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Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (JMB)

On April 13, 2016 Jordanian police shuttered the main office of the Muslim Brotherhood group in the capital, Amman, saying its leadership, affiliated with the now-banned Egyptian branch, had not applied for a license. The group split into two competing factions several months earlier. Jordanian police and security forces officially shut down the main headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood group, sealing its doors with red wax. Officials and employees of the pro-Egyptian faction were asked to leave the facility before it was closed. A new rival faction, which has broken with the now-banned Egyptian branch, had applied for a license.

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (JMB) is an umbrella organization which oversees and controls the political, charitable, and spiritual activities of the Islamist movement in Jordan. The Islamic Action Front (IAF), its political wing, is directly controlled by the JMB through governance structures and financial ties. An internal review board within the JMB enforces message discipline throughout the movement. On the financial front, the JMB uses its steady stream of membership dues to directly fund IAF activities. As the IAF lacks a core of donors independent of the JMB, fund transfers are often withheld as a way to limit the party's political ambitions. The JMB is not wholly independent of the international brotherhood leadership, deferring to the guides in Cairo about larger questions of policy and spirituality. End Summary.

The JMB is the organizational and ideological heart of the Islamist movement in Jordan. Its members and executive board (known as the Shura Council) guide the spiritual, political, and charitable course of the movement. The JMB is officially registered as a charitable organization, yet it is widely recognized (even in government circles) that the brotherhood has a special status due to its long relationship with the government and deep roots in Jordanian society. Despite the protections afforded by its official legal status, the JMB prefers to pursue charitable and political activities through subsidiary organizations.

Beneath the umbrella of the JMB lay two organizations which were akin to wholly owned subsidiaries. The Islamic Action Front serves as the organization's political wing, pursuing elected office for its members through a legally recognized party structure. Up until 2006, the Islamic Center Society served as the organization's charitable wing. Since the government takeover of the organization, JMB control over its activities has been effectively frozen (See Ref A for a detailed rundown of the society's operations and legal woes).

The Islamic Center Society was founded in 1963 as the charitable wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan. One of the largest NGOs in the country, the ICS takes care of over 20,000 orphans, runs 55 schools, and has over 3,500 employees. The flagship charitable concern of the ICS is the Islamic Hospital in Amman, which in turn oversees more than thirty smaller clinics. The ICS has large property holdings, largely as a result of bequests and zakat donations (charitable donations required of all Muslims) over the years. Islamist press statements have put the value of ICS assets at over 1.5 billion dollars.

In 2006, the Ministry of Social Development dissolved the ICS board of directors and brought charges of financial corruption against several board members under orders from Prime Minister Ma'arouf Al-Bakhit (Ref A). It has been widely recognized since then that the charges were political in nature and were used as an excuse to liquidate the ICS board for political reasons. None of the corruption cases have been followed through to completion -- a small number are still being appealed, others have been reported in the media as not moving forward due to lack of evidence, and some have not been filed by prosecutors in the hopes of an out of court settlement. The lack of movement on ICS corruption cases has been criticized by Human Rights Watch and other activist groups.

The corruption cases gave the government legal authority to appoint "temporary" directors to manage the society's operations in the absence of an elected board. While the government takeover brought in a new management team, the legal mandate caused by the corruption allegations did not extend to the ICS general assembly, which in normal circumstances selects the board of directors. The ICS assembly, still dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been effectively sidelined in its oversight role over the organization since the 2006 government takeover.

The Islamic Center Society was a key part of the Islamists' political strength before it passed into government hands. Beyond the use of ICS facilities and personnel to dispense patronage and services to its target populations, the JMB used the ICS as an employment agency for its supporters. Even though the connections between ICS jobs, ICS services, and the political goals of Jordan's Islamists were rarely overt, it was widely acknowledged in Jordan that medical care in the Islamic Hospital or a job in an ICS charity came with the expectation of a vote for the Islamists at election time.

