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History of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Part Two | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat- In the second part of the “Jordanian Files on Politics and Fundamentalism”, we review the Muslim Brotherhood’s two branches in the Hashemite Kingdom and consider several recurring questions: are the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan divided into hawks and doves? Who are the hawks and who are the doves? What are the features of this hawkish trend? Who are the prominent, influential and active figures in each branch? What issues to they agree on and on what do they differ? How does the Muslim Brotherhood reflect on the Jordanian and Palestinian-Jordanian identities? How did the organization deal with the concept of political participation in government? Is it true that Hamas is the real instigator for the Jordanian Brotherhood and that its leaders in east Jordan are a mere façade? We shall try to obtain answers to these many questions from the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

Dr. Humam Said, the current deputy controller general , has been described as a hawk. I visited him at his office near the Islamic hospital, one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s most prominent economic and social institutions in Amman.

One of the questions I put to him concerned his views on the existence of Islamic groups that believe in violence and takfir (denouncing others as infidels) and the commonly held opinion they had emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood and were influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb.

“Before I answer, let me remind you that it is Arab regimes that have abandoned Islam as a political system. We must recognize this truth. The Brotherhood are not to be blamed for discussing the concept of governorship. The blame rests on the shoulders of Arab regimes who did not implement Islam”, he said.

What about the accusation leveled against the Brotherhood, namely that they politicize Islam in order to fight their political opponents, whether government or forces opposed to the Brotherhood’s ideology, I asked. Smiling, Said replied, “We are not the first to politicize Islam. Do you want me to tell you who was the first to politicize Islam? It was the Prophet Mohammed himself who brought about the Islamic political system”

I asked him if he recognized the modern concept of nation-state and if he considered its borders. How do you reconcile the Brotherhood’s transnational outlook with belonging to a certain country and operating under its laws, I added?

“The nation state is an ailment. Foreigners drew the borders. This exceptional situation must come to an end. By advocating this, we are echoing the nation’s conscience.”

What about the attack in Aqaba in August when Katyusha rockets were fired at the port and other targets in the Red Sea town, killing a Jordanian solider? A number of Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis were later arrested and the Jordanian authorities accused Mohammad al Sahli, a Syrian member of the Muslim Brotherhood of planning the operation. He had been living in Jordan for more than two decades. At the time, the Brotherhood were criticized by some Jordanian writers for their lenient stance and marginalization of the event when it was mentioned in passing in the Brotherhood’s weekly magazine al Sabil.

Dr. Said replied, “We shall not shed tears if any Americans or Jewish targets were hit. We do not want any American or Jewish influence in our country”, but he immediately added, “We reject the killing of Jordanian citizens or inflicting damage on our towns.”

These views might appear to some as extremist and at odds with Jordanian policy. This, however did not stop the hawk Dr. Humam Said, from donning himself with the pragmatism the Brotherhood is known for and taking part in politics. He won a parliamentary seat in 1989 with his friend, another hawk, Dr. Mohammad Abu Fares. He also won in 1993 but did not stand in 1997. At the time, Said and Fares supported the Brotherhood’s decision to boycott the vote, in protest at the one vote law, although it was issued in 1993.

Dr. Humam revealed that his father, “Hajj Abdul Rahim” was also a sheikh and an avid student of religion when he lived in Jenin, in Palestine. He recounted a strange incident that took place in 1936. Humam told me his father was the only pious person in his family. He used to attend the council of sheikhs such as Ezzedin al Qassam, who was killed in 1935. A year later, aged 18, Abdul Rahim decided to migrate to Mecca to study Islamic Shariaa (religious law). He left without telling his family and walked off barefoot and penniless towards Mecca. Abdul Rahim spent several years in Mecca where he became a companion of Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Baz, the former mufti of Saudi Arabia. The two became friends and colleagues because they were almost of the same age. He studied al-Hadith at the hands of Sheikh Muhammad Abdul -Razzaq Hamzah and other Muslim clerics in Mecca. He accompanied Sheikh Ibn Baz to the city of al-Kharj south of the capital Riyadh, where Ibn Baz has been appointed a judge. He stayed there for some time, and according to Dr Humam, he was one of the first scholars who tried to trace the Prophet’s correct sayings and tradition in a scientific atmosphere based on Hanbali faith. Humam said, “My father used to ask Sheikh Ibn Baz: Sheikh, what is the degree of this saying’s correctness. This aroused the interest of Sheikh Ibn Baz in the issue of the Prophet’s sayings and their correctness”.

