The events of the Arab Spring have led to new political realities in the Arab world and paved the way for the Muslim Brotherhood to form short-lived governments in Tunisia and Egypt. Encouraged by these developments, the Brotherhood in Jordan played a leading role in the uprising there, adopted extreme positions, and boycotted the 2010 and 2013 parliamentary elections. The movement today is in open confrontation with the Jordanian regime and suffers from internal division and conflict. The disastrous outcome of the Arab Spring for Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as well as the banning of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE has weakened the movement’s political influence in the region, especially in Jordan. Its political future in Jordan now depends on government policy and the unfolding of internal crisis within the movement. This article argues that the Arab Spring has had a serious negative impact on the Brotherhood both in Jordan and in the region and that serious efforts would be required to restore its previous political role and influence.
Beginning in 2011, the Arab world faced a wave of uprisings leading to the overthrow of four Arab regimes, in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen; and creating conflict and civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq–with less impact on Jordan, Morocco, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and other Arab countries. The Arab Spring has paved the way for some more moderate Islamists to establish political parties, run in and win parliamentary elections, and even form governments in Tunisia and Egypt. It has also led to the appearance of new radical Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State (IS, formerly called ISIS) in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, and Ansar Allah (the Houthis) in Yemen.
In Jordan, however, the impact of the Arab Spring was less dramatic, as the Jordanian leadership took several political steps to meet the people’s demands and used soft power to manage and control the uprising. Yet the Islamist movement in Jordan–inspired by the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia and Egypt–rejected all of the government’s efforts, including its proposal to participate in the political process. Instead, it chose to boycott the 2010 and 2013 parliamentary elections. In mid-2014, the fortunes of the Muslim Brotherhood in both Egypt and Tunisia were reversed, with both movements losing political power. The Brotherhood was banned in Egypt and declared a terrorist organization in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
The chaos and civil wars in Syria, Yemen, and Libya; the appearance of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq; and the burning of the Jordanian pilot by IS in February 2015 has changed Jordanians’ attitudes toward the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups. The Muslim Brothers’ uncompromising position toward political participation, insisting on their extreme demands of fixing the political system and boycotting the parliamentary elections, has created serious internal conflict among its leadership and damaged its relationship with the regime. The Brotherhood first witnessed the appearance of the Zamzam Initiative and later the establishment of the Society of Muslim Brothers in Jordan, which was immediately licensed by the government in April 2015. This was in addition to rivalries from other Islamic political parties and groups such as al-Wasat Party and other Salafi and jihadi groups. These internal and external factors raised serious questions about the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood. This article’s focus is the impact of the Arab Spring on the political future of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (JMB). It also analyzes the extent to which the JMB’s position and actions have weakened its support among the Jordanian people and how this has affected their relationship with the regime. The impact of Arab Spring on Islamists in Jordan provides an excellent case study to explore the future role of Islamist politics in Jordan and beyond.
IMPORTANCE OF THE STUDY AND OBJECTIVES
The Muslim Brotherhood’s radical stance during the Arab Spring, especially its refusal to all of the Jordanian government’s proposals to participate in the political process, has damaged its traditionally good relationship with the regime in Jordan and created internal conflict among the Brotherhood leadership, which resulted in the movement’s split into two rival groups–the old Muslim Brotherhood and the Society of Muslim Brothers in Jordan. The government’s proposal was interpreted by the old Muslim Brotherhood as an attempt to weaken the Brotherhood’s political and societal role. Today, it faces serious challenges not only to its legal existence but also to its political future. This article thus deals with the very important issue of Arab Spring’s impact on the political future of the Muslim Brothers, which has far-reaching consequences not only for the security and stability of Jordan but also for the entire region. The article addresses the dynamics of the Arab Spring and its impact on the Middle East, the Jordanian regime’s responses to the Arab Spring; how the Arab Spring has affected the Muslim Brotherhood; the relationship between the regime and Muslim Brotherhood; and the impact of the Arab Spring on the Muslim Brotherhood’s political future in Jordan.
