• January 12, 2007
  • 21 minutes read

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood on the Verge of a New Phase

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood on the Verge of a New Phase

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood on the Verge of a New Phase – Interview with Salem Falahat, The General Regulator of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. (Part II of II)

At the main entrance to the Islamic Hospital in Abdali in Amman, between the old men wearing kuffiehs and flocking to the hospital accompanied by fully-veiled women, you can also read a banner that points to the Jordanian Islamic Bank, and another to the popular Souq al-Fadl market, next to the hospital, and the “Islamists’ Bank.” The area gathers many institutions belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood; also located there is the office of the General Regulator of the Brotherhood. There are also commercial institutions and a bus stop from which people in Amman can travel to various parts of the country. It is an area with many gradations in the new, and contemporary Amman. If the area conforms to the spirit and architecture of the city, it also makes you feel – due to the hospital and bus stop – that it’s a place where Amman rubs shoulders with people from far-off cities and desert areas of Jordan. The souq and the hospital are set up for this purpose, while Amman is not dramatically different from its outlying areas like the badiya (desert steppe), except for the cement and metal signs of urbanization.

In Abdali, where the Muslim Brotherhood institutions are gathered, one can tell how strongly-rooted the Brotherhood’s “society” is. There has been more than one rise in the influence of Islamist currents. It is a society whose symbols and signs have taken shape for many decades, as it anchors the relationship with the state and the wider society, going beyond the false borders that are usually set down by parties and currents for their own constituent groups. The Brotherhood in Jordan behaves and organizes based on the idea that it is a “society” and that the State, which had been accepted and dealt with, is an apparatus that belongs “less” to society than the Brotherhood does. While in other states, one must search for Islamist groups and currents in areas of political activity and religious propagation, and sometimes in the “arenas of jihad,” in Jordan one searches for the Brotherhood in areas of real, contemporary life, in hospitals, schools and markets, in the (Palestinian) refugee camps, and among the tribes.

While moving between their institutions and places in which they have a presence in Jordan, one feels that there is a shadow state set up by the Brotherhood. The feeling grows when one learns that the budgets for their various activities far exceed the money allocated by the government for similar activities. During the decades of the group’s alliance with the Kingdom, Brotherhood members reached positions with little impact on public life; however, they are positions that create such tendencies, such as the Brotherhood’s traditional hold on the Education Ministry, where they have written school curricula and cemented their presence in Parliament, to defend these curricula.

The most important aspect of the Brotherhood’s presence in Jordan has been the ease with which its values and demands have merged with the values of the Badiya [desert] and its tribes and cities. The Brotherhood was easily able to claim that it was a part of local, Jordanian culture, which is true to a great extent, while other political projects had to wait for generations of products of modern education, social or economic elites wishing to leave behind local culture, or the waves of those coming from the outside.

The Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front, Zaki Saad, relates his beginnings in the Muslim Brotherhood, which took place thanks to imams at mosques in the town of Zarqa, where he resides. He is from a conservative, religious Jordanian family, but one that was never supportive of the Brotherhood. In this sense, Saad did not make a big jump when he decided to join the Brotherhood. The elements of this affiliation were the mosque imams, traditional belief, and social conservatism. These elements were present to a great extent in his party and family environment.

This natural channel of feeding its presence in Jordan did not suffice for the Brotherhood; the channel was one of considerable unity between the traditional social structure and the group’s political program. The Brotherhood created many channels to perform this task and help spread their influence, until it became possible to talk about a completely “Brotherhood-based” area of life in Jordan, beginning with schools and moving to charitable and sporting associations, and not ending at the borders of the job market, commercial firms and health institutions. It has been accompanied by the growth of Brotherhood tastes in Islamic clothing. Associations for the preservation of heritage, learning the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed, and teaching the Quran are spread throughout the Kingdom, with the number of students reaching around 100,000, not to mention the huge schools affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, also located throughout the Kingdom, such as the Arqam, Hisad and Rashad schools, as well the realm of higher education, such as the Civil University of Zarqa and the Islamic Society Faculty, and other sub-university faculties. These institutions are also a point of attraction for the Brotherhood environment, a source of revenue for the movement’s budget, which is said to top $1 billion a year.

