Jordan’s Christian IAF Member

Many years ago, a frustrated Jordanian leftist and Christian political activist told me that he was ready to join the Islamic Action Front.   The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, he said, was the only one in the country able to get its act together enough to actually make a political difference, and he agreed with most of their political stances on political reform and foreign policy.  He sobered up in the morning and sheepishly admitted that there might be a few kinks in his plan, most notably the whole “beer” issue.  Personally, I think that he would have missed miniskirts too, but that’s another story. 

I remembered that evening when I read last week that Aziz Musa’ida had become the first Christian  elected to a leadership position in the Islamic Action Front (its Administrative Council out of the Third District). The Muslim Brotherhood featured the news prominently on its website, and it set off something of a political and media frenzy.  But a week after his election he quit, reportedly after coming under intense personal pressure.  Musa’ida complained about a “whispering campaign” against his personal reputation, while the IAF’s Ruhayl Ghurayba blamed his resignation on “religious pressure” from other Christians and from “politicians who did not want to see the appearance of a tolerant Islamist movement which did not discriminate between Muslims and Christians.”    At this point, it is still not clear whether the pressure on him was coming from his tribe, Christians, or the government;  some reports claimed that he had been pressured to convert to Islam;  the IAF denied those allegations.

Was it a fascinating instance of potential cross-religious political activism, with potentially region-wide implications, or was it just a publicity stunt by the IAF?  Opinions differ.  Critics grumbled that he was simply window-dressing, to hide the Brotherhood’s anti-Christian agenda;  supporters said that it showed that the Brotherhood had evolved far beyond its exclusivist roots and could be trusted to not discriminate against Christians.  Jamil al-Nimri, a liberal al-Ghad columnist not known for sympathy with the IAF, described it as a positive step which would only mean something if it were followed by further developments in the party’s ideology and practices towards acceptance of citizenship and a civil state.   Nimri pointed out that there had actually been 30 Christian applicants to join the IAF, but only 3 had been accepted, and that it was perfectly natural for Christian Jordanians to want to join the Kingdom’s only large and effective political party.    

The emerging consensus, though, seems to be that the real purpose behind the IAF’s Christian “stunt” was sprucing up its image in advance of Parliamentary elections which might or might not be held this year.  The IAF Secretary-General Zaki Beni Rashid recently said that Jordanian government circles are anxiously discussing whether to postpone the elections because it knows that the IAF will do extremely well (he offered the number of 35 seats, without specifying how he arrived at the number).  The IAF has called on the government to set a date for the elections, and Bani Rashid said that he thinks they will go ahead on schedule.  There have been rumours that the IAF has decided to limit its contestation of the elections in order to avoid winning too big and provoking a harsh official response (something the Egyptian MB did, to no avail). If they do, it will be another important test for the whole democracy in the Middle East thing, keeping in mind that even if the IAF got 35 seats – heck, even if it got 55 seats – it wouldn’t matter all that much in the realities of the Jordanian political system.

Stunt or not, it still seems very notable that the IAF put a Christian in a leadership position without generating much Islamist dissent that I could find – the global Muslim Brotherhood site featured the news prominently and seemed not the least bit put out by it.  It may also be worth noting that Christian participation in an “Islamist party” is not entirely unique:  Egypt’s Wasat Party, which split off from the Muslim Brotherhood, prominently featured Christians in its leadership and in its party manifesto.  The Egyptian government has rejected its application for a license six times now I believe, on the grounds that it contributed nothing new to the political spectrum.  The highly respected Egyptian judge Tareq al-Bishri has written quite a lot on the subject.  Back in Jordan, columnist Ibrahim Ghurayba claims that the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood actually had considerable Christian membership in the 1950s, naming Sulayman al-Mashini and Abdu al-Sha’ir and Abd al-Halim Badran – the real question, for him, is why the Brotherhood is now so closed to Christians;  another pseudonymous columnist suggested that all the foreign media attention was because of Christian-Islamist tensions elsewhere, like Egypt, which never really existed in Jordan.   

Christian-Islamist tensions are growing, with Christians in Arab countries having well-grounded fears of the rise of Islamist movements (some important pieces about the devastation of the Iraqi Christian community should be appearing soon).  Moves like this, even if small and cynical, deserve attention and thought.   I’ve got to run now though…

Other Topics:

Jordan’s Christian IAF member
By abu aardvark
Jordan’s IAF Appoints Christian An Administrative Leading Member
Ikhwanweb – Amman, Jordan
AKI – Rome,Italy
AKI – Rome,Italy