RESEARCH METHODOLOGY AND DESIGN
This article aims to analyze the impact of Arab spring on the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and the region. It does so through a combination of comparative and qualitative research methods, with Jordan as a case study. It draws on a range of primary and secondary sources, including declarations, interviews, documents, reports, books, and articles about the impact of Arab Spring on the Muslim Brothers from 2011 to 2015. Numerous documents, decisions, laws, and statements issued by the governments of the region and the Muslim Brotherhood were analyzed. In order to understand the different outcomes and impact of the Arab Spring on the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and the region, the article compared the experiences of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and other Arab countries. It used eight variables to examine their effects on the success or failure of the uprisings in both Jordan and Egypt. These are: 1. Elite unity; 2. Scale of protest; 3. Use of force; 4. Occupation of public places; 5. Responses to uprising demands; 6. Army intervention; 7. Population unity; 8. Uprising unity. This article assumes that the presence of these variables indicates success while their absence indicates the regime’s failure in handling the uprising. With regards to the first variable, elite unity, if the elite broke away from the regime this was measured as negative while the elite’s unity and support for the regime was measured as positive. The scale of protest, the second variable, was measured by considering massive protests as positive and smaller-scale protests as negative. With the third variable, use of force, if force was used this was regarded negative and no force was considered positive. Occupation of public places, the fourth variable, was positive if occupation of a public place occurred and negative if this did not happen. The fifth variable, regime responses to the uprising demands, was viewed as positive if the regime met some of the protesters’ demands and negative if it did not. Army intervention, the sixth variable, was considered positive if the army refused to intervene and negative if it did intervene. The seventh variable, population unity, was positive if the people fully supported the uprising whereas division among the people or their lack of support was considered negative. The eighth and final variable, uprising unity, was positive if unity existed and negative if there was division.
Review of Literature
There have been many social movements throughout history that have dramatically changed societies, such as the revolutions in Russia, France, the United States, China, Europe, South America, and the Middle East. They varied widely in their impact and ideologies, with some bringing changes to the socioeconomic and political structures and others working to reform the existing sociopolitical system. Despite the many differences among social movements, sociologists have identified many important similarities with regard to their causes and outcomes.
Sociologists and experts on social movements’ have introduced several theories to explain the causes and dynamics of social movements, among them the Resource Mobilization Theory, which seeks to explain the emergence of social movements through the availability of resources, such as knowledge, money, media, solidarity, and internal and external support. The theory argues that social movements develop when individuals with grievances are able to mobilize sufficient resources to take action. It assumes a link between the availability of resources and the success or failure of a social movement.
However, the resource theory was later replaced by the Political Process Theory, which emphasizes the role of political opportunities, mobilizing structures, and framing processes, along with protest cycles. Charles Tilly asserts that the interaction between interests, organization, and opportunity, explains the level of mobilization and collective action. He argues that social movements are rational attempts by disadvantaged people to mobilize collective political power to achieve their common goal or interest. Doug McAdam argues that in order for individuals to participate in a movement, they must feel the current political system lacks legitimacy and that their participation could bring about meaningful change in the society. This is very useful in analyzing the Arab Spring, as the success of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt encouraged the formation of similar movements throughout the Arab World. The contentious politics theory–which was developed during the 1990s and the beginning of the twenty-first century by Sidney Tarrow, Charles Tilly, and Doug McAdam–deals with the use of revolt, demonstrations, and even revolution to express grievances or to change government policy. However, Fawaz Gerges used the contentious politics theory to analyze the complexities of the Arab uprisings without neglecting the connections between the people and other structural factors. The four-stage social movement theory argues that social movements go through four stages of development: emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline. This theory does not, however, apply to the Arab uprisings, as they have erupted and declined in a very short period of time.
The other relevant theory is the Marxist theory of class relations, which argues that social movements grow out of basic social and economic relations, people’s participation in social movements is a rational activity, and “revolutions are connected to the larger society.”However, because of its main focus on class conflict, it offers limited explanatory power in traditional and classless societies like Arab societies, where other political and religious factors play a significant role.
The Social Movement Theory was used recently by Sean Lynch to compare successful and unsuccessful Arab uprisings by using seven variables. He examined and compared two successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and three unsuccessful uprisings in Jordan, Morocco, and Bahrain, where success was defined as the overthrow of the previous regime. He concluded that the three important variables to the success or failure of these uprisings were elite unity, organizational diffusion, and the level of democratization achieved in the country prior to the uprising. He concluded that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were successful as they received six and seven variables out of seven while the uprisings in Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain were unsuccessful because they received less than four variables.
This study, however, is framed on both the theory of social movement and the theory of political Islam, as the latter is more applicable to the Arab uprising, especially its political and religious dimensions. The role of political Islam was and still is a central concern for many Arab as well as foreign academics and politicians. One of the main questions that have occupied political sociologists, politicians, and political scientists is whether Islam is a peaceful or evil religion and more importantly whether Islam is compatible with democracy or not. Indeed, this subject has become increasingly significant in the political, social, and security realms among many Arab and Western scholars and influenced the agenda of Islamic movement even before the Arab Spring. Analyses of this issue are sometimes marked by prejudice and misunderstanding, as for many Western analysts political Islam is not combatable with democracy. They argue that political Islam is not only against democracy but also prevents many Muslim countries from moving toward modernization and democracy.
