On April 13, 2016, the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Amman, Jordan was shut down by government forces and sealed with red wax.
This is an important moment in Jordanian history and for the Middle East region as a whole.The relationship of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan to the government is one of a long and complex history. The regional relationships of the Muslim Brotherhood to governments of the Middle East are often hostile. This event also comes at a time in the period following the Arab Uprisings, when more regimes are determined to maintain their status.
For many people, the name the Muslim Brotherhood triggers a flashback to the Arab Uprisings in Egypt in 2011. Following the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood swept the country-wide elections. However, the military ousted the Brotherhood from power in 2013 and has now targeted the group. This targeting has led to the depletion, imprisonment, torture and even execution of Brotherhood members. All under the guise of laws against terror groups.
Other countries in the Middle East have initiated similar policies toward the Brotherhood. These include places like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Hamas — an affiliated branch of the Brotherhood — in occupied Palestinian territories.
The Brotherhood’s relationship to the government is different in Jordan than most places in the region. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Hashemite monarch are in a sense a reinforcement of one another. The Hashemite Monarchy of Jordan gains much of its religious legitimacy of rule from the Brotherhood. The Islamist group also acts as a bridge between the Palestinian-Jordanian population and the monarch. Palestinians make up the majority of the population of Jordan and number about 7 million people. This has been an additional factor that makes the situation a bit more complex that other countries in the Middle East.
Distinct to Jordan, the Brotherhood, in the past, has played a dialectic role as opposition. “Loyal opposition” means that while the Brotherhood may oppose a certain set of policies or behaviours of the regime, it will not cross the regime as an entity, according to Ziad Abu-Rish. Abu-Rish, a professor in the history department here at Ohio University, explores the role of the Brotherhood as “loyal opposition” in his 2014 paper “Protests, Regime Stability, and State Formation in Jordan.” So traditionally, the relations between the regime and the Brotherhood have not been particularly hostile, at least in comparison to other groups who have called for the complete toppling of the regime.
This incident marks a new era or perhaps a warning for the Brotherhood in Jordan. The attack comes in an election year when the Brotherhood is expected to win big through its political party, the Islamic Action Front (IAF). The other major concern that experts and journalists have speculated about is the recent rift in the Brotherhood that has heavily divided its membership. What is often left out is that this attack was only on a specific branch off of the Brotherhood that some believe the regime is propping up.
This could be a precursor to banning the party from any sort of involvement in the government. It also blows away the facade of democracy in Jordan. The country is a constitutional monarchy that is made up of cabinet ministers, a Parliament and the Hashemite family at the head. But the regime is and always has been an authoritarian-based regime with limited freedoms. This raises further questions about the media and regime response to this attack on Brotherhood headquarters.
The first odd characteristic is the emphasis on the wax on the door to the entrance of the headquarters. In almost every popular source, there is talk of the “red wax” that is posted in the keyhole, as if the red wax will stop the Muslim Brotherhood from organizing or meeting. When has the shutdown of a singular business stopped the meeting of any oppositional group? In Egypt, the Brotherhood operated underground and illegally for decades. But almost every major news network has the photo of the red wax as the cover photo for this story, from Fox News to CNN.
Now, the second is the recalling of the actions as an “accident” as of yesterday. An Israeli source is reporting that the regime made a mistake and actually meant to shut down another building. The author notes that the “government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said security forces stormed the Islamic Action Front (IAF) offices after they ‘mixed up’ the IAF headquarters with those of a nearby, unregistered branch of the Islamist group.” However, this seems totally unlikely to me that the Jordanian regime would do such a thing simply on “accident”. Instead this seems to be a calculated move to break the strongest opposition to the Hashemite rule.
Now, al Arabiya is reporting the incident as lawful considering the Brotherhood did not register as an organization under new political organization laws in 2014. These political organization laws set rules for the structures or parties, members, etc. In Jordan, to be a group you must register and be approved by the government. However, many of the leaders of the Brotherhood are calling this an illegal act and demanding a courtroom setting.
This event is one that will be interesting to follow and the outcomes are still unclear for the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. This incident could be an indicator of whether the regime will view the Brotherhood as friend or foe to the regime. As in the past, the regime and the group have benefited from each other. This could mark a turning point in the relationship and mark the two competing interests as foes. However, I believe more importantly, this marks the distance that the Hashemite regime is willing to go in order to break opposition movements in the post Arab-Uprising settings.
Junior Annie Chester and sophomore Annalycia Liston-Beck also contribute to this featured blog, “Critical International Media Perspectives.”