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Arab Studies Quarterly -- Fall 1999

Here is an article from the most current issue of the ASQ.  For a full edition of the ASQ, contact AAUG at aaug@aaug.org and order your copy now.  Or you could become a member and get your copies as part of your membership

ISLAMISTS, THE STATE, AND COOPERATION IN JORDAN

Quintan Wiktorowicz

 INTRODUCTION

Both scholars and policy-makers alike represent the relationship between Islamic movements and the state in terms of political conflict. Whether manifested as militant groups or moderate reformists, Islamists are labeled as part of the “opposition.”  The alternative discourse of legitimization sponsored by Islamists is seen as a central challenge to the stability and survival of incumbent Arab regimes.  As a result, a great deal of scholarship attempts to elucidate the potential consequences of Islamic movements for state power.

                While it is clear that Islamic movements frequently mobilize against regimes and that the state apparatus is often utilized to circumscribe Islamic activism, such characterizations oversimplify the relationship between Islamists and the state.  As several scholars have noted, Islamic movements are not monolithic entities.[i]  They are multifaceted and constituted by a variety of different Islamic groups.  Struggles over sacred authority, tactics, and Islamic interpretation create important internal movement differences and disagreements.  Such divergences, in turn, engender alternative patterns of state-movement interaction, only some of which are predicated upon conflict and struggle.  During the 1970s, for example, regimes throughout the region supported Islamists during elections to professional associations to combat the power of Nasserists, Ba’thists, and leftist movements.  More recently in Egypt, the Mubarak regime has provided financial support to numerous Islamic Non-Governmental Organizations, which focus upon the provision of basic goods and services rather than revolutionary change.[ii]  And in Morocco, the govern-ment supports Sufi groups as an alternative to more radical Islamism.[iii]  All of these examples indicate that the relationship between Islamic movements and the state is not based simply upon conflict.  It is more complex and nuanced than the image of “Islam against the state” implies.

                Using the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan as a case study, this article argues that the dynamics of Islamic movement-state relations may be characterized more by cooperation than conflict when there is a conjuncture of interests.  In Jordan, the regime benefits from Muslim Brotherhood success because as a moderate reform movement it checks other more confrontational social movements and channels Islamic activism into a non-violent agenda.  The Muslim Brotherhood, on its part, benefits from organizational opportunities produced by the incumbent regime.  State support allows the movement to extend its reach in society and enables the Brotherhood to more effectively deliver its religious message.  Though the movement may disagree with policies or articulate opposition, it continues to act through the institutions of the political system without challenging the raison d’être of state or Hashemite power.  In effect, the Brotherhood acts as a “loyal opposition.”[iv]

                This creates what Thomas Schelling refers to as a “coordination game.”[v]  In this game, each actor cooperates with the other to achieve different ends.  The regime seeks to perpetuate its power and control by supporting moderate Islam, while the Muslim Brotherhood hopes to promote a more Muslim society with state support.  The Jordanian case study indicates that not all Islamic groups are unequivocal enemies of the state and that mutual interest can lead to cooperation.  This support is not constant and the relationship is dynamic, but a complete understanding of state-movement relations necessitates elucidating points of cooperation as well as conflict.  In the following sections, I outline the Muslim Brotherhood’s moderate approach to religious change, its history of support for the regime, concomitant movement opportunities in society and the state, and independent Islamist views of the Brotherhood-regime relationship.

 

REFORM, NOT REVOLUTION

 

The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic reform movement founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna.  Although it initially began as a movement for the reform of the individual and social morality, its broader political significance grew to challenge secular leadership in Muslim societies. Its strategy of change was to facilitate a more Muslim society through grassroots programs in education, charity, and social activities.  Over time, branches of the Muslim Brotherhood were founded in other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Kuwait, and Jordan.  Although the various Brotherhood branches are connected through shared symbolic and ideological linkages, historical experiences differ and each enjoys administrative independence. 

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, founded in 1945, is not seeking to destroy the current political system.  It proposes reform from within.  Statements by leaders and working members of the movement reflect this outlook.  Abdul Majid Thunaybat, the current leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, describes the movement’s approach to change:

 

                Our approach to education is to begin with the individual and then move on to the family and then ultimately the Islamic government that rules as provided for in God’s sharia.  Our mission does not envisage an overthrow of the regime in the sense of holding the reigns of power regardless of people’s temperament or whether they approve of this regime or not.  We seek the creation of faithful grassroots that receive these instructions and this order, and government by Islam comes later.

We renounce violence and say that the alternative is political reform and respect for Islamic sharia, which con-stitutes the base of powers as approved by all Arab and Islamic constitutions.[vi]

 

                Thunaybat’s views are echoed by other members of the Muslim Brotherhood.  In his outline of the Islamic position on political involvement, Ishaq Farhan, a leader in the Brotherhood, reemphasizes the movement’s support for the stability of Jordan and argues that “no matter how much the political stands differ between the Islamic movement and the official stand, things must never end up with using violence and the opposite violence [counter-violence].”[vii]  Of paramount importance is that the movement supports the “state of law and institutions while adopting the gradual reform means in order to shift towards the application of the Islamic sharia in society.”[viii]  Elsewhere Farhan states that the Brotherhood “will not spill one drop of blood or vandalize any public or private property.”  This derives from a belief that “Sometimes words speak louder than swords.”[ix]  The Muslim Brothers articulate a gradualist agenda for change that begins with “the Muslim individual, up to the Muslim family, the Muslim community, and then the Muslim State.”[x] 

                The Brotherhood’s method of change is not the erection of a new system of politics; it is a reformist strategy of working through the current system to imbue it with more Islamic tones.[xi]  Leaders in the movement characterize themselves as “reformists, not revolutionaries,” and argue that the strategy of change is “evolution, not revolution.”[xii]  It is an attempt to renew the system, not to radically change or alter it.  Members of the Brotherhood view themselves as partners with the government in providing social and moral guidance.  Bassam Umush echoes these sentiments when he argues that any change should be pursued by “making an effort toward reforming government rather than through an attempt to overthrow the regime.”[xiii]  Various members of the movement have labeled their relationship with the regime as one of “peaceful coexistence.”[xiv]

                Movement outsiders recognize the peaceful nature of this relationship as well.  In a series of articles in the Jordanian Arabic daily, al-Ra’y, numerous observers outside the Muslim Brotherhood describe the relationship between the regime and the movement as one of mutual cooperation.   Many further argue that there has never been any real contradiction or confrontation because peaceful coexistence brought “mutual benefit” for both parties.[xv]  As the next section explains, this rhetoric of moderation is supported by a history of cooperation and loyalty to the political system and regime.

