- October 10, 2008
Fair Winds for the Brotherhood
The fortunes of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood may be shifting after three difficult years that saw the group’s worst electoral result in history, reports of diminished influence, and sustained government repression. After hitting an unprecedented low, the relationship between the Jordanian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition grouping, has improved recently. This is the opposite of what many observers, including this author, expected. Hammam Sa’id, known as a hardliner, was elected General Guide of the organization in May 2008, leading many to predict heightened confrontation between regime and opposition. Analysts Matthew Levitt and David Schenker wrote, for instance, that the leadership change suggested the Brotherhood “can no longer be considered ‘loyal’ to the kingdom.” During Sa’id’s tenure, however, events have moved in an unexpected direction. Since being elected, he has toned down his abrasive rhetoric, emphasized domestic priorities, and made an effort to reach understandings with the government of Prime Minister Nader al-Dahabi on key issues of contention.
The question of the Palestinian Resistance Movement (Hamas) is one area where Islamists and the regime have moved closer to each other. After nine years of severed ties,
For their part, Islamists are drawing a degree of optimism from their improved relations with the regime. Even IAF Secretary-General Zaki Bani Irsheid, one of the government’s fiercest detractors, said in a private conversation in August that
It is unclear what the Jordanian regime”s efforts at strategic repositioning—taking into account a perceived decline in
Of course, there have been bouts of optimism before, and they have been misplaced. Each time the regime has reached out to the Brotherhood, as it did in advance of the November 2007 elections, it has quickly reversed course and resumed anti-Islamist policies. Islamists are unlikely to be fooled again. Despite the optimism expressed by Bani Irsheid and others, most Islamists see this as yet another round of tactical maneuvering. The Jordanian regime is not necessarily acting in good faith; it is acting in its own self-interest. So too is the Islamist opposition.
Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy and a Hewlett Fellow at
This commentary is reprinted with permission from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.