Although Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has focused on a presence in the educational sphere for decades, the group has not neglected other areas. Regarding health, the Islamic Hospital in Amman, affiliated with the Islamic Center Charitable Association, is considered one of the best in Jordan, with 342 beds and 1,350 doctors and staff, offering treatment that is not available at many other hospitals in the region. The Association has other hospitals and a network of clinics and health centers, exceeding the number of those owned by the state, according to Brotherhood leader Rahil Gharaibeh.

In the realm of charitable work, the Brotherhood’s activities have spread to both the east and west banks of the Jordan River. The Afaf Charitable Association, which encourages young people to marry, holds a collective wedding every year for about 400 young men and women, and helps them furnish their new marital residences. It also funds small-scale productive projects for young people. The Brotherhood’s associations are also active in Islamic dress. Gharaibeh says that “we encourage the role of Islamic clothing through artistry, and making different types of hijabs [veil], for different tastes. We guide individuals in setting up establishments of this kind, and many have succeeded.” The Brotherhood’s activities have extended to sports and the scouting movement. The group has the Yarmouk Sporting Club and other small clubs, and the Khaled bin Walid Scout Troop.
Treating the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan cannot be separated from the performance of their institutions and the considerable power of attraction these institutions enjoy. Former rivals of the Brotherhood and its minions in the past claimed that these institutions were not free of corruption, which was reflected in the shares of power in the leadership. The opponents also speak of the financial and organizational intersection between the Brotherhood and Hamas, which makes it difficult to separate them in organizational terms, especially due to many of the gifts and donations that have reached the Brotherhood as part of support for the Palestinian issue; some relied on this aspect to explain the election of Zaki Saad as the Secretary General of the IAF.

It is certain that the Brotherhood’s pragmatism in Jordan is linked to the group’s involvement in various facets of life. But moving this “daily life” pragmatism to the realm of politics will clash with the harshness of Jordan’s political institutions, which won’t tolerate this pragmatism. Asking about the group’s aspirations to form a government if they win the next elections won’t find an answer, if compared to the degree to which they are prepared to deal with peace agreements with Israel and accept the principle of disengagement with the West Bank. Their acceptance, if it takes place, will be a losing card, since the Brotherhood’s influence springs from its rejection of normalization and disengagement. Perhaps the group’s experience in professional associations and unions they control was a model for what their performance will be in the difficult mission they seek in the Cabinet.


The General Regulator of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan Criticizes How Some Islamists Interpret Texts… Salem Falahat: I Don’t Expect the Brotherhood to Gain a Majority in the Coming Elections

Salem Falahat was elected General Regulator of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan some two months ago. He was born in Madaba, south of the capital, and joined the Brotherhood in 1968, when he was a Sharia [Islamic jurisprudence] student at the University of Amman. His recent election has reassured Brotherhood circles, due to what he represents within the organization in terms of being considered part of the centrist faction.

Full transcript of the interview:

Al-Hayat: You were elected General Regulator of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan during a period in which Islamist movements are readying themselves to get involved politically, in more than one place. Are you preparing yourselves for this phase?

Salem Falahat: The region is passing through a critical juncture, and not just these days. The new point, actually an old one, is the presence of the Zionist enemy in Palestine. In our estimation, what happened in Iraq only served the Zionist project, to prevent any Arab strategic depth that could be used to maneuver against the Zionist enemy.
Al-Hayat: -Did the former regime in Iraq represent strategic depth?
Salem Falahat: It was Iraq, and not the former regime, which represented Arab strategic depth. The form of the regime changes. Regimes don’t last. The destruction today is not of the regime, but of Iraq’s socio-economic infrastructure. Certainly, the Umma [Islamic nation] has lost this depth.
What’s new today is Hamas’ gaining the majority of legislative seats, and since it’s an Islamist movement, perhaps it caused a commotion in that region but it also put the world on notice about the future option taken by Arab peoples, if given the freedom to choose. Perhaps opting for the Islamist movement is a first step to an Islamic civilization, which seeks to solve the world’s problems.

