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Jordan court affirms Muslim Brotherhood 'does not exist' in latest twist over rival groups

Amman has a long and often collaborative history with the Brotherhood, but things have soured since the Arab Spring
Muslim Brotherhood flags are seen in the Jordanian capital Amman on 21 June 2019 (AFP)
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Amman

Over the years, as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in turn declared the Muslim Brotherhood to be “a terrorist” organisation, Jordan stood by.

But as Amman’s relationship with the Islamist group has deteriorated since the Arab Spring, the Jordanian Court of Cassation ruled on 15 July to officially dissolve the organisation’s branch in the country.

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At the same time as Jordan has legalised the splinter group Muslim Brotherhood Society (MBS), it has closed the offices of the main Brotherhood organisation, under the pretext that it wasn’t licensed.

The Jordanian legal system has confiscated Muslim Brotherhood properties, offices and funds since 2015, transferring the assets to the MBS, which is headed by former Brotherhood leader Sheikh Abdel Majed Thnibat.

The 15 July court decision, which affirmed that the original Muslim Brotherhood organisation in Jordan has no legal basis to exist, has become the latest milestone in relations between the movement and the Jordanian government.

Ebb and flow

Relations between the Hashemite monarchy and the Muslim Brotherhood have ebbed and flowed over the decades, influenced by local and regional politics.

The Brotherhood was officially established in Jordan in 1945, according to the country’s laws at the time. It renamed itself in 1953 simply as al-Jamaa (“the group”) and received accreditation through a cabinet-level decision to exist and operate in Jordan.

But the latest court decision has ruled that the “Muslim Brotherhood Jamaa no longer exists and has lost its legal status because it has not adhered to the legal requirements of Jordanian law,” as well as reportedly failing to renew its political license under the terms of a 2014 law on political parties.

The court made this judgment in response to a case brought by the Brotherhood against Jordan’s land department, calling on the government entity to rescind its decision to hand over lands and buildings owned by the Brotherhood to the MBS, which has been registered since 2015.

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In response to the ruling, the Muslim Brotherhood said that “the decision of the Court of Cassation is not final - it simply returned the case to the appeals court, which will continue looking into the case”.

“The timing of this decision is strange,” Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Jamil Abu Bakr told Middle East Eye. “We will continue to pursue this case legally, because this is not a final decision.

“The Muslim Brotherhood exists and has been around for decades and has a wide audience. It will continue to carry out its activities during these difficult circumstances affecting Jordan, including Zionist threats,” he added, before noting that it was “strange to have such a decision during this critical period in which Jordan needs a united internal front to be united.”

Abu Bakr was referring to ongoing Israeli efforts to annex large swathes of the occupied West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, which would constitute a security issue for the Hashemite kingdom.

Friends yesterday, enemies today

Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood stood by the Jordanian monarchy during political and security circumstances that could have brought down the Hashemite leadership in the 1950s. It aligned itself with King Hussein against leftist Prime Minister Suleiman Nabulsi, who was backed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Tensions were high, and culminated in a failed coup by Jordanian generals in 1957.

At the time, the Brotherhood filled the streets with protesters against Nabulsi’s pan-Arab government, which was later removed by Hussein. In the following elections, the Muslim Brotherhood won 22 seats and took control of the parliament’s presidency for three consecutive terms, in addition to holding five ministries in the government of Prime Minister Mudar Badran in 1991.

But the Brotherhood’s support of the Arab Spring in 2011 soured the organisation’s relationship with Amman.

Amman blamed the Brotherhood for seeking to push its agenda of Islamist politics during the wave of uprisings across the region. In 2014, King Abdullah II accused the Brotherhood in an interview of having “hijacked the Arab Spring”.

Angered by the Brotherhood’s demands, the Jordanian government launched a counterattack, aiming to delegitimise the Islamist movement and restrict its activities. 

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A number of Islamist leaders, like Zaki Bani Rushaid, were imprisoned over charges of damaging Jordan’s relations with the UAE.

King Abdullah II met with parliamentary representatives of the Islamic movement at his palace in May 2019, which was interpreted at the time as a sign of rapprochement. But this detente was shortlived.

Ongoing legal process

According to the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordanian courts have affirmed the organisation’s legal status in a number of cases, but most have yet to receive a final ruling.

The Amman appeals court ruled on 14 July against a request that the Brotherhood vacate a building that it has been using as a headquarters. The court said the Muslim Brotherhood had the legal right to sign rental agreements and that no other party could take its place and void its lease agreements.

“The Jordanian Court of Cassation had ruled in a different case that the Brotherhood Society (MBS) is not the legal heir of the Jamaa, and that the Jamaa has a right to sign contracts and leases and deal with properties,” the former head of the Jordanian Bar Association, Saleh Armouti MP, told MEE. “So, the latest decision is certainly not final and can be appealed.”

Armouti, who is a member of the Islah parliamentary bloc affiliated with the Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front political arm, believes that the political disagreements are coinciding with plans for new parliamentary elections - which are expected to be announced any day now by royal decree.

“We will experience new security-inspired restrictions on political leaders to dissuade them from creating alliances with the Islamic Action Front,” Armouti predicted, adding that many people “have been sharing this court decision as if it is a final decision about the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood, but this is not true.”

What options for the Brotherhood?

Marwan Shehadeh, an expert in the political affairs of the Islamic movement, agrees with Armouti that the court decision has implications beyond a simple legal decision.

“The decision was expected because of the tense relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the government,” Shehadeh told MEE.

“The government took advantage of internal conflicts within the Brotherhood and supported one side over the other, leading to this decision that supports one side (the MBS), which is closer to the government.”

'The government took advantage of internal conflicts within the Brotherhood'

- Marwan Shehadeh, political analyst

Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s possible next steps, Shehadeh said: “There is a strong political arm to the movement, which is the Islamic Action Front, and this front and the Muslim Brotherhood will be able to carry out its outlook and its effectiveness.

“The other choice is the legal one, but from my personal observations the government will continue to insist that the properties owned by the Muslim Brotherhood will be transferred to the new organisation with the same name, even though the government has been unable to stop the mother organisation in other areas.”

The Muslim Brotherhood makes no secret of the fact that it would like to ease tensions with the Jordanian government.

In an attempt to protect itself from government pressure, Islamists in Jordan have sought to create political alliances during elections, whether during municipal or parliamentary polls, or within professional unions and student elections at universities.

They won 15 seats in the 2016 parliamentary elections under the National Alliance for Reform - consisting of 10 Islamists and five independents reflecting an array of political persuasions. The same has happened in professional union elections, and in university student elections.

It remains to be seen whether this strategy will keep working in the next elections.