ANALYSIS: Two Views On The Ascent Of Hardliners Within The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood


Recent posts have discussed the election in May of Hammam Saeed, generally characterized as a “hardliner” , as leader of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. As discussed in those posts, Saeed is described in various reports as a Palestinian who is former member of the Jordanian parliament and a professor of Islamic Law. A new report by the Jamestown Foundation describes the importance of those elections to the Jordanian Brotherhood:

In an internal election for the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s top position, Hamam Sa’id, a senior member known as a hawk within the organization, defeated incumbent leader Salem Falahat (Jordan Times, May 2). The new general regulator of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is a critic of the government and seeks to one day implement Shari’a law in Jordan as well as sever Jordan’s diplomatic ties with Israel (AP, May 2). Sa’id’s ascension places the organization’s hardliners firmly in control. Sa’id, anticipating early skepticism, maintains that the Muslim Brotherhood will continue its “historic” role in Jordanian political life (Al-Dustur, May 2). Despite Sa’id’s assurances, many observers believe that his victory signals a tilt in favor of the hardliners. Furthermore, Sa’id represents the first leader of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood to claim Palestinian origin, indicating a dramatic shift within the organization’s balance of power (Jordan Times, May 4). Such roots, accompanied by the connections several other leaders maintain with Hamas, worry some observers and government officials that Hamas may be greatly expanding its influence into the “East Bank,” despite having been banned from Jordan in 1999. Sa’id’s victory appears to conclude a struggle that has been brewing since last year between the hardliners (hawks) and the more traditional members (doves and moderates) of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The report goes on to suggest that the recent victories of Hamas in the Gaza strip played a major role in revitalizing and emboldening the IAF as well as its hardline faction by demonstrating that “political participation and the application of constant pressure against the government can achieve results.” The report then identifies a number of reasons for the IAF’s poor showing in the November 2007 elections including divisions in the party about participation, government bans on certain candidates. and voter alienation, noting that Muslim Brotherhood officials had appeared at the funeral of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The report concludes that the net result of these developments is the increased power of the “hawkish pro-Hamas wing” and a change of course for the Jordanian Brotherhood:

Due to the electoral loss sustained in the last election, the hawkish pro-Hamas wing now feels empowered and has since capitalized on the frustration and disappointment to expand its leadership role in the organization, as reflected by the Shura Council’s election of Hamam Sa’id. The hardliner victory suggests a change of course for the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, which historically has worked within the confines of the freedom granted to it by the Jordanian regime….The IAF traditionally serves as a greater bastion of Palestinian and more radical influence than its parent organization, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, whose leadership until recently primarily consisted of East Bankers. Hamam Sa’id’s election brings the Palestinian and Hamas influence to the forefront of Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood politics. Such a shift may influence the Brotherhood to adopt a more assertive and confrontational stance toward the government instead of the more passive, gradual political approach marked by the conciliatory attitudes that have characterized the organization’s approach throughout its history.

The Jamestown Analysis appears more nuanced than that offered by George Washington University Professor March Lynch who, in another report, prefers to blame “regime repression” for the ascent of the hardline IAF faction:

During my week in Amman I talked to some of the best Jordanian analysts of the movement, as well as several MB/IAF leaders. The general consensus seems to be that the sustained regime repression has taken a real toll on the movement, strengthening hawkish, more radical voices in the JMB and weakening the hand of the doves… a dynamic we see playing out again and again, most recently in this week’s reports of the rising conservative (dawa) role in the Egyptian MB’s shura council. But there is a lot of disagreement about whether this has had a serious effect on the movement’s popularity and about the future of the movement. And, of course, it’s important to take into account the self-interest of Jordanian MB leaders in telling an American researcher that regime repression is weakening moderates…

An post from earlier this week discusses Dr. Lynch’s similar thesis with regard to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Previous posts have also discussed Dr. Lynch’s sympathetic position towards the Brotherhood, his trip(s) to Egypt to meet with Brotherhood leaders, and his use of political science methodology in reaching his conclusions about the Brotherhood’s commitment to democracy. Although he does raise the possibility for the first time that Muslim Brotherhood leaders may have an incentive for lying to researchers, Dr. Lynch belongs to a group of analysts who believe that there are elements within the Muslim Brotherhood with a sincere commitment to democracy. Blaming “regime repression” for the ascent of hard-liners within the Egyptian and Jordanian Brotherhoods fits squarely within that presupposition. The Jamestown analysis suggests rather that the blame lies within the organizations themselves.

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