Most estimate that the membership of the JMB is around 10,000, with some placing the number slightly higher. In contrast, IAF membership is probably closer to around 4,000. The IAF is by far the largest political party in Jordan. Most parties struggle to put together the required 500 "founding members" needed to maintain legal party status. Almost all IAF members are simultaneously part of the JMB, but there are a few exceptions. Several Christians joined the party over the years, many out of sympathy for the Palestinian cause which the IAF champions.

The IAF Shura Council is composed exclusively of JMB members who are usually not concurrently on the JMB Shura Council. The IAF Secretary-General is chosen by the party's Shura Council from a list of candidates supplied by the JMB Shura Council. The JMB Shura Council has the de facto power to dismiss the head of the IAF, although it is unclear whether this is in the organization's official bylaws or not. An example of JMB intervention in the leadership of the IAF is the case of Zaki Beni-Irshaid, who was forced out of the top job in the IAF in May 2009 by moderate members of the JMB Shura Council.

While the JMB is currently seen as the dominant player in Jordanian Islamist circles, this was not always the case. From the return of parliament in 1989 through the mid-1990s, the IAF was the primary actor. At the time, the IAF boasted a strong plurality in the parliament and was represented by several governmental ministers. Over time, however, the number of IAF MPs diminished due to government intervention in the political process and natural lack of support in the party's base when it failed to deliver on electoral promises. The IAF was also weakened by its financial dependence on the JMB, which increased as the party's political clout declined and its relationship with the government soured.

Both JMB and IAF members are subject to disciplinary proceedings by an internal review board should they step out of line in their public statements or pursue actions detrimental to the movement. The review board was created in the early 1990s as the split between moderates and hardliners began to create inconsistencies in the movement's public stances (Ref B). The review board is composed of JMB Shura Council members and actively pursues cases against errant Islamists from the movement's many branches. Moderates within the JMB Shura Council have used the threat of an internal review board (described as an "internal court" by Jordan's media) to force a debate on Beni-Irshaid's electoral tactics as leader of the IAF. Hardliners started to use internal review boards to their advantage as well -- moderate leader Ruhail Gharaibeh was banned from appearing in the press for a time by an internal review board decision. The move came as the movement tried to paper over the increasingly public nature of its internal divide.

The JMB receives a regular income stream from membership dues, which are levied at a flat five percent of the member's income. JMB dues come in addition to zakat, the charitable donations required of all Muslims. The JMB also commands financial support from several large Islamist-oriented business conglomerates, many of which are owned by prominent Palestinian businessmen. The most visible example is the eponymous national furniture chain owned by Islamist Sa'ad Al-Din Zumelei, which our contacts claim provides extensive support to JMB activities and charitable works.

In addition to domestic sources of financial support, the JMB also reportedly receives funds from adherents of the international Muslim Brotherhood organization. These sources of funding are generally not used for the day-to-day expenses of the movement. Instead, they are generally used for special projects which will advance the JMB's position within Jordan. The most visible example of such a project is the Islamic Hospital in Amman, which was built with funds provided by MB members in the Gulf and elsewhere through a special appeal from Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo.

The IAF is poor in comparison with the JMB. The IAF does not charge membership dues and relies heavily on direct support from the JMB for most of its operating budget. The JMB is often stingy with its political wing, giving it only the support it needs to survive. Many see this as the JMB's way of keeping ideological control over the IAF and limiting the ambitions of its leadership. The IAF reportedly has occasional difficulty paying the rent on its headquarters building due to insufficient transfers from the JMB.

The IAF does occasionally receive funds from individual donors, but these are the exception rather than the rule. Government efforts to isolate the IAF and the party's increasingly radical political stances have combined to alienate potential donors. While the JMB is a broadly respected organization whose political stances are only a part of its larger raison d'etre, donating directly to the IAF is seen as politically risky, particularly with the worldwide focus on the finances of Islamist groups.

