Consortium Against Terrorist Finance May 20, 2016, 10:32am

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 Jordan.

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 Emirates).

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 wing. 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 Latif Arabiyat, 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 step, 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 regime.

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.

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