The Crossroads of Muslim Brothers in Jordan / Juan Escobar Stemmann

As former allies of the monarchy, the Muslim Brothers have played a key role in Jordanian political life at times when the regime has engaged in political openness. However, their moderation in domestic politics has been accompanied by a growing radicalization on foreign policy issues, as a result of their refusal to accept the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan and their staunch opposition to the military intervention in Iraq. Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections have prompted a change of attitude on the part of the government, which has opted to restrict the Brotherhood's social activities and lessen its capacity for mobilization.

Manifestations of Islamic activism are abundant in Jordan. The country’s Islamist movement has played a key role in political life almost since independence. As traditional allies of the monarchy, the Muslim Brothers have participated in politics when the regime has engaged in political openness. However, their moderation in domestic politics has been accompanied by a growing radicalization on foreign policy issues as a result of their refusal to accept the Israel-Jordan peace treaty and their staunch opposition to the Western military intervention in Iraq.

Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections followed by its seizure of the Gaza Strip along with the growing presence of Palestinian militants in the Jordanian organization have prompted a change of attitude on the part of the government, which has restricted the Brotherhood’s social activities and lessen its capacity for mobilization.


The Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brothers was created in 1945 by Abd al-Atif Abu Qura, a wealthy businessman from Salta who came into contact with the Egyptian Muslim Brothers during a visit to Palestine in the late 1930s. In 1944, impressed by Hasan al-Banna’s call for jihad against colonialism and Zionism, Qura contacted the Egyptian leader and asked him to help establish a wing of the Brotherhood in Jordan. The following year, al-Banna sent two members of the organization to assist Abu Qura in setting up the association in Jordan. During the early years, the organization focused on education and on the struggle in Palestine. In 1947, Abu Qura sent a battalion of 100 members to fight alongside the Palestinians against the Jewish forces there.[1]

With the patronage of King Abdullah, the Brotherhood acquired legal status as a charitable association in January 1945. The king had a number of reasons for supporting the Muslim Brothers. By legalizing Muslim Brotherhood, he hoped to prevent them from becoming radical. Moreover, support for the organization bolstered his own Islamic legitimacy, while the growth of the Islamists would help him counter the pan-Arab nationalist forces that had become a threat to monarchies in the region.[2] Following the 1948 war and the mass arrival of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, the Brotherhood’s position changed considerably. From being merely an association dedicated to fostering the teaching of Islam, it became a political organization capable of competing with nationalist and left-wing parties. A new class of professionals, representing the Jordanian middle class, gained control of the organization. Under this new leadership, the Brotherhood maintained its policy of cooperation with the regime, although its program took on more political overtones in calling for the installation of an Islamic state governed by Shari’a.

The overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952, Nasser taking over power, and the repression suffered by the Muslim Brothers in Egypt facilitated an alliance between Jordan’s monarchy and the country’s Islamists, who joined forces to combat the left-wing and nationalist forces that, backed by Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, posed a serious challenge to King Hussein. As a result, the Muslim Brothers were permitted to field candidates in the first Jordanian parliamentary elections, held in 1956, in which they gained four seats. The following year they supported the regime in its battle against the nationalist forces, which led to the ban on political parties in Jordan. As a charitable association, the Brotherhood evaded the ban and capitalized on its status as the only nongovernmental civil organization to widen its activities. In 1963, it set up the Islamic Center Charity Society (ICCS), an institution that was to bring together under one name the majority of the organizations through which the Brotherhood carried out its educational and community work. However, the Brotherhood’s relations with the regime were not always easy. Indeed, they were characterized by highs and lows and even periods of crisis. In 1956, the riots against the British presence in Jordan threatened the participation of the Islamists in the 1956 elections. In 1958, the Brotherhood’s criticism of the Baghdad Pact prompted the arrest of the general guide.[3]

The Brothers also backed the Jordanian regime during the civil war of 1970–71, which resulted in the PLO leadership being expelled to Lebanon. Although they participated actively in Palestinian militia training camps in Jordan, they did not support the Palestinian resistance groups in their confrontation with the Jordanian army. The fact that they stayed out of the conflict allowed them to consolidate their relations with the monarchy. The Brothers’ support was rewarded with the appointment of a prominent Brotherhood member, Ishaq Farhan, as education minister, a post he held from 1970 to 1974. Furthermore, they were allowed to occupy the political and social space left by the Palestinian resistance in the refugee camps and residential areas of the capital. This circumstance, combined with the rise in Islamist movements across the Middle East, facilitated the expansion of the Brotherhood movement in universities, professional associations, and charitable societies in Jordan.[4] The process of political openness initiated by the Jordanian regime in 1989 brought the Islamists their best ever electoral success; they gained 22 of the 80 contested seats in the elections to the National Assembly. A short time later, the Brotherhood joined the government of Mudar Badran, securing five ministries (education, health, justice, social development, and Islamic affairs). This was the golden age of relations between the country’s regime and its Islamists, who left a significant imprint on education.[5]