Huntington claimed that the traditional conflict between the old ideologies was replaced by conflict between civilizations. He especially singled out Islam to be the major source of future conflict with Western civilization. The second view argues that political Islam is not against democratic principles; rather the ideologies of moderate political Islamists are compatible with the main principles of Western democracy, and Islam calls for Shura–justice and respect for other religions. Some have argued that it is too simplistic to say that Islam is against democracy or intolerant towards others and have considered such views as far from the truth. Others argue that Islamists’ calls for democracy are not genuine, but they do so because they have learned that political participation is the easiest way to gain political power.
As for the relationship between political Islam and democracy, Islamic rule was not among protesters’ main demands. Indeed, the uprisings began with no political leadership, religious motivation, or left-right ideology; and for the first time, the protests and rallies were directed against the undemocratic governments and their failed socioeconomic and political policies. The majority of protesters were not Islamists; rather they were from all walks of life–youth, adults, men, women, Muslims, Christians, secular, and religious–and demanded freedom, dignity, and improved living conditions, later calling for political reform and the overthrow of the autocratic rulers. As for the causes of the Arab Spring, many factors played a significant role in the uprising and its spread to other countries, including inequality, poverty, unemployment, unjust distribution of wealth, corruption, and repression.
Democracy and political reform were among protester demands, but were not major factors behind the uprising; Arab societies remain traditional and adhere to Islamic values, whereas democratization requires modernization and major shifts in peoples’ social values.Accordingly, if such theories were used to explain the Arab Spring, one would expect the participants in the uprising to be the youth and the educated–who are the strongest supporters of democracy and are less religious, in contrast to the illiterate and elderly. Indeed, UNDP reports (2012) confirmed such views, revealing that the majority of participants in the uprising were mostly young and educated. Literature on social movements has also asserted the importance of the role of NGOs, political parties, and other organized groups in providing coordination and organizational capabilities for large-scale uprisings and revolts.
Prior to the 2011 Arab Spring, the Middle East was often seen from the Western perspective as a uniquely undemocratic region with few organized groups or civil society activities. However, the Arab Spring has challenged social movement theory’s classical concepts of political opportunity, collective action, and mobilization structures. Evidence on the Arab uprisings show that NGOs, professional associations, civil society organizations, political parties, and mosques in the Arab World played a significant role in the uprisings.
THE DYNAMICS OF THE ARAB SPRING AND THE IMPACT ON THE MIDDLE EAST
The Arab Spring started in Tunisia on December 17, 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in an act of protest due to humiliation and injustice at the hands of a local municipality official. The incident sparked a wave of protest across Tunisia and led to the overthrow of President Zayn al-Abidin bin Ali. Similar unprecedented demonstrations, rallies, and massive protests–in terms of their massive numbers, demands, and social composition–erupted in many other Arab countries, including Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, and Syria. The Arab Spring was in fact a spontaneous movement that came about as a result of the accumulation of numerous socioeconomic and political problems since the early 1990s. Initially, protesters came out in small numbers, calling upon their governments to improve socioeconomic conditions, freedom, and employment; to respect citizen rights; and to provide dignity, equality, human rights, and democracy.
Initially they were without political leadership, religious motivation, or left/right ideology. In addition, for the first time, the protests and rallies were directed against their own governments and not against external enemies such as the United States or Israel. Within a few months, the Arab social uprisings had attracted huge numbers of protesters, and two presidents were overthrown–President bin Ali of Tunisia on January 14, 2011, and Egyptian President Husni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. These dramatic developments were not expected or even thinkable in the Arab world, which had been ruled by autocratic regimes for decades. Many observers expected other Arab regimes to fall one after the other, but such this did not materialize, and only 4 of 22 have fallen as of the writing of this article.
The success or failure of social movements can be explained by several different factors, such as the support of new political actors, elite unity, scale shift (a movement’s geographic expansion or contraction), external support, organizational diffusion, and the level of democratization. Many Arab regimes have adopted new measures to manage and control the uprisings, including partially meeting demonstrators’ demands, replacing unpopular governments, issuing new laws, and conducting or promising political and economic reform. The response of both the Jordanian and GCC regimes was a combination of security and economic measures to calm the protesters.