               

THE HISTORICAL RECORD OF LOYALTY

 

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has never seriously challenged the legitimacy or power of the ruling regime.  While the Egyptian Brotherhood experienced violent clashes with President Abd al-Nasser and has been repressed by Presidents Sadat and Mubarak, the Jordanian movement has enjoyed a relatively cordial and cooperative relationship with the Hashemite monarchy.  Although moments of tension have surfaced over the years, the relationship has remained one of mutual understanding and cooperation, reinforced by common interests and institutionalized through repeated episodes of interaction.  Though earlier years in the relationship witnessed serious disagreements and mutual suspicion,[xvi] conflict diminished as the result of extended interactional experiences.  Each actor has, in essence, learned the limits and objectives of the other.  Despite its advocacy of a more Islamic society, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has never sought a radical or revolutionary change in political arrangements that would threaten the survival of the regime, nor has it sought the dissolution of monarchical rule.  On the contrary, it has actively supported the regime and its claims to legitimacy, and has served as a source of stability throughout Jordan’s tumultuous history.

                Its relationship with the regime began when the movement was founded in Jordan on 19 November 1945.  King Abdullah I, the founder of the kingdom, provided patronage for the inauguration of the general offices and granted the movement legal status in January 1946 as a charitable society.  The king was a personal associate of the Jordanian Brotherhood’s founder, Abdul Latif Abu Qura, and included the movement’s secretary, Abdul Hakim Adin, in the government’s cabinet, proclaiming that “Jordan is in need of the Brotherhood’s efforts.”[xvii]  Abdullah allowed the Brotherhood to establish branches throughout the kingdom, enabling the movement to extend its influence during the initial period of state-formation.  The Brotherhood became an active participant in the construction of the new Jordanian entity and has maintained an important role in shaping the affairs of the country.  King Abdullah supported the religiously-conservative agenda of the Brotherhood and viewed the movement as a strategic ally in combating leftist and communist forces in the kingdom.  The Muslim Brotherhood, on its part, supported the King’s annexation of the West Bank and respected the religious credentials of the Hashemites.  The mutual amicability and cooperation was colored by periods of tension but established the foundations for a long-lasting relationship.

Throughout its history, the Muslim Brotherhood has consistently supported the regime during periods of crisis.  During the height of the regime’s confrontation with Arab nationalists and the coup attempt in the 1950s, the Brotherhood openly declared its loyalty to King Hussein, supporting martial law to combat destabilizing movements such as Nasserists, communists, leftists, and Ba`thist forces.  The Brotherhood objected to the atheistic nature of these movements, while King Hussein feared erosion of his power and control.[xviii]  The Brotherhood’s support for the king was reaffirmed during the 1970-71 civil war when the movement reinforced its allegiance and commitment to stability by staying out of the conflict. 

More recently, during the 1989 and 1996 riots which erupted over subsidy reductions, the Muslim Brotherhood was careful not to criticize King Hussein, focusing its attacks on the cabinet and not the system of power or legitimacy.  The Brotherhood actively worked to ease tensions and looked to the king as an unbiased arbiter during the crisis, publicly praising his wisdom and political acumen.  In 1996 during a public speech, the king publicly recognized the Brotherhood’s restraint during the riots.

In another instance, the regime directly requested Muslim Brotherhood assistance to promote political stability after unrest exploded in the Palestinian refugee camps following a 1990 incident in which Israelis killed twelve Palestinians near a Tel Aviv train station. Because of the Brotherhood’s political influence in the camps, the regime approached leaders and asked them to use their influence to regain order. The Muslim Brotherhood complied with the request and order was subsequently restored.[xix]

The Brotherhood’s moderate stance has also served to counter radical Islamic groups.  From the perspective of regime survival, the Muslim Brotherhood’s most important function is that it marginalizes more militant Islamic groups which propose revolutionary changes in the political and social system.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the Muslim Brotherhood acted to counter the more radical Hizb al-Tahrir (The Liberation Party).  As a moderate, supportive, and legal Islamic movement, the Brotherhood was viewed as a means of absorbing the increased religiosity that began in the 1970s to divert it away from more radical groups such as Hizb al-Tahrir.[xx]  At times, the Brotherhood uses its high profile and legitimacy to delegitimize the claims and ideologies of groups that espouse violence in the kingdom.  Any new, more radical Islamic group, which might construct a material or ideological challenge to the regime, would first need to successfully diminish the Muslim Brotherhood’s status in the community.  This creates a legitimating buffer that protects the regime from revolutionary discursive challenges.  The Brotherhood, in effect, serves as a mechanism of internal social movement discipline that prevents the growing power of more threatening Islamic groups.

                Despite this cooperation, the relationship has experienced downturns as well.  In 1956, the Muslim Brotherhood organized protests against policies that permitted a substantial British presence in the country.  Later, divisions between the movement and the crown emerged over the regime’s policy towards Iran.  Before the 1979 Iranian revolution, King Hussein used his prestige, in an attempt to bolster the faltering Shah, by visiting Iran three times in 1978.  Since the majority of Jordanians supported the Iranian revolution, the king’s actions in support of the Shah were used by the Brotherhood as an opportunity to attack the government’s policies as un-Islamic.  King Hussein’s later support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war further emphasized these differences. 

