The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Jordan
Jordan moves to ban MB party

A pretty daring, and probably ill-advised, move that sends back Jordanian politics about two decades:

Jordan's parliament took legal measures on Monday to disqualify the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, the country's largest opposition movement.In a Lower House session, 46 out of 83 Jordanian lawmakers voted to add an item in the country's draft political parties law forbidding the establishment of any political party on a "religious basis."

The measure would disqualify the Islamic Action Front - the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and the country's largest political party - from taking part in upcoming parliamentary elections.

Islamists contend the amendment comes as "retaliation" for the Muslim Brotherhood's opposition to a proposed elections law observers say ensures the continued dominance of tribal regime loyalists over the legislative chamber.

Quite aside domestic politics, this echoes the very anti-MB moves by Gulf countries (especially the UAE) in recent months. The monarchist counter-revolutionary bloc is also increasingly becoming a counter-MB one.

Pelham on Jordan

Jordan Starts to Shake by Nicolas Pelham | The New York Review of Books:

To measure the sturdiness of King Abdullah of Jordan against the tide of upheaval sweeping the Arab world, go to Tafila, an impoverished town tucked into a sandy bowl encircled by the Moabite Mountains 110 miles south of the royal seat of Amman. Outside the courthouse where four youths recently awaited trial on charges of cursing the king, a crime punishable in this hitherto deferential kingdom by up to three years in jail, one hundred protesters continue cussing the king, until the order comes from on high to let the four go.

Such protests are growing in intensity and geographic reach, degrading the royal stature with every chant. Last season’s innuendo against his courtiers and queen has become this season’s naked repudiation of the King. In September, demonstrators chanted S-S-S, a deliberately ambiguous call for both the regime’sislah, Arabic for reform, and isqat, overthrow. The protesters outside Tafila’s courthouse dispense with such niceties, spicing the crude one-liners with which Egypt’s revolutionaries toppled Hosni Mubarak with cheeky Bedouin rhyming couplets: “O Abdullah son of Hussein/Qadaffi’s a goner, whither your reign?”

I must admit I would get a particular pleasure to see the king of Jordan fall. It would also tremendously upset the Saudis and Israelis, so it must be good.

A Star Trek theme park in Jordan

I'm a big fan of Star Trek, but the profitability of this seems dubious:

The Rubicon Group, Paramount Recreation and CBS will all collaborate on the $1billion project.

The Star Trek themed centre will 'deliver a variety of multi-sensory 23rd-century experiences, culminating with a state-of-the art space-flight adventure.'

The Red Sea Astrarium in Amman, Jordan will ‘prominently feature’ an attraction inspired by the 2009 reboot of Star Trek.

It may be no small coincidence that King Abdullah is a big Star Trek fan and even did a cameo in an episode of Star Trek Voyager in the 1990s.


Some thoughts on GCC enlargement

There's been a lot of ink spilled — and some pretty funny jokes — about the surprise announcement that Jordan and Morocco might join the GCC. I'll let someone else provide the Gulf logic for this move (see below) and follow that with some links to pieces looking at things from various angles. But first I want to talk about this generally and then from the specifically Moroccan perspective.

The GCC announcement appears to me first and foremost an economic and political stabilization package for two countries that are traditional security subcontractors to the GCC states as well as frequent recipients of their largesse — and which have similar political systems but are much more fragile because they are not insulated by wads of oil money. The Iran aspect has been trumpeted, but Morocco and Jordan were already on that bandwagon anyway, so I think it's secondary.

Jordan is nexus to Iraq and Israel/Palestine, with a largely characterless, corrupt and politically supine king. It shares with most Gulf countries a shallow sense of identity and political legitimacy, complicated by the Israeli-Arab conflict. Morocco is a more grounded place, far across the other side of Africa, but strong relations with the Gulf are rooted in these countries' conservative, pro-US (during the Cold War and after), anti-radical policies. I can get why Jordan, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia, might want to join the GCC. For Morocco the picture is much more divided.

On the one hand, Morocco is an energy-poor country that has in recent years received billions of aid (in dollars and in oil) from the Gulf. It is a source of immigration, of security (over 6,000 Moroccan troops are stationed in the UAE according to some estimates, and senior security officials have long provided their services to the emirs there) and diplomatic support (remember when Morocco unilaterally ended diplomatic relations with Iran?) Various people at the top of the regime have close relationships with senior Gulf princes — for instance former Moroccan FM Mohammed Benaissa has gone into business with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. There are even families ties: Moulay Hisham, the king's estranged cousin, is a cousin of al-Waleed Bin Talal because their fathers both married daughters of former Lebanese prime minister Ryad al-Solh.