Al-Hayat: In Jordan, you are concerned with Hamas, based on its Constitution and yours; however, Hamas’ victory has forced you to confront national Palestinian concerns that you are assumed to be distant from.
Salem Falahat: The relationship between Jordan and other Arab and Islamic countries involves agreement and disagreement when it comes to certain big issues. However, the relationship with Palestine is an exceptional one. Jordan and Palestine are one region, in terms of history. We have a common ancestry, after all. The sacrifices of East Jordanians on the territory of Palestine are no less than those of Palestinians there, from the south of Jordan to the north. There is an ongoing relationship of kinship. We believe in Jordan that we have a single enemy. Jordan has a special character when it comes to the Palestinian question, and the Brotherhood has an even greater one. Hamas and the Brotherhood have the same basic principles, although Hamas is distinguished today by the fact that it’s a political movement and a movement of armed resistance against the Zionist enemy, and the Brotherhood isn’t. However, Hamas has formed a government and is exercising its daily responsibilities for the Palestinian people. Hamas’ missions are approaching those of a State, while the Brotherhood in Jordan is a civil political movement that believes in gradual reform and uses words and the laws in force, trying to amend these laws, so that our message is delivered and our objectives met. So there is a difference; Hamas is a Palestinian Islamist movement that has its special duties, while the Brotherhood in Jordan, as in Egypt and other countries, are independent movements. There is no organizational overlap at all. Hamas is not part of the Brotherhood; it is an independent organization with its own leadership, by-laws, and special councils. However, we agree with Hamas on many issues.

Al-Hayat: Can we conclude that you are still searching when it comes to your position on disengagement?
Salem Falahat: Our existential, historical feelings say that the Umma [nation] is a promising one. We don’t acknowledge disengagement among all Arabs; instead, we correct the relationship among all Muslims on the planet. Therefore, disengagement is not the option we favor. Differentiating between Jordan and Palestine is a very difficult process, and difficult to see come about. No one can do it. The mixing and intersection between the two countries are considerable. We shouldn’t say that there is a de facto situation on the ground in the form of the independence of Palestine, the West Bank or Jordan, and that there are no links worth mentioning. But this is something existential, that is certain.

Al-Hayat: There is considerable talk about the rise of moderate Islam to power in more than one place, which might respond to a US desire to support moderate Islam against extremist currents. How do you see this?
Salem Falahat: I don’t believe in the theory of accusation, but if you ask for evidence from the people saying this, you won’t find any. Does America want to support moderate Islamist movements in the region? Based on what experience?

AL-Hayat: In Iraq there are plans to head toward ending the ban on parties like the Islamic Party. The Egyptian government is pressured to allow the Brotherhood to run in elections, and there’s talk about a role for Islamic moderates in Morocco. And Hamas won in elections supervised by the international community.
Salem Falahat: Actually, and I’m not directing this at you, but those who put forward this point of view, I think that these are desperate attempts that won’t spare America. Arab and Islamic peoples have begun to have a true longing for Islamic culture, and this is not “directed” by a given party here or there. The Arab and Islamic public has begun to reach the conviction that the most appropriate alternative is our own civilization, which was tried in Egypt. Have the conditions now become ready so that the Islamic movement to reach its goal, after more than a 50-year struggle with the regime? Today, the Deputy General Regulator in Egypt is not allowed to attend a conference in Beirut; there are Islamist leaders that aren’t allowed to enter Egypt. Where are these facilitating measures that people are talking about? Wasn’t there a number of empty ballot boxes, which no one could have access to? Weren’t some Egyptians killed during the elections when they tried to reach those ballot boxes? Weren’t many people armed, to hinder the elections? Is it so much for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to gain 88 parliamentary seats? If the choice were left to the Egyptian people, it would choose the Brotherhood many times over. Where does America stand vis-à-vis the Islamists in the Arab Maghreb (North Africa)? Where does it stand regarding Sudan? What about the Islamic Party in Iraq, or even in Jordan? There is serious work in centers at American embassies in the world to distort the image of moderate Islam. I believe that the Islamist movement in Jordan is recognized for moderation and it has been able to remain patient for 60 years. Even so, there’s still a siege in place, as its imams are unable to arrive at mosques, and its followers are banned from supervising educational agencies. Its officials are banned from speaking on state media. Its intellectual leaders are banned from carrying out their duty to build the nation. Where are these facilitating measures that they talk about? I want to affirm that Islamic peoples see the Islamists as the coming alternative.

