Hamas and the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood

What is most likely taking place within Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood goes beyond the repercussions of Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections within the group, and involves wagers that the Brotherhood cannot disclose. Before Hamas’ election win, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood picked up 88 MPs, while in Iraq, the Islamic parties, whether Shiite or Sunni, have been elected to Parliament. All of this took place under pressure from the US administration. In Jordan, there is an implicit wager on similar pressure on the Kingdom that could allow its Muslim Brotherhood to modify its level of parliamentary representation in next year’s elections. However, it is a secret wager, one that cannot be disclosed for many reasons. Most importantly, the Brotherhood’s discourse cannot be in harmony with these American demands and pressures. Revealing this would produce headaches for the Brotherhood’s existing discourse, since America is an enemy of Islamic movements and their societies. Perhaps the Brotherhood’s competitors have used the American craze for “democracy” as a way to limit the group’s electoral influence, especially since American hostility is an essential campaign item in a country like Jordan.

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood is caught between an election law that favors local over political loyalties and enshrines the disparity in representation among regions and groups, and the radical electoral base that requires the Brotherhood’s commitment to its discourse, which cannot be pragmatic in its acceptance of these US demands.

Meanwhile, Jordan’s ruling authorities, at various levels, appears frightened that the country will be included in the US calls for more openness in terms of public freedoms, and especially electoral freedom. This would certainly strengthen the Brotherhood’s presence in Parliament; if the pressure is great enough, it could lead to the group’s forming the next Cabinet in Amman, a goal announced by a Jordanian Brotherhood official after Hamas’ electoral victory.

While Jordan is considered a chief ally of the White House in its war on terror, this ally senses the danger of America’s tilt toward allowing Islamist movements to take power. A visitor to Jordan can note the change in roles. One can hear a high-ranking Jordanian official talk about the firm alliance with the US in confronting terror, without hiding Jordanian fears that some in the Bush administration want to “help out” these Islamic currents. One also hears Zaki Saad, the new Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front (the Brotherhood’s political arm), hint – while condemning the US role in the region – at a waiting period, to see how committed to democracy the Americans are. All of this make one feel that there are intentions and wagers that are not being revealed.

The pro-Hamas wing of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is called “the Fourth Current,” after members of the doves, centrists and hard-line groups took positions in the leadership. This doesn’t mean that pro-Hamas figures aren’t present in these three currents; Hamas’ rise within the Jordanian Brotherhood has reached its peak in recent years and in internal elections a few months ago. Some of these developments were reflected in the results.

When Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, its victory turned into a dilemma among Jordanian Brotherhood members, although it was also a victory for this group, which hoped that a similar victory could be achieved in Jordan, if circumstances permit. However, the dilemma is an eternal one for Jordan, always present in the contested national identity of this country. The victory by Hamas, which was considered an extension of the Brotherhood in the West Bank and Gaza, re-awoke an old dichotomy within the movement, between Palestinian members and the “East Jordanians.” Hamas, which has not set down clear organizational boundaries to its relationship with Jordanian Brotherhood members, is now a national authority outside Jordan, and won legislative elections in a region that aims to become an independent state. Will this require the Brotherhood’s members to take clear “independent” steps that define the distance between themselves and their Palestinian offspring, Hamas?

The results of the Palestinian elections constitute a new test for Jordan’s identity. However, this time the test is focused on the degree to which the Brotherhood is Jordanian and the issue will not remain limited to the group’s internal organization. It has become a debate between writers on both sides of the contested identity issue, individuals who are close to the Brotherhood’s circles. However, Hamas’ influence within the Brotherhood predates the Palestinian election results by several years. It also seems that this influence has not taken place in isolation from small setbacks suffered by Jordanians in the Brotherhood. The movement has seen its influence in Palestinian circles in Jordan outstrip its influence in “East Jordanian” parts of the country. It was natural for this development to be strengthened in the leadership of the movement, until Hamas was formed. The Brotherhood “environment” in Jordan is a pro-Hamas extension for Palestinians in Jordan, just as Hamas was an extension of the Brotherhood in the West Bank and Gaza.

This intersection is not just a theoretical matter, but involves the movement’s organization as well. In form, perhaps Hamas is the “little brother,” but in reality the Palestinian organization has a great impact, to the extent that it has provoked Jordanian sensibilities within the Brotherhood. The first test of this relationship was in 1999, when the Jordanian authorities set about expelling the leaders of Hamas. This made Palestinian members of the Brotherhood feel that their movement did not pressure the Jordanian government sufficiently to prevent this step, a stance that reminded people quite a bit of the Brotherhood’s neutrality during Black September in 1970, when the government waged a campaign against the Palestinian military presence in the refugee camps.

What happened in 1999 has most likely been overcome, while Hamas’ influence within the Brotherhood was on the rise. It reached its peak in 2002, when the “Palestinian” wing of the movement imposed its candidates for Jordanian parliamentary elections and the Brotherhood was forced to accept them. However, Hamas’ influence then began to wane, until the elections for Brotherhood and IAF internal posts, which took place more than two months ago, and resulted in East Jordanians winning most of the leadership positions, except for the IAF’s top post, which went to an East Jordanian who is close to Hamas.