The second prominent hawk is Dr Muhammad Abu Faris. He became a member of the Parliament in 2003. In that year, the Brotherhood issued a decision in which the members of the Executive Bureau were banned from combining between membership in Parliament and in Brotherhood’s Executive Bureau. This prevented Dr Humam Saeed from nominating himself. He presented his peer, Sheikh Abu Faris who became a member in the Parliament’s Legal Committee. Together with his friend Humam Saeed, they became known at an early time, for banning participation in the government and taking up ministerial posts, because these are non-Islamic regimes and are not governed by Shariaa.

Ibrahim Gharaibah, a researcher and former Brotherhood member considers that the position of Abu Faris and Humam in rejecting the principle of participation in the government was influenced by the ideology of Al-Tahrir Liberation) Party, which was established by a Palestinian Jordanian sheikh called al-Nabhani in the 1950s.

Samih al-Ma’aitah, a Jordanian journalist and researcher agrees with Gharibah on this and refers in this respect to Muhammad Abu Faris’s book “Participation in the Government in non-Islamic Regimes”.

I asked Humam Saeed, “Do you still believe in banning participation in governments?” He said, “Yes, I still believe in banning participation in governments based on the concept of governorship. Participation in such non-Islamic governments is an acknowledgement of this violation”.

This solemn position toward participation in government is influenced by Sayyid Qutub’s formation of the concept of governorship. It became more solidified after signing the Wadi Arabah peace treaty between Jordan and Israel in 1994. Thus, a political justification has been added to this ideological position. The justification is to refrain from promulgating this treaty through refraining from participation in post Wadi Arabah governments.

However, this was not a collective position. For example, Dr Omar al-Ashqar is also a sheikh and his academic weight in the field of Shari’a is equal to that of the two hawks, Saeed and Abu Faris. However, he had a flexible position toward participation in government from the point of view of Islamic jurisprudence.

There is also Dr Ishaq al-Farhan, one of the prominent doves inside the group. He was one of the first figures who participated in Jordanian cabinets. He was appointed minister of education and minister of Islamic endowments in the government of Wasfi al-Tal in 1970. He then became minister of education and endowment in Ahmad al-Lawzi’s two governments in 1971 and 1972. In 1973, he was appointed minister of endowments and Islamic affairs in Zaid al-Rifa’i’s government. Al-Farhan had a critical position with regard to the hawks’ uncompromising position and their rejection of the principle of participation. He expressed his astonishment in a written statement which was published by Samih al-Ma’aitah in his research paper, ‘The Political Experiment of the Islamic Movement in Jordan’.

Al-Farhan said, “it is strange to see some people refuse to participate in the government under the pretext of governorship principle, but at the same time, they agree to participate in the parliament. Government is the executive authority and the parliament is the legislative authority. Therefore, participating in the parliament is more serious; because parliament’s task is to promulgate laws and legislations, whereas the role of the executive authority is to implement these legislations”. The argument continued and it is still going on.

However, there have been differing opinions inside the group and these opinions were embodied in the form of practical positions. As a result, some members were forced to resign while others were expelled from the group.

Dr Bassam al-Amoush, a former leading figure in the group, had a hard position toward the group’s refusal to participate in the 1997 parliamentary elections. At that time, the group issued a lengthy statement in which they explained their justifications for the ban. In brief, they rejected the one vote law, which they considered it was meant to rein their presence in the parliament, and to deny them the opportunity to prove their real weight. This was evident in the 1989 elections, which came after the resumption of the parliamentary life that has been halted since 1967.

Member of Parliament Abdullah al-Agailah challenged the ban and stood as a candidate in Al-Tufailah city south of Jordan. He won the elections, but was then expelled from the group.

Bassam al-Amoush also attacked the decision to ban and publicly criticized the Brotherhood’s statement in the Jordanian media, including Al-Ra’y newspaper, a local publication with the highest circulations. As a result, he left the Brotherhood as a registered member.

