Jordan’s king and the Islamists: In one boat?

Unlike what many of Jordan’s king supporters in the West might believe, he is not an anti-Islamist, and the Jordanian public is not pro-MB.

Jordan's King Abdullah 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jordan's King Abdullah 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With the Arab Spring boiling, it is would be rather naive for anyone to assume any Arab regime is immune to a revolution. Nonetheless, many in Israel and elsewhere seem to believe the kingdom of Jordan is stable. Those people should just listen to the king himself.
In a congressional hearing, US Senator Lindsey Graham said Jordan’s king had told him he “did not think he would be in power within a year from now” because of the crisis in Syria. To which US Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey responded: “Yes, that is basically his fear.”
The weekly anti-regime protests in Jordan have almost stopped; this has been celebrated by some of the pro-king journalists in the West. Nonetheless, they have celebrated too early, because Jordanians have switched from peaceful protesting to violence.
In the past few weeks, violent riots, confrontations with the police and full-scale gun battles have hit downtown Amman, the Gaza refugee camp, Irbid in the north and all the way down to the ancient city of Petra. A dozen Jordanians have been killed.
Still, ongoing violence in Jordan receives little media coverage; with Al Jazeera in particular barely reporting anything negative on Jordan.
This has been very helpful to the king as Al Jazeera is one of the world’s main sources for Middle East news, that has been a catalyzer for most Arab revolutions.
With no logical explanation for Al Jazeera’s stance, one fact remains: many of Al Jazeera’s top managers and producers are Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members.
In fact, the longest serving general manager for Al Jazeera was Waddah Khanfar, who is a known Jordanian MB figure.
Unlike the MB in Egypt and elsewhere, Jordan’s MB has been in a nearly full partnership with the ruling regime.
For a starter, Jordan’s MB supported the Hashemite regime in the 1970 civil war and even declared fighting against the Palestinian militias with King Hussein “a jihad.”
In November 2012, a full-scale revolution started in Jordan. Hundreds of thousands of Jordanians from Palestinian refugee camps and East Bankers’ areas took to the street calling for the king to step down and leave the country. The MB stood against these protesters and disrupted their movement for weeks.
At the same time, the MB leadership issued a public press release in which their leader Zaki Bani Rushied said: “We have chosen to reform the regime and not to topple it.”
But why would the MB choose for Jordan’s king to stay rather than be ousted? It would have made sense if this became the MB’s stance after Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi was ousted, but this was the MB’s position since day one.
The answer might lie in the fact that Jordan’s king and his father have been the only Arab rulers who allowed the MB to exist as a registered charity, enabling the MB to have its own private schools, private universities, hospitals, Islamic banks and even their own newspaper and TV station.
Today, while Jordan’s king imprisons and tortures seculars calling for reform, he allows the MB to organize anti-Israel/ anti-US protests under the protection and facilitation of the Jordanian police. This way, the king manages to use the MB as a scarecrow to play on Israel’s fear factor, claiming the Islamists would take over Jordan if he falls to the Arab Spring.
A SEASONED Jordanian journalist who spoke to me recently on the condition of anonymity claimed the king’s office has been reaching out to Western and Israeli journalists, analysts and commentators to claim he was under the threat of an MB takeover.
An internal MB memo leaked to CNN Arabic in December 2012 showed the MB believed its influence over the Jordanian street had diminished. If that is the case, the MB may not be likely to place a president in office if the king falls, as they have been failing to impress the rather secular Palestinian majority.
In short, MB seems to know if the king falls, it could fall with him too.
Jordanian-Palestinian political figure Emad Tarifi told me: “If parliamentary elections were held today, the MB will barely get 15% of the vote, they are no longer popular and the public has come to realize they are in bed with the king.”
Tarifi himself is an example; despite being a secular opposition figure, the king’s intelligence service has confiscated his passport and keeps harassing him, while hardcore MB fundamentalist hold government jobs and recruit members openly.
Further, in the same week Egypt’s new government outlawed the MB, Jordan’s king announced he would not do the same.
In addition, Jordan’s MB leaders have been rallying public support for the king; recently, MB’s spiritual mentor, Hamzah Mansour, described the king as “a man for all Jordanians,” and his second in command, Salem Falahat, bragged that the MB had “cleansed the revolution,” a remark that provoked Jordanian seculars, who claim Falahat targeted them with his remark.
Even more, while the country is still raging with violence, the MB started organizing anti-Israel protests, which the king’s media has been publicizing; possibly to reinforce Israel’s fears of change in Jordan.
While Jordan’s king still has some cheerleaders in the Western and Israeli media, they either deliberately or ignorantly overlook the fact that the seculars are now the king’s enemies and the Islamists are supporting him.
Unlike what many of Jordan’s king supporters in the West might believe, he is not an anti-Islamist, and the Jordanian public is not pro-MB.
Jordan is not immune to change and those who care for peace in the region must open the door to Jordan’s secular opposition, or at least give them a hearing.
The author is a Palestinian writer and academic from Jordan.