Another clash occurred during Egypt’s rapprochement with Israel.  Despite King Hussein’s public condemnation of the peace efforts, he refused to break ties with Egypt, continuing economic relations after the Camp David Accords in 1979.  The Muslim Brotherhood expressed dismay at what it viewed as inadequate action against Egypt’s independent break with the united Arab front against Israel. 

Still another breakdown in relations occurred when political circumstances between Syria and Jordan improved.  Prior to the mid-1980s, the king allowed the Brotherhood to organize and launch attacks against the Asad regime from Jordanian territory.  After relations between Jordan and Syria improved, the regime cracked down on the Brotherhood to prevent further military attacks.  This included an assortment of measures designed to repress the movement’s foreign operations as well as domestic activities.[xxi]  Other areas of confrontation have emerged over issues such as economic liberalization, relations with the West, the peace process, and the election law.  In all of these disagreements, the Brotherhood disagreed with particular policies without challenging the regime’s ultimate authority or power.

                Regardless of any differences, the Muslim Brotherhood has remained loyal to the political system and the Hashemite regime.  It has never operated underground, attempted to destabilize the kingdom, or used violence.  Though there have been disagreements, it is like any relationship and has experienced ups and downs.  The historical record has demonstrated the movement’s loyalty to the system, and a long history of interaction has created a predictable relationship in which the actors are well known to one another.  As Hilmi Asmar, member of the Muslim Brotherhood and former editor of the Islamist weekly, al-Sabil, argues,

 

There is an accumulation of trust-building because we have been dealing with decision-makers for a long time.  There is a gentleman’s agreement between the royal court and the Muslim Brotherhood.  The first headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan was opened by King Abdullah so trust started from the beginning.  There was no real conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the regime. . . . We are partners; we are not revolutionaries.  We have disagreements, different points of view, but we do not go boxing.[xxii]

 

Although there is a growing ideologically oriented faction within the Muslim Brotherhood, known as the “hawks,” the Brotherhood leadership remains predominantly realist and loyal to the political system.  Rather than staunchly opposing structures of power, the Brotherhood works from within the system to produce changes.  It acts within the rules of the game, even when these rules are monopolized by the regime.  Most importantly, it has never challenged the legitimacy of the state or the Hashemites.  While the movement has opposed specific government policies, it has never opposed the right of the regime to govern or threatened the capabilities of the state.

 

OPPORTUNITIES FOR GRASSROOTS ACTIVISM

 

As a result of this cooperative relationship, the Muslim Brotherhood has been awarded maneuvering room for social movement activism.  Beginning in the 1950s, the Brotherhood expanded through a variety of grassroots activities while all other movements were repressed.  Peaceful coexistence, based upon a history of system loyalty and experience, has led to a number of opportunities unavailable to other political actors in the kingdom.

The Brotherhood’s greatest expansion has been through Islamic Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).  Islamic NGOs are non-profit organ-izations that provide basic goods and services to communities in a manner Islamists claim are consistent with the Quran and Sunna.[xxiii]  Examples of Islamic NGO activities include schools, health care, religious lessons, and youth programs, all designed to promote Islamic values and behavior.  As points of contact between the Muslim Brotherhood and communities, these NGOs create vehicles for developing a clientele and support for the Brotherhood cause.  It is important to note that Law 33 of 1966 provides the state with absolute discretion as to which social groups can mobilize through NGOs, and it has used this power to prevent opposition groups from utilizing grassroots organizations.[xxiv]  The Brotherhood, however, has been provided ample space for NGO activism.[xxv]

                Most of the Brotherhood’s grassroots activities operate through the Islamic Center Charity Society, which was licensed in 1963 and serves as the charitable arm of the movement.  During the martial law period, the Brotherhood was the only political movement allowed to operate in civil society, and it took advantage of this status to institutionalize itself as the dominant social movement in the kingdom.  The Center’s activities grew during the 1970s with the influx of oil-related revenues and financial support.  With expenditures in 1993 of JD1,148,573 (approximately $1,640,820), the financial resources of the Center dwarf those of all other NGOs, except those sponsored by the royal family.[xxvi] 

                The Center runs a variety of organizations.  One of its best-known enterprises is its system of schools.  The society operates a network of kindergartens and schools, including the reputable Dar al-Aqram and Dar al-Aqsa schools (the latter had 17 branches throughout Jordan as of 1993).[xxvii]  These schools combine the mandatory national curriculum with special religious classes and hold special Islamic events, such as Islamic book festivals.  Non-religious classes, such as biology, are imbued with an Islamic dimension by explaining scientific information in terms of the Quran and hadith (the written record of sayings and traditions attributed to the Prophet Mohammed).  The society also built the Islamic Community College in Zarqa and Zarqa University.  The University institutes norms of gender segregation in classes and promotes Islamic behavior.  Other organizational activities through the Center include health clinics, sewing centers, Quranic reading courses, orphanages, scholarships for students, and financial and in-kind distribution for the poor. 

               

 

 

The Center’s most successful charitable project is the Islamic Hospital in Amman.  During the initial phase of state-building in Jordan, most health and educational institutions were operated by missionaries and foreign nationals.  Following the 1967 war with Israel, members of the Muslim Brotherhood decided to establish their own health care facilities.  Construction of the hospital began shortly thereafter in 1970 and it was opened in 1982.  Today, there are 1,100 employees and virtually every medical specialty is available at the hospital.[xxviii]  Treatment is better than at many private hospitals and the cost is less because all profits are reinvested.