The Islamic groups that initially benefited from the Arab Spring were the moderate Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, however, refused all of the government’s efforts and proposals to participate in the political process and instead boycotted the two parliamentary elections that took place in 2010 and 2013. This radical position put them on a collision course with the regime and sparked internal conflict among its leadership.
In the final analysis, the Arab Spring was not about Islam, Islamic or democratic rule; rather, it was about improving socioeconomic conditions, bringing about political reform, dignity, freedom, and fighting corruption. In the two cases in which the Muslim Brotherhood gained power and formed governments in Egypt and Tunisia, none of them advocated Islamic rule. Instead, they followed the old system of government, which was yet again rejected by the people in both countries. The other important feature of the Arab uprisings was the broad solidarity among the different societal components, the massive scale of protesters, and more importantly that the protesters had become unintimidated by the regime’s oppression.
However, by mid-2013, the initial success of the uprisings and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power came to an end. New radical Islamist groups emerged to dominate the political and military scene in the Middle East. The Brothers’ rule was replaced by military or old elites in Egypt and Tunisia. The other important impact the Arab Spring has had is the emergence of many radical Islamist groups, such as the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham in Syria and Iraq; the Houthis in Yemen; and numerous other groups in Egypt, Libya, and the GCC countries. Moreover, many Arab countries are in a state of chaos and civil war, which has required the intervention of the international community and their regional allies in order to fight these radical groups in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. The violence and terrorism committed by some members of the Brotherhood and other radical Islamist groups in Egypt since the 2013 military coup supports the notion that exclusion may lead to radicalization, while the behavior of the Islamists in Tunisia supports the notion that inclusion may lead to moderation. The appearance of these radical groups has affected the image of all Islamist groups, with people fearing Islamist rule–especially in light of the beheadings, torture, and other atrocities committed by the Islamic State and other radical Islamist groups.
The Effects of the Arab Spring on Islamists in the Middle East
The Arab Spring has affected the Islamists in each Arab country differently. Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood in Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco benefited from the events, as the movements succeeded to win a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections and formed governments in each of the three countries. The outcome, however, has been less positive for the Islamists in Jordan, the GCC, and other Arab countries. The other significant result of the Arab Spring was the emergence of several radical Islamist groups, including the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic Movement in Libya, the Shi’i movement in Bahrain, and the Houthis and al-Qa’ida in Yemen.
The declaration of the Islamic Caliphate in large parts of Syria and Iraq as well as the chaos and civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen have opened the door to the emergence of additional radical Islamist groups throughout the Middle East. Indeed, many Arab countries today face serious challenges to their security and stability (both direct and indirect) by some of these radical Islamist groups, which continue to shift alliances and to change names and ideologies. The Arab Spring has thus had a disastrous impact on the so-called “moderate” Islamists, while boosting the power and influence of the radical Islamists in the region. Today, many Arab countries face internal conflict, civil wars, and terrorism, which are expected to continue for years.
ARAB SPRING INSPIRATION TO THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN JORDAN
With the start of the Arab Spring in Jordan, several Muslim Brotherhood leaders made no secret their view that the uprising had shifted the internal balance of political power in their favor. Indeed, the empowerment of Muslim Brotherhood parties in Tunisia, Egypt, and Morocco as well as the sight of successive Arab regimes falling one after the other due to the pressure from the uprisings raised the morale of the Brotherhood in Jordan, which hoped to gain political power like their sister movements in Egypt and Tunisia. Ghaith al-Qudah, head of the Islamic Action Front (IAF, the political wing of the Brotherhood in Jordan) Youth Sector, declared, “What’s happening now in the Arab world is giving us a clear message that we can make changes and that all Arab regimes should understand this reality.”
Another Brotherhood member asserted, “We use the parliamentary election results in other Arab countries to say to our government look, when the elections are fair, the Islamists will win.” Dima Tahboub of the IAF Shura Council noted, “The Arab people are religious by nature, and regardless of Westernization and Globalization, when they are given a free choice they choose Islamists to rule. Another member of the Shura Council and Head of the Women’s Sector Eyda Mutlaq stated, “The Arab Spring today uncovered the real power of the people; look at al-Nahda in Tunis, after years of exile, they came back and the people elected them.” Shura Council member and Head of the IAF Political Office Ruhayil Gharaibeh, despite his knowledge that the Arab Spring was originally initiated by non-Islamist youth, claimed, “The Arab Spring is one of the fruits of Islamic movement’s activities and work. This is precisely what the Muslim Brotherhood has been working to achieve during the last eighty years.”