On the other, the official reaction to the announcement in Morocco has been cautious and the public's reaction has been an either amused or angry "WTF?" Moroccans fundamentally see themselves as different, in their mores and culture, to the Khalijis. Jordanians have (for half the population) at least a shared Bedouin culture and the Hejazi connection (the Hashemites are originally from the Hejaz, the Western part of Saudi Arabia). But Moroccans feel only distant historic ties to the Gulf, and over half are Berbers who feel no tie at all. There has been no effort to prepare the public and sell it to them. It might represent, for many, a golden goose: prospects for easier emmigration to the Gulf. But it also stirs up feelings of resentment against Gulf haughtiness — only last summer there was a scandal over the Saudi perception of Moroccan women as loose (no doubt because there is a brisk prostitution business in the Gulf, with Moroccans among the few Arab women more easily found). And among the Moroccan elite, there is some contempt for uncouth and nouveau riche Khalijis, lacking Maghrebi refinement. 

I am usually all for regional integration, and the GCC is a relatively successful model for the region (although that's really because there are no other successes). Morocco could benefit economically from such an arrangement. But at a time when there is more pressure on the monarchy to reform than ever before, I cannot but help fear that some of the Gulf countries — notably Saudi Arabia — have an interest in not seeing any Arab monarchy evolve towards a real, democratic, constitutional monarchy. And that is a price too high to pay.

Also: Arabist reader J. Hammond writes in with this contribution:

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced  this week that Jordan and Morocco are likely to join the economic and political union of the six Gulf States. The sudden announcement has been widely seen as a "circle the wagons" move by a group of worried monarchs.

The Gulf Cooperation Council is seen by some as an European Union type organization in the making. Since the founding of the GCC in 1981, the group has pursued greater integration on a number of issues ranging from trade to football. The GCC is even pursuing a currency union.  A recent piece in the Jordan Times noted that:

"For decades, Jordanian skilled labour has worked in the GCC countries, contributing to their development. Over 350,000 Jordanians work there. They are highly appreciated for their competence and sought out to fill important positions." 

Both Morocco and Jordan are popular destinations for Gulf tourists. With Morocco and Jordan as full members, the population of the GCC would nearly double. But, unlike the European Union which formed from an economic agreement (the 1950s European Coal and Steel Community) the GCC was first founded as a defensive pact and has became increasingly economic in nature.

This wave of expansion shows that security remains an important part of GCC equation. Both Jordan and Morocco have long coordinated with the GCC on security issues. Jordan has sent 800 personnel to the Saudi-led GCC operation in Bahrain. Indeed, Jordan's military professionalism is well known throughout the region. Morocco has also not hesitated in coming to the aid of GCC countries in the past. The country sent 13,000 troops to assist coalition forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Secondly, like the Gulf monarchies, Morocco's relationship with Iran has been rocky.

The GCC move is a confident one. The Arab monarchies at present appear far more stable than their republican peers. For example, Qatar and the UAE have not seen any large protests throughout the ongoing "Arab Spring". Still, this expansion of the GCC implies that the fates of the Arab world's monarchies are intertwined. With Jordan and Morocco in the tent, all Arab world monarchies would be in one single, club of kings.

Extra links:

  • / Middle East & North Africa - Gulf states’ overtures delight Jordan
  • Morocco and Jordan ask to join GCC - The National
  • Elliott Abrams: Pressure Points » Blog Archive » The GCC: “Carefully Considered Reform” or Reactionary Politics?
  • GCC throws economic lifeline to Jordan, Morocco |
  • Le Maroc invité à un club très fermé?
  • ANALYSIS-Arab dynasties lure Jordan, Morocco into anti-Iran bloc | News by Country | Reuters
  • Counterrevolution in the Gulf - By Kristian Coates Ulrichsen | Foreign Policy
  • gulfnews : Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf: An attempt to steal the show
  • AFP: Jordan, Morocco could boost GCC 'monarchy club'
  • Jordan's parliamentary elections and the Islamist boycott

    Arabist reader André Bank sent me the following analysis of Jordan's recent parliamentary elections and the decision of the Islamic Action Front (a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated party) to boycott. I reproduce here for the benefit of others. His views, of course, are his own — but they certainly have shed some light for me on a subject I don't know much about.