The year 1991 was a key year for Jordan. The regime’s support for Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait left it isolated. The Middle East peace conference in Madrid afforded the country a new opportunity to rebuild its ties with the West and pursue peace with Israel. In turn, this led to a structural change in the Jordanian regime’s relations with the Muslim Brothers. The Badran government was dissolved, and no Islamist has held a government post since then in Jordan.[6] The problems soon commenced for the Brotherhood. A new electoral law reduced the Islamist presence in the National Assembly in the 1993 elections, in which the Islamic Action Front (IAF)—the political party created in 1992 by the Brotherhood to comply with the requirements of the new legislation—contested for the first time.[7] The law was accompanied by a series of other measures against the Islamists, such as exclusion from government contracts and the curtailment of their university activities. The signing of the Wadi Araba peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and the Jordanian government’s refusal to amend the electoral law resulted in the deterioration of Brotherhood’s relations with the regime and led to the Islamists’ decision to boycott the 1997 elections, in which they were joined by the nationalist and left-wing parties.[8]

The ascension to the throne of King Abdullah II in 1999 heralded a new era in relations between the Jordanian regime and the country’s Islamists. The expulsion of Hamas leaders that year demonstrated that Jordan did not seek a strategic role in the future of the West Bank, preferring to focus on domestic matters and maintaining good relations with the Palestinian Authority. Following the outbreak of the intifada in the occupied territories, the economic crisis in Jordan, and the growing instability in the aftermath of terrorist strikes on the United States in 2001, the new king postponed the elections initially scheduled for 2001 by two years. The elections to the Lower House were held in June 2003. Muslim Brothers, who were aware that their absence from parliament had diminished their influence, even though they had been the broadest and best-organized political force, changed their strategy toward authorities, opted to contest the elections, and won 17 of the 110 seats. A prior agreement between the regime and the Islamists resulted in fewer candidates contesting and limited electorate support for the IAF. In return, the king allowed a substantial number of the Islamist members of parliament (MPs) to be of Palestinian origin, a step that was interpreted as indicating support for the integration of the Palestinian sector in Jordanian society.[9]

However, the return of the Islamists to parliament did not prevent their relations with the government from deteriorating further due to the change in the balance of forces within the organization and the growing radicalization of Islamist rhetoric on foreign policy. The Iraqi crisis added a new element of tension to a relationship that had already been placed under strain by the process of normalization of Jordan’s relations with Israel. Following the publication of a series of government measures in response to the increasingly radical Islamist stance on the conflicts in the Middle East, several Brotherhood imams were arrested in October 2004 for failing to heed the instructions issued by the Preaching and Guidance Council on the Iraqi conflict. Mosque pulpits had become vehicles for incendiary statements designed to stir up the jihad against American soldiers in Iraq. The imams arrested included Ibrahim Zaid Kilani, a former government minister and president of the Shura Council. The situation soon returned to normal when the Brotherhood bowed to the government’s power.

A series of events that took place in 2006 radically altered the Jordanian government’s attitude toward the Islamists. The victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections in January triggered major fears among most Middle East countries, causing them to step back from the process of political openness set in motion in the region. Soon after, the Jordanian Islamists won a clear-cut victory in the elections to the professional associations. In May 2006, the Muslim Brothers appointed a new IAF secretary general, Zaki Bani Irshad, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin; this decision was interpreted by the regime as further evidence that Hamas had managed to penetrate the organization. The condolences expressed in June by two prominent IAF leaders (Ahmad Sukkar and Muhammad Abu Faris, both MPs) to the family of Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qa’ida leader killed in Iraq, was considered by the Jordanian authorities the point of no return in the radicalization process. Maruf Bakhit’s government arrested and prosecuted the two IAF MPs, who spent several months in solitary confinement in prison before eventually receiving a pardon from the king.[10]

