BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 17:44 GMT
Jordan's struggle with Islamism
By Crispin Thorold
BBC News, Jordan

IAF candidate's rally, Wihdat refugee camp, Amman
IAF rallies have been well attended by supporters
The Jordanian government's relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood has always been a difficult one - and in the closing days of the current parliamentary election campaign, the movement appeared as strong as ever.

The main campaign rally of the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), was an impressive event.

There were thousands of people there.

Men grouped at the front waved the green IAF flags which show crossed swords and a copy of the Koran.

The speeches were fiery, criticising corruption in Jordan and the US and Israeli policies in the region.
Real democratic elections will produce a majority of Islamists ruling the country and the elite will not accept this
Hamza Mansour
IAF candidate

IAF supporters had travelled to the rally from many areas in Jordan, like Zarqa.

Zarqa made news as the home town of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"All of us love him [al-Zarqawi]", said one woman from the town. "He was a volunteer and he had the right to fight in Iraq.

"Our leaders are not with us."

No danger

The leaders of Jordan rule with a tight grip over a state that is squeezed between Israel and Iraq.
King Abdullah speaking to a military event
Jordan's rulers have decided to accommodate the Islamist trend

In this conservative, religious country many people have great sympathy for the "resistance" in both those countries.

The speeches at the rally also called for Jordanian politics to be cleaned up.

This blend of discipline, ideology and probity is an appealing one for impoverished Jordanians.

It is also a message that many in the ruling elite fear according to Hamza Mansour, a candidate for the Islamic Action Front in Amman.

"The Arab regimes including Jordan are of course worried," Hamza Mansour said.

"The American administration is worried. The question is: Why?

"Any real democratic elections will produce a majority of Islamists ruling the country and right now the elite will not accept this fact. It will not compromise and give any chance to the Islamic movement to be the majority."

Islamists and political reformers are united in their criticism of the electoral law, which they believe has been written to strengthen the royal family's tribal allies.

That view is backed up by academics who argue that mainstream Islamists should not be viewed as a danger to the state.

"Right now the threat comes from small groups who are terrorist movements," said political analyst Hani Hourani.

"Jordan is doing very well in dealing with these groups and the people are supporting the government."

However, Hani Hourani believes that the government's fight against jihadi groups is having implications for democracy in Jordan.

"Yes, sometimes it happens," he said.

"Fighting against terrorism is a good excuse to minimise the freedoms and the liberties of the people."

Strong support

Although it may be difficult to tell from their passionate rallies, the Islamic Action Front is a diverse organisation, which includes firebrands and moderates.
Hayat Mseimi, a candidate of the Islamic Action front (IAF), speaks with her husband in front of her electoral poster in Zarqa
IAF candidates are contesting one-fifth of seats, including Zarqa

The elder statesman of the party is an urbane and softly spoken political veteran. Abdul Latif Arabiat has spent years assuring Jordan's ruling elite that the Islamists want to work within the constitution.

"We are reformers," he said.

"We are a safety factor in this country. We don't believe in a revolutionary approach."

"[The government] doesn't like that because they see that our support is very high and this threatens them."

The IAF may be making loud demands for change in Jordan - and the region - but the leadership is also aware of its limitations. In this election they are only contesting one-fifth of the seats.

The decision to do that was taken after discussions with the government. This relationship appears to suit both sides.

The Islamists are slowly building their support. The government has a legitimate, noisy opposition which they can keep under control, at least for now.

SEE ALSO
Q&A: Jordanian election
19 Nov 07 |  Middle East
Jordan election marred by boycott
31 Jul 07 |  Middle East
Country profile: Jordan
09 Oct 07 |  Country profiles

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific