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History of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Part One | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Amman, Jordan is a small country in terms of its potentials and resources. It has been also surrounded by politically and ideologically hostile regimes such as the Syrian Baath and the Nasserite Egypt. Moreover, Jordan has witnessed many leftist, Nasserite and Marxist trends, which have been openly at odds with the Hashemite monarchy, especially at the peak of Nasserite and Baathist fervor.

Despite that, the country has achieved a unique example in coexistence with different elements. It has also enjoyed a remarkable political dynamism in transformation and change according to the surrounding circumstances. The best proof of this is the large number of governments that have been formed in Jordan taking into consideration the period”s internal and external requirements.

In as much as fundamentalism is concerned, Jordan is torn between worries provoked because of Al-Zarqawi, and the cost it has to incur because of HAMAS and the Jordan Brotherhood”s support for the agenda of HAMAS.

The Jordanian territory has also not been free of intellectual and military Al-Qaeda-like groups. Hardly a week passes without a case involving fundamentalist military activity is brought before the State Security Court.

So, what is the story of the Jihadi Salafi trend? What is the impact of the currant situation in Iraq scene on Jordan? Al-Zarqawi is active in Iraq and from his positions there, he sends his guns and car bombs to Jordan with the aim of exploding them in the premises of the Intelligence or the Attorney General?

What is the reason behind the Shiite dudgeon and resentment with Jordan? What is the background of King Abdullah II”s warning against the Shiite crescent? How did the political system of Jordan”s monarchy acquire this ability to present a distinguished example of dealing with the Islamists from a position of cooperation and integration in the political life and not from a position of enmity and alienation? The history of the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hashemite throne provides an exciting story in the Arab world. Sometimes it is a marriage of convenience, in other times it becomes a political alliance. In all cases, there have been instances where the players did not follow the script. However soon they would return to the original script and drop all footnotes.

Within these contexts, we shall try to cast an overview on this scene, starting with the story of the Brotherhood and the Muslims. Then we shall go over the story of the Jihadi Salafi trend and its spiritual figure head godfather Abu-Muhammad al-Maqdisi and it general Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. We shall then conclude by considering the impact of the Iraqi situation on the Jordanian internal position.

Is it true that the Jordanian scene cannot give an exemplary vision to approach the destiny and the origins of political Islam?

This question was inspired by some advice from the famous Lebanese researcher on Islamic issues Radwan al-Sayyid. I found myself repeating it over and over while I was packing my suitcases to leave Jordan after I spent more than a week there interviewing some of the Brotherhood movement”s leaders and mentors, some of those who turned against the movement, some of its supporters and opponents, and also some of those who chose to sit on the fence.

To tell the truth, the scene is ideal, but not because of the Jordan Brotherhood”s weight compared to its counterparts in Egypt, Syria or Iraq. This consideration would be in favor of the Egyptian and Syrian Brotherhoods at the expense of the Jordanian Brotherhood. There is another reason for this. It is the uniqueness of the relationship between the Hashemite throne and the Muslim Brotherhood since 1945. It started when King Abdullah I, the founder of the kingdom asked Abdul-Hakim Abidin (died in Cairo in 1975) to form the Jordanian government. However, Abidin, who was Hasan al-Banna”s brother-in-law, apologized. This happened in the early thirties of the twentieth century.

Throughout history, this relationship between the throne and the Brotherhood remained distinguished. One main reason behind this was the dispute between the Brotherhood and King Farooq in Egypt. King Farooq became engaged in an open struggle with the Brotherhood, especially after the 1948 war, between the Zionist gangs and the various resistance groups. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood took part in the resistance. Hasan al-Banna was personally very enthusiastic about it, while it became a source of apprehension for the regime. King Farooq was afraid that this weapon could be used to overthrow his regime.

According to Bernard Lewis in his book ”The West and the Middle East”, King Farooq”s decision to dissolve the Brotherhood group came after he discovered that the Brotherhood was conspiring to overthrow Farooq. According to this plan, the Brotherhood”s fighters on their way back from the 1948 war in Palestine were supposed to surround Cairo and to stage a coup. They were planning to overthrow Farooq and proclaim the establishment of an Islamic republic.

We do not know the details of the plan to which Lewis refers to in his book. History has it that the Brotherhood played a role in the July 1952 revolution with the Free Officers against monarchy. When the Free Officers decided to dissolve all parties, the Brotherhood was the only party to be excluded.

