Relations between the Jordanian government and the Ikhwan al-Muslimin came close to breaking down early last month, after nine senior Ikhwan ulama were arrested in a series of raids on September 8. The authorities claimed that they were arrested because they did not have official licenses for preaching in mosques, but interior ministry officials openly confirmed that the government’s main concern was with khutbahs which “incite violence against Western targets and inflame anti-US sentiment.”
There was anger at the way in which the arrests were carried out, with the homes of the ulama being violently raided by security services. Two elderly ulama, former minister Zaid al-Kilani, who is still a member of parliament, and former MP Ahmad Kufani, had to be rushed to hospital after being taken ill during the raids. Nine others were arrested. Seven were quickly released after signing an agreement not to give khutbahs without prior agreement of the authorities, but two others, Ikhwan leaders Ahmad Kafawin and Ahmad Zarqan, were kept in custody for refusing to sign the agreement.
They were released on September 12, when prime minister Faisal al-Fayez met with members of the Ikhwan and the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s official Islamic party, and reached an agreement with them by which the arrest warrants were retracted and the ulama permitted to return to their mosques in return for the Ikhwan and IAF agreeing to abide by the Preaching and Guidance Law which regulates mosque activities.
Although the agreement appears to have calmed matters for the time being, there was widespread anger at the government’s evident determination to crack down on anti-American anger among Jordan’s people. The Ikhwan has long been permitted to operate legally in the country on the understanding that its activities will not directly challenge the Hashemite monarchy, but leaders privately warned that this could not be taken to preclude criticism of the US, particularly as its policies in Iraq and elsewhere have made it extremely unpopular among ordinary Jordanians, as it is among Muslims everywhere.
Ikhwan leaders said that they believed that the government was trying to weaken the organization “ahead of expected adverse developments in Iraq and Palestine.” Abd al-Majid Dhunaibat, the Ikhwan’s leader, warned the government that harassment of its leaders could force the movement underground. A senior IAF leader warned explicitly that further crackdowns of this sort could lead to the end of the understanding that the monarchy is not to be attacked.
The way that the Jordanian government has contained and controlled Islamic activism in the country is regarded as a model that other Arab countries would do well to follow. (The Jordanian model has been the subject of an academic study by American political scientist Quintan Wiktorowizc, called The Management of Islamic Activism). For many in the Islamic movement, the example of the Ikhwan in Jordan demonstrates how movements can be emasculated if they agree to work through existing political orders instead of challenging them.
Nothing, however, can restrict the anger of ordinary Muslims, wherever they may be. The government and the Ikhwan may find that if the Ikhwan is not permitted to give voice to that anger, and the government does not respond to it, Jordan’s Muslims will turn to other Islamic movements that will prove harder to manage.