However, Zaki Saad’s assuming the top position in the political wing of the Brotherhood did not take place without debate and certain consequences. Some believed that the victory by a pro-Hamas figure, among the other internal election results, showed that the pro-Hamas’ wing influence was on the decline, although the Palestinian movement’s influence continued, and was not linked to mechanisms of democratic action. A member of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, who declined to reveal his identity, explained what took place in the IAF’s Shura Council, and how Saad was elected Secretary General. The member said the competition was between the traditional Brotherhood figure Abdel-Latif Arabiyat and Saad, and that the old Shura Council elected Saad, on a 25-20 vote. Saad received the votes after allying with the IAF’s hard-line wing and its pro-Hamas faction. In the elections for the Shura Council itself, which followed the selection of a secretary general, the centrist current picked up the majority of seats, and not one of the candidates put forward by Zaki Saad for the Executive Bureau was victorious. The General Regulator (muraqib ’amm) of the Brotherhood, Salem Falahat, believed Saad’s victory to be an internal matter; the debate preceding the victory, outside the organization, perhaps strengthened Saad’s chances, as people were prompted to confront someone from outside Brotherhood circles.

The group most worried about pro-Hamas figures becoming the IAF’s leaders were state and government circles in Jordan, seeing it as a rise of Hamas’ influence in the Jordanian equation. Sources close to Jordan’s ruling authorities told Hamas that Saad is a member of Hamas and runs one of its commercial institutions; his election is a sign that the Brotherhood has not yet to settle the question of its (Jordanian) identity.

Former Jordanian Interior Minister Samir Habashineh, known for leading several confrontations with the Muslim Brotherhood during his tenure in office, said that the group “does not recognize political and civil institutions in Jordan and seeks to overthrow them as soon as possible, and there are many indications confirming this hypothesis.” Habashineh’s beliefs are part of the convictions of many Jordanian political circles, especially liberals close to the government, as well as East Jordanians who feel that Palestinian influence within the Brotherhood now represents a threat to the group’s Jordanian identity. Habashineh points to the absence of Jordanian flags at most professional association and mass activities undertaken by the Brotherhood; he says that the professional bodies controlled by pro-Brotherhood groups are more politically-oriented rather than sectoral-oriented; the Order of Engineers has turned to combating “normalization” with Israel and a portion of members’ dues are diverted so support the Intifada, going to Hamas.

The minister’s remarks indicate the true foundations of East Jordanian consciousness, whether among the elites close to the authorities, or the tribal sheikhs and their social and psychological influence. If Habashineh’s voice is the loudest at this level, the observation that Brotherhood influence among Palestinians is winning out compared to its influence among East Jordanians can be explained according to this formula. If the latter group wants to head toward more independence from the Palestinian issue, this is something that the Brotherhood’s rhetoric cannot achieve. Meanwhile, the organizational and ideological mixture with Hamas helped strengthen the group’s presence in the former environment, of Palestinians. This political-demographic formula of the Brotherhood has not been reflected in the choice of the group’s leadership, which has retained mostly East Jordanians, and especially in the last election rounds in the Brotherhood and the IAF. This prompted a Palestinian member of the Brotherhood to say “I don’t think there’s a Palestinian awakening within the Brotherhood, and the proof is the leadership of the Brotherhood and the IAF who won because Palestinian voters didn’t take into consideration that most of the leadership is East Jordanian, and Saad Zaki is an exception, and he is an East Jordanian in any case.”

It appears that the decision to disengage from the West Bank, which Jordan took after signing the Wadi Araba peace agreement with Israel, has yet to take place on the psychological level, at least. Jordan’s dilemma with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is due to the joint popular base shared by Hamas and the Brotherhood in Jordan. This shared base will certainly weaken the Jordanian character of the Brotherhood, while allowing Hamas to move within Jordanian circles. This will take Jordan back to the question that preceded the “Brotherhood dilemma,” one that involves settling its relationship with citizens of Palestinian origin. Before questions are directed at the Muslim Brotherhood, they should be asked of Palestinians in Jordan, and the Jordanian government, and Jordanians of Palestinian origin should be made full Jordanians, by boosting their presence in the State and its institutions, which will be the first step to asking them and the Brotherhood to settle their question of affiliation to Jordan and its options.

Rahil al-Gharaibah, a prominent Brotherhood leader in Jordan, said that “Hamas grew in the womb of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, but this body grew and took on a media, and international dimension. Later, Hamas felt it needed some independence and settled things regarding this direction.” Gharaibah said he believed the sensitivity between Palestinian and Jordanian Brotherhood members was never as important as the way it was publicly portrayed, and is on its way to disappearing. Another leader, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that “this sensitivity reached its peak in 1999, when the Jordanian government expelled Hamas leaders from Jordan, which produced a sensitivity expressed in the organization’s demographic make-up. There were attempts to produce two different discourses, and two different directions. The first accuses us of having forgotten the Jordanian issue, and that we are no longer a Jordanian national movement. The second holds that our involvement in Jordanian concerns will be at the expense of our concern with the Palestinian cause.”

Perhaps these concerns might not be new in Amman. However, the new element, which is beginning to take shape, involves the slight change in positions. The Islamic movement is waiting, even though it does not announce this, the beginning of international pressure on the Jordanian government to amend the election law, which will allow the group to occupy more seats in Parliament. Meanwhile, the Jordanian government is looking apprehensively at a coming worry of allies in the war on terror, who see that bringing the Islamic movement one step closer to power will head off attempts by extremist Islamist forces. In the margin between these unacknowledged desires and government apprehensions, it appears that many weapons will be used, such as accusing the Islamic movement of wagering on US policy choices, and the government’s bringing in “new imams” from outside the Islamic movement.