In Egypt and Jordan, Brotherhood feels the heat

Analysis: Islamist movement finds journey to power may be more difficult than expected.

Muslim Brotherhood, FJP's Khairat al-Shater (photo credit: Reuters)
Muslim Brotherhood, FJP's Khairat al-Shater
(photo credit: Reuters)
The euphoria with which the West first welcomed the Middle East revolts has long subsided, as Islamists’ electoral victories across the region spark fears that the “Arab Spring” has devolved into an Islamic winter. But developments in Egypt and Jordan last week have forced the region's oldest and largest Islamist group – the Muslim Brotherhood – to wonder whether the road to political rule may be bumpier than anticipated.
This week, the Egyptian Brotherhood’s presidential ambitions suffered a blow when the country’s electoral committee disqualified its main candidate, Khairat al-Shater, over a prior criminal conviction. On Wednesday, Shater lashed out at the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for what he described as a plot to keep the Brotherhood out of power.
“The military council does not have the serious intention to transfer power,” Shater said, accusing the officers – who forced out fellow general Hosni Mubarak after street protests last year – of reneging on promises to step aside.
“We must wake up, because there is an attempt to hijack the revolution,” he said.
With Shater out, the Brotherhood’s replacement candidate is Mohamed Mursi, chairman of its Freedom and Justice Party. Mursi is both less charismatic and less recognizable than his predecessor, and could struggle at the polls.
“Is this the man that never smiles? Why would I vote for someone I’ve never heard of and who I know nothing about?” a Cairo security guard told Reuters, referring to Mursi.
In Jordan, parliament moved last week to ban the Brotherhood’s political party – and the country’s largest parliamentary faction – from running in upcoming elections. The DPA news agency reported that 46 of 83 lawmakers voted to add a clause in election regulations stipulating that no party could be formed on an “ethnic, sectarian or religious basis.”
“This is only the latest in a series of measures by deputies to limit the influence of political parties and any dissenting views in parliament and political life in general,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, political bureau chief for the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood’s Jordanian branch. “We believe all Jordanian citizens – not only Islamists – should have the right to form a political party without conditions.”
Both countries’ political establishment now jostle to sideline the Brotherhood. On Wednesday, Egypt’s grand mufti visited Jerusalem’s Al- Aksa Mosque along with a member of the Jordanian royal family. Brotherhood factions in both Cairo and Amman condemned the visit.
“What he did cannot be justified and cannot be endorsed,” a top Egyptian Brotherhood official said on the movement’s website. Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa is a political appointee – named to the post in 2003 by Mubarak. Joining Gomaa in his Jerusalem visit was Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed, the cousin of King Abdullah II and his adviser on religious affairs.
“In line with Islamic edicts issued by respected clerics and consultations with Christian religious leaders, we consider these trips as acts of normalization that serve the schemes of the enemy,” Islamic Action Front chairman Hamzeh Mansur said.
“Mosque preachers, thinkers, intellectuals and journalists should intensify their efforts to warn the public against the dangerous risks behind such visits, which must not continue,” added Mansur, who also heads a committee against normalization of relations with Israel.
Muslim and Christian religious establishments in the Arab world have traditionally objected to visiting Islamic holy places in Jerusalem as long as the eastern city remains under Israeli control. But speaking in Qatar in February, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Arabs and Muslims to visit the city, assuring them such a move would in no way represent “normalization” with the Jewish state.
“Visiting a prisoner is an act of support and does not mean normalization with the warden,” Abbas said at the time.
Ghazi’s visit comes two weeks after that of another of the monarch’s cousins, Prince Hashim bin Al Hussein. Jerusalem’s Islamic holy sites are in the custody of the Jordanian Wakf – the Islamic religious trusteeship – a holdover from the Jordanian occupation of east Jerusalem and the West Bank between 1948 and 1967.
Last week in Egypt, the Brotherhood faced criticism from a number of youth activists who led the anti-Mubarak uprising more than a year ago. A coalition of 34 youth groups signed a joint statement on Wednesday, blaming both the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Brotherhood for allowing the goals of the revolution to falter.
Youth activists have criticized the SCAF for months, but the statement marked the first explicit condemnation of the Brotherhood’s conduct during the uprising’s aftermath.
“The Muslim Brotherhood bear part of the responsibility for weakening the revolution’s momentum and diverting its path as they preferred their narrow party interests over that of the people,” the statement said, Egypt’s Al- Ahram newspaper reported on Thursday.
“The revolution arose against a police and military state, but the Brotherhood were mainly against Mubarak alone,” youth activist Khaled Teleima told the paper. “The Brotherhood were against Mubarak but not for the revolution.”
Reuters contributed to this report.