                At the hospital, the Brotherhood attempts to promote Islamic values through a variety of activities.  Nurses must wear the hijab, all employees are required to pray five times a day, and the hospital tries to implement norms of gender segregation.  In practice, these requirements are not always possible and exceptions are permitted.  There are also religious lessons for employees, including weekly lectures on the meaning of the Quran, hadith, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and Quranic recitation.  Patients are exposed to Islamic values through employee practices and special activities.  The staff is encouraged to discuss Islam with patients, and religious programming is shown on all hospital televisions.  Books and pamphlets on Islam are also readily available to patients.[xxix]

                Because of the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with the regime and its consistent support for working through the system, it has enjoyed special treatment in organizing through the Islamic Center Charity Society.  Not only was it permitted to organize when all other political organizations in the country were banned during the martial law period, but it has been allowed to expand the scope of its activities, broadening the reach of its appeal.  For example, the law requires that NGOs first obtain permission to open branches.  Though the Center has opened only four official branches, it has side-stepped regulations by opening 32 “committees.”  These committees are not a secret; they are well known to the state apparatus and their existence is due to state tolerance and tacit approval, an acceptance that is not forthcoming for many other social movements.  In addition, while the Ministry of Social Development strictly monitors the financial records of NGOs through annual audits, the Islamic Center Charity Society has frequently been exempt.[xxx] 

The tacit state support of the Center Society provides the Brotherhood with greater opportunities for garnering support.  It is a point of contact with communities and an opportunity to publicly display movement achievements through concrete projects.  As Ra’if Nijim, the engineer responsible for the construction of the Islamic Hospital and former director of its fund for the poor, observed,

 

All of these projects—cultural, political, and social projects—prove this movement is helping the people, that these projects are for the people.  So when you do such projects, it is better than being only an association talking to people, calling them to Islam, calling them to pray, calling them to go for pilgrimage.  This is how they succeed and because of this they have succeeded.  Not because they are the only Muslim movement, but because they have done a lot of projects for the country. [xxxi]

 

                Although the Islamic Center Charity Society does not directly engage in politics, there is a political effect.  Beneficiaries provide political support to the Brotherhood because of its social services.  Zaid Abu Ghamineh, an administrator at the Islamic hospital, argues that,

 

Our success is in building a practical model for how Islam can serve.  It has raised the confidence of the community that Islam can solve people’s problems.  That is why people now support the Islamic movement and this is reflected.  Poor people, especially those served by the hospital, they pay us back in elections and meetings.  They interact with us.  The hospital has influenced them. . . .  This influence is not direct. We do not require that people either support the movement or we will not help. . . .   It is not a requirement that they become members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They voluntarily find themselves morally indebted to the movement and that is why they do not pay us [immediately for charitable work].  When the movement is in elections or needs support, they repay the debt.[xxxii]

 

The Islamic Hospital also serves as a source of movement patronage.  According to Ra’if Nijim, the vast majority of employees at the hospital are members of the Brotherhood, a fact which he believes brings down the quality of service:

 

Now the hospital here, the Islamic Hospital, all the employees there, all the doctors, are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, regardless of their knowledge or the ability for work.  I go and visit the hospital always and I can see with my own eyes.  There are many workers and many employees [who] do not deserve to be employed in that hospital because this is a big, standard hospital in the country and should employ better staff.  They do not employ anyone who is not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.[xxxiii]

 

In reality, there are non-Muslim Brotherhood employees as well, but Nijim estimates that 90% of the staff is from the movement.  This provides an employment incentive for Brotherhood loyalists.

 

 

Following political liberalization, the Muslim Brotherhood expanded its NGO presence into the cultural arena through the Society for the Preservation of the Quran.  Founded in 1990, the society engages in a variety of activities intended to promote the application of the Quran because of a belief that “there is no way man can be happy unless they take their knowledge from the Quran, read it, and understand.”[xxxiv] The society teaches Muslims, especially younger Muslims, to read and memorize the Quran.  It also educates participants in fields related to the Quran, such as the sharia, fiqh, and the Sunna.  In July, it holds the National Project for the Conservation and Learning of the Quran which encourages children to participate in Quranic education and activities.  During the month of Ramadan, the society holds a national contest for students who have memorized more than five parts of the Quran.  Members of the society also bring people in from the streets for general Quranic lessons.

                As is the case with the Islamic Center Charity Society, this society enjoys an amicable relationship with the state.  While a similar cultural society comprised of more critical Islamists was routinely denied permission to open branches, the Society for the Preservation of the Quran has successfully opened 100 centers throughout the kingdom, far exceeding the Ministry of Awqaf’s own 26 cultural societies.  This provides access to a variety of neighborhoods in different cities.  It is the strongest and best organized of the nine Islamic cultural societies.  While other Islamic cultural societies are routinely denied permission to form branches without an explanation, the only barriers for this society are “financial, strictly financial.”[xxxv]  It enjoys a good relationship with the regime and the state apparatus.  As the director of the society states, “The Ministry of Culture understands perfectly the goals of the society.  We have all the moral support we need from the Ministry of Culture.  The only obstacle is financial, and we keep the Ministry informed of our activities.”[xxxvi]  In fact, the society’s bylaws, approved by the Minister of Culture, state that it can open branches whenever it wants and inform the Ministry after the fact.  In most cases, NGOs require prior permission to open branches.  In addition, the society often works directly with the Ministries of Culture, Education, and Awqaf, often-utilizing state-owned facilities such as the Islamic Center at King Abdullah mosque in Amman.  Given this supportive relationship, it is not surprising that the director of the society is also an employee at the Ministry of Awqaf.  Other Brotherhood-run NGOs, such as the Yarmuk Sports, Social, and Cultural Club, the Islamic Studies and Research Association, the International Institute for Islamic Thought, the Green Crescent Society, and the Al-Afaf Society, have also received favorable treatment. 

The Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in organizations and its grassroots operations are well known.  It is not an insidious political scheme to uproot the regime.  The history of the Brotherhood demonstrates otherwise.  It is a grassroots attempt to promote a religious message through formal organizations in civil society.  The movement has supported the state, and the state, in turn, has reciprocated by allowing the Brotherhood to organize effectively.

 

MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD ACCESS TO THE STATE

AND GOVERNANCE

 

As a result of its moderate and pragmatic approach, the Muslim Brotherhood has also enjoyed access to institutions of governance, including Parliament, cabinets, national consultative bodies, and various ministries.  This allows the Brotherhood to augment its grassroots campaign with influence through the state.

One of the most notable instances of Brotherhood accesses to state institutions is through employment opportunities.  Numerous members of the movement have been employed by the government.  This includes appointments to positions of leadership within the state apparatus.  Ishaq Farhan, for example, served as Minister of Education in 1970 and later as the Minister of Awqaf from 1983-1985.  He was also the Director of Curriculum and Textbooks (Ministry of Education), the Director of Teacher Education (Ministry of Education), and the President of Jordan University, which is controlled by the government. From 1989-1993, he was appointed as a Senator in the Upper House of Parliament.[xxxvii]  Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, another prominent leader in the Brotherhood, was the Director General of the Amman Educational Department from 1980-1982 and the Secretary General of the Ministry of Education from 1982-1985.[xxxviii]  He was also the Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament from 1989-1993 and a member of the Senate from 1993-1997.

Aside from high level leaders such as Arabiyyat and Farhan, other members of the Brotherhood are also employed at state institutions.  According to a study of the Islamic Action Front Party (IAF) membership, 21% of the founding members, most of them from the Brotherhood, work at the Ministry of Education.[xxxix]  Still other members are employed at state controlled institutions such as universities and public schools.  In 1993, 40% of the members of the IAF shura council were government employees.[xl]

Leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood have also been appointed to various national consultative bodies by the regime.  For example, Ishaq Farhan was appointed as a member of the National Consultative Council, formed in the 1970s as an alternative to recalling Parliament.  Arabiyyat and other members of the Brotherhood served on the National Charter Committee formed to draft the National Charter in 1991 that served as a blueprint for political liberalization.[xli]  During the National Charter negotiations, committee members, including the Muslim Brothers, stated as one of their primary objectives to assure the continued legitimacy of the Hashemite monarchy and support for the king.[xlii]

The Brotherhood’s experience in state institutions and its ubiquitous grassroots presence through NGOs placed the movement in a strong position to benefit from political liberalization, which began in 1989.  Because all other political movements were repressed during the martial law period, the Brotherhood emerged as the most organized and well-known movement in the kingdom.  As a result, it faired well during the parliamentary elections.  In 1984, by-elections were held to fill vacant seats in the Lower House.  The Muslim Brotherhood won three of the six seats reserved for Muslims.[xliii]  In the 1989 elections, the Muslim Brotherhood won 22 of the 80 seats.  In 1993, the movement captured 16 seats and continued to act as a formidable parliamentary actor.[xliv]

                In 1991, at the onset of the Gulf War in January, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and independent Islamists were invited to participate in the cabinet, a decision that is made by the king and his appointed Prime Minister.  The Muslim Brotherhood was given the most influential domestic portfolios, including the Ministries of Education (Abdullah Akaileh), Health (Adnan Jaljuli), Justice (Majid Khalifeh), Social Development (Yusuf al-Athm), and Awqaf (Ibrahim Zayd al-Kilani).[xlv]  These Ministries were viewed as effective mechanisms for implementing the movement’s social objectives. The participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the cabinet only lasted six months, but the domestic portfolios provided the movement with a high profile and offer a glimpse at the kinds of changes they seek through governmental institutions.  None of the changes initiated by the Muslim Brotherhood during this period of cabinet participation challenged the structure of the system or the legitimacy of the regime.  In fact, Islamists outside the Muslim Brotherhood have characterized the Brotherhood changes as “trivial” and “insignificant.”  In one ruling, the Minister of Education prohibited fathers from watching their daughters in sporting events because they would see other girls immodestly dressed.  In another ruling, alcohol was banned from being served on Royal Jordanian flights and at government functions.  Though such policies engendered outrage from less conservative quarters in society, they never challenged the system of power.  All the policy changes were aimed at regulating individual behavior and were not designed to initiate political reforms that would have altered the structure of political power in the kingdom. 

                Access to state institutions and NGOs creates Brotherhood opportunities for religious change from above and below.  Although the movement’s ability to promote its agenda is limited by the ultimate concerns of the regime, points of mutual interest have led to a cooperative relationship.  The Brotherhood’s strong presence in society is to a large extent due to this coordination.

 

OTHER ISLAMIST VIEWS OF

THE BROTHERHOOD-STATE RELATIONSHIP

 

This cooperation and participation has been criticized by more radical groups within the broader Islamic movement.  These groups argue that the Muslim Brotherhood has compromised its ideological and religious message for political and social power.  From this perspective, the pragmatism of the Muslim Brotherhood has superseded its original intent.  Layth Shubaylat’s objections to the movement reflect the view of many Islamists outside the Muslim Brotherhood:

 

I do not think they are serious.  I think they are part of the regime.  I think they are not serious and they are tame.  And their duty is to tame the new followers.  They give them a lot of rhetoric and tell them to obey, and they say this is why and that it is the wisdom.[xlvi]

 

An Islamist from the Mutazileh movement lamented that the Muslim Brotherhood is concerned with “small, trivial things, like preventing alcohol from being served on planes or stopping pornographic movies; but these are very trivial matters and are not effective in social movement.”[xlvii]  Another Islamist complained that “their nature, their very thought, is pragmatic,” and argued that the Muslim Brotherhood will never affect real Islamic change in Jordan because it has been “captured by the system.”[xlviii] 