Al-Amoush said, “It was them who expelled me. I disagreed with them about the 1997 boycott because I am against shrinking into one’s shell. I was also afraid that the Islamic movement would clash with the Jordanian regime”. He added, “The Brotherhood movement in Jordan is not a revolutionary movement. It does not want to jump over the authority. Why then should we boycott the elections and get out from participating in political life”.

Samih al-Ma’aitah said,” I was against the boycott, however, he was more outspoken in his criticism. They froze my membership as punishment, and he was expelled from the group”. Al-Amoush took part in the government of Abdul Salam al-Majali at that time, thus causing not one but two difference with the Brotherhood’s hawks. The first one was his refusal to boycott the elections, and the second point was his participation in the government. There was a cabinet reshuffle in 1998, and he entered Al-Majali’s government as minister of administrative development.

In August of same year, Faiz al-Tarawnah formed his government. Al-Amoush participated as minister of state for parliamentary affairs and administrative development. After that, he took up many government posts both inside and outside Jordan.

Al-Amoush is not the only person who turned against the group or against the Islamic Action Front Party, the political arm of the Brotherhood inside the political arena. In December 1992, he formed his own group inside the parliament. In addition, other members disagreed with the political line and positions of the group.

Describing his current position, Bassam al-Amoush said, “My dispute with the Brotherhood group is an administrative one and is related to defining positions. It is not a disagreement on mainstream ideological issues”.

However, it is interesting to notice the formation of a new party, which embraces a different approach to political Islamic action in Jordan. That is Al-Wasat (Center) Party, which came into existence in 2001. Some maintained this party represents the Brotherhood of Al-Salt, a major city in the old East Jordan Emirate.

Bassam al-Amoush was a member of the preparatory committee of this party. He told me then, “In times of delicate political circumstances, and when people feel frustrated, the formation of a national party adopting Islam as its starting point could be a worthwhile idea”.

However, al-Amoush later expressed his dissatisfaction with this experiment. Four years after the establishment of (National) Al-Wasat Islamic Party, he told me, “I am now completely independent. I practice politics outside the framework of any party. I will not join any party until a new party which is built on new bases is found”.

Some viewed Al-Wasat Party as an attempt by the new generation of the Jordanian Brotherhood to give prominence to the local Jordanian nature of the movement, which has been so often accused of being over Palestinian.

In talking about this Al-Wasat Party, the reference to the national dimension is noticeable. This was a point of contention and one of the many issues of disagreement between the trend of Bassam al-Amoush and the traditional ideology of the group, especially the hawks’ trend as represented by Humam Saeed and Muhammad Abu Faris. Bassam al-Amoush considered these two figures “obstacles on the path of development in the Brotherhood movement”.

He said, “I do not know how Humam Saeed or Abu Faris fail to see the legitimacy of the regime while they are enjoying the benefits of this political system as a whole including the parliamentary immunity of the MPs”.

Ibrahim Gharaibah said, “Humam Saeed is inconsistent. How does he support Sayyid Qutub’s thoughts and his well-known position toward participation in non-Islamic regimes and legislatures and then joins the parliament?”

Any discussion of the concept of pre-Islamism according to Qutub’s vision, and the products of this concept in political formations including the border-bound state would lead us to the following question about the nature of the Jordanian Brotherhood movement. Is it a national Jordanian movement governed by the laws of the country? Is it a Palestinian movement attached to Palestine because of the position of the Palestinian cause in the Brotherhood’s political thinking on the one hand, and because of the domination of the Palestinian element over the Brotherhood movement, especially after the appearance of the Palestinian Hamas on the stage?

I asked Humam Saeed, “How can the Brotherhood reconcile between their positions which are consistent and supportive of the positions of Hamas and their other positions related to foreign policy which are against the interest of the Jordanian state?” He answered, “Are we supposed to stop expressing our opinion because of the sovereignty issue?” He added, “All Arab regimes admit they are under American pressure, why do they want us to become subject to this pressure like them, are we a herd of sheep?”

