Middle East Roundtable
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Edition 36 Volume 8 - September 17, 2009
Hamas and the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood
• Jordan's Brotherhood schism presents a mirror of society - Saad Hattar
This internal rift may further widen ahead of any possible political settlement in the region.
• An Egyptian perception - Mohamed Abdel Salam
What happened in Jordan would not happen in Egypt.
• Could there be a "dovish" Hamas? - Reuven Paz
Hamas may become more pragmatic. Can Israel reciprocate?
• A hard triangle - Oraib Al Rantawi
Jordan and Hamas confront one another in two antithetical regional camps.
Jordan's Brotherhood schism presents a mirror of society
The hidden polarization that divides East Bank Jordanians from those of Palestinian origin has recently struck the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, which for years had been seen as a cross-border organization, immune to nationalist division.
The resulting schism between radical figureheads and moderates has only widened ahead of a long- awaited Middle East plan, expected to be launched by United States President Barack Obama at the United Nations at the end of September. In Jordan, the US initiative is expected to have severe domestic repercussions, not least because of the prospect of having to permanently settle nearly 1.8 million registered Palestinian refugees, one third of the kingdom's population. Anxiety over this issue persists even after King Abdullah vowed in August not to yield to any pressure regarding settling Palestinian refugees in Jordan.
Within Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, the schism has resulted in four members of the Executive Bureau --all of them East Bank Jordanians--submitting their resignations. One of them is the movement's deputy spiritual leader, Erhayel Gharaybeh. The argument within the movement is over what kind of relations the Jordanian Brotherhood should have with the Palestinian Islamist movement, Hamas.
All attempts at patching up the differences between these four "moderates" and the rest of the Brotherhood have failed, and the four accused the Jordanian Brotherhood's spiritual leader Sheikh Hammam Said of maintaining administrative links with Hamas. Sheikh Said and other dominant figures within the movement have been pushing for an end to a recent segregation of Brotherhood and Hamas representatives in liaison offices in Arab Gulf states, the prime fundraising arena for Islamists across the Levant.
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood's former spiritual leader, Salem Falahat, an East Bank Jordanian, had staged the separation by cutting from 12 to four the number of such representatives in the movement's 51-member Shura Council. The new pro-Hamas leadership is trying to reverse that ruling, a move seen by "moderates" as a kind of Trojan horse to strengthen Hamas' influence within the movement.
The "moderates" want other Brotherhood members with "dual allegiance" in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait to choose between belonging to the Hamas Shura Council in Gaza or the Brotherhood's council in Amman. They maintain that the decision of regional separation was taken after a request from Hamas itself three years ago when it charted an independent course from the Jordanian Brotherhood.
The Jordanian Brotherhood movement, which started in 1946, was the umbrella organization for the West Bank movement until 1967 and the Israeli occupation. In 1978, the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan merged under what was called the Levant organization.
In 2006, the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Office, the international umbrella organization for all regional Muslim Brotherhood movements, unified the West Bank brotherhood with Hamas, which had grown stronger and wealthier since it was formed in 1987, during the first Palestinian intifada.
But relations between the Jordanian authorities and Hamas have been tense for a decade, ever since Jordan expelled leaders of the Palestinian Islamist movement in 1999. The pro-Hamas leaders inside the Jordanian Brotherhood movement have been pushing for their return and the authorities are carefully monitoring the arguments within the movement.
These tensions are having an effect on the Islamic Action Front, the most influential party in the Jordanian arena. The party is now facing an historic crossroads just at a time of regional uncertainty over American intentions vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
A "reformist" wing is trying to develop the party into an Islamist Jordanian nationalist party, but is being resisted by a hard core that is instead trying to push it into Hamas' orbit. The latter derive their strength from the wealth and popularity of Hamas, notably among Palestinian camp dwellers, the natural constituency for the Jordanian brotherhood.
This internal rift may further widen ahead of any possible political settlement in the region. And if, as also seems likely, the Obama administration fails to push Israel to end settlement construction and accept the creation of a Palestinian state, Islamist pressure may shift toward Jordan, a cash-strapped country semi-dependent on foreign aid, especially from the US.
In a pre-emptive move, the authorities here have been trying to draw a line with the West Bank according to its "strategic interest", the creation of a viable Palestinian state west of the River Jordan. This move contradicts the Brotherhood's drive to maintain a dubious link between its Amman body and the Hamas movement in Gaza.- Published 17/9/2009 © bitterlemons- international.org
Saad Hattar is an Amman-based political analyst.