However, the relationship between the Brotherhood and the Officers and more specifically with Abdul Nasser soon became hostile for a number of reasons. Once again, the Brotherhood movement became an illegal organization only a few years after the decision taken by King Farooq and his Prime Minister al-Naqrashi to dissolve the group.

Under these circumstances, whether during the time of Farooq or Abdul Nasser, the regime in Jordan was eager to enhance its relationship with the Brotherhood, following the popular saying ”my enemy”s enemy is my friend”. Such a relationship continued because of the Jordanian King”s need to secure popular and ideological support in his fight against leftist and nationalist trends opposing the Jordanian monarchy. At times of crisis, the Brotherhood proved to take the King”s side against his enemies, or to be more precise against their own enemies, if one looked deeper.

However, this alliance-based relationship witnessed some objections from the Brotherhood against the regime, especially in connection with British presences inside the Jordanian army. In 1954 they launched some demonstrations in protest. On the other hand, the regime had its own inherent doubts and suspicions about the Brotherhood. In certain cases, the regime did not allow them to open branches in some areas, especially in the West Bank under technical or likewise pretexts.

Despite that, and according to some observers, the relationship between the Hashemite family and the Brotherhood remained for many decades strategic rather than tactical. Musa al-Ma”ayitah, a Jordanian political activist and the head of the Jordanian Democratic Left Party which embraces a number of former communists, and some people from the national trend and some senators said, &#34The Brotherhood are the allies of the Jordanian regime. In the 1970s, we used to call the Brotherhood ”the cultural police” because they were the spearhead in the confrontation against the progressive and nationalist trends.&#34 He added, &#34In 1974 I was a member of the Communist Party. I was besieged by the regime. My passport was withdrawn, and I was under surveillance. At that time, the prominent Brotherhood member, Ishaq al-Farhan was the Minister of Education in the government&#34.

Therefore, it has been a complicated relationship. At one end there was a shrewd politician, King Abdullah I, and later his grandson, King Hussein, while at the other end, there was an Islamic movement that failed to find a supporter among the Arab countries, except in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. This happened at the Arab era of Abdul Nasser and the Baath and during the Cold War era between the socialist and capitalist blocs.

Ibrahim Gharayibah, a Jordanian researcher on Brotherhood affairs and one of its prominent members in the past who resigned from the group and became a critic of the experiment said, &#34There was an axis called the Riyadh-Amman Axis to face Abdul Nasser and whoever moved in his orbit. The Brotherhood”s public activity in Jordan and indirect activities in Saudi Arabia are the outcomes of this anti-Nasserite alliance&#34.

He went on to say, &#34Abdul Hakim Abidin, secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood, came to Jordan and met with King Abdullah in the mid 1930s. This can only be interpreted in the context of the political struggle in the region, or even in view of the king”s personal and cultural concerns. King Abdullah I was very much interested in religious and reformist aspects. Based on this, one can understand his invitation to Abidin to settle in Jordan and to form the government&#34. He added, &#34The Brotherhood and until the late 1930s, remained a religious reformist movement. Their political activity and fervor began in the 1940s, especially after the developments that took place in the Palestinian cause. Al-Haj Amin al-Husseini tried hard to mobilize support for the Palestinian and Al-Quds causes. As a result, the two al-Husseini”s, Musa Kazim and Al-Haj Amin together with others formed an alliance with some of the Islamic figures from Egypt and outside Egypt. This was done under the umbrella of the Supreme Islamic Council. They set up the Islamic Convention in Jerusalem. The Egyptian Said Ramadan, who was Hasan al-Banna”s son in law, became the secretary general of this convention&#34.

Said Ramadan was one of the pioneers of the Brotherhood”s leadership in Egypt who undertook the task of settling the Brotherhood in the West Bank and specifically in Jerusalem where he established the Muslim Brotherhood”s branch on 26 October 1945. A number of other branches were opened in Palestine with the help of the group in Egypt. King Abdullah I, whose shadow could be felt in Palestine in one way or another, received Said Ramadan.

Gharayibah added, &#34The famous orator, Said Ramadan, carried the Jordanian passport given to him by the King, and I think he continued to carry it until his death in Switzerland where he settled&#34.