    Jordan’s parliamentary elections and the Islamist boycott 

    By André Bank

    3 January 2011

    André Bank is a research fellow at the GIGA Institute of Middle East Studies in Hamburg, Germany. His main areas of expertise are regional conflict, foreign and domestic politics in the Middle East, with a focus on Jordan, Syria and Palestine.


    On November 9, Jordan held its sixth parliamentary elections after the partial political opening of the authoritarian regime in 1989. In the recent elections, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Islamic Action Front (IAF) as its affiliated party successfully boycotted, leading to an elected Lower House without any parliamentarians from the traditionally largest and only really relevant political party in Jordan. The government’s maintenance of the highly controversial “one-man, one vote” electoral system of 1993, which despite some cosmetic changes in May 2010 still highly discriminates against urban areas and clearly favours the rural, tribally dominated parts of Jordan, has been the obvious reason behind the Islamists’ decision not to participate in this year’s “election game”, thereby pushing through the second electoral boycott since the first one in 1997.  

    In order to adequately understand the Islamists’ current electoral boycott, I hold that we should look beyond the specifics and minimal changes of the maintained “sawt wahid” electoral law and locate the boycott in its wider political and also historical context. This bigger picture of the politics of Islamists and elections in Jordan, I would argue, can be adequately grasped along three axes – or analytical lenses: First, the relationship between the MB/IAF and the Hashemite government. Second, the connections between Islamist politics in Jordan and the wider Arab region and in particular the Palestinian arena. And thirdly, internal politics and the dynamics within the MB/IAF itself, which – again – are also in various ways interlinked with the other two dimensions. 

    In the following, I want to use these three lenses to illustrate some key dynamics of the politics of Islamists and elections in Jordan. Starting out with a historical perspective, I intend to move to the present situation in order to end with some potential future implications of the Islamists’ recent boycott decision.

    Hashemites and Islamists: From cooperation to confrontation

    From the axes of government-opposition relations and with a longer-term view, the relationship of the Jordanian Islamists and the Hashemite government can be described as a transformation from cooperation to confrontation. By this, I do not want to insinuate that the government-Islamist relation in Jordan is simply a linear development of gradual decline and growing enmity, far from it. There are of course complex ups and downs. Nevertheless, the overall trend over the past two decades has been one of more confrontation in the sense of increased regime repression, less cooptation and probably also less government-Islamist coordination. (The latter could also be seen in the very unsuccessful and actually half-hearted attempts by the Rifa’i government to lure the MB/IAF into participating in the 2010 elections.) 

    The Hashemite-Islamist estrangement is related – perhaps paradoxically – to the relative political strength and broad social support of the Islamists up until the political liberalization in 1989. During the period of martial law from 1957 to 1989, the Islamists were in an almost symbiotic relationship with the Hashemite government under King Hussein. They were allowed to work exclusively in the Palestinian refugee camps after the so-called Black September 1970 and had a near-hegemony in the fields of religious politics and education. And their social support network as represented in the Islamic Center Charity Society (ICCS), the largest Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) outside the welfare Royally Organized NGOs, already played an important role in serving the Islamists’ main constituency, the urban (lower) middle classes, especially in Amman and Zarqa, many of which were also of Palestinian descent.1 

    This social support base allowed the MB an impressive showing in the first parliamentary elections in 1989, when 22 of the 80 parliamentarians were direct MB members and a dozen more were affiliated independents. Alarmed of a potential gradual take-over of the Islamists, King Hussein already started to initiate a policy of electoral de-liberalization, namely in the form of the development of the controversial “one-man, one-vote” electoral law, which should lead to a weaker showing of 16 MB/IAF candidates in the 1993 elections. In this context, the regional Arab and especially Palestinian dimension is paramount. 

    Jordanian Islamists, Hamas and the (former) Peace Process

    The second lens is the regional Arab and in particular Palestinian dimension.2 This dimension makes the Jordanian case of Islamist politics and elections peculiar. Without going into details about the multiple personal and organizational linkages between the Jordanian MB and the Palestinian Hamas, it is fair to say that there’s a very strong Palestinian connection, which also manifests itself in the “anti-normalization movement” in Jordan. The latter is dominated by the professional associations, mostly of the engineers, doctors, pharmacists etc., which – again, and up until now – is controlled by the MB/IAF.