Even radical members of the Muslim Brotherhood itself articulate this perspective, charging that the leadership is more concerned with political power than with producing an Islamic society.  Despite such internal disagreements, however, radical members of the Brotherhood do not propose a violent or confrontational approach that would threaten the power of the king or the political system.  Their approach is more one of non-participation, which includes boycotts and statements opposed to government policies.  They believe that the Brotherhood should remain outside Parliament and the cabinet, and that the movement should pursue change through other venues such as grassroots projects.  This wing of the Brotherhood, which is not a majority, fears that cooperation could lead to co-optation and the “domestication of the opposition” (if this has not occurred already).[xlix]

Such critiques highlight internal movement disagreements about whether Islamists should coordinate with incumbent regimes.  While the majority of the Brotherhood believes that they can coordinate their tactics and goals with the regime to more effectively produce results, other independent Islamists question the efficacy of cooperation.  Regardless of these differences, the Brotherhood’s experience in Jordan demonstrates that movement-state interactions are not always characterized by political conflict.

 

CONCLUSION

 

This case study indicates that Islamic movement-state relations cannot be unequivocally characterized in terms of confrontation or struggle.  Just as the Islamic movement is not a monolithic entity, state-movement interactions cannot be singularly characterized in terms of political conflict.  Rather than assuming a diode of conflict, students of Islamic movements should examine the range of interactions, which include both conflict and cooperation.

                The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s success is to a large extent the result of its relatively congenial relationship with the regime.  Throughout its history, it has supported the Hashemite regime and political stability during various crises.  Its rhetoric of moderation is thus matched by a history of loyal opposition and participation in the political system.  As a consequence, the regime has provided ample room for Brotherhood organization.  This includes both grassroots organization through Islamic NGOs as well as access to the state apparatus and government employment. 

The benefits of the Muslim Brotherhood’s special relationship with the regime, however, may decline with the consolidation of democracy.  As political participation and civil liberties are institutionalized, state support will become less important for movement success.  Previously repressed and marginalized movements are slowly gaining greater freedoms, independent of regime cooperation.  The relative weight of the Brotherhood in society thus may decline as other movements become more organized in the new democracy.  In addition, the regime’s need to cultivate the Brotherhood’s support will most likely become less important (though certainly not irrelevant) as legitimacy shifts to democratic values and practices. 

Despite any such changes, the cooperative relationship has institutionalized itself over a long period of history and is unlikely to devolve into antagonism.  The Brotherhood may vocalize opposition to government policies and the regime may be less willing to give into Brotherhood demands, but both sides recognize the value of negotiation and coordination over conflict.  Islamic movements and the state are not necessarily natural enemies; cooperation is possible and oftentimes in the best interest of both parties, as the Jordanian case demonstrates.

 

 

NOTES

1.  See, for example, John L. Voll, The Islamic Threat: Myth of Reality? (New York: Oxford University press, 1992); and Denis J. Sullivan and Sana Abed-Kotob, Islam in Contemporary Egypt: Civil Society vs. the State (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1999).

2. Denis J. Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt: Islamic Development, Private Initiative, and State Control (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1994).

3.    Personal conversation with Vincent Cornell, 20 April 1999.

4.  For the concept of “loyal opposition,” see Juan J. Linz, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Crisis, Breakdown, & Reequilibrium (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

5.   Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963).

6.        Amman Al-Safir [Amman], 4 January 1997.

              7.   Ishaq Farhan, “The Islamic Stand towards Political Involvement (with Reference to the Jordanian Experience),” unpublished paper, 1996.  This piece was written in English and I have quoted Farhan without changing grammar.  By “opposite violence,” he means government sponsored counter-violence.

8.   Ibid., 23.

9.    Al-Ra’y [Amman], 6 November 1996.

10. Thunaybat as quoted in Federal Broadcast Information Service [FBIS-NES-94-168], 30 August 1994.

11.  This is particularly the case in domestic issues.  For the pragmatic view of the Muslim Brotherhood in the domestic arena, see Sabah El Said, Between Pragmatism and Ideology: The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Policy Paper Number 39 (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1995).

12.  Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, interview by author, Amman, 27 November 1996.  Arabiyyat is a leader in the Brotherhood and is currently the president of the Islamic Action Front Party (IAF).

13.  Al-Ra’y, 12 November 1996.  Umoush was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood and IAF and a member of Parliament from 1993-1997.  In 1997, both Bassam Umoush and Abdullah Akaileh broke with the IAF election boycott and were elected to the Lower House.  Prime Minister Majali included Umoush in his cabinet as the Minister of Administrative Development.  Akaileh and Umoush were both subsequently expelled from the IAF and the Muslim Brotherhood for breaching the decision to boycott.                       

14. Abdullah Akaileh, “The Experience of the Jordanian Islamic Movement,” in Azzam Tamimi, ed., Power-Sharing Islam? (London: Liberty for Muslim World Publications, 1993); al-Ra’y, 9 November 1996; and al-Ra’y, 12 November 1996.

15.  See, for example, the interviews in al-Ra’y with Zayd Hamzeh, a progressive liberal (9 November 1996), and Ibrahim ‘Izz-al-Din (5 November 1996).

16.  For example see Amnon Cohen, Political Parties in the West Bank under the Jordanian Regime, 1949-1967 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 146-54.

17. Awni Obaidi, as quoted in Hani Hourani, Taleb Awad, Hamed Dabbas, and Sa’eda Kilani, Islamic Action Front Party (Amman: Al-Urdun Al-Jadid Research Center, 1993), 9.

18.  In addition, Brotherhood antipathy toward Nasserism also derived from the brutal experience of the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood under Nasser.

19.  Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, interview by author, Amman, 27 November 1996.

20.  For more on Hizb al-Tahrir, see Amnon Cohen, Political Parties in the West, 209-229; and Suha Taji-Farouki, “Hizb Al-Tahrir,” in John L. Esposito, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, volume 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 125-7.