I asked him, “But you as a group clash with the supreme Jordanian policy, especially after the group embraced Hamas?” He said, “Everybody interferes in everybody’s affairs. The Jordanian state trains the Iraqi police, and this is interference. Saudi Arabia interfered in the Iraqi-Kuwaiti issue in 1991. Why are we then expected not to interfere in the Palestinian issue?” He added, “Our interference in the Palestinian issue is legitimate”. Then he added in vernacular, “The Koran and not only Hamas orders us to interfere in the Palestinian issue”.

Ali Abu al-Sukkar, the Brotherhood member of the current parliament who, like Humam Saeed, is a Jordanian of Palestinian origin said, “From a legal and organizational perspective, we are a Jordanian movement. However, the Palestinian cause definitely occupies a central position in the Brotherhood’s activities”. He added, “The Palestinian cause has a special status among the Jordanian Brotherhood because of demography, geography and religion”.

Once again, Abu al-Sukkar rejects the idea of Jordanian-Jordanian and Jordanian-Palestinian dualism, which according to some observers, is reflected on the approaches of the forces and parties present on the Jordanian arena. He believes that one should admit that the Brotherhood are the only people capable of realizing national unity, practically through integrating the two major parts of the society in the body and leadership of the movement”. He said, “In the movement, there is no east or west bank”.

He criticized those who insist that the Jordanian Brotherhood is only a Palestinian expression or that they are more Palestinian than being Jordanian. He said, “How can this be, at a time when we have a majority of members who are of east Jordanian origins in the executive bureau of the Brotherhood, the living heart of the movement. The Mentor General of the Brotherhood, Abdul-Majid Thunaibat is from the well-known Al-Karak tribes. There are also other members in the executive bureau who descend from east Jordanian origins, such as Ahmad al-Kafaween, Abdul Hamid al-Qadhat, Ahmad al-Kufhi and Ahmad al-Zarqan. If we add Al-Thunaibat, five out of seven members of the executive bureau are of east Jordanian origin. There are only two Jordanians from a Palestinian origin. They are Humam Saeed and Yaha Shaqra. We in the Brotherhood do not have feel any prejudice toward this issue”.

However, a Jordanian politician said, “All the east Jordanian figures are no more than a facade. They do not have any real influence. The Hamas group holds the influence”.

Bassam al-Amoush said, “The Palestinian Hamas group influenced the Jordan Brotherhood. In fact, it used to usurp the Brotherhood’s gains. We discovered that they used to take the Brotherhood’s youth and make them work for them, with or without the knowledge of the Brotherhood”.

He added, “In this way, Hamas used to embarrass our youth. The government knows about that, but it turns a blind eye. However, when things get out of hand, it raises the red card in their face, as they say in sports. They would tell them, here is one of your members who belong to an illegal organization”.

Al-Amoush cited the case of Ibrahim Ghousha, the official spokesperson of Hamas as an example. The government of Abdul-Raouf al-Rawabda deported him together with Khalid Mesh’al, head of the political bureau of Hamas in the late 1999 after the closing down of the offices of Hamas. Al-Amoush said, “Ghousha used to issue statements from Amman about the military operations of Hamas in Jerusalem”. He added, “This created an argument inside the Brotherhood movement. The question was: Are we subject to the Jordanian law or not?”

Samih al-Ma’aitah agrees with the opinion that says Hamas has a strong and fundamental influence on the Jordanian Brotherhood movement. He said, “They are working now on finding a mentor general who is close to them. Some of the names to be considered are: Hamzah Mansour, a former spokesman for the Islamic Action Front, and Zaki Sa’d”.

Al-Ma’aitah added, “Khalid Mesh’al, head of the Political Bureau of Hamas together with Muhammad Nazzal are the maestros that run the Hamas trend inside the movement. The Jordanian arena is considered the back garden of the Palestine Brotherhood”. According to al-Ma’aitah, it is true to say that Hamas has been mounted on the Brotherhood organization in Jordan.

Ibrahim Gharaibah believes that the Hamas trend is now predominant. This domination has been strengthened since the first half of the 1990’s. Before that, the hawk’s trend of Abu Faris and Humam Saeed was in control from 1979 until 1990. Gharaibah believes that there is a fundamental disagreement between the two trends. It can be summarized as a dispute over authority, influence and interests only.