An Egyptian perception
Mohamed Abdel Salam
There are no specific indicators to denote how Egypt perceives the controversy involving Hamas and the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Lessons, however, must be derived from this controversy, particularly insofar as it impinges on a strict policy that Egypt has recently been following to ward off similar developments. Egypt regards both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood from the same perspective: both are non-ignorable de facto actors. The former is not recognized as the legitimate authority in Gaza despite the frequent reception of its leaders in Cairo, while the latter is not recognized--in its religious capacity--as a legitimate group despite its 88 members in the Egyptian Parliament. Nonetheless, handling the two parties separately is very different from handling any relationship that arises between them.
Egyptians do not doubt that correlations exist between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and have an accurate sense of the nature of these correlations. Prior to Hamas' takeover of Gaza in 2007, Egyptian authorities occasionally appeared to allow limited MB-Hamas "public relations", such as public visits by Hamas leaders to the office of the MB chairman in Cairo within specified and long- term "rules of engagement". Those rules were vehemently breached in January 2008 when Palestinian crowds broke through the Egypt-Gaza border. The same mistake was repeated during the Hamas-Israel war in late 2008. The "Ikhwan" (members of the Muslim Brotherhood) almost repeated the breach a third time when a Hizballah cell was arrested in Egypt, pushing the authorities to radically change the rules.
Based on this description, we can grasp how Egypt perceives Hamas' relations with the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan. Although no official statements or comments have been made in this regard and while the Egyptian media doesn't seem to be interested, we can assume that Cairo heeds and seriously monitors what is happening in Amman to a greater extent than meets the eye.
Egypt believes that although Egyptian Ikhwan are considered the leaders of the international MB organization and are depicted in the media as having the closest ties with Hamas--at least because of Hamas' repeated problems with Egypt--Hamas' relationship with the Jordanian Ikhwan has always been stronger. Hamas originally emerged as an extension of the Jordanian Ikhwan, with the interconnections between the Palestinian and Jordanian people forming the basis for links between the two groups.
Still, details of developments that took place recently in Jordan have taken many Egyptian circles by surprise. The very thought that Hamas-Jordanian Ikhwan linkages would rise to a level where Hamas, despite its financial relations with Iran, offers financial support to a new hawkish stream within the Jordanian Ikhwan, Hamas loyalists dominate Jordanian Ikhwan offices in four Gulf states and an internal report of the MB Shura Council slams the Jordanian state in a way that suggests an attempt by Hamas to take control of the Jordanian Ikhwan--seems unfathomable in Egypt.
Any analysis of the way Egypt deals with this intricate relationship easily recognizes that keeping it under control is a self-evident necessity. Hence some must be wondering why such interconnections were allowed to reach this level in a "survival savvy" state like Jordan that depends on an experienced political and security establishment and that suffered in an earlier historic stage from an attempt to dominate by Fateh that led to internal armed clashes.
Not enough statements have been made by official Egypt to allow for further analysis of the Egyptian stance. However, the recent treatment of Egyptian Ikhwan suggests that Egypt has never forgiven their apathy toward the national-security-threatening breach of its borders. Similarly, Egypt has apparently not forgiven the Ikhwan for their position on the campaign that was launched against Egypt during the Gaza war. Egyptian public opinion almost devoured the Ikhwan for hesitating to denounce Hizballah's establishment of a cell in Egypt under the cloak of resistance support.
Egypt understands that these groups would not hesitate to establish organizational connections or make special deals if they were allowed to. That's why the state has drawn a red line in this regard. As the well-informed Egyptian analyst Dr. Mustafa al-Fiqi puts it, Hamas has learned the lesson; Khaled Meshaal warned Hamas leaders not to visit the main Muslim Brotherhood office during their visits to Cairo.
In contrast, the MB hasn't learned the lesson well enough, and the result is yet another confrontation with the state, this time within the framework of the international Muslim Brotherhood Organization. Dr. Mohamed Habib, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and the main suspect in the recent case, said in his description of the current situation that the Egyptian state had no redlines for the Ikhwan to observe.
Still, what happened in Jordan would not happen in Egypt. The very concept of external correlations is very sensitive for everyone in Egypt, including at times the MB itself. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly been warned not to consider Hamas as an external "military wing", and during the argument over the Hizballah cell it strenuously denied that two of its members had joined that cell. The question that remains is: why have events followed a different course in Jordan?- Published 17/9/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Mohamed Abdel Salam heads the Regional Security Program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
Could there be a "dovish" Hamas?