As for the Brotherhood in Jordan, it called for similar demands introduced by other Islamic movements but stopped short of calling for regime change. It organized regular demonstrations, rallies, and public meetings in major cities, and at the end of each event repeated its demands to amend major constitution articles–especially those related to the king’s power to dissolve the parliament (Article 34), appoint the prime minister (Article 35), and to appoint members of the Upper House (Article 36). Muslim Brotherhood leaders argued that the constitution should empower the people to be the source of authority (Articles 1, 24), that the political party that wins the majority should be entitled to appoint the prime minister, the Upper House should either be abolished or elected by the people, and there should be safeguards against arbitrary dissolution of the parliament by the king. They repeated these demands in all of the media outlets and published them on their official web pages. These demands represented a bold departure from their traditional demands of modern election laws, and indeed were inspired by the empowerment of the Brotherhood in Tunisia and Egypt. Questioning king’s power had been unthinkable before the Arab Spring, even in moments of political crisis.
In addition, many Brotherhood leaders referred to the Moroccan experience as an example the Jordanian regime should follow, especially appointing the leader of the majority party as prime minister. Some considered the Moroccan model the “least costly solution for solving the current crisis in Jordan and to reach a compromise between the desires of regime and the people.” Others even went as far as suggesting a ceremonial role for the king. Gharaibeh noted, “As we can’t continue living under a form of rule that goes back to the Middle Ages, whereby one person exercises all the power without accountability.” He continued, “I believe all Arab regimes will change and the only difference between countries will be the time and scale of change; that all corrupt oppressive regimes will be removed; that there will be a democratic system based on freedom and political participation and that Jordan will definitely be part of this process.” Similarly, IAF Deputy Secretary General Nimr al-Assaf stated, “We are in the 21st century, and nobody accepts absolute power to be in the hands of one single person; no way.”
However, the JMB leadership understood the consequences of crossing the red lines regarding the king’s status and power, and therefore stopped short of calling for regime change as was the case in other countries. Indeed, no senior leader of the IAF or the JMB has called for changing the Hashemite rule. On the contrary, most of these leaders have affirmed the importance of the monarchy to Jordan’s stability and national unity.
However, there was not agreement among all members of the Muslim brotherhood leaders about these radical demands and statements nor, and more importantly, regarding the decision to boycotting the 2010 and 2013 parliamentary elections. Indeed some among the JMB leadership publically announced their disagreement. They feared major constitutional changes would give the Jordanians of Palestinian origin a greater role in country’s political future at the expense of the Jordanian people. This internal discord led to the creation of the unlicensed Zamzam Movement and later to the establishment of the licensed Muslim Brotherhood Society in Jordan, which was immediately recognized by the Jordanian government.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Role in the Uprising in Jordan
The uprising in Jordan was initiated in 2010 by group of youth in Dhiban, a small village near Amman and spread to other parts of the country. On November 7, 2011, the IAF and the JMB promptly joined the uprising (Herrak) along with other groups and political parties in the opposition. The JMB did not participate in the initial phase of the uprising in Jordan, which was dominated largely by several groups of youth protesters. However, after seeing the success of the uprisings in neighboring Arab countries, the Brotherhood not only began to participate but also took over the leadership of the uprising movement, which became known locally as “the mobilization” or (al-Herrak).
The IAF and JMB began to organize and mobilize regular demonstrations and rallies in Amman and other major cities on a larger scale than ever before. As the Arab uprisings expanded across the region, the JMB increased its mobilization activities and conducted substantial popular demonstrations in Amman, Irbed, and Zarqa, demanding from the regime major sociopolitical reforms, including fixing the whole political system.
There is no dispute that the JMB is the main opposition group in Jordan with political experience, organizational skills, financial resources, and popular support. It is true that there are the so-called the national movement, leftists, and other Islamic political parties, but none are able to compete with the Islamic movement. The JMB has vast numbers of members and supporters in addition to a long history of providing social, educational, and medical services and organizing public events that have enabled them to control the street. One IAF member claimed that 90 percent of demonstrators were from the Islamic movement and without them there would be few demonstrators. However, in a move to show its leadership of the national uprising, the JMB coordinated and cooperated with other established political opposition parties and newly fragmented regional Herrak committees. Thus, the main logic behind the JMB strategy in cooperating with other political parties and groups was to not only to increase overall pressure on the regime but also to show the regime and the public that the JMB constituted the main political opposition in the country.