Despite the increasingly strained relations with the government, the Muslim Brotherhood prepared their political apparatus carefully for the two elections to be held in 2007 (municipal and parliamentary). However, although the Islamists were the favorites to win the local elections in July, they withdrew from contention on election day, accusing the government of electoral fraud. The Brotherhood stepped up the ferocity of its criticism and insisted that the organization would cross the red line if the regime did. The government refused to back track, and the Jordanian prime minister launched unprecedented attacks on the Brotherhood. The king himself stepped in to defuse the tension a few days later, with a declaration guaranteeing that the parliamentary elections would be free and fair, which was interpreted by the Islamists as a royal assurance that they could take part. A meeting between the prime minister and the more moderate wing of the Muslim Brothers eventually defused the crisis.[11]

The decision not to contest the local elections saw the Islamists excluded from power at the municipal level, and the scenario was capitalized on by the Jordanian government. At a time when Hamas was growing stronger in Gaza, the Jordanian regime ordered a series of measures designed to curb the influence of the Brotherhood. The ICCS was closed down, and its institutions were removed from Islamist control. Steps were taken to control the participation of Islamist students in state-run universities, and lecturers belonging to the Brotherhood were let go from the universities. The zakat system was amended, and Islamists were dismissed from the committees; the Society for the Protection of the Koran was closed down; and the administration of Zarqa University was taken away from the Islamists. These blows to Brotherhood support structures were aimed at reducing the influence of the Jordanian Islamists and limiting their scope for community action.[12] Shortly afterwards, the government forced the moderate wing of the Brotherhood to exclude members of the Palestinian sector from the list of candidates for the parliamentary elections in November. Sidelining the leaders of the IAF, the Shura Council agreed to field a limited list of “acceptable candidates” for the elections that were held on November 20, 2007. The decision merely compounded the debacle of Jordan’s main Islamist party, which won just seven seats (compared to 17 in 2003), plunging official Islamism into an identity and leadership crisis from which it has still not recovered.


The internal elections held in recent years show that the Muslim Brothers are divided into four main currents or sectors.[13] During the early years, their political rhetoric was restricted to a small number of issues: support for the Palestinian cause and condemnation of the Soviet camp. The spread of Sayyid Qutb’s ideas across the Middle East at the end of the 1960s triggered debate within the organization, with some advocating the creation of a clandestine wing and armed action against the regime’s policy of repression, while others were anxious to avoid the errors committed in Egypt and called for channels of communication to be opened with the government and for an emphasis on social actions. This division lies at the root of the split between hawks and doves in the organization. Two schools of thought have since then vied with each other to define the Brotherhood’s political discourse in Jordan.[14]

The most radical or hawkish sector is drawn mainly from the generation of Trans-Jordanian Islamists who gave unwavering support to the Jordanian regime during the conflict with the Palestinians in the 1970s. The discourse of this sector is radical in its ideology, including open calls for an Islamic state to be installed and references to concepts such as divine sovereignty. Its members are closer to the radical rhetoric of Qutb than to the liberalizing discourse. They are also the most nationalistic and defend the need to ensure the preeminence of the Trans-Jordanian component on the political scene. This sector controlled the Brotherhood during the 1980s but is now a minority in an organization currently dominated by the Palestinian faction. Its main representatives are Shura Council members Ahmad Kafawin and Ahmad Zarqa. Other prominent members include Muhammad Abu Faris, one of the leading exponents of scholarly Salafism in the Brotherhood.[15]

With the resumption of parliamentary life in 1989, the doves—led by Hamza Mansur and the former speaker of the National Assembly, Abd al-Atif Arabiyat—regained control of the organization. The Muslim Brothers participated actively in the drafting of the National Charter in the early 1990s, showing a readiness to work with other groups of Islamists. An outcome of this was the creation of the IAF in 1992, thus consolidating the incorporation of the Islamists into the political scene.

The peace process with Israel had an impact on the internal debate in the Brotherhood and led to the emergence of a third current, called wasat (center), midway between the hawks and the doves. This was a younger generation that cut its teeth on the struggle in the universities and in professional associations. Its emergence coincided with the appointment of Abd al-Magid Zunaybat as the general guide in place of Abd al-Rahman Khalifa, which marked the end of charismatic figures at the helm of the organization and heralded a more limited role for its leader—to the benefit of the Brotherhood’s structure, in which centrists held the majority. The centrists gained power after the 1994 elections, when Salam al-Falahat, the general supervisor, and other young members such as Imad Abu Diyya and Jamil Abu Baker joined the executive council. In 1997, they secured virtually all the top council positions. In principle, their ideas coincide with the vision of the moderate sector with respect to the political process, although they refuse to be identified with the state. They also believe that Jordan’s Islamists should set their own agenda rather than subordinate their political actions to the needs of Hamas. It was this third current or sector that successfully called for an end to the election boycott in the late 1990s and spearheaded the changes to the Muslim Brothers’ political program.[16]

