- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 1, 2011

AMMAN, Jordan | With its Friday anti-government rallies here attracting more protesters each week, the Muslim Brotherhood has positioned itself to become a leading player among Jordanian lawmakers if democratic reforms are enacted.

The Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, is Jordan’s only established opposition party, and analysts estimate that it could win up to 25 percent of parliamentary seats if electoral reforms are carried out.

Although the Brotherhood’s domestic agenda contains uncontroversial goals such as fighting corruption and poverty, some Jordanians worry that the Islamist group’s hard line against Israel could upset the region’s delicate security balance.

Political analysts say the IAF, which has participated in many of the reformist rallies that have taken place here every Friday for the past two months, has no practical reason to seek to dissolve Jordan’s tenuous peace deal with Israel, the key U.S. ally in the Middle East.

But IAF Deputy Secretary-General Nimer al-Assaf has uttered strong words against the Jewish state. “We do not agree to the peace treaty with Israel simply because we do not feel that it is just,” he said.

Jordan's King Abdullah II, in an image made available by the Jordanian Royal Court, waves to crowds who throng the streets of Mazar Shamali, 80 miles north of Amman, to greet the monarch on Tuesday. The king appears to be almost universally popular in Jordan. (Associated Press)
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, in an image made available by the Jordanian ... more >

Mr. al-Assaf accused Israel of having imperialistic aims in Jordan, but he said the future of the peace agreement should be decided by a popular referendum.

When it was founded in the 1920s, the Muslim Brotherhood endorsed the violent spread of fundamentalist Islam, but it has since abandoned support for terrorism, except against Israel.

Jordanian analysts say the IAF is neither prepared to take on Israel and the international status quo nor capable of maintaining popular support if the organization diverges from addressing domestic concerns.

Jordanians face widespread poverty and almost 14 percent unemployment. Taxes range from 16 percent on medicines to as much as 40 percent on gas. In the heart of the Middle East, Jordanians complain that they pay more at the pump than Americans.

Meanwhile, salaries have stagnated as prices rise. Average working people are earning about $350 a month here in the capital, Amman, largely considered to be the most expensive city in the Middle East.

Mohammad al-Momani, a political science professor at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan, said the IAF may oppose policies that support Israel, but the group is unlikely to try to derail the region’s security balance.

“They know this is very controversial,” he said. “They know this is one of the things that tends to be very sensitive to the national interests of the state, so they are staying out of it.”

Hassan A. Barari, a political science professor at the University of Jordan, said the IAF also will be forced to compete with other political organizations if electoral reforms are carried out.

“They will shelve their ideology in this case because they want to be responsive to the needs of the people,” Mr. Barari said. “They want to be seen as someone who can deliver. If they stick to their ideological rhetoric, they will do nothing.”

Some secular activists in Amman also fear that the IAF is using the unrest for political gain and accuse the Brotherhood of aiming to impose a radical Islamic agenda on Jordanians.

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