It is fairly well known that the JMB tightly controls its subsidiary organizations in Jordan. What is less clear, however, is the extent to which the JMB is itself controlled by the international Muslim Brotherhood organization. Interchange between JMB leaders, the movement's guidance council in Cairo, and other brotherhood affiliates like Hamas rarely advances beyond the stage of website rumors, leaving many to speculate as to where the JMB fits in the brotherhood's organizational chart.

The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood is "not 100% independent" from the international Muslim Brotherhood when it comes to political matters. While the JMB has a great deal of ideological autonomy when it comes to domestic concerns, there are certain critical issues of international policy and practice that are dictated from the central organization rather than the individual country branches. The war in Iraq was an example of MB headquarters taking the lead on defining the movement's stance, albeit with input from members throughout the Middle East.

As for the JMB's alleged ties to Hamas, there were no direct organizational links. The relationship was spiritual influence rather than a political alliance. In September 2009, the JMB said the same thing in its public statements. Government-influenced media in Jordan occasionally suggested that JMB leader Hamam Sa'id was also a member of the Hamas Shura Council, but Islamist observers deny that this is indeed the case.

The structure of the JMB and its subsidiaries is designed to facilitate organizational harmony and impose message discipline. The division of labor and responsibility has proven quite effective over the years, keeping the often divergent political and social currents within the JMB operating more or less on the same page for decades. While the personalities who occupy leadership positions within the JMB and its proxies may change, the JMB still derives strength from strong corporate governance designed to survive ideological threats from within, along with legal and political challenges from outside.

There are as many as four groupings competing for influence in the Brotherhood in Jordan. The traditional hawks and doves, led by the first and second generation of MB figures, are largely divided by the degree of their focus on Palestine, versus internal Jordanian issues, and their willingness to confront the regime. A third trend, the Centrists, emerged in the 1990s, and the fourth trend, is a harder-line reaction to the centrists. Both of these trends emerged from the younger (third and fourth) generations of MB members and are a reaction to the hawk-dove polarization and to the intra-MB stresses created by the resumption of parliament and party activity in the late 1980s and 1990s.

The distinction between the two is that the centrists, while identifying less with the state when compared with the doves, are more pragmatic than the hawks and believe in political participation. They are said to view Turkey's AKP party and Prime Minister Erdogan as potential models for the IAF's future. They do not seek a confrontation with the Government of Jordan and are aligned in the Shura Council with the traditional doves. The fourth trend, however, is said to be clearly allied with Hamas and welcomes confrontation with the Government of Jordan. This fourth trend has aligned in the Shura Council elections with the traditional hawks.

this four-way split in the MB is significant in that it underlines the generational change within the MB and its demographic evolution. The hawkish and pro-Hamas wing is dominated by Palestinian-origin Jordanians, while the dovish wing is made up of East Bank-origin Jordanians. Meanwhile, both of the "younger-generation" streams are more ambivalent about their relationship with the state than the doves who have long led the MB. Struggles over the shape of the Shura Council election have been caused by this dynamic. These divisions affected more than simply the distribution of seats, but have had a profound effect on the MB's internal structure.

By 2009 a real debate appeared to be taking place regarding tactics: the MB's role in Jordan and its relations with the government. The doves and centrists, against open conflict with the government, faced the hawks and "fourth trend" who appear to welcome the confrontation on the assumption that Jordan's Palestinian-origin majority, and possibly East Bankers as well, will look to the Islamists to soothe their troubles in hard economic times and in the context of outrage at the continuing plight of their brethren in the West Bank and Gaza. Representatives from the international MB movement tried to try to broker an agreement between the various Jordanian factions, telling the Jordanian MB leaders that they "had it good" (especially as compared with the MB's situation in Egypt) and that they shouldn't opt for a confrontation with the King and the regime.

While many observers draw the analytical distinction between hawks and doves, the key players in the Government of Jordan, see the MB fissures as only between "extreme, or a little less extreme." Government of Jordan officials, in considering the threat posed by the movement and its long-term intentions, do not see a material difference in the two wings and that any distinction is cosmetic.

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Page last modified: 14-04-2016 20:03:55 ZULU