Jordanian law aims to block (some) religious parties

New legislation is aimed at Salafists, but Islamists think it will limit their influence, too.

Jordan Muslim Brotherhood supporters_311 (photo credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed )
Jordan Muslim Brotherhood supporters_311
(photo credit: Reuters/Muhammad Hamed )
AMMAN, Jordan - Jordanian authorities have drawn the ire of opposition groups after parliament's endorsement of a controversial new Parties Law that would ban the formation of political factions based on religious ideologies. 
The law, which still must be approved by the Senate and enacted by King Abdullah II, is widely seen as a measure to prevent the creation of Salafist parties, in response to the Islamist trend’s growing popularity in Egypt and Tunisia. The law is worded carefully enough that it will have no impact on older, more established Islamist parties, including the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the pro-regime Islamist Centrist Party.
The bill comes one year after protests swept the kingdom demanding political reform and public involvement in decision-making. The government claims the new law is part of its reform campaign and to encourage Jordanians to become more involved in politics.
“The Salafi groups, be it traditional Salafis or jihadis have shown time and again that they are not interested in political activities. But the government wants to emphasize its position concerning the rising power of Islamists,” said Abu Omar, a prominent Salafi from the eastern city of Zarqa, told The Media Line.
Abla Abu Elebeh, secretary-general of the Hashed political party, said the new law is a step in the wrong direction. “It’s regrettable that such a law has been passed. It contains many negative parts and sends the wrong message, not only to existing political parties, but to young and aspiring parties because it will limit their roles in society,” she said in a statement.
Over the past few years, Jordanian authorities have cracked down on Salafist groups, who espouse a form of Islamism that seeks to revive religious practices as they were in the days of Muhammad the Prophet. Traditionally, they have rejected electoral politics as un-Islamic, but in Egypt they jettisoned that stand and ran candidates for parliament, capturing a quarter of the seats in election over December and January.
In Jordan, authorities regularly imprison key Salafi leaders. Movement activists insist that the group has no political ambitions but that the government wants to send the message that it will not tolerate Salafi activities or political involvement.
Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, which advocates a more moderate form of Islam, though one held in suspicion by secular governments and many in the West, accuses authorities of refusing to implement true political reform. It says the Parties Law is nothing more than an attempt to weaken its influence in Jordanian politics.
The new law would also restrict foreign funding of political parties and place control of all political parties in hands of the Interior Ministry.
Jordan’s parliament is also currently considering a new Elections Law, which is also seen by opposition leaders as being anti-reform. Analysts say the law’s aim is to maintain the king’s leverage of the pro-regime tribes, while discouraging nationally orientated parties and marginalizing Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who make up at least half the country’s population but have been denied political power in proportion to their number.
The election law is “the toughest of the challenges” facing the new government, according to Oded Eran, an analyst with Israel Institute for National Strategic Studies.
“The king is trying to steer a course between the demand by the opposition – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood – for full proportional representation, which would reflect the support for the organization, and the king’s own desire not to lose control of parliament even while projecting the appearance of a reform-minded sovereign,” he said in a report released on Monday.
Observers say that the two pieces of legislation have been promoted by right-wing groups close to the security forces and the army, which oppose the rise of the Islamist movement.
The royal palace has stated repeatedly that the kingdom is committed to implementing reform but opposition party leaders believe that the two new pieces of legislation show otherwise.
They point to King Abdullah’s appointment of a conservative prime minister, Fayez Al-Tarawneh, earlier this month as another reason for pessimism among political activists, who describe the new premier as anti-reform.