Jordan Islamists met with US democracy experts
Sunday, May 27,2007 00:00

The Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s main political party, on Thursday conceded that its secretary general, Zaki Bani Ershaid, had met with personnel from a US-based democracy expert group as part of a ’civilization dialogue’ with Western research institutions.

But the IAF denied a report carried by the pro-government daily newspaper al-Rai that Bani Ershaid had asked the US National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) for help in the field of ’training’ Islamic candidates ahead of the municipal and parliamentary elections set for this year.

’The report included fallacies which are part of the government’s deliberate campaign designed to distort the image of the Islamic movement ahead of the elections,’ the IAF said in a statement.

Quoting no sources earlier Thursday, al-Rai said in a front-page story that Bani Ershaid met on May 15 NDI officials at the party’s headquarters in Amman and discussed with them ’how they can help train IAF cadres in the field of elections.’

’The IAF secretary general also asked the NDI officials to keep the meeting confidential out of fears that it may affect the image of the party,’ the paper added.

The IAF said that while it was observing a boycott of the Israeli government, the US administration and their embassies in Amman, it continued to have tens of meetings with representatives of US and other Western civic institutions.

’IAF officials wanted to keep them informed about the justifications for the party’s rejection of the unjust US policy and to ask them to relay the party’s viewpoint to the American people so as to press their administration to stop their crimes against the Islamic world,’ the statement said.

The NDI conducts democracy training around the world, with a focus on newly emerging democracies, and receives some US taxpayer money. In Washington, the NDI said it has had programmes in Jordan since 1995 and has had contact with the IAF along with ’every other party or group’ represented in Jordan’s Parliament.

NDI’s said its work in Jordan focusses on parliamentary strengthening, capacity building for civil society organizations, training for women political candidates and some work with political parties in the form of seminars and meetings.

’NDI works with Islamist parties around the region and we are completely open to working with any legal, non-violent political party,’ said Les Cambpell, NDI’s Middle East director, in an e-mailed response to Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

The IAF said the al-Rai report, which was not attributed to any sources, could be based on information obtained through ’bugging’ the IAF offices by the authorities in a bid to curtail the chances of Islamists in the forthcoming elections.

The government has decided to conduct municipal elections on July 31, but no date has so far been set for the parliamentary elections, which should be held before the end of November, according to the Jordanian constitution.

The IAF, the political arm of the influential Muslim Brotherhood movement, stands a good chance of markedly increasing its seats in the lower house of parliament, given the successes scored by the Hamas group in the Palestinian territories and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, diplomats said.

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