Political reform will take off ‘only when state-Islamists impasse is resolved’ — analysts

Political Reform
Veteran politician and former culture minister, Mohammad Abu Rumman, wrote in a policy paper published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung earlier this year saying: “The relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood has played a key role in determining domestic policy and creating a framework for the democratic process.” (Photo: Shutterstock)
AMMAN — Jordan’s efforts to achieve political reform will remain blocked, pending an end to an impasse between the state and the main Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, according to stakeholders. اضافة اعلان

Veteran politician and former culture minister, Mohammad Abu Rumman, wrote in a policy paper published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung earlier this year saying: “The relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood has played a key role in determining domestic policy and creating a framework for the democratic process.”

Mohammad Momani, former minister of information and current chairman of National Guidance Committee at the Senate, says that one of the factors delaying political reform in the Kingdom is the approach “political Islam forces” take towards democracy. Presumably, the former official was referring to the Brotherhood.

“The biggest and most influential (Islamist) political group is not doing its role in promoting pluralism and political inclusivity or imitating similar experiences in the Maghreb region. This force is exclusive, not inclusive, and not serious about reform; they continue to scare off liberal actors and antagonize state institutions,” Momani told Jordan News

According to Momani, Jordan’s Islamists must reflect on and improve their discourse and stop acting like they are “neck-to-neck with the state.”

“They need to genuinely reform and revisit their discourse, and they must turn words into actions … they need to change their approach and then we can talk about political reform,” Momani added. 

Despite the frustration that Momani is voicing, he acknowledges that it would be “very hard to achieve political reform without them (Islamists)”. However, he believes that “with the tone they have now, we can’t proceed with political reform … drastic and rapid reform and change in the electoral dynamic would present Jordan’s democratic process on a silver plate to the Islamists.”

Political reform has been making headlines in Jordan for the past few months as the Kingdom dabbled with economic, security, and political hardships. The World Bank earlier this week issued a report stating that half of Jordanian youth are unemployed while poverty continues to reach alarming rates. What came to be known as the “sedition case,” which saw big names sued for conspiracy against the country’s security and stability, sent shock waves across the Kingdom and the world. 

Stakeholders, politicians, heads of political parties and statesmen called for immediate and urgent action that takes the country on the path of true reform. Last year’s Parliamentary elections saw one of the lowest voting rates of the past decade, while observers denounced and pointed to “grave violations” that tarnished the electoral process, as described by the National Center for Human Rights. 

Zaki Bani Irsheid, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood group said that the discussion over political reform was reinitiated due to four factors. 

“First; the deepening economic trouble, second; what came to be known as the sedition case, third; the level of social congestion and frustration, and finally the emergence of a new US administration,” Irsheid said. 

The Islamist believes that Jordan is in urgent need of reform; however, he said that “self-set barriers” are obstructing the envisioned change. 

“They look for scarecrows: At one stage, they are the Islamists, and at another, it is Jordanians not being ready for democracy,” and sometimes, they blame demographics. 

According to Irsheid, efforts to rehabilitate and restructure the Islamist movement in Jordan were blocked by “them”. 

“They do not want the (Islamic) movement to grow. They prefer to have a static version of it. We have gone through a series of revisions and developed our discourse, approach, and attitude but we were still struggling with efforts aimed to drag us back,” he said. 

Momani referred to the Islamist model adopted in the Maghreb countries, where Islamists and the ruling regimes consider one another as partners rather than adversaries. He urged Jordan’s Islamists to adopt a similar model. 

“They should follow in the steps of the Maghreb peers and send messages that they are seeking to cooperate rather than dominate,” he said. 

Islamists and Social Democrats believe that Momani’s argument is “outdated and insufficient as evidence to block reform”. 
“This narrative is almost a decade old and groundless in the first place,” said Jamil Nimri, a former MP and secretary general of the Social Democrat Party. 

“The Brotherhood genuinely supports reform, and they will accept it even it did not involve political gains for them.”

Besides, he said, they will never be influential enough to dominate the process and steer it to only serve their interests. Reform, he said, is subject to negotiation among all players, which involves compromises from all.

The former MP downplayed the notion of Islamists as the boogeymen used to frighten people of reforms.  

“Let’s look at how much the Islamists are winning in the elections. Last elections they won 6 percent (of House seats), and in the previous polls before, they won 11 percent and at the peak of their popularity, they won 15 percent. This means that at least 85 percent of the electoral base is up for grabs,” said Nemri.   

Secretary General of the Islamic Action Front (IAF) Murad Adayleh spoke to Jordan News about Jordan’s newest take on political reform. 

“First things first; today, the party that needs reform most is the state and not the Islamic movement. The issue today is not with the opposition but with the establishment.”

He explained that the base of support for the status quo is fading, as evident in the increasing demands among them for reform, especially since the heat of the declining economy is equally felt by all.  

He believes that using the Islamists as a scarecrow is “yet another attempt to shy away from real and deep reform.”

“The Islamists are not boogeymen; we have stake in reform and can be a real partner in the process.”

Summing up the main goals of reform from his group’s point of view, he said the IAF — the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood — wants a “real and efficient parliament, an end to tampering with elections, and revitalized political life in Jordan.”

Regarding the call on Jordan’s Islamists to imitate the Maghreb model, Adayleh said: “Give me a quarter of what was given to the Islamists in Maghreb and then judge me. We have separated our da’wa (religious function to promote Islam) function from the political function decades ago, moving way ahead of Islamist parties in Maghreb.” 

“We can give them all the concessions and assurances they want, but first let us sit together for a deep and true dialogue; otherwise how can we give assurances over something that is still blurry?” he concluded.

To political analyst Amer Al-Sabaileh, “there is no use in a blame game. There should be concrete steps towards reform away from slogans.” 

According to another former media minister and political commentator, Samih Maaitah, “political reform is no longer a luxury but an essential need. The main challenge is concord among all, based on a common vision. … All, including governments, should realize that there is a vested interest in reform for all components.”

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