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Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan

An enduring feature of Jordanian political life for more than fifty years, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan was created as part of an effort by the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hasan al-Banna’ (1906-1949) to form additional bases of support for his movement. In the early 1940s, members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood were sent to both Palestine and Jordan to establish new branches.

In 1946, the first Jordanian branch was founded in the town of Salt; further centers were then established in the capital, Amman, and the towns of Irbid and Kayak. The leaders of the new movement registered the organization under the Jordanian Charity Societies and Clubs Law. The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood was indigenous, and the first head of the organization was a prominent cleric, Hajj `Abd al-Latif al-Qurah (d. 1953) Hajj al-Qurah led an eight-member majlis (ruling council), which directed organizational aspects of the new movement. This leadership structure mirrored that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In addition to legal registration, Hajj al-Qurah sought official approval from the Jordanian monarch for his fledgling organization. King Abdullah (r. 1946-1951) extended tacit approval to the organization but warned that benefaction would be rescinded if the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood strayed from the spiritual and became identifiable with Jordanian political affairs. At this point, the Muslim Brotherhood was essentially a religious organization. The steady politicization of Islamic clerics, which began in Egypt in the nineteenth century, was barely discernible in Jordan in the 1940s. Nevertheless, the very founding of the Muslim Brotherhood at this time indicated that a new generation of politically active Muslim clergy was ascendant.

The Islamic Message. The functional religious role of the Muslim Brotherhood permitted the movement to promote its ideology to all sectors of Jordanian society. Through its charitable activities, including the provision of health and welfare facilities in the kingdom, the new movement was able to disseminate its Islamic message. The Muslim Brotherhood’s message was a direct reflection of the prevailing philosophy it had embraced. Members should strive to educate society and encourage a return to Islamic values.

From 1946 until the outbreak of the war between the Arabs and Israel in 1948, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan remained essentially unchanged. Following the war and the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank area of Palestine in 1950, the number of branches of the Muslim Brotherhood increased, as existing Islamic organizations active in the West Bank, including Ansar alFadil and al-I’tisam, were absorbed. As a result of this new, expanded base of support in the West Bank, the leadership and cadres of the Muslim Brotherhood became increasingly politicized.

Political Consolidation. Following the death of Hajj al-Qurah in 1953, a new leader was appointed for the movement. On assuming his new post, `Abd al-Rahman al-Khalifah (an attorney) approached the Jordanian prime minister, Tawfiq Pasha Abu al-Huda, with an application for an expansion of the mandate regarding the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood to facilitate the political and cultural propagation of the movement’s Islamic message. The license permitting the Muslim Brotherhood to be a general and comprehensive Islamic grouping was subsequently granted by the authorities.

What was most striking about the development of the Muslim Brotherhood under al-Khalifah was its relatively close relations with the ruling regime and the monarchy. During the period when the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was being repressed by the state, the conservative Jordanian regime found in its own branch of the Muslim Brotherhood a useful ally against the leftist movements sweeping through the region. However, the relationship between monarch and movement has been characterized by peaks and troughs and is for the most part motivated by political pragmatism rather than Islamic idealism.

The attitude of the regime toward the Muslim Brotherhood was further emphasized in 1957 when King Hussein issued a decree proscribing all political parties. The Muslim Brotherhood was exempted because the organization was officially registered as a charity, although in practice its activities were indistinguishable from those of any political party. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood was free to continue with its own political agenda. Throughout this period it fielded individual candidates in elections to the bicameral legislative assembly. In 1962, the Muslim Brotherhood was the only organization to defy a West Bank boycott of the general election.

By 1964 the Muslim Brotherhood had also formed an umbrella organization called the Islamic Charitable Society, described by al-Khalifah as a charity rather than a political party. Nonetheless, the activities of the charity included the dissemination of Muslim Brotherhood ideology. By this time, the program of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan was almost identical to that of the organization in Egypt.

Pawns and Politics. Following the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, in which Jordan lost the West Bank and the Palestine Liberation Organization established strongholds among the refugee community of the East Bank, the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the monarchy was strengthened. A relationship of de- of eighty seats in the parliament and that its Islamist counterparts had won an additional twelve; this total of thirty-four seats comprised the largest parliamentary bloc. The king’s policy of political cooptation had thus resulted in an Islamic majority in the country’s legislative assembly. The future stability of the regime was called into question, yet many failed to take into account the fact that the king still possessed the ultimate authority over the legislature (and therefore the Muslim Brotherhood): he could dissolve parliament at any time.

The Muslim Brothers greeted their election success with characteristic zeal. They set about forcing their political agenda through the legislature and into the statute books. Large amounts of parliamentary time were devoted to specifically Islamic issues, such as the banning of the production of alcohol. In essence it appeared that the Muslim Brotherhood’s response to the opportunities presented by its new political power was to concentrate on the areas of policy making that it knew best; thus, the Muslim Brotherhood lobbied for cabinet posts covering social, educational, and religious affairs. There did not appear to be any concerted attempt to tackle such issues as the economy, defense, or foreign affairs.

The outbreak of the Gulf War in 1990 signaled historic changes and challenges for the Muslim Brotherhood. The conflict presented the organization with the most difficult political dilemma in its history centering around the conflicting pressures from local constituents and financial backers in the conservative Gulf regimes. The Muslim Brotherhood initially condemned Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, but popular Islamic sentiment expressed in the streets of Amman soon persuaded the movement to alter its policy and support the Iraqi leader. This policy jeopardized the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, which had provided the bulk of its funding.

The fact that the king and the “loyal opposition” in the Muslim Brotherhood were on the losing side in the war has altered only regional rather than domestic political arrangements. The Muslim Brotherhood preserved and further legitimated its popular support. The Islamic message remains a broadly popular one and ensures an enduring future for the organization. However, in the final analysis, such endurance will always be dependent on King Hussein, and this factor makes the Jordanian movement unique with respect to any other branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.

[See also Jordan.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abidi, Aqil H. H. Jordan: A Political Study, 1948-1957. London, 1965. Dated but worthwhile account of Jordan in the 1950s. Aruri, Nasser Hasan. Jordan: A Study in Political Development, 19211957. The Hague, 1972. Introduction to the Jordanian political system.

Bailey, Clinton. Jordan’s Palestinian Challenge, 1948-1983. Boulder, 1984. Perceptive book addressing the issue of Jordanian Palestinians, who account for 50 percent of the kingdom’s population. Gubser, Peter. Jordan: Crossroads of Middle Eastern Events. Boulder, 1984. Interesting account of Jordan’s regional role.

Kilani, Musa Zayd al-. Al-Harakat al-Islamiyah fi al-Urdun (The Islamic Movements in Jordan). Amman, 1990.

Milton-Edwards, Beverley. “A Temporary Alliance with the Crown: The Islamic Response in Jordan.” In Islamic Fundamentalism and the Gulf Crisis, edited by J. P. Piscatori, pp. 88-108. Chicago, 1991. Insight on Jordan during the Gulf crisis.

Wilson, Rodney, ed. Politics and the Economy in Jordan. London, 1991. Collection of essays on the inextricable relation between political and economic development in the Hashemite kingdom.

BEVERLEY MILTON-EDWARDS

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Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/muslim-brotherhood-jordan/
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  • writerPosted On: September 30, 2014
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