21.  Robert B. Satloff, Troubles on the East Bank: Challenges to the Domestic Stability of Jordan, Policy Paper Number 39 (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1986).

22.  Hilmi Asmar, interview by author, Amman, 29 October 1996.

23.  For examples, see Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt; and Janine A. Clark, “Islamic Social Welfare Organizations in Cairo: Islamization from Below?” Arab Studies Quarterly 17, 4 (Fall 1995), 11-28.

24.  See Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Civil Society as Social Control: State Power in Jordan,” Comparative Politics (forthcoming).

25.  In interviews, volunteers at these NGOs tried to downplay their relationship with the Brotherhood because of legal requirements, but they are operated by Muslim Brothers.  While the administrative, financial, and decision-making structures of these organizations are technically independent, the participants and the message are the same, a fact which was acknowledged during interviews.

26.  General Union of Voluntary Societies, Directory of Charitable Organizations (Amman: GUVS, 1995), 27 (in Arabic).

27.  Anne Sofie Roald, Tarbiya: Education and Politics in Islamic Movements in Jordan and Malaysia (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell), 172.

28.  Zaid Abu Ghamineh, interview by author, Amman, 13 October 1996.  Ghamineh is an administrator at the hospital and an important figure in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood.

29.  Ibid.; and Roald, Tarbiya, 208.

30.  Laurie Brand, “‘In the Beginning was the State. . . .’  The Quest for Civil Society in Jordan,” in Augustus Richard Norton, ed., Civil Society in the Middle East (New York: Brill, 1995), 164.

31.  Ra’if Nijim, interview by author, Amman, 15 October 1996. Although he is not a member, Nijim works extensively with the Muslim Brotherhood on various projects, particularly those that require engineering skills. He was also a founding member of the IAF, though like other independents he resigned because of differences about the distribution of leadership positions and the balance between members of the Brotherhood and independent Islamists.  He has also served as the Minister of Awqaf. 

32.  Zaid Abu Ghamineh, interview by author, Amman, 13 October 1996.

33.  Ra’if Nijim, interview by author, Amman 15 October 1996.

34.  Omar Subeyhe, Director of the Preservation of the Quran Society, interview by author, Amman, 16 October 1996.

35.  Ibid.

36.  Ibid.

37.  This information is from Farhan’s vitae.

38.  Hourani et al., Islamic Action Front Party, 13-14.

39.  The Islamic Action Front Party was initially an alliance of Muslim Brothers and independent Islamists; but because independents resigned en masse, the IAF became the de facto political party of the Brotherhood.

40.  Hourani et al., Islamic Action Front Party, 36-7, 45.

41.  Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, interview by author, Amman, 27 November 1996.

42.  Hanna Y. Freij and Leonard C Robinson, “Liberalization, the Islamists, and the Stability of the Arab State: Jordan as a Case Study,” The Muslim World  86, 1 (January 1996),  19.

43.  In the Jordanian electoral system, there are quotas for certain groups, including Christians, Circassians, and Muslims.

44.  The decline in the number of Islamists has been widely blamed on legal reforms that changed the electoral system from block-voting, which favored disciplined voting blocs such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to a one-person one-vote system.  Regardless of the electoral changes, 85% of the shura council voted to participate in the 1993 elections.  The Brotherhood and other opposition parties, however, peacefully boycotted the 1997 elections, citing restrictions on political freedoms and participation in the peace process as their primary justification.  Despite the boycott, the Muslim Brotherhood never incited voters themselves to boycott and remained peaceful.

45.  Laurie Brand, “The Corrosive Effects of the Peace Process on Political Liberalization in Jordan,” paper presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Conference, Washington, DC, August 1997.

46.  Layth Shubaylat, interview by author, Amman 13 March 1997.  Shubaylat is a leading independent Islamist opposition figure.  His outspoken criticism of the regime has lead to his arrest and imprisonment on several occasions.

47.  Leader of the Mutazileh movement, interview by author, Amman, 19 October 1996.

48.  This source wishes to remain anonymous.

49.     Amman Al-Safir, 4 January 1997.


ENDNOTES

 

Fieldwork for this research was made possible by the generous financial support of the Jordanian-American Binational Fulbright Commission and the American Center for Oriental Research. 

1.   See, for example, John L. Voll, The Islamic Threat: Myth of Reality? (New York: Oxford University press, 1992); and Denis J. Sullivan and Sana Abed-Kotob, Islam in Contemporary Egypt: Civil Society vs. the State (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 1999).

2.  Denis J. Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt: Islamic Development, Private Initiative, and State Control (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1994).

3.    Personal conversation with Vincent Cornell, 20 April 1999.

4.   For the concept of “loyal opposition,” see Juan J. Linz, The Breakdown of Democratic Regimes: Crisis, Breakdown, & Reequilibrium (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

5.   Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963).

6.   Amman Al-Safir [Amman], 4 January 1997.

7.  Ishaq Farhan, “The Islamic Stand towards Political Involvement (with Reference to the Jordanian Experience,” unpublished paper, 1996.  This piece was written in English and I have quoted Farhan without changing grammar.  By “opposite violence,” he means government sponsored counter-violence.

8.   Ibid., 23.

9.   Al-Ra’y [Amman], 6 November 1996.

10.  Thunaybat as quoted in Federal Broadcast Information Service [FBIS-NES], 30 August 1994.

11.  This is particularly the case in domestic issues.  For the pragmatic view of the Muslim Brotherhood in the domestic arena, see Sabah El Said, Between Pragmatism and Ideology: The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Policy Paper Number 39 (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1995).

12.  Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, interview by author, Amman, 27 November 1996.  Arabiyyat is a leader in the Brotherhood and is currently the president of the Islamic Action Front Party (IAF).