The JMB organized meetings in the mosques, knowing that the government would not dare to prevent people from going to pray. It thus took advantage of Friday prayers to organize regular rallies and demonstrations. At the end of each rally, Brotherhood and other prominent opposition leaders gave speeches–broadcast live on television, social, and other media outlets–outlining their demands. The main weekly event was a regular rally led by JMB leaders marching arm-in-arm with other opposition leaders from al-Husayni Mosque to al-Nakheel Square in downtown Amman. Their demands were usually a reflection of the IAF and JMB written statement, which included real political reform; changing the election law; amending the constitution; empowering the people to be the real source of power; limiting the king’s authority to dissolve the parliament; and rejecting government’s superficial, illusory, and cosmetic reforms.
While most demonstrations concluded peacefully, on March 24, 2011, a youth activist group seized the Jamal Abd al-Nasir roundabout in Amman and declared an open sit-in. Although this move was not officially led by the JMB leaders, the majority of protesters were Muslim Brotherhood and IAF members. Some IAF leaders alleged that the intelligence department was in fact behind them, as quoted in an interview with Jacob Amis; “We have two governments–one formed by the king and the other is formed by the intelligence department. The regime wants to control the Muslim Brotherhood, but that is not going to happen.” Another JMB member expressed the movement’s resolve to continue its political activities and demands. The Brotherhood leadership rejected all government efforts and proposals for political reform and continued its weekly rallies in hopes of getting a better deal. As quoted in another interview by Jacob Amis, “Now our movement is irreversible, and I pray to God to help our king make the right and brave decision to prevent Jordan from having the same fate as Syria and Yemen.’’ By adopting such a radical position, the group placed itself on a collision course with the regime.
Regime Response to the Arab Spring in Jordan
In January 2011, Jordan, like other countries in the Arab world, was hit by a continuous wave of protests, rallies, and demonstrations calling for socioeconomic and political reform. The demands included dismissing the government, dissolving the parliament, amending the electoral law, and conducting fair and free elections. The king responded positively to some of the protesters’ demands by dismissing five governments in two years and taking several other steps, including the establishment of an independent commission to oversee elections, a constitutional court to monitor legislation, and other independent bodies to oversee the elections and to fight corruption; he amended the election law to include 27 seats for the nationalist list and continued its top-down political and economic reform policies. The king, however, stopped short of limiting any of his executive powers.
Despite positive responses from the general public and the national media for these steps, Brotherhood General Supervisor Hamam Sa’id declared that these measures and proposals “did not make the people the source of political power.” The JMB and the Islamic Action Front issued a joint statement rejecting these proposals, asserting, “The government wasted an opportunity to make substantial amendments to the structure of the political system, to render to the people their right as the source of power, to respond to the peoples’ demands for real reform, and to meet the challenges that the country faces.”
The Jordanian regime’s response to the Arab Spring was different from that of most other Arab countries, particularly Egypt, especially in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood. Unlike Egypt, the Jordanian government has not, as of the writing of this article, banned the movement but has encouraged internal conflict. At the same time, it has permitted the establishment of other Islamist political parties, such as al-Wasat, and granted a license to the new Society of Muslim Brothers. It has dealt with the JMB as a non-licensed organization with the possibility of allowing the Society of Muslim Brothers to take over all of the JMB’s assets, without officially banning the old movement.
The Failure of the Uprising in Jordan
Many scholars have attempted to understand why the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia were successful but not so in Jordan other Arab countries. They have used different approaches to answer this question, including Marxist theory, social movement, and political Islam theories. Sean Lynch has used social movement theory to compare the outcomes of the Arab Spring in five Arab countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Bahrain. According to Lynch, a successful uprising is defined as one that overthrows the existing regime. The study concluded that elite unity with the regime in power, the existence of mobilizing organizations in the country, and the level of democratization in each country before the uprising were the most important factors in the success or failure of the uprising. However, this study sought to determine the difference between the outcome of uprisings in Jordan and Egypt by using both social movement and political Islam theories to test the effects of eight variables (Table 1). These are: elite unity and support for the regime; size and scale of protest; use of force; uprising occupation of public places; regime responses to protesters’ demands; army intervention; population unity and support for the uprising; and, finally, the unity of the uprising. It examines the impact of eight variables on the different outcomes of the uprisings in Jordan and Egypt (Table 1).
Regarding the third variable, the use of force against protesters, the regime in Jordan used soft power to deal with protesters and there were no deaths or serious causalities among protesters. While the Jordanian government gave some space to demonstrators to express their views and demands, at the same time, it established certain red lines–specifically against direct criticism of the king and demonstrations inside the Palestinian refugee camps and tribal areas, as such activities could endanger stability and national unity. The regime in Egypt, on the other hand, used excessive force to disperse protesters, which led to thousands of deaths and casualties among demonstrators and the police. In the case of Egypt, this use of force in fact provoked the protesters and drove more people to join the uprising.