The control exerted by the centrists was gradually eroded by the emergence of a fourth current, which was the product of the special relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The expulsion of Hamas leaders from Jordan in 1999 triggered an internal dispute within the Brotherhood. Some leaders were accused of colluding with the regime in the expulsion. The dispute led to the emergence of the reformist sector, which is today the biggest current of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, although not necessarily the one most represented among the organization’s leadership. The term reformist can be misleading given that the sector fully supports the objectives of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group. The sector comprises Jordanian Islamists of Palestinian origin, and they have gradually taken over the organization’s power bases.

The movement has capitalized on the popularity of Hamas among Islamist militants in Jordan. Today, its members control virtually all the professional associations, whose main political goal is to oppose normalization of relations with Israel. They also control the main Islamist newspaper, al-Sabil. A characteristic of this sector of the Brotherhood is that it contains supporters of the radical Qutb discourse as well as more moderate reformists who have embraced the reformist rhetoric because they realize that the policies of openness initiated by Arab regimes should be of benefit. Both groups are united, however, by their radical opposition to the normalization of ties with Israel and by their defense of the right to resist using every possible means.

The internal elections of 2002 saw the reformist sector, in an alliance with the hawks, obtain a majority on the executive council. This period coincided with the Brotherhood’s resumption of its parliamentary activity. Most of the seventeen Islamist MPs elected in the 2003 elections belonged to the reformist sector. The return of the Hamas leadership to Jordan became one of the main demands of the new council. Since then, centrists and reformists have to share the leadership of the organization. In the 2006 internal elections, Salam al-Falahat was appointed the new general guide while Zaki Bani Irshad, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, was elected head of the IAF after being chosen by the outgoing (reformist-controlled) executive council.

The main point of friction between the centrists and reformists concerns the extent of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political participation, especially in light of Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian territories. The Brotherhood’s traditional position had been outlined in a book written in 1994 by Abdalah al-Akaylah, Islamists Participation in the State, in which the author acknowledged the limitations of the role played by the Muslim Brothers in Jordan. The country’s difficult situation, weakness, and external dependence made the establishment of a truly Islamic state difficult. The Brotherhood was conscious of this context and hence did not seek to replace the regime with an Islamic state. Its strategy was to renounce violence and advocate gradual, progressive, and peaceful change.[17] The success of Hamas in the 2006 elections served to boost the reformist sector. Azzam al-Hunaydi, the Islamists’ spokesman in the parliament elected in 2003, declared shortly afterwards that the Muslim Brothers were ready to govern in Jordan. The reformists, led by Zaki Bani Irshad, wanted to change the status quo and turn the Brotherhood into a genuine partner in the political decisionmaking process. This change of strategy was not well received by the regime, which was suspicious of the intentions of the Jordanian Islamists, especially after Hamas took power by force in Gaza.[18]

The poor election results for Muslim Brothers in 2007 have inevitably affected the organization. The centrists and doves, pressured by the Jordanian government, drew up the list of candidates but excluded personalities belonging to the reformist sector, such as Ali al-Utum. The list drew criticism from the reformists on account of the exclusion of candidates sympathetic to Hamas and also from the hawks, who accused the moderate sector of allying itself with the government to eliminate them. The IAF secretary general boycotted the election preparation meetings. The crisis eventually led to the severing of formal and organizational ties between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. Although the decision was not accepted by the executive council, Hamas decided to become independent and appoint a new general guide. One of the implications of this decision was that Muslim Brotherhood militants in the refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon opted to join the Palestinian organization.[19]


In 2005, following the lead of their Egyptian and Syrian counterparts, the Jordanian Muslim Brothers published a new political program reflecting the evolution of their political doctrine over the past decade. The document drawn up by the IAF, entitled The Islamic Movement’s Vision on Reform in Jordan, came at a time when a spring of democracy appeared to be emerging after the military intervention in Iraq. The Islamists hoped to capitalize on the situation and position themselves as fundamental players in the processes of political openness under way in the region. Realizing that they had little choice but to take part in political life, the country’s Islamists have fully embraced the rhetoric of political reform. Declarations that democracy was anathema to Islam and calls for an Islamic state ruled solely by Shari’a are a thing of the past.[20]

The following concepts feature in the program of the Brothers: popular sovereignty (before, only the sovereignty of God—hakimiyya—existed); the holding of free and fair elections; freedom of worship; the right of assembly and demonstration; freedom to create political parties; an independent judiciary; and the establishment of a truly parliamentary monarchy. Democratic methods are applied stringently within the organization, and every four years elections are held to choose the Shura Council, which, in turn, elects the secretary general of the IAF as well as the general guide of the Brotherhood, a post that—unlike in Egypt—is not held for life.

