the many lost opportunities, the Ikhwan have finally decided to amend their position. In July 1999, the movement opted to take part in the local (municipal elections), a move which one may conclude is likely to lead to a complete reversal of the boycott decision. Boycotting the political process, no matter how limited and how restrictive, should never be an option. Suicide is never an option.


Democratisation has brought enormous benefits, not least is that it has exposed numerous weaknesses in the traditional thinking, structure and administration of Islamic movements.

At one time, it was the question of compatibility between democracy and Islam that haunted the Islamists and concerned their opponents. However, the dispute over compatibility was quickly settled. At least within mainstream political Islam, issues related to Islam and Democracy have adequately been addressed and dealt with.

The most serious challenge facing the Islamic movement in Jordan, as well as elsewhere in the Arab world, is having to live up to the value of democracy, which entails tolerance, free choice, transparency and accountability. As Islamic movements struggle for a share in power, and as they pledge to accept the rules of the democratic game, they must respect and observe democratic procedure not only at the national level but more importantly within their own organisations.

The crisis within the Ikhwan in Jordan is not unique. It is even more serious in Egypt, especially in the aftermath of the Al-Wasat affair, which is only a symptom of a chronic illness. Elements of tension do exist within other chapters of the Ikhwan worldwide. These are not the outcome of the struggle against regimes, but rather the outcome of resistance within Islamic movements to modernise their institutions and to democratise they manner in which they operate.

The recent experience of the Islamic movement shows clearly that there is still a great deal of overlap between what is religious and what is political and a high degree of confusion regarding the role of a leader or an executive body. An institution that claims to be democratic should not be run like a sufi order or a family business and an elected executive should not be permitted to claim or pretend to be divinely guided and thus infallible.

Posted in Other Opinions , Reform Issues , MB and West  
Related Articles