In March, the Dubai police chief warned that the Muslim Brotherhood had a plan for the Gulf monarchies. Instead of regime change, it would make them “figurehead bodies without actual ruling.” That’s exactly what the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to make happen in Jordan by demanding “democratic” reforms. And King Abdullah II appears to be wobbling under the stress.
King Abdullah II, the second most influential non-Islamist in the Muslim world, is hinting that he may bow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s demand that he delay the parliamentary elections scheduled for January 23. He is even considering appointing Brotherhood members to the upper house of parliament and amending the electoral law to their liking.
The Muslim Brotherhood says it will boycott the elections because the parliament doesn’t have enough power and the contests are unfair. They are biased towards tribes and against the majority Palestinian population. King Abdullah II appoints the entire upper house and has the power to hire and fire prime ministers at will. The new electoral law also permits the security services to vote, bumping him up about 10% in any contest.
The Brotherhood is also unhappy with the makeup of the parliament. Voters pick a national list, which accounts for 17 of 140 seats and the rest are chosen on the district level. The Brotherhood only runs on the national list so it wants the balance changed. Abdullah tried to appease the Islamists by increasing the allotment for the national lists to 27 seats but added 10 seats to the size of parliament. The Brotherhood seeks 42 seats for national lists.
The pressure on Abdullah and his government skyrocketed in recent months with the largest protests in Jordan’s history taking place last week. The country faces a $3.35 billion deficit and about 80% of the budget goes to the military and bureaucracy. Abdullah had to cut subsidies, causing a 53% increase in the cost of heating gas and 12% spike in the price of petrol. The price of electricity is expected to increase about 32% in January.
The Brotherhood officially advocates “evolution, not revolution” but chants demanding the fall of the government are increasingly common. Direct criticism of Abdullah is a new development. In four days of protests last month, 280 were arrested, 75 were injured including 58 police officers and one young man was killed in Irbid when a crowd tried to storm a police station. Casualties have the power to turn protests against policies into cries for changes in leadership.
Hamza Mansour is the Secretary-General of the Islamic Action Front, the name of the Brotherhood party in Jordan. He wants Abdullah to “form a national salvation government that would include Islamists and other opposition figures to change controversial legislation, like the election law, and help parliament regain its independence so that it can impartially monitor the government and official corruption.” If the Brotherhood can expose government corruption, it will be able to undercut support for the government and present itself as a more trustworthy alternative.
The “democratic” reforms that the Brotherhood seeks are part of the same strategy of “gradualism” that it has followed in Egypt. It observed that the monarchies have proven to be stronger than the dictatorships, so it changed strategy by declining to demand the resignation of the leadership. It is important to recognize the undemocratic voice shouting for democratic reforms.
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