In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Jordan has experienced worsening internal conflicts that have strained its relationship with the state. Unlike Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, which listed the MB as a terrorist organization in March 2014, Jordan pursues a less aggressive stance that appeased its Gulf allies by weakening the Brotherhood gradually without banning it entirely. Although a ban on the core MB has been in place since 2015, Jordan kept the Islamic Action Front, its political arm, legal—and has also legalized Zamzam and other splinter organizations that have been expelled from the core organization. Even as Amman faces pressure to ban the group fully, these internal disputes further hinder the MB’s prospects of pursuing either advocacy or political reform.
Internal disputes within the Muslim Brotherhood have escalated since 2008, when it dissolved its Shura Council and elected a new inspector-general, Salim al-Falahat. Two main factions, referred to as the Doves and Hawks, favor different strategies and directions for the group. The more “pragmatic” Doves—which include prominent figures such as Ishaq al-Farhan, Abdul Latif Arabiyat, Salim al-Falahat, and Rahil Gharaibeh—call for political cooperation with other parties and with the regime and emphasize domestic public work to balance the organization’s traditional focus on the Palestinian cause. The Hawks—including Mohammed Abu Fares, Hamam Said, Murad al-Adayla, and Zaki Bani Irsheid—share the Doves’ views on the importance of political participation in elections but are less flexible when it comes to cooperation with the regime and political parties. They prefer to focus instead on recruitment and education.
Although the Doves are usually perceived as politically inactive, in 2010 two moderate Dove leaders, Rahil Gharaibeh and Nabil Kofahi, proposed one of the boldest political initiatives in the history of the group, calling for the reduction of the powers of the Jordanian monarch in favor of parliament and government. Meanwhile, the Hawks, usually characterized as isolationist and militant, engineered the National Alliance for Reform, a broad electoral coalition between Islamists and independent figures that first ran in the 2016 parliamentary elections, securing 15 out of 130 seats. The Hawks’ attempt successfully built an alliance with former MB figures, including those who had gained tribal ties, such as Abdullah al-Akayla, and prominent independent trade unionists, such as former Jordanian Bar Association president Saleh al-Armouti.
Even as these differences grew, the leaders of the Doves further splintered. In 2013, some of them formed the Zamzam Initiative (which later obtained a political party license in 2016), for which its members were expelled from the core Muslim Brotherhood. Then in February 2015 former Inspector-General Abdul Majid al-Thneibat filed a request to register a new offshoot called the Muslim Brotherhood Society, whose similar name to the parent organization enabled the state to withdraw the latter’s legal license. Thneibat’s group was thus able to seize the most important offices of the MB and some of its financial assets, leading some among the Hawks to accuse him of working with the state for personal advantage. This partial legal ban on the core MB excluded their Hawk-affiliated political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), which was the only legal political outlet for the group until Salim al-Falahat established the Partnership and Rescue Party, a political arm aligned with the Doves, in 2016.
The widening divisions have led some among the MB’s ranks to describe the situation as “the collapse of the system of values” within a group that has always emphasized that its Islamic principles make it transnational and representative of all, in particular both East Bank Jordanian and Palestinian Brothers. Many of the MB’s rank-and-file hold the leadership responsible for engaging in personal, regional, and intellectual disputes.1
Some Doves and leaders of the core MB organization have accused Palestinian Hamas of fueling the MB’s disputes by financially supporting the Hawks. These accusations have reflected longstanding complaints about “cliquishness and opacity” among MB leadership. Others within the Doves faction have accused Hawks running for positions in the executive council of seeking to obtain more votes by claiming they represented Hamas’s project. Some have also alleged that Hamas itself has interfered in the internal elections of the MB by backing specific figures, such as the group’s former deputy secretary-general Zaki Bani Irsheid. In return, the leaders of the Hawks accused the Doves of overwhelming the group with domestic affairs and neglecting the Palestinian cause—a central issue in a country where Palestinian refugees and their descendants represent an estimated half the population.
Regardless of the accuracy of the allegations of Hamas’s involvement in the MB’s internal affairs, this involvement is likely limited. Hamas is incapable of backing one group at the expense of the other without risking tensions with Amman. Instead, it intends to sustain its limited rapprochement with the Jordanian state to counterbalance its deteriorating relations with Egypt, Syria, and the Gulf states.
Splinter groups, particularly among the Doves, are struggling to find a way to remain relevant. Thneibat’s Muslim Brotherhood Society has decided to depart from the political sphere altogether and focus on advocacy, particularly to make up for its lack of youth membership. Both Zamzam and the Partnership and Rescue Party focus on the principles of civil life and democracy, never highlight Islamic slogans as the mainstream MB does, and consist mostly of new members not previously affiliated with the MB. Yet both face the challenge of convincing grassroots communities of the usefulness of political participation after decades of the state instilling a negative view of parties as opportunistic and incapable of making political change. This issue was evident in the 2016 elections, when Zamzam failed to obtain any parliamentary seats.
Neither advocacy for political participation offers a clear path forward. The MB has always functioned as both an advocacy group and a political party, which historically enabled it to also recruit individuals interested in broader issues such as the Palestinian cause or in the spiritual and religious aspects of their platform. Following the decline of the nationalist and leftist movements in the 1990s, the MB’s charity and advocacy activities enabled it to reap about a quarter of the seats in the lower house of parliament. Although it pursued a non-confrontational approach with the monarchy, the state started a crackdown on MB’s activists, wary of its influence on mosques, unions, and associations. Consequently, the MB has reduced its advocacy component to discourage the state from repressing these activities more aggressively.
Yet the group also sees its potential to contribute to politics as limited, because the state has backtracked on earlier political openings for parliament. The MB’s ambition to create an influential bloc that can pass laws have been replaced by their mere need to avoid falling into irrelevance.
Despite the fact that the MB has maintained a workable relationship with the state, authorities are likely to maintain and increase restrictions on the group while it is distracted with ongoing internal disputes. This is not necessarily directed just at the Brotherhood, because the most important goal for the state is to prevent any political party from growing and gaining wide popularity. But the hostile exclusionary policy adopted by regional states against the group may further encourage a hardline wing within the state apparatus to implement a tough approach toward the MB’s remaining institutions.
This article was translated from Arabic. Tareq Alnaimat is a Jordanian journalist and researcher specializing in Islamist movements. Follow him on Twitter @TareqAlnaimat
1. Author’s interviews with MB leaders and members.