Politically, Jordan’s Islamists appear to partly follow the doctrinal evolution promoted by parties such as the Justice and Development Party in Turkey and Morocco and Wasat in Egypt. However, some analysts see their ideology as being closer to the anti-liberal, conservative, and anti-Western leanings of the founder of the Muslim Brothers, Hasan al-Banna, than to the new tenets of the Justice and Development Party or Wasat. They also consider that the country’s Islamists have adopted the rhetoric of political liberalization for purely practical reasons, not because of any deep-seated evolution in their doctrine. A case in point is the economic chapter of the new political program, which stresses that the solution to the major economic problems faced by the country’s economy is to apply Shari’a. The Islamists counter this argument by emphasizing the internal democracy practiced by the organization. The argument is partly true given that they only recognize this right for those who share their political, ideological, and cultural outlook. The experience of Islamist movements in power leads to a degree of skepticism. The examples of Iraq and Hamas in Gaza show that, once in power, Islamists tend to show scant regard for political pluralism.[21]

Still, the reformist platform of the Muslim Brothers represents a new ideological development in the movement’s political discourse. The recognition of democratic values, pluralism, and the free transfer of power have become new paradigms for the Islamists. However, it should be stressed that there are still many gray areas in their new political thinking. The process is full of ambiguities and is far from consolidated. Moderate Islamist thinking is evolving slowly toward pluralism, not liberalism, and the Muslim Brothers are no exception in this regard: they remain extremely conservative on social issues, and the recognition afforded to civil liberties is conditioned by considerations of public order and social decorum.[22]


The highs and lows experienced in their relations with the government have not prevented the Muslim Brothers from setting up organizations in various fields and putting in place an extensive network across the country. Nursery schools, hospitals, cultural centers, youth centers, and charity associations together form an institutional network that is used by the Brotherhood to consolidate its influence in Jordanian society. Most of the community actions undertaken by the Muslim Brothers are carried out through the ICCS, which was set up in 1963. The society has four regional centers—in Zarqa, Mafraq, Irbid, and Ramtha—and 32 committees. It is run by a nine-man executive committee appointed by the Brotherhood. Until 2007, the society managed 41 educational centers, from nurseries to schools. They included Dar al-Arqum and Dar al-Aqsa (with over 20 establishments across the country). These private schools, aimed at the middle and upper classes, combine the national curriculum with religious instruction. The society also runs Zarqa University and Islamic Community College. The ICCS also runs two hospitals and 15 medical centers. Its flagship is the Islamic Hospital in Amman, which opened in 1982 and employs over 1,100 people. The ICCS has six centers that manage training and income generation projects, as well as 33 centers dedicated to funding orphanages and poor families. Also part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s institutional network in Jordan are the Association of Islamic Studies and Research and the Society for the Preservation of the Koran, which has over 100 centers throughout the country.[23]

The institutions affiliated with the ICCS aim to recruit the middle classes by offering them employment and services. They guarantee employment for Brotherhood members and create a social fabric that attracts new followers and mobilizes support for Islamist causes. The institutions have become symbols of the Islamist alternative to the state. The Jordanian government is fully aware of the importance of the support network and for that reason decided to close down the ICCS in 2007. Since then, the capacity of the Brotherhood to undertake community work has been severely curtailed, and revenue has declined sharply. Some analysts consider the closure of the ICCS to be one of the causes underlying the poor results obtained by the Islamists in the last elections.[24]

The political activism of Brotherhood members has seen them engage extensively in the running of professional associations, which, given the negligible presence of trade unions, are the main vehicles for collective representation in the country. Islamists currently control the professional associations for engineers, architects, and lawyers and are the main opposition group in the associations of doctors, civil servants, and nurses. Moreover, the peculiar makeup of Jordan’s political system and the coincidence of views on issues such as political reform or the Israeli–Palestinian conflict have facilitated dialogue between the Islamists and other political forces in the country. The initiation of this dialogue can be traced to the opposition of virtually all political forces to the 1993 electoral law, which led the opposition parties to set up a coordination council comprising 13 parties in total (communists, Ba’athists, nationalists, socialists, and so on), including the IAF. The entire council supported the boycott of the 1997 elections. Although its importance has diminished due to the fact that many members are not represented in parliament, it continues to table proposals and issue joint statements on a range of issues of common interest (electoral reform, quotas for women, and so on). The council is a source of pride for the IAF and is held up as a model for other Arab countries. In the National Assembly the IAF has had few problems allying itself with other political forces and has voted with them on many occasions.[25]