He said, “The dominant trend over the Brotherhood before 1970 was the trend of Dr Ishaq al-Farhan, al-Khatib and others. They dealt with Fatah and opened joint training camps where Abdullah Azzam and others were trained. However, Humam Saeed, Muhammad Abu Faris and others opposed this approach. In taking such a position, they were influenced by Al-Tahrir (Liberation) Party which gives priority to setting up an Islamic caliphate over the liberation of Palestine.”

Ali Abu al-Sukkar disagrees with the notion that says Hamas is in control. He said, “It is not true to say that Hamas used the Brotherhood’s resources in Jordan and directed them to serve its movement. We supported the Iraqi cause. Does this mean that the Iraqis control us”? He continued, “Moreover, Hamas has become much larger than the Brotherhood organization in Jordan, both politically and financially. Its potentials now surpass those of the organization here”.

I asked Abu al-Sukkar, what made Hamas so powerful and so stretched to cause this argument. Has Hamas swallowed Jordan or not? He said, “What really built and strengthened Hamas was the Brotherhood members who came from Kuwait in the wake of the 1991 war, the most prominent among them being Khalid Mesha’l”.

The dispute between the Hamas of inside and the Hamas of outside is well known. Originally, the idea of establishing a Brotherhood trend that believes in Jihad goes back to the beginning of the 1970s. The trend of Ishaq al-Farhan was enthusiastic about the idea. He and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin were on the same line.

Ibrahim Gharaibah believes that Wasfi al-Tal, the Jordanian prime minister with an east Jordanian (national) tendency was one of the enthusiasts who wanted to strengthen the Palestinian side of the Brotherhood movement in Jordan to be a match to Fatah and create a balanced equilibrium.

Gharaibah refers to the nature of the foreign academic scholarships that the Jordanian government used to send abroad. It was obvious that Wasfi al-Tal had concentrated on the Brotherhood elements that descend from Palestinian origins.

Gharaibah continued, “Concerning the close presence of Hamas, the Mesha’l trend and others, the truth is that Mesha’l rose to prominence all of a sudden. Fate played its game, when Musa Abu Marzuk, head of the foreign bureau was arrested in America from 1995 to 1997, and afterwards, he traveled to Jordan. The vacuum he left paved the way for Khalid Mesha’l to come forward. Mesha’l was not on good terms with Sheikh Yassin”.

He added, “in September 1997 there was an attempt on Mesha’l’s life organized by Mussad. Yassin was released from prison and he came to Amman for medical care. Mesha’l came to visit him. They told Yassin, this is Khalid Mesha’l. He said who is Khalid Mesha’l? They said, he is the head of the political bureau of Hamas. He said, what is this political bureau? Sheikh Yassin did not recognize the bureau”.

However, according to Jordanian observers, Hamas or the Hamas trend secured control over the Jordanian Brotherhood movement, especially with the twinning that took place between the two movements in view of common history, dreams and beginnings, and other things.

This is the situation at present, despite the firm position of Al-Rawabdah government toward Hamas and its leadership in 1999, and despite the June 2001 incident of Ibrahim Ghousha. At that time and without any advance notice, Ibrahim Ghoushah was flown from Qatar. Jordan refused to allow him to land on Jordanian territory unless he renounced his Hamas membership. Khalid Mesha’l admitted in a press interview that he planned that plot in Syria to embarrass Jordan. Despite all these considerations, the Hamas influence remained the most prominent according to Jordanian experts including Ibrahim Gharaibah.

In the next part, we shall review the Brotherhood’s position toward the Gulf War and the liberation of Kuwait in 1991. We shall consider how and why they disagreed with the Kuwaiti Brotherhood. What was the position of the Egyptian Brotherhood? Have they changed their position now? Why do they describe their relationship with the Jordanian regime now as lukewarm? Do they miss the warmth of King Hussein in dealing with them? How do they see the relationship of the new King with them?

Finally, where are the Jordanian Brotherhood heading? What is the future of their relationship with the regime? What is their position in the future of Jordanian political life, especially after the international and regional political equilibriums have changed from that of the cold war to that of the 9/11 world?