Said Ramadan used to give sermons at the Al-Husseini Mosque in Amman, which was King Abdullah”s mosque. He was such an eloquent speaker with great impact on his listeners that even non-Muslims used to attend his sermons, as the Jordanian Christian Jamal al-Sha”ir says in his memoirs, according to Ibrahim Gharayibah. This relationship developed to the point of granting the Brotherhood movement official recognition. King Abdullah and with the approval of the Council of Ministers granted the group a work license in 1946.

From the beginning, it was obvious that the Brotherhood movement in Jordan is only a Palestinian excretion, as the Jordan Brotherhood”s historian Musa Zayd al-Kilani says; especially that King Abdullah never disguised his warm ambition to unite Palestine and Syria under the banner of the Hashemite kingdom. East Jerusalem was under the Hashemite administration until the 1967 defeat. The whole issue came to an end after the official disengagement of the West Bank in 1988.

It was remarkable to see the former Brotherhood leaders at the spearhead of the Brotherhood fighters in Palestine too. The first Brotherhood General Guide Sheikh Abdul Latif Abu-Qurah was one of the leaders of the brigades that fought the 1948 war. Another such leader was Kamil al-Sharif, minister of endowment and Senate member. He described himself as being close to the Brotherhood and an old fan of Hasan al-Banna. He met with Hasan al-Banna when the latter came to Negev during the confrontations between the Zionist and Arab volunteers including the Muslim Brotherhood.

Kamil al-Sharif was an example of the Brotherhood initiation and action on the Palestinian and Jordanian arena. From the beginning, the Palestinian cause occupied a central position in the Brotherhood”s literature and actions. In one of his media meetings, Kamil al-Sharif mentioned that Hasan al-Banna had told him a few days before he was killed that he would come with a number of fighters to die on the Palestinian territory. Kamil al-Sharif”s origin goes back to the Egyptian Al-Arish city. He left Egypt and opposed Abdul Nasser in continuation of Brotherhood”s enmity with him. King Abdullah received him warmly. He became Said Ramadan”s deputy in the Islamic Convention for Jerusalem. He became minister of endowments, and he was one of the proponents of the idea of establishing the Muslim World League in Mecca. Together with Said Ramadan and other Brotherhood leaders, he submitted the proposal to King Saud bin Abdulaziz who approved it, according to Yusuf al-Qaradawi”s memoirs.

This is part of history. It says that the Brotherhood movement in its beginnings was supported by a large number of Jordanians whether those descending from East of Jordan origins or those who were originally from the West bank of the Jordan River. One of the East Jordanian founder-figures was the local leader Ahmad al-Tarawinah and his tribe from the city of Al-Karak. He is the father of Fayiz al-Tarawinah, the former prime minister and chief of the Royal Court and the present member of the Senate. Fayiz al-Tarawinah said, &#34My father was one of the most prominent supporters of the Brotherhood movement in its beginnings in Jordan. This was due to his religious mind-set and also because of the competition and the disagreement between the two Kings, Abdullah and Farooq. However, he later left them because of political disputes, as they became over-politicized in the early 1950s&#34.

The Brotherhood”s relationship with the regime was consolidated even more after they sided with the king in the face of the 1957 coup attempt against him. The coup was arranged by some Nasserites and nationalists in collaboration with the Nasserite Prime Minister Sulayman al-Nabulsi. King Hussein sensed the conspiracy and was waiting for it. He paved the way for this through further rapprochement with the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood held massive conferences and meetings to mobilize support for King Hussein, the defender of Islam against Communism and atheism, and to attack his opponents.

According to the writer, Musa al-Kilani, &#34The interests of the Brotherhood in Jordan met with the interests of the regime in confronting the opponents&#34. Ali Abu al-Sukkar, the present Brotherhood member of the Jordanian Parliament and one of the staunchest opponents of naturalization says, &#34It is natural that the Brotherhood made alliances in the past with the regimes which belonged to the Western bloc against the Eastern bloc, because the communist Eastern bloc and their allies in the Arab world were our enemies&#34.

Despite some passing frictions between the Brotherhood and the regime which resulted in putting the seasoned General Guide Muhamad Abdul Rahman Khalifah (Abu-Majid) behind the bars many times, the alliance between the two parties continued. Khalifah became General Guide after the Jordanian wealthy man Abdul Latif Abu-Qurah who was well known for his strong positions in opposing the British presence in Jordan. The successor Muhamad Khalifah used to play a tug-of-war game with the regime. He would tighten the rope whenever he felt the government was moving in a direction that went against the Brotherhood”s main objectives. Their objectives were mainly represented in the implementation of Islamic Shari”a and imposing a moral life on the society according to the Brotherhood”s vision, especially in connection with issues such as women, entertainment, arts, co-education in addition to the nature of relationship with the West and Israel.