Like their brethren in the Middle East and North Africa, Jordan’s Islamists have taken on the role of heirs of Arab nationalism and have adopted the anti-Western and anti-imperialist discourse that characterized the latter for many years. In recent times, their doctrinal evolution and moderation on issues of political reform have been accompanied by a radicalization of their discourse on foreign policy questions. The main bone of contention remains the Palestinian issue, on which they maintain their maximalist position. In their electoral programs they reiterate repeatedly that it is the religious obligation of all Islamists to liberate the whole of Palestine. They reject an Israeli state and consider that jihad is the only way to restore the rights of Muslims in Palestine. They also consider that the Arab-Israeli conflict is part of a much older historic process. In their view, the conflict with the Jews began not in 1948 but when Muhammad emigrated to Medina and reached agreements with Jewish tribes, only for them to be broken later.[26]

The peace treaty with Israel in 1994 marked the beginning of a series of clashes between the Islamists and the Jordanian government. The creation of highly active committees in professional associations to fight the normalization of relations with Israel, as well as the campaigns to boycott individuals, firms, and institutions with Israeli ties, further strained relations with the government. The Islamists have expressed their opposition to initiatives such as the roadmap, which they describe as a road to surrender, and have openly supported suicide attacks, which they consider to be “martyrdom operations” and the only weapons to resist an enemy that is militarily vastly superior. Like their Palestinian counterparts, Jordanian Islamists believe that Israel was forced to withdraw from Gaza by the military pressure exerted by Palestinian resistance. The current crisis within the organization has also had consequences for the position of the Islamists with regard to the situation in Gaza, where Hamas’s seizure of power has generated considerable confusion in the Brotherhood. While the reformist sector defends the measure, the moderates prefer to ignore the incident and call for Palestinian unity.[27]

U.S. military intervention in Iraq is another factor contributing to the hardening of the tone of Islamist criticism, which has reached unaccustomed heights. Not only has the Jordanian government come under fire for allying itself with the United States in the Iraq War, Arab governments have also been denounced for their failure to act. Moreover, support has been expressed openly for resistance and jihad against American occupation. In some cases, the Jordanian government has been accused of apostasy, and the legitimacy of the monarchy has even been called into question. The government clamped down hard on the criticism, which was unprecedented in its ferocity, as attested by the editorials of the main mouthpiece, al-Sabil. This newspaper has also regularly published articles by authors praising Osama bin Ladin and the Iraqi resistance. Although openly critical of the methods employed by people such as al-Zarqawi (beheadings, killings of Iraqi civilians), the authors defend the use of violence by the resistance and confer martyr status on those who give their lives for the cause. Their rhetoric on the right to resist foreign occupation clearly reflects the radicalization of the positions of the more moderate Islamists with respect to foreign policy.

From a geostrategic perspective, the interests of the Muslim Brothers in the Middle East are tied to those of Hamas. Although opposed to Iran’s policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, they applaud Iranian support for Hizballah and for the Palestinian Islamist organization. They also defend the position of the Syrian authorities and denounce the campaign orchestrated by the United States to pressure the regime in Damascus. The Brotherhood’s interests lead it to ally itself with Iran, Syria, and Hizballah and distance itself from its counterparts in other countries. In Iraq, there is a clear conflict between the Jordanian Muslim Brothers and the Islamic Party of Iraq, which plays an active part in the political process designed by the United States. The Jordanian Islamists oppose occupation and support resistance and have thus moved closer to the Association of Muslim Scholars led by Hareth al-Dari, an advocate of armed struggle against American occupation. Their position differs also to that of the Muslim Brothers in Lebanon, who have aligned themselves with the March 14 forces against Hizballah, and to that of their Syrian Brothers, who are part of the Salvation Front opposition movement.[28]