13.  Al-Ra’y, 12 November 1996.  Umoush was a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood and IAF and a member of Parliament from 1993-1997.  In 1997, both Bassam Umoush and Abdullah Akaileh broke with the IAF election boycott and were elected to the Lower House.  Prime Minister Majali included Umoush in his cabinet as the Minister of Administrative Development.  Akaileh and Umoush were both subsequently expelled from the IAF and the Muslim Brotherhood for breaching the decision to boycott.

14.  Abdullah Akaileh, “The Experience of the Jordanian Islamic Movement,” in Azzam Tamimi, ed., Power-Sharing Islam? (London: Liberty for Muslim World Publications, 1993); Al-Ra’y, 9 November 1996; and Al-Ra’y, 12 November 1996.

15.  See for example, the interviews in Al-Ra’y with Zayd Hamzeh, a progressive liberal (9 November 1996), and Ibrahim ‘Izz-al-Din (5 November 1996).

16.  For example see Amnon Cohen, Political Parties in the West Bank under the Jordanian Regime, 1949-1967 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1980), 146-54.

17.  Awni Obaidi, as quoted in Hani Hourani, Taleb Awad, Hamed Dabbas, and Sa’eda Kilani, Islamic Action Front Party (Amman: Al-Urdun Al-Jadid Research Center, 1993), 9.

18.  In addition, Brotherhood antipathy toward Nasserism also derived from the brutal experience of the Egyptian branch of the Brotherhood under Nasser.

19.  Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, interview by author, Amman, 27 November 1996.

20.  For more on Hizb al-Tahrir, see Amnon Cohen, Political Parties in the West, 209-229; and Suha Taji-Farouki, “Hizb Al-Tahrir,” in John L. Esposito, ed., Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, volume 2 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 125-7.

21.  Robert B. Satloff, Troubles on the East Bank: Challenges to the Domestic Stability of Jordan, Policy Paper Number 39 (Washington, DC: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1986).

22.  Hilmi Asmar, interview by author, Amman, 29 October 1996.

23.  For examples, see Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt; and Janine A. Clark, “Islamic Social Welfare Organizations in Cairo: Islamization from Below?” Arab Studies Quarterly 17, 4 (Fall 1995), 11-28.

24.  See Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Civil Society as Social Control: State Power in Jordan,” Comparative Politics (forthcoming).

25.  In interviews, volunteers at these NGOs tried to downplay their relationship with the Brotherhood because of legal requirements, but they are operated by Muslim Brothers.  While the administrative, financial, and decision-making structures of these organizations are technically independent, the participants and the message are the same, a fact which was acknowledged during interviews.

26.  General Union of Voluntary Societies, Directory of Charitable Organizations (Amman: GUVS, 1995), 27 (in Arabic).

27.  Anne Sofie Roald, Tarbiya: Education and Politics in Islamic Movements in Jordan and Malaysia (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell), 172.

28.  Zaid Abu Ghamineh, interview by author, Amman, 13 October 1996.  Ghamineh is an administrator at the hospital and an important figure in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood.

29.  Ibid.; and Roald, Tarbiya, 208.

30.  Laurie Brand, “‘In the Beginning was the State...’: The Quest for Civil Society in Jordan” in Augustus Richard Norton, ed., Civil Society in the Middle East (New York: Brill, 1995), 164.

31.  Ra’if Nijim, interview by author, Amman, 15 October 1996. Although he is not a member, Nijim works extensively with the Muslim Brotherhood on various projects, particularly those that require engineering skills. He was also a founding member of the IAF, though like other independents he resigned because of differences about the distribution of leadership positions and the balance between members of the Brotherhood and independent Islamists.  He has also served as the Minister of Awqaf. 

32.  Zaid Abu Ghamineh, interview by author, Amman, 13 October 1996.

33.  Ra’if Nijim, interview by author, Amman 15 October 1996.

34.  Omar Subeyhe, Director of the Preservation of the Quran Society, interview by author, Amman, 16 October 1996.

35.  Ibid.

36.  Ibid.

37.  This information is from Farhan’s vitae.

38.  Hourani et al., Islamic Action Front Party, 13-14.

39.  The Islamic Action Front Party was initially an alliance of Muslim Brothers and independent Islamists; but because independents resigned en masse, the IAF became the de facto political party of the Brotherhood.

40.  Hourani et al., Islamic Action Front Party, 36-7, 45.

41.  Abdul Latif Arabiyyat, interview by author, Amman, 27 November 1996.

42.  Hanna Y. Freij and Leonard C Robinson, “Liberalization, the Islamists, and the Stability of the Arab State: Jordan as a Case Study,” The Muslim World  86, 1 (January 1996),  19.

43.  In the Jordanian electoral system, there are quotas for certain groups, including Christians, Circassians, and Muslims.

44.  The decline in the number of Islamists has been widely blamed on legal reforms that changed the electoral system from block-voting, which favored disciplined voting blocs such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to a one-person one-vote system.  Regardless of the electoral changes, 85% of the shura council voted to participate in the 1993 elections.  The Brotherhood and other opposition parties, however, peacefully boycotted the 1997 elections, citing restrictions on political freedoms and participation in the peace process as their primary justification.  Despite the boycott, the Muslim Brotherhood never incited voters themselves to boycott and remained peaceful.

45.  Laurie Brand, “The Corrosive Effects of the Peace Process on Political Liberalization in Jordan,” paper presented at the American Political Science Association Annual Conference, Washington, DC, August 1997.

46.  Layth Shubaylat, interview by author, Amman 13 March 1997.  Shubaylat is a leading independent Islamist opposition figure.  His outspoken criticism of the regime has lead to his arrest and imprisonment on several occasions.

47.  Leader of the Mutazileh movement, interview by author, Amman, 19 October 1996.

48.  This source wishes to remain anonymous.

49.  Amman Al-Safir, 4 January 1997.

Quintan Wiktorowicz is an assistant professor in Political Science from Shippersburg University, Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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