According to recent news
reports, the Hashemite Kingdom of Abdullah II has issued
a series of detrimental blows to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Jordan, which
had been in operation for over 70 years. These government-led obstructions
include: office raids, headquarter
closures, the redistribution of property, a refusal to
allow for internal
elections, banning the group from holding their 70th
anniversary rally, and prohibiting the group from
holding public prayers during Ramadan.
Many government and religious officials are
concerned that these harsh measures will incite anger amongst MB members and
increase the number of Jordanian Islamists who travel abroad to join terrorist
groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda in Syria (also known as Al Nusra). The number of
Jordanians currently fighting alongside ISIS in Syria is at 2,000,
while the number of those on the side of Al
Nusra was, in 2013, estimated at 500. However, many
fear that marginalizing the 10,000
members of the Brotherhood in Jordan, and their 25,000
-30,000 Jordanian supporters, could cause the number of
extremists to increase.
The government clampdown in recent months follows
a 2014 law in Jordan that requires all political and religious groups to
register with, and obtain a license from, the Jordanian government. Recent
infighting among the 10,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood
in Jordan caused the group to split along ideological and tribal lines in 2012.
In 2015, the smaller offshoot of around 150 members, led by Abdul Majid
Thunaybat, formerly registered the new “Muslim Brotherhood Society” with the
government. This move officially rendered the original organization an illegally
operating entity. As such, the government has transferred
millions of dollars of Muslim Brotherhood property into
the hands of the new “Society,” who now bares the legal name of the MB in
The new, smaller, “Muslim Brotherhood Society”
broke away from the larger group soon after the overthrow of former President and
Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamad Morsi in Egypt. Thunaybat,
a former senior official who was forced into resigning his King-appointed seat
in the senate by regional MB members in 2012, says that this break was an
important step toward cutting ties with regional MB movements and to avoid being
branded as terrorists (as the MB is in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab
The newer society, also known as the “doves,”
presents themselves as a moderate group of reformists who want to focus on
national interests and local concerns. A dove-affiliated religious group, the Zamzam
initiative, says that the new group is dedicated to ending
the Muslim Brotherhood’s “monopoly on Islamic discourse” by establishing a
non-alienating Islam. The “doves” have been described as both “very weak” and
closely aligned with the monarchy.
However, the split among Muslim Brotherhood members
is more complicated than mere religious ideology, as it points to the
importance of tribal alliances in Jordan. Dove leaders are “East
Bankers,” which means that they are from the original
Bedouin tribes of Jordan, who are said to have been defenders of the Jordanian
throne for almost 100 years.
In exchange for their loyalty, the Jordanian government,
led by King Abdullah II, promises to protect “East Bank” interests and
privileges and to limit the power of those of Jordanians who are of Palestinian
descent. The East-Bankers are also supported by the Jordanian Intelligence
Service, which has often been deployed by the Abdullah II to cause rifts among
the members of the original Muslim Brotherhood.
Palestinian-originating Jordanians make up half of
the population, and constitute both senior leadership and the bulk of membership
among the original Muslim Brotherhood. The now-illegal Muslim Brotherhood, also
called “hawks,” are known as the Kingdom’s “main
opposition group.” They criticize Abdullah’s monarchy
by proclaiming the need for political and democratic reform.
The hawks are closely aligned with the Muslim
Brotherhood in Egypt, and King
Abdullah has been known to express concern over the fact
that they are more loyal to the MB leaders in Egypt than to the law of Jordan.
Not surprisingly, due to their Palestinian roots, the hawks are supportive of
Hamas, and condemn Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel. They also heavily criticized
Abdullah for legitimating Mohamad Morsi’s ouster from the Egyptian presidency.
Despite opposing the monarchy, however, the MB in
Jordan is one of the few Islamist groups in the region who do not have a military
And while they have been criticized as both militant and extremist, there are
those that accuse the hawks of not being extreme enough.
Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria, original
members of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan have been losing
their youth to terror groups. And there is a very
real threat that their increasing marginalization, along with Jordan’s horrible
economic conditions, could further push the country’s unemployed youth right
into the hands of ISIS. This is particularly worrisome as an estimated 10%
of Jordanian citizens currently look favorably
upon the terror group.
The hawks’ reaction to their new illegal status
certainly fuels the flames of those who are already ripe to anger over
government-imposed injustice. MB spokesman Muath
Khawaldeh claims that “recent government decisions are
unjust and usher Jordan back to a state of martial law,” adding that the
country is no longer politically free.
The lack of justice and freedom in Jordan is
compiled with a narrative of violence and revolution. This is underscored by the
language of MB leader Abdul
who calls the move to weaken the original MB “a coup sponsored by the
regime,” and overall leader Hammam
Saeed’s claim that Abdullah is “starting a battle”
against the Islamic movement.
One former MB party leader outright called the
move “a dangerous
because this group was against terrorism and had been part of this country for
a long time, and such actions drive people to extremism.” It is unclear whether
his statement is meant to express concern for Jordan or to pose a threat to the
While several journalists have claimed that
Abdullah II has more pressing concerns than that of the now-illegal Muslim
Brotherhood - including the growing Syrian-refugee problem, the fact that the
country is broke and has to rely on IMF
and Gulf-backed funding, or that regional concerns trump
local ones - the threat of growing extremism as a result of this MB divide
cannot be merely be tossed aside as separate from or lesser than the country’s
other problems. The fact that the government is openly marginalizing the
Palestinian-Jordanian members of the MB, and handing over their property to the
Bedouin-Jordanians could constitute a tribal divide that could split the
country down the middle, potentially strengthening terrorism not only in Syria
but also inside Jordan.