The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan: Time To Reform

The unfolding internal crisis within the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Jordan will determine the future role and political relevance of the movement in the country. Not only does it take place against a background of regional political chaos, but the crisis is also largely the outcome of unresolved tensions between its members over the need for internal reforms. Calls for reform have been on the rise since 2010 in response to organizational challenges and opportunities that resulted from the Arab Spring. Despite the debates and disagreements between MB members becoming public, the current leadership has marginalized the crucial need for reforms. The current crisis testifies to the movement’s internal turmoil and may represent a political opportunity to encourage serious organizational reforms.

In Jordan, the MB and its political party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), represent the main political opposition force. Historically,
the MB has acted as a “loyal opposition” movement, opposing some government policies but largely cooperating with the palace.2 Despite a degree of tension since 1993, both the MB and the palace have kept the door open for cooperation: the palace allows the MB space to operate and the MB respects the authority of the king and the continuity of the monarchy in Jordan.

The Arab Spring protests, however, highlighted reform, social justice, strengthening anticorruption laws, and changing the 1993
election law.

Particularly alarming for the Jordanian regime and outside observers was the participation of East Bank Trans-Jordanians, traditionally the backbone of the monarchy’s support, including army veterans and tribal youth movements.

Today, though, protests have largely subsided. Political parties in Jordan are reluctant to follow the course of Egypt, Libya, Yemen,
and especially Syria, fearing a similar descent into turmoil. “The public is dominated by fear [of any protests or political turmoil] now…  [they do not want] the chaos they see in Syria today,” said IAF Consultative Council member Dima Tahboub, in surveying the situation.3 Moreover, the threat and military success of the
Islamic State group since the summer of 2014 has contributed to rising concerns among the public, and further hindered calls for reform.

The MB in Jordan, for its part, appeared more preoccupied with rearranging its internal affairs than with organizing further political protests. A number of reform initiatives were proposed by MB members, some of which were undertaken by the organization after 2010. While such efforts remained incomplete, these reforms
indicated that the MB, or at least a large segment of its members, feels the urge to reposition the movement and its affiliated political party, the IAF, in order to enhance its relevance and stature in Jordanian politics. But tensions over the scale and nature of needed reforms have led to confrontations between MB members, resulting in repeated crises since 2012, which are now threatening the organization’s sizable support and political influence.

Internal reform efforts will help the movement define its role in Jordan, contribute more effectively as an opposition force, and pull Islamic-oriented supporters away from extremist groups operating in the region. If the MB fails to follow through on such reform efforts, it runs the risk of being weakened by internal divisions and losing political clout. Resolving the current crisis of the MB—its split into two distinct entities in Jordan as of March 2015—is a top priority, the root causes of which can be understood through analyzing the areas of reform that remain unaddressed and will continue to rock the MB without prompt resolution. This paper discusses the MB’s reform efforts since 2010 and highlights the underlying causes and fault lines that have contributed to the current crisis.

Given the conflict in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State group, and the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt, any instability in Jordan could have a deleterious effect on the region. Examining pathways to reform is crucial to helping Jordan maintain its stability. As indicated in the March 2014 elections of the Teachers Union and the Student Union at the University of Jordan, the MB still attracts a significant level of support from the public.4 An active and influential MB, therefore, is key to strengthening the country.

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