The main factors appearing to determine the success or failure of the Arab uprisings in Jordan and Egypt included elite unity and support for the regime, army intervention, unity of the people behind the uprising, the size and scale of the uprising, and the ability of those involved in the uprising to occupy public squares and places. Egypt scored five out of eight variables while Jordan scored only two out of eight. Thus, the uprising in Egypt was successful in overthrowing the regime because it enjoyed the support of the people; the elite broke its unity with the regime; it was a massive movement; it succeeded in occupying public places; the army refused to support the regime; the regime did not respond positively to the protesters’ demands; and the regime used excessive force against protesters, leading to many deaths and casualties among the population. The uprising in Jordan, on the other hand, was not successful because the elite maintained unity with the regime, protests were small scale, the regime used soft power instead of force, the regime did not allow protesters to occupy public places, the regime responded positively to protesters’ demands, there was no public unity behind the uprising, and the uprising was not united but fragmented.
Table 1: Uprising and Regimes Variables
|Elite unity & support for the regime||United||Divided|
|Size & scale of protest||Massive protest||Limited & fragmented protest|
|Use of force against protesters||Excessive force||Soft power|
|Occupation of public places||On a large scale||Not allowed|
|Regime responses to uprising demands||No||Yes|
|Army intervention||Refused to intervene||Effectively quelled the uprising in Ma’an and was ready to intervene|
|Population unity & support for the uprising||United society||Divided society|
|Unity of the uprising||Regime change/ overthrow||No regime change|
The Arab Spring and the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s Political Future
By November 2011, the uprising in Jordan which was started by small youth groups across the countryside, developed into a popular movement that spread to the major cities. Friday protests soon became regular event in Jordan. The protesters were divided into three groups: the Islamists, which consisted mainly of the Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF; al-Herrak, which was made up of independent youth; and the nationalist and leftist groups and political parties. Initially, the Muslim Brotherhood was hesitant and reluctant to join the uprising, but since late 2011, it has dominated the uprising and helped it spread to the major urban centers. The Brotherhood has also coordinated some of its activities with the nationalist and leftist groups especially after Friday’s prayers.
The Brotherhood and the nationalist groups wanted political change. They therefore called for fixing the political system and limiting the king’s powers. Al-Herrak, on the other hand, worked in smaller numbers and isolated groups in smaller towns and villages and was more interested in improving socioeconomic conditions, solving poverty and unemployment, and fighting corruption. The JMB leaders, inspired by the success of other Islamists, felt they were in a strong position and therefore refused to participate in the political process unless the regime met all their demands. They thus rejected all of the government’s proposals for political and economic reforms and boycotted the 2010 and 2013 general elections.
During 2014 and 2015, however, the situation changed dramatically: The Muslim Brotherhood both in Egypt and Tunisia lost political power and the Brotherhood in Egypt was banned and labeled a terrorist organization in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates. Moreover, several new extreme Islamists groups have emerged, including the Islamic State (IS), Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Houthis. These groups have caused chaos and civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya and other Arab countries. IS rule in Syria and Iraq, Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt and Tunisia, and Houthi rule in Yemen have changed the attitudes of the people toward Islamists in the Arab world.
The appearance of numerous radical Islamists groups and the civil wars in the region as well as the JMB’s refusal to participate in the Jordanian parliamentary elections has weakened its position in the public eye and created serious internal conflict among the JMB leadership. In Jordan, the first sign of this internal conflict was the establishment of the Zamzam Movement, which was followed by the establishment of the Society of Muslim Brothers in Jordan. This government move has practically split the Muslim Brotherhood into two rival groups–one dominated by Palestinian extreme leadership and the second led by moderate Jordanian leadership. This is in addition to the existence of other Islamist Salafi, jihadi groups, and other political parties, such as the Wasat Party (which has participated in the political process since 1993 and won 15 seats in 2013 elections). Indeed, the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan today is far weaker than before. The government has succeeded in weakening the uprising by playing the protesters– the Islamists, political parties, and al-Herrak–against so that the uprising no longer poses any real danger to the regime and the country.
The Arab Spring has brought about new realities, which could be explained using a variety of sociological theories. This article employs both social movement and political Islam theories to explain the dynamics of the Arab Spring and its impact on the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and the Middle East. The Arab Spring was a spontaneous social movement that started in Tunisia and spread throughout the Arab world. The majority of protesters were young, came from all walks of life, and had no specific religious or political ideologies. They did not call for Arab unity, Arab nationalism, or Islamic rule.