Over the past two years, we have witnessed a new development in the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood; the emergence of what the Jordanian media calls "dovish" and "hawkish" factions within the movement's leadership. The use of these terms does not necessarily indicate an immediate confrontation between moderates and hardliners, but more a generational internal struggle that is directly influenced by two external elements--the Jordanian government and Palestinian Hamas. Lurking in the background are the rivalry between Hamas and Fateh, which both the Jordanian government and the Palestinian majority in Jordanian society cannot ignore, issues concerning the fight against Israel, and Israeli-Jordanian relations. The "dovish" faction is closer to the Jordanian government, which demands the severing of the traditional and organizational linkage between the Brotherhood and Hamas.
Another background element of note is the complicated relationship between Jordan and Hamas. Here Jordanian decision-makers have two concerns. The first is the fact that Hamas has strongly positioned itself along the rejectionist axis in the Middle East. This contradicts Jordan's national interest in a two-state solution. Jordan publically sees eye-to-eye with the Palestinian Authority, with which relations might be harmed if Amman were to open a channel of dialogue with Hamas. Secondly, Jordan is concerned with the possible domestic implications of restoring relations with Hamas. Within the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood's front in the Jordanian Parliament, there is a strong dominant "hawkish" current that identifies with Hamas' positions and policies. Jordan recently allowed Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to enter the country for the funeral of his father, but only for a few days and on a purely humanitarian basis, for the first time after a ten-year exile.
Israeli policy-makers are concerned over the possible implications for Hamas of the recent division in the Jordanian Brotherhood. Is there a chance a "dovish" current could develop among Hamas' rank- and-file and leadership? Would this require a change in Israel's policy?
Hamas rule in Gaza has created a kind of split that might lead to a three-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None of the involved parties wants such a solution, but prolonged stagnation of the present political process might de facto lead to it. Hamas is also torn between hardliners who wish to create a true Islamic state in Gaza and pragmatists who understand that such a move would negatively affect the Islamist movement's chances of achieving Arab and international legitimacy.
Palestinian Hamas in Gaza is above all searching for legitimacy on all fronts. It strives to improve relations with Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia; it maintains the current de facto ceasefire with Israel; it brutally fights the growing pro-al-Qaeda camp in Gaza; and it emphasizes the democratic western-style elections that installed it at the head of the Palestinian Authority in 2006. Three additional background elements could be test cases for Hamas' efforts to achieve legitimacy: its relations with Iran; its ability to moderate its positions toward the Fateh-ruled PA; and its capacity to issue moderate policy statements that could open the way for change in Israel's perception of it.
The Israeli attack in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 widely affected the main source of support for Hamas in the Strip: the Palestinian public. The latter does not want to experience another such operation, hence silently pressures Hamas to refrain from both terrorist operations inside Israel and rocket attacks across the border.
In the past year, too, Hamas has become aware of possible changes in the geopolitics of the Middle East. Iran may need to focus more on internal affairs or face harsh international sanctions. Syria might enter negotiations with Israel and change its attitude toward Hamas' presence there. Jordan may in future provide a better alternative for running Hamas' activities outside of Palestine.
Recent developments in Jordan, even if encouraged by the Jordanian government for mainly internal reasons, are not going to turn Hamas into regional doves. But they could affect and ease its pragmatic behavior as a typical movement of the Muslim Brotherhood and as a purely Palestinian actor disconnected from foreign pressures. These developments in Jordan should be carefully followed by Israel, too.
In the past two years since Hamas seized power in Gaza, it and Israel have initiated indirect talks regarding the abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, financial issues and transport of goods from or through Israel. These steps were necessitated by a variety of circumstances. From Hamas' standpoint, they were both a function of taking over the government in Gaza and a continuation of the process of growing adaptation to the dictates of Palestinian nationalism, which increasingly dominates the movement's considerations and policy.
As an increasingly independent movement that determines its own policy and relations with Arab countries like Jordan and Egypt, Hamas may become more pragmatic. While Hamas is not going to recognize Israel in the near future (and vice versa), its continuing Palestinization through growing independence from the bonds of the Muslim Brotherhood may soften some of its policies and counter the demonization of its image among the Israeli public. This in turn may facilitate a slow but consistent process of some sort of indirect contacts between the two. The big question for Israel is whether its present government and Israeli society in general can reciprocate.- Published 17/9/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Reuven Paz is founder and director of the Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM) in Herzliya. He is a veteran researcher of Islamic radical movements and Palestinian society.
