Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tactical or strategic reversal?

The head of the Muslim Brotherhood and a group of Islamist leaders met yesterday with Prime Minister Marouf al Bakhit, the head for the General Intelligence Department and other government officials.

After what seems to have been a “frank discussion”, the MB issued a statement pretty much telling everybody what they want to hear. The seven point communiqué included pledges to respect the constitution, laws and principles of democracy and plurality, a pledge to place Jordan’s national interests above all others (apparently refusing to mention the relationship to Hamas directly), a pledge of loyalty to God, country and king, a condemnation of all forms of terrorism, rejection of apostatizing (takfir), a pledge to restrict issuing fatwas (religious edicts) to qualified individuals, and a clear rejection of any statements injurious to the victims of the Amman terror attacks, which was seen as a implicit apology for Mohammad Abu Fares’ famous statements. The statement ends with the hope that the government will close the “hanging issues”.

Elaph has characterized the statement as a “harsh defeat” for the Islamists, citing the continued detention of three of the four deputies and government pledges to try them as well as the formation of a government appointed committee to run the Islamic Center Charity Society. Other press reports are more tempered. Al Ghad reports that the relationship between the Islamist movement and Hamas was raised strongly during the meeting, and report that Islamists attending the meeting describing it as “a responsible national meeting”.

The issue of the hanging issues is also noteworthy. Presumably they are referring to the ICCS and the jailed deputies. This is surprising, since the MB actually welcomed referring the issue to the courts, although they were unhappy with dissolving the administrative committee of the society. Today, Ibrahim Gharaibeh goes so far as to say that the MB has little to do with the society, and that the administration has been hijacked by a clique that refuses outsiders. He even claims that the MB only managed to get Saadedin Zumaili elected chair of the administrative committee, but failed to elect other committee members sympathetic to his reform attempts. Given this signal, it is not obvious what the MB wants. They either control the society and want to retain that control (accepting responsibility for the corruption), or they don’t control it and thus should not complain if the government has retained control. Gharaibeh’s article is at once enlightening and confusing.

As for the deputies, I would find it hard to see the government retrieving the case from the court system. I guess they don’t like article 150 after all.

Anyway, this is certainly a reversal. It is not obvious if the entire Islamist movement is on board. The head of the MB, Salem Falahat, attended the meeting, but the head of the IAF, Zaki Bani Irshaid, did not. The problem with the Islamists is really not their official public statements as much as the sincerity of these statements, and contradicions between the official and unofficial statements. A particularly weak point in their organization is a severe lack of internal discipline, and the constant sending of mixed messages. While the statement is a good step, many people will remain skeptical until their actions start matching their words.



At 11:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"A pledge to place Jordan’s national interests above all others (apparently refusing to mention the relationship to Hamas directly)"

"The problem with the Islamists is really not their official public statements as much as the sincerity of these statements, and contradicions between the official and unofficial statements."

Jordan's national interests are closely coupled with the national interests of the "other" sometimes. The most relevant example is the national interests of Palestine. Jordan's National Charter nicely summerizes the relationship between Jordan and Palestine based on the inevitable necessity of both coexisting as a model for Arab unity.

Based on that, until Jordan renders obsolete its National Charter and in its stead issues a new National Charter that clearly and effectively accomplishes national disengagement from all Palestinian interests, Jordanian politicians will always have the right to promote their policies that are in part driven by national Palestinian interests as policies that ultimately serve Jordan's national interests as well. The only room to argue against them would be in honest debates about the real benefits of their policies to both Jordanian and Palestinian interests, instead of worrying only about one and not the other, which is a mistake that two sides in Jordan currently do often.

At 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the link I meant to include in my previous comment:

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hamzeh: You are right, but only to a point. I mean, Jordan has always stated that (and acted on the premise of) the need for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. The king has said many times that a Palestinian state is in the national interest of Jordan. I don't think that you will find many who would disagree.

Is the current Palestinian leadership working towards this goal? I would argue no, and it would really be difficult to make such a case. Thus, the case can be made that since the current Palestinian leadership is not working for the benefit of creating a Palestinian state, then it is necessarily working against the national interest of Jordan.

Now, arguements can be made for and against Jordan's legitimate interest in involving itself in Palestinian politics. If you are to argue that it does not have a ligitimate right to interfere, then there is no choice for Jordan but to look out for it's own interests. If you argue that it is a legitimate Jordanian concern to involve itself in Palestinian politics, then it would be expected for Jordan to intervene on behalf of Abbas and Fateh against Hamas.

At 12:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Thus, the case can be made that since the current Palestinian leadership is not working for the benefit of creating a Palestinian state, then it is necessarily working against the national interest of Jordan."

That's a good point, but it is a point that until now has never been raised by any Jordanian government official, political analyst, writer or blogger. There have been many arguments leveled against the current Palestinian government and its "friends" in Jordan, but never from the perspective demonstrated by this argument. In addition, many people are going to fiercely criticize this still valid point of view with another valid one, which is the fact that Israel itself is doing much worse than the current Palestinian government is in terms of deminishing the prospects of a viable Palestinian state and they get to enjoy all the Jordanian courtship that our government can muster.

"What is meant by a "National Jordanian undertaking" is that the national government is in charge of foreign policy. Individual parties are not authorized to conduct foreign policy."

The paragraph you quoted came in the section outlining the guidelines for political parties in Jordan and referred directly to their "internal regulations or programmes". Therefore I personally believe it is inaccurate to only attribute the "Jordanian national undertaking" that was talked about in the paragraph to the government's foreign policy and exclude political parties from it. Foreign policy like every other aspect of government in a "politically plural" society must be ultimately influenced by not just one entity (the government), but by representatives of the people in parliament, and political parties are simply the people's tools of organizing that influence.

At 12:28 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Hamzeh: If I thought that cutting diplomatic relations with Israel would benefit the cause of creating a Palestinian state, I would be all for it. Personally, however, I think that it would not be useful, although it might make the sloganeers happy.

Of course political parties can have opinions about foreign policy, and have a legitimate right to influence such policy. That is not what I said. What I was saying is that political parties should not conduct foreign policy on their own. There is a big difference between the two.

At 7:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the least Jordan can do right now, especially after this escalation of violence by Israel is pull any diplomatic representation it has in Israel and send the Israeli ambassador on a plane back home.

I think we in Jordan are valuable to the US and Israel as a non-hostile nation and a partner in peace. We must be able to use that to our advantage and the advantage of people in Palestine.

Severing diplomatic ties with Israel right now might not bring us a Palestinian state in the next few years, but I'm willing to bet that it will at least constitute enough pressure on Israel to end its cycle of violence and not only that, but also compensate the victims. Yes having a viable Palestinian state is a problem, but right now the most urgent problem Palestinians face is actualy just surviving the day.

Tonight, the region is on the brink of war. Israel has just bombed the Lebanese capital Beirut. Hizbullah has already responded by firing rockets into northern Israel. I am just waiting for Israel to bomb Syria and for a new civil war to errupt in Lebanon. Israel is not allowing foreigners entry to the West Bank and Gaza so that no one can see what they are doing.

What is Jordan's role in all of this? Under the rule of HM King Hussein (allah yer7amo), Jordan had a key leadership role in the region. A role that affected not only the population inside of Jordan, but the surrounding populations as well. What will Jordan's impact be tomorrow? Or have we in Jordan decided to just settle for being passive and sit and watch on the sidelines? I know for a fact that the majority of Jordanians don't want that to be the case.


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