The Islamists are also highly critical of the West, whom they accuse of double standards and see as the cause of a large proportion of the problems suffered by the umma (community of believers). The United States bears the brunt of the criticism on account of its support for Israel and its military intervention in Iraq. For these reasons, the Islamists refuse to have any contact with official U.S. government representatives. Criticism is leveled at Europe too for its failure to act and inability to take a more balanced approach to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. However, the Islamists stress the need for good relations with the European Union due—among other reasons—to its sizeable Muslim community. They underline the importance of organizations sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood in many European countries, which have become the main representatives of the Muslim communities. Consequently, their reaction to the crisis triggered by the publication of the cartoons against Muhammad was more muted, and they called for dialogue with the European authorities to avoid a repetition of such acts. The Islamists have a negative opinion of the Barcelona process, criticizing in particular the economic basket because of the neoliberal vision of economic relations it imposes, which benefits Europeans only.[29]

Some critics within the Brotherhood have begun to challenge the organization’s strict and maximalist positions on foreign policy issues. Ruhayl al-Gharayba, a leading member of the IAF and former director of its policy department, recently published an Islamic legal opinion in which he called for international reality to be interpreted using a different paradigm. He argues that it is necessary to move on from the classic Koranic notion that splits the world into two opposing camps, and he advocates that the positions adopted by the Muslim Brothers on international affairs should be based on political considerations, not on the ideological dogma of Islamist movements.[30]


The Islamists’ poor showing in the 2007 elections was the logical outcome of the change in attitude on the part of the Jordanian regime toward the Muslim Brothers, a change caused by the exceptional circumstances in the region since 2006. Hamas’s triumph in the Palestinian elections, the second Lebanon war, and the alliance between Hizballah, Iran, and Syria sent alarm bells ringing in the Jordanian government, which looked on anxiously as the Hamas-linked reformist sector gained control of the IAF. In the eyes of the government, the Islamists had changed. No longer content with the political role they had traditionally played in Jordan, they wanted to be influential players in the political decision-making process and also sought to increase their power and influence by accepting external support from countries with which Jordan does not have good relations. For the Jordanian regime, the Muslim Brothers today represent a threat as a result of the transformations undergone by the organization. Their discourse of opposition to the state has become more radical, and Hamas has managed to position its sympathizers among the leadership of the country’s Islamists. The measures taken by the government, particularly the takeover of the ICCS, have restricted the Brotherhood’s capacity to carry out its community work and have cut its revenue drastically. The government view is that once the Islamists cease to work for the general interests of the country, they should no longer retain the benefits they enjoyed, as compared to other political groupings.

Although the IAF was at pains to attribute the loss of electoral support to the government’s campaign in favor of certain candidates and its vote-purchasing act, the 2007 parliamentary election results also evidence the internal crisis suffered by the organization.[31] In April 2008, the decision by the Brotherhood’s executive council to suspend IAF Secretary General Zaki Bani Irshad and the leader of the hawkish sector, Muhammad Abu Faris, for one year did not prevent a leading hawk, Haman al-Said, from being elected general guide of the Brotherhood, nor did temporary suspension prevent Bani Irshad from remaining as head of the IAF. Two opposing agendas coexist in the organization at present. One is focused on Jordan’s national and internal issues and the other seeks to increase involvement in Palestinian matters, allying itself with the Hamas policy. Pressure from the authorities and the current split among the Jordanian Islamists could turn the Muslim Brothers into an organization with negligible political clout in Jordan.

*Juan José Escobar Stemmann is a Spanish diplomat. He is a lecturer on Islamic movements at the Instituto Gutierrez Mellado for Defence Studies and the Spanish Diplomatic School in Madrid, his publications include “Muslims and Islamist in Spain” in Barry Rubin (ed.), Guide to Islamist Movements (M.E. Sharpe, 2009).
This article is adapted from a chapter in Barry Rubin (ed.), The Muslim Brotherhood: The Organization and Policies of a Global Islamist Movement (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).



[1] Janine A. Clark, The Islamic Center Charity Society in Jordan: The Benefits to the Middle Class (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004), p. 84.

[2] Marion Boulby, The Muslim Brotherhood and the Kings of Jordan, 1945–1993 (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1999), pp. 45–47.

[3]Mohamed Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan (Amman: Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, 2007), p. 8.

[4] Ibrahim Gharayba, The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, 1946–1996 (Amman: 1997), pp. 59–74.

[5] Various factors influenced the results obtained by the Muslim Brothers in 1989. Having been the only organization allowed to engage in social activities for decades, it had the organization, skill, and contacts with the population that other candidates lacked. Moreover, the Brothers capitalized on the vote of refugee camps, which had no representation following the departure of the PLO in 1971. See Quintan Wiktorowicz, The Management of Islamic Activism (New York: State University of New York Press, 2001), p. 87.