A hard triangle
Oraib Al Rantawi
The relationship between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is a high priority issue for the Islamic movement in Jordan and Palestine as well as for the Jordanian authorities. This is due to the large public space and high position the two movements occupy in both countries.
In fact, the Islamic movement in Jordan and Palestine is the object of controversy, questions and inquiries related to the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship much in the same way leftist and national trends were seen in recent years and even decades. It is very difficult to demarcate and delineate between Jordanian and Palestinian issues in the Jordanian context. There are registered and licensed Jordanian political parties that in origin are but an extension of nationalist and leftist Palestinian groups. Even organizational and financial relations among these groups are intricate.
The controversy between Hamas and the Brotherhood persistently demands government and popular attention for two reasons. First, both movements maintain a political approach that contradicts central directives of the regime in Jordan. Second, both movements enjoy widespread and dominant influence in both countries that parties and groups of more limited representation lack.
From the historic point of view, Hamas emerged from the "mother" Muslim Brotherhood. But it has grown rapidly and become a primary actor in the Palestinian arena, thereby yielding it a distinct popularity and influence on the Jordanian and regional levels. This means that the "daughter" is now leading the "mother" in terms of its political, moral, physical, financial and media position.
The current controversy within the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has revealed the extent of Hamas' influence among Brotherhood members. Accusations exchanged among them have revealed that many members of the Political Bureau and the Shura (Advisory) Council of the Islamic Action Front (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) are members of Hamas and follow its directives.
Controversy related to four "administrative offices" that embrace members of both Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood working in the rich Arab Gulf countries has brought to the surface this issue of intertwined "membership". Attempts to dissolve these bonds between Hamas and the Brotherhood and resolve the controversy have failed. Brotherhood "doves" accuse Hamas of insisting that its representatives in these offices maintain their membership in the Shura Council of the Jordan Brotherhood.
The disagreement between the Brotherhood and Hamas is seen as an extension of a wider controversy that emerged in Jordan at the national level in the aftermath of the "disengagement decision" from the West Bank in 1988. The Islamic movement opposed that decision as "unconstitutional". This is the rationale for Brotherhood "hawks" refusing to break with Hamas.
Brotherhood doves who support "disengagement" with Hamas tend to give priority to the "Jordanian agenda" over the Muslim Brotherhood platform. They call for increased Brotherhood participation in local Jordanian affairs and accuse their colleagues, the hawks, of giving priority to the Palestinian agenda over the local Jordanian agenda. The hawks downplay these accusations and insist that the Jordanian-Palestinian relationship is a fait accompli dictated by factors such as geography, history and religion. They see no conflict between the Jordanian and Palestinian agendas.
The controversy within the Brotherhood has a "regional" aspect. Muslim Brothers of Palestinian origin are in general closer to the hawks. They are less enthusiastic regarding "disengagement" with Hamas and between the two banks. Brothers of Jordanian origin tend to give priority to the Jordanian agenda.
For its part, Hamas is at a crossroads: on the one hand, it does not want to support one Brotherhood group against another and seeks to neutralize the conflict. On the other, it does not want its strong and close relationship with the Brotherhood to generate a crisis in its relations--which are in any case not good--with the regime in Jordan. Then too, it also does not wish to give away the trump card of its influence among Brotherhood members and at the Jordanian national level in general.
A key concern of Jordanian decision-makers that affects their attitude toward Hamas in the Jordanian context is the "special and distinct" relationship between Hamas and Brotherhood members. In addition there is, according to the Jordanian security community, a security issue resulting from attempts by Hamas to store and smuggle arms on Jordanian soil. And of course there is the obvious political issue: Jordan and Hamas confront one another in two antithetical regional camps, Jordan among the so-called moderates and Hamas in the so-called resistance camp.
Recently, Hamas has been noticeably keen to improve its relations with Amman by taking its distance from local affairs. Head of the Hamas Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal, in Amman for his father's funeral two weeks ago, declared that his movement did not want to interfere in Jordanian affairs. He pointed out that Hamas does not have agents in Jordan and that the movement respects Jordan's sovereignty and security. He added that Hamas looks forward to maintaining good relations with Jordan.
Still, these messages have not sufficed. Jordanian officials remain reluctant to have any high level political or security contacts with Hamas since the resignation of Intelligence Department head Major General Mohammed Dhahabi. The growing controversy among Jordanian members of the Brotherhood is likely to continue for a long time and cause more disputes, fragmentation and resignations.- Published 17/9/2009 © bitterlemons-international.org
Oraib Al Rantawi, a political writer and analyst, is director of Al Quds Center for Political Studies in Amman.
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