Al-Hayat: Do you aspire to form a government if you win in parliamentary elections next year?
Salem Falahat: We assume that a victory would let people form the government. But with the current laws, and even if amendments are as good as we can expect, we don’t expect to win an opposition majority. The picture might improve, and the opposition’s numbers might double, including that of the Islamist movement. However, in my estimation, and in light of the policy of containment, I don’t think a parliamentary majority will result. But it is the Jordanian people’s right to improve their democratic experiment.

Al-Hayat: The election of an IAF Secretary General who is close to Hamas provoked reactions and debates in the media. How do you see this matter?
Salem Falahat: The entire Jordanian people loves Hamas. If people find that Hamas is making serious efforts for Palestine, the group will gain the people’s affection. If there is an accusation that one of the candidates likes Hamas, this is not an accusation. If you’re saying that an official in the IAF has an organizational link with Hamas, this is untrue; it requires evidence. It’s a tempest in a teacup. Before the election of Zaki Saad, some meddlers, the type who are ready to write quickly about the matter, thought this was the direction things were going, so they went to great lengths, perhaps helping to elect Zaki Saad, to head off someone who wanted to interfere in the party’s internal affairs.
The IAF has a Shura Council [consultative body] of 120 members, with high qualifications. Among them are people who have held high state posts, as well as political theorists. It’s slanderous to say that 120 people were unable or unqualified to select their leadership. Among them we might find people who talk about Hamas, but there is no organizational affiliation. The party is led by an institution and has a leadership, a Shura Council, and fixed policies that can’t be overturned. It’s part of the Islamist movement in the way it deals with events, and the work of its institutions doesn’t deviate.

Al-Hayat: Do you feel yourselves threatened by extremism, like other segments of Jordanian society?
Salem Falahat: There are two types of those who deal with Islam. One group has a position in principle about the practice of Islam, and this position is reflected in statements by politicians. They express a certain point of view on Islam. A second group, which doesn’t have pre-conceived positions taken, believes that the Muslim Brotherhood, which arose in Egypt, differs in its practice from extremist movements. It hasn’t been proven that it took part in a conspiracy, or killed, or shed anyone’s blood. From its general policy program, we can prove that it relies on gradual reform, using argument, logic, and convincing others. It relies on the intellect and dialogue, which is something that people have read about and know.
The movement in Jordan is characterized by moderation and true centrism, which doesn’t take away anything from charitable acts and duties. Were it not for this moderation, and this centrism, the Islamist movement wouldn’t have been able to spread to the hearts of people and gain their confidence and trust.

Al-Hayat: Some say that the moderate Islamist movement finds itself forced to take hard-line positions as a result of its feeling that the general mood supports this.
Salem Falahat: In general, our strategy is a fixed one. The movement is not looking for popularity, or seeking to take public positions on issues, merely for the sake of taking these positions. We want to gain people’s hearts. We sacrifice our personal interests for the sake of national interests, and therefore, the movement has been subject to such talk. We have made our point regarding such charges, but not in order to provoke people.

Al-Hayat: Are you a Jordanian, nationalist group?
Salem Falahat: We are nationalists, Jordanians, Arabs, Islamists, and humanitarian in general. First of all, we worry about the place where we are, as the Prophet Muhammad said “Do good to your people.”

Al-Hayat: Do you respect civil institutions that were established on the basis of Jordan being a State with its own institutions? Don’t your aspirations go beyond this, and involve establishing the institutions of Islamic rule?
Salem Falahat: We act on the basis of the laws enforced and official regulations, working through institutions. Therefore, we respect civil institutions, which are subject to the concept of public order and the Jordanian state’s laws and internal regulations. We respect this democracy. We seek to improve the regulations and systems of this country and its laws, in a way that serves the cause of public freedoms and enables people to belong to this country. We don’t give in to these laws; we want to improve them in a serious, peaceful democratic way. Take the election law – for example, we contested elections based on the one-vote rule, which we don’t endorse. We seek to change and amend this law. We took part in elections after boycotting them in 1997, for the same reason, because we want change from the inside.
The problem for some Islamists is the way they understand (religious) texts. Understanding a text is not the same as the text itself. There are interpretations of texts, and the texts have a greater expansiveness than what we see today in the way of daily practice. We are flexible, and this flexibility extends to many areas.

End (Part II of II)

Also Read:

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood on the Verge of a New Phase – An interview with Zaki Saad, Secretary General of Jordan’s Islamic Action Front. (Part I of II)