They were later joined by Islamists and members of other leftist and opposition political parties and groups. Their main demands were improving socioeconomic conditions, employment opportunities, fighting corruption, freedom, and respect of dignity and human rights. The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia began peacefully but faced brutal responses from both regimes. The death and injuries of thousands of protesters in both countries has changed the dynamics of the uprisings and attracted millions of protesters.
The rise of Muslim Brotherhood to political power in Egypt inspired many MB and other Islamist groups and parties in Jordan and other Arab countries, motivating them to join the uprisings in their own countries. However, in 2013 and 2014, the Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia not only lost political power but Brotherhood in Egypt was also declared a terrorist organization and banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.
The main conclusion of this article, therefore, is that the Arab Spring has had a disastrous impact on the political future of the so-called moderate Islamists, namely the Muslim Brotherhood, in the Arab world in general, and especially in Egypt and Jordan. The second important result of the Arab Spring is that it opened the door for the appearance of many new radical Islamist groups in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sinai in Egypt, and Yemen. These groups, including the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, the Houthis, and others have spread radicalism and terror throughout the region. The United States and many other European countries intervened in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, while Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries intervened in Bahrain and Yemen. This intervention, however, and the support for the uprisings resulted in continuous chaos and civil wars in these countries.
The Arab Spring has thus deeply changed the sociopolitical landscape and created internal conflict in several Arab countries–including Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen–with a lesser effect on Jordan, Morocco, and the GCC countries. The appearance of the Islamic State and other radical groups and their brutal crimes against civilians have contributed to the negative image of Islamists in general and frightened people from any form of Islamic rule. The Brotherhood in Jordan was inspired by the success of its sister movements in Egypt and Tunisia and in a miscalculated move, it rejected all the government’s efforts and proposals to participate in the political process, boycotting the 2010 and 2013 parliamentary elections. The group continued its protest activities and cosponsored thousands of demonstrations and rallies across the country, particularly in Amman and other major cities after Friday prayers.
The uprising in Jordan, however, failed due to the government’s strategy: partially giving in to protester demands, dividing the uprising by playing the participating groups against each other; preventing sit-ins in public places, and using soft power to control and manage the protest. The regime followed the old “divide and rule” policy as it encouraged internal conflict and practically split the movement into two rival groups. It succeeded in dividing the uprising into several groups such Jordanians against Palestinians, Islamists versus non-Islamists, and different Herrak, for example, north Herrak against south or cities versus countryside. This practically brought the uprising to a complete halt.
Moreover, the July 2013 military coup in Egypt, the spread of chaos and civil wars in neighboring Arab countries, the arrival of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees to Jordan, the appearance of many radical Islamists groups, and the civil wars in neighboring countries has weakened the JMB position in the eyes of the public and created serious internal conflict among its leadership. Today, the JMB is split into two rival groups–one dominated by Palestinian extreme leadership and the second led by moderate Jordanian leadership. However, it is too early to determine the impact of this split on the JMB’s political future. This divide is only one problem facing the JMB. In addition, there are other rival political Islamist groups, including Salafi, jihadi, and other political parties like the Wasat Party (which has participated in the political process since 1993 and won 15 seats in 2013 elections).
Regarding the political future of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the regime’s position and policy toward its political future and legal existence remain vague. In September 2015, the government introduced a new parliamentary election law, abrogating the one-man, one-vote system and adopting a multi-vote system in its place. The new law was received positively among many political circles and the press, though the old JMB’s position is on the upcoming parliamentary elections is not clear. It is unlikely, however, that the government will ban the JMB before the elections.
*This research was conducted during the author’s sabbatical leave from the University of Jordan during the 2014-2015 academic year at the Religious Department, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA.
*Prof. Abdelmahdi Alsoudi (Ph.D. 1986, Keele University (U.K. ) is currently a professor of political sociology and Middle East studies at the Department of Sociology at Jordan University. He joined the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University as a senior researcher in 1986 and has been a lecturer and conducted research in many Arab and Western universities, including the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS), Denver University 2007-2008; United Arab Emirates University (2000-2002); Princess Rahmeh University College, 2002-2003; Visiting Scholar (DAAD grant) at Bonn University, 2004; Visiting Professor (International Policy Fellowship), Georgetown University, 2005; and Visiting Scholar at the Department of Religious Studies at North Carolina University at Charlotte (2014-2015). He has participated in numerous regional and international conferences and has published several articles on socio-political issues, such as Islam and democracy, anti-Americanism in the Arab World, and democracy and political reform in the Arab World.
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