[6] Beverly Milton-Edwards, “A Temporary Alliance with the Crown: The Islamic Response in Jordan,” in James Piscatori (ed.), Islamic Fundamentalism and the Gulf Crisis (Chicago, IL: The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1991), p. 106.

[7] Sabah El-Said, “Between Pragmatism and Ideology,” The Washington Institute Policy Papers, N. 39 (1995), p. 2.

[8] Vid Ziad Abu-Amr, “La monarchie jordanienne et les Frères musulmans ou les modalités d’endiguement d’une opposition loyalist,” Les états Arabes face à la contestation Islamiste (IFRI, 1996), pp. 125–44.

[9] Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan, p. 25.

[10] Nathan J. Brown, “Jordan and Its Islamic Movement: The Limits of Inclusion,” Carnegie Papers, No. 74 (November 2006), p. 16.

[11] Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan, p. 28.

[12] Ibid., p. 77.

[13] Interview by the author with Mohamed Abu Rumman, journalist at al-Ghad newspaper, February 5, 2006.

[14] Gharayba, The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, p. 35.

[15] In a book entitled Participation in the Government of the Yahiliyya, Muhammad Abu Faris issued a fatwa rejecting the arguments used by the doves to justify joining the Badran government. The doves used the arguments set out by Umar al-Ashkar in his Right to Participate in Government and Local Councils to counter the fatwa by Abu Faris. Curiously, al-Ashkar acknowledged the very arguments used by Abu Faris to promote nonparticipation, although he recommended participation to serve the organization’s long-term interests. See Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan, p. 36.

[16] Ibid., p. 36.

[17] See Abdalah al-Akaylah, “The Experience of the Islamic Movement in Jordan,” in Azzam al-Tamimi, Islamist Participation in Power (London: Liberty Organization, 1994).

[18] Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan, p. 43.

[19] Ibid., p. 58.

[20] Ruhayel Graraibeh, Islamists and the Political Development in Jordan (Amman: Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, 2004), pp. 79–97.

[21] There are important differences in the positions of the various Middle East groups that follow the ideas of the Muslim Brothers. Whereas Egyptian Islamists rule out any possibility that minority religions or women might accede to the highest positions in the state and advocate the setting up of a “committee of the wise” on religious matters to verify if civil laws conform to Shari’a, in Jordan the former general guide Abd al-Magid Zunaybat wrote an article in al-Ghad in 2007 in which he accepted that women or Christians might occupy the position of head of state. He also considered that a committee of the wise was unnecessary, given that the aim is to build a modern civil state, not the Islamic state derived from the Caliphate. See Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan, pp. 45–48.

[22] See Nathan Brown, Amr Hamzawy, and Marina Ottaway, “Islamic Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring the Grey Areas,” Carnegie Papers, No. 67 (March 2006); Juan José Escobar Stemmann, “Islamists and Democracy: Impossible Debate?” Política Exterior, No. 116 (March 2007–April 2007).

[23] Clark, The Islamic Center Charity Society in Jordan, pp. 92–93.

[24] Abu Rummann, Islamic Politics in Jordan, p. 70.

[25] Russell E. Lucas, “Deliberalization in Jordan,” in Larry Diamond, Marc F. Plattner, and Daniel Brumberg (eds.), Islam and Democracy in the Middle East (2003), pp. 99–106.

[26] Sabah al-Said, “Between Pragmatism and Ideology,” p.13.

[27] Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan, p. 49.

[28] Ibid., p. 52.

[29] Author interview with Abd al-Magid Zunaybat, former general supervisor of the Muslim Brothers, December 18, 2004. The Jordanian Brothers and their Egyptian counterparts agree as regards the need to draw a clear distinction between the European Union and the United States. This explains why the Islamists have promoted dialogue with officials of European countries but not with the Americans.

[30] Abu Rumman, Islamic Politics in Jordan, p. 55.

[31] The Muslim Brothers won only six seats in the 2007 elections, gaining just 100,000 of the 2 million votes cast. Some observers note that the decline in popularity of the movement, particularly among Jordanians of Palestinian origin, is due, among other reasons, to the criticism that followed Hamas’s taking power in Gaza. Events in Gaza have triggered suspicion and doubts as to the political ambitions and the plans of the Palestinian Islamists.


MERIA Journal Staff
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry Rubin
Assistant Editors: Yeru Aharoni, Anna Melman.
MERIA is a project of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary University.

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