The 1957 movement against King Hussein finally took place and the king came out victorious from this confrontation against the rebels with the help of the Brotherhood. The relationship between the king and the Brotherhood became closer than ever. He used to visit the Brotherhood headquarters and give them donations.

A few months after the 1957 movement, new tensions developed between the regime and the Brotherhood. A short while before the confrontation at the end of 1957 and in the middle of 1958, the Arab countries cut their aid to Jordan as a result of suppressing the Nasserite movement. The United States stepped in and filled the vacuum through granting urgent assistance to Jordan. This was known as the Filling the Vacuum Principle which was adopted by US President Eisenhower.

This development provoked the Muslim Brotherhood”s anger. They opposed the measures taken by the Jordanian government. The Muslim Brotherhood staged demonstrations. The General Guide Khalifah was put in jail and other members were put under surveillance. In the fall of 1959, the General Guide Khalifah was imprisoned again after the Brotherhood distributed leaflets accusing the regime of deliberately delaying the settlement of the Palestinian cause. The group destroyed its documents in fear. The Guide was imprisoned again in summer 1960 after the Brotherhood protested against government”s ”moral leniency” and the permission it granted to a number of foreign companies to present indecent shows such as ice skating exhibitions. There were reports of arrests among the Brotherhood members and they were charged with attacking cinemas and other entertainment venues, as did the Egyptian Brotherhood, according to Musa Zayd al-Kilani.

A number of Brotherhood MPs including Yusuf al-Azam, representative of Ma”an and Abdul Majid al-Shuraydah, representative of Irbid called for a vote of no confidence against the government of Wasfi al-Tall in 1963 because it failed to implement the teachings of Islam and because it failed to launch a holy war (Jihad) against Israel.

However, all these skirmishes did not break the great relationship and alliance. Mamduh al-Abbadi, vice chair of the Jordanian parliament and one of the most prominent politicians of a secular background says, &#34I do not agree with a great deal of the Brotherhood”s ideas. However, they are the only party that did not hit the Jordanian state for fifty years&#34.

Marwan al-Mu”ashir, deputy prime minister and the official spokesman of the government, said, &#34In the past there were international and regional circumstances. There was the Cold War and its alliances. In Jordan we were against the Eastern bloc and against its party and ideological extensions, hence the peculiarity of the Muslim Brotherhood”s position in the Jordanian political life&#34.

The historical relationship to which Al-Abbadi and Al-Mu”ashir referred was at certain moments christened with blood. One such example took place when the Brotherhood politically sided with the government in its confrontation with the Palestinian armed groups under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. This happened in September 1970, or the Black September confrontations, as it came to be known. This is how some describe the position of the Brotherhood at that time.

Later, these confrontations were subjected to various interpretations. Some maintained that the Brotherhood movement in Jordan is merely ”a sheer Palestinian expression”. They believed the main factor behind the Brotherhood”s position to side with the government against Fatah and its allies was the influence of the East Jordanian elements inside the Brotherhood movement and as a gesture of support and solidarity with the Jordanian state. A well-informed observer said, &#34I do not think the position of the Brotherhood in Black September was prompted by a regional background as much it did spring from a political background&#34.

He continued, &#34the Palestinian fedayeen were a mixture of Baathist, Nasserites and even Marxists, of course in addition to elements close to the Brotherhood ideology. Let”s not forget the Brotherhood background of Abu-Ayyad, Arafat and Abu-Jihad&#34. He added, &#34The Brotherhood were late in joining the armed resistance at this stage, after those trends beat them to it. They reached an agreement with Fatah to establish a camp called Al-Shuyukh Camp in Al-Shalalah area, northeast of Irbid. Mundhir al-Dajani from Fatah, who later became Palestine”s ambassador to Algiers, used to supervise this camp.

However, after it became clear that Abdul Nasser and the Baathist regime of Salah Jadid in Syria were supporting the fedayeen, and that they used this support as a means to practically wage a war against the Jordanian regime itself, the Brotherhood began to retreat. They considered the Baathist and Abdul Nasser their enemies, and felt King Hussein was closer to them. One should take into consideration the atrocities of the Syrian regime against the Syrian Brotherhood. In this respect, the case of Sheikh Habankah ”al-Madani” became well known. The Baathist in Syria dealt with the man in a brutal way after his return from Haj&#34.