    In many ways, the Islamists’ first boycott decision in Jordan in the parliamentary elections of 1997 is also related to the “Palestine dimension”, namely the government’s continued political crackdown against the Islamist opposition in the course of the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1994. And Jordan’s Western donors pretty much turned a blind eye on the continuation of the “sawt wahid” electoral law. Being excluded from the patronage and partial influence that stems from participation in parliament in Jordan, the Islamists decided to run again – albeit with a very limited number of candidates – in the postponed 2003 elections. Then, and under the shadow of the second Palestinian intifada and the Iraq war, they gained 17 from the extended 110 seats. 

    The next parliamentary elections, the ones in 2007, took place in a regional-domestic context of massive intimidation against the Islamists – and the background here was less the Islamist terrorist attacks in Jordan on 9 November 2005 (actually, the current date was chosen to “celebrate” – well, instrumentalize – the fifth anniversary) but much more the electoral sweep of Hamas in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in January 2006. The ensuing repression, which lead among others to the closure of the ICCS in July 2006 (until today not opened yet) and the arrest of IAF parliamentarians in August 2006, brought about a massive fragmentation of the MB/IAF, leading to internal divisions along “hawkish” and “dovish” trends.  

    Internal Politics of the Muslim Brotherhood and the IAF

    The decision to participate in 2007 after the massive government crackdown since 2006 lead to a rising influence of more “confrontational” and “pro-Hamas” representatives, who gradually took over important positions in both the movement and the party by 2009. But, as Muhammad Abu Rumman underlines, the most recent decision to boycott came behind an initiative by so-called doves – namely to put the issue of “electoral reform” centre-stage and to call for an institutionalization in Jordan of a “real constitutional monarchy”.3 When this suggestion became obvious, the government was even more hesitant to initiate anything more than some smaller changes in terms of the women’s quota, four additional seats for the northern cities of Amman, Zarqa and Irbid as well as the introduction virtual sub-districts. The final boycott decision of the MB/IAF was then announced in July 2010. i.e. fourth months before the scheduled election date and two months after the declaration of the temporary election law in May. Before, the movement/party had displayed its traditional form of internal consultation and democratic procedures; while the movement/party leadership was rather divided about the potential benefits of a participation in the elections, the social base clearly voted in favour of the boycott. And the policy of communicating the boycott and of keeping the vast majority of supporters and delegates testifies to the coherence and hierarchical implementation of political decision taken by the movement/party. 

    Future perspectives: Back to 1997?

    Is the Islamists’ electoral boycott in the recent parliamentary elections an expression of its political weakness in the context of an overwhelming Hashemite government? Not necessarily. The decision to consult with the rank-and-file of the movement/party as well as its members and in particular the clear maintenance of the boycott over a period of four months under pressure from the government and a media campaign to participate shows the level of relative coherence and hierarchy, which currently seems to have returned to the MB/IAF after the period of fragmentation and internal turbulences following the government crackdown since 2006. 

    And will the boycott lead to a period of soul-searching within the movement/party reminiscent of the phase after the first electoral boycott some 13 years ago? In other words: Will Jordan move back to 1997? Most likely not. With the more hawkish trends controlling important positions in both the MB and the IAF, the likelihood of internal disputes might go down, especially in comparison to the last years. And if the movement manages to keep its social bases and influence in the professional associations, in which they won again recently, as well as partly in the university councils, Jordan’s Islamists will head towards a more “confrontational” position against the government and, by extension, the lame parliament. This is especially so if the deadlock on negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Fatah in the West Bank persists and if Hamas continues to be sidelined and boycotted in the Gaza Strip. Only if the “one-man, one vote” electoral law will be essentially abolished and replaced by a more balanced system, will the MB/IAF return to run in parliamentary elections again. 


    1 Cf. Janine A. Clark (2010), “Questioning Power, Mobilization, and Strategies of the Islamist Opposition. How Strong Is the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan?”, in: Holger Albrecht (ed.): Contentious Politics in the Middle East. Political Opposition under Authoritarianism, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, pp. 117-137. 

    2 For a systematic analysis of interplay between Arab regional and Jordanian domestic politics and the importance of the ‘Palestine dimension’ cf. André Bank / Morten Valbjørn (2010), “Bringing the Arab Regional Level Back in …- Jordan in the New Arab Cold War”, in: Middle East Critique, 19, 3, pp. 303-319.

    3 Cf. Muhammad Abu Rumman (2010), “Jordan’s Parliamentary Elections and the Islamist Boycott”, in: Arab Reform Bulletin, 20 October.