Bassam al-Umush, a well-known Brotherhood leading figure in Jordan who left the group in 1997 after a tempestuous disagreement and became independent said, &#34In the September war, the Brotherhood did not side with any party against the other. They remained neutral, though secretly they wished that the regime in Jordan should come out victorious. Their logic in adopting such a stance was that it was a war between the Muslims, and it is not permissible to become engaged in it.

Moreover, they believed that Yasser Arafat had breached the implied agreement Fatah had reached with the Brotherhood in Jordan. According to this agreement Fatah should cooperate with the Brotherhood in carrying out military operations in Palestine. Fatah would claim responsibility for such operations, while the real perpetuators would be Brotherhood elements staging their operations from Jordan&#34. Bassam al-Amush continued, &#34There was another reason for remaining neutral. We thought, and I bear witness to that moment, that Fatah waged an aggression on the right of the Jordanian authority to sovereignty on its territory. They became a state within the state. They declared the establishment of ”Al-Wihdat republic” which is a Palestinian camp in Amman. They raised slogans such as ”all the authority for the resistance”. The other thing that aroused Brotherhood”s concern was the Marxist and the Baathist nature of some of the fedayeen forces&#34.

In this respect, Dr Bassam recalls how Adnan Abu-Udah, who was an advisor to the King described that moment by saying, &#34It would have sufficed to say checkmate to announce the abolishing of the Hashemite throne&#34.

Al-Amoush continued, &#34I recall that Yasser Arafat sent for three Brotherhood leaders in Jordan, including Dhib Anis, (a former member of parliament from Al-Zarqa). He met with them in Jabal al-Hussein in Amman and told them about his intention to carry out a military operation against King Hussein under the pretext that the regime was against the resistance. The Brotherhood and specially Dhib Anis refused that notion. They told him: you have no right to do so. Our guns are directed for action in Palestine. Abu-Ammar became very angry&#34.

Al-Amush said, &#34There was not any regional background behind the Brotherhood”s stance in the September war. It is not true to say that it was a stance dictated by the East Jordanian trend inside the movement. It was a collective stance taken by the Brotherhood&#34.

Fayiz al-Tarawinah mentioned that some East Jordanian elements inside the movement might have had some influence on the Brotherhood”s stance toward the September war. However, he stressed that, &#34The main reason behind the good stance of the Brotherhood during the September confrontations was the feeling of the Brotherhood that they do not have a better alternative than the Jordanian regime&#34.

However, September cast its shadow over the formation and the interactions of the movement from inside. According to a Jordanian observer, &#34There was part of the Brotherhood movement youth, mostly of Jordanian origin, who refused the Brotherhood”s participation in the first government to be formed after the September confrontation. The leading Brotherhood figure, Ishaq al-Farhan joined that government as Minister of Education. Their pretext for refusal was that the regime”s hand was stained with Palestinian blood&#34.

He continued, &#34The Jordanian regime very much appreciated the Brotherhood”s participation, particularly that Al-Farhan was a Jordanian of Palestinian origin. These young rebels were later known as the hawk sheikhs inside the movement&#34.

However, Ibrahim Gharayibah said, &#34I do not think the reason of the objection raised by some young Brotherhood members to joining the government which was formed after the September confrontations was based on the background of September scene and confrontations. Most of these young Brotherhood members used to work in the Gulf states, such as Dr Muhammad Abu- Faris. The objection was rather based on an ideological background, especially the ideology of Al-Tahrir (Liberation) Party, which considers all non-Islamic structures and frameworks as being illegitimate. This was the stance of the opponents at that time&#34.

Al-Gharayibah added, &#34Later and after many years, some Brotherhood youths pegged their criticism of Ishaq al-Farhan on his participation in the September government&#34.

But what are the features of this hawkish position, and who are the doves? How was this argument reflected on the Jordanian Jordanian or the Jordanian Palestinian identity of the Brotherhood? How did the Brotherhood deal with the principle of participation in government? Is it true that HAMAS is the real dynamo of the Jordan Brotherhood movement, and that the leading figures of East Jordanian origin are a mere facade? These questions are the core of the next part of this series.