Brothers Against Terror

Late Wednesday night last week, King Abdullah of Jordan cut short his official visit to Kazakhstan and returned to his palace in Amman. The head of his intelligence services, Samih Asfoura, and his national security advisor, Saed Khair, were already waiting for him in order to report on the terror attacks in the hotels in the Jordanian capital. These two generals, determined warriors in the battle against the terrorist organizations, can chalk up numerous achievements in the prevention of terror attacks in Jordan. In recent months and particularly after the terror attacks in Aqaba, Jordan's newspapers have been reporting on constant activity in military courts against dozens of suspects and activists. Even on the day of the terror attacks, such suspects were standing trial, and the security forces arrested a number of people suspected of belonging to Hizb al-Tahrir, a political Islamist organization that refuses to recognize the laws of the state and seeks to establish an Islamic theocracy.

Asfoura and Khair also recommended to the king that he not accede to the request by the Hamas leadership that they be allowed to return to Jordan (they were driven out in 1999), and the two generals were also the ones who built up the monitoring system on the border crossings between Jordan and Iraq in order to stem the infiltration of terrorists. On Wednesday, however, neither had any inkling as to who had carried out the attacks. Their first guess was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordan native who set up the Al-Qaida terrorist network in Iraq and has apparently cut himself off from the organization and is now working independently.

Saed Khair has a long account to settle with Zarqawi, who apparently planned to hurl a chemical bomb at his office in April 2004, which could have caused the deaths of 20,000 people. The thank-you letter that the king sent him for preventing the bombing was just the public aspect of the close personal relationship the king shares with both Khair and Asfoura. Unfortunately, the mountains of information the Jordanian intelligence services had about the Islamic underground cells did not help this time.

The Jordanian paradox

According to Jordanian sources, the gathering of intelligence is focused on two main populations: foreign workers from Arab countries and the Iraqi community, which numbers close to 350,000 people. Home-grown Islamic organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are trusted despite their ties with Hamas. Last Thursday, one could hear the prime minister of Jordan, Adnan Badran, praising the Muslim Brotherhood, which in his eyes symbolizes the right Islam, the moderate, patriotic Islam, compared to the Islamic terrorism from the Zarqawi school.

And that is indeed the Jordanian paradox: The Muslim Brotherhood movement, which in Egypt is perceived as a threat - as the progenitor of Hamas and the Jamaat Islamiyya, violent organizations that have participated in the most terrible terror attacks in Egypt - in Jordan is viewed as supportive of the regime. Jordan has a long history of positive ties with the organization, which go back as far as King Abdullah I, who offered the leader of the movement in Jordan a cabinet portfolio. King Hussein also owes its members a great debt for opposing the attempted revolution in Jordan in 1975, and in 1970, they stood at his side when he took steps against the Palestinians in the events of "Black September."

In his final years on the throne, the king drew the Muslim Brotherhood closer despite serious political differences. In 1997, they boycotted the parliamentary elections because the king had passed a law intended to restrict their strength; but in the following elections, they participated in full force. Today, they control a large parliamentary bloc and continue to maintain a common-interest relationship with the royal family.

After the terror attack in Aqaba last August, in which missiles were fired at the American ship the USS Ashland, the Jordanian authorities accused Mohammed al-Sahali, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, of being involved in the attack. In order to clean him of all suspicion, the Brotherhood arranged for Jordanian investigators to meet with the head of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, so that the latter could make it clear that Sahali had had nothing to do with the attack and had not received any orders from the Syrian branch of the organization.

The efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to demonstrate innocence in matters of state security were also demonstrated in the dispute that arose regarding the activity of Hamas in Jordan. Even before the banishment of the Hamas leadership, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership asked Ibrahim Rusha, who was later deported, to stop reporting on the Brotherhood's actions in Amman. "We are a law-abiding organization that is loyal to the state," the heads of the organization said at that time, "and we are not involved in terror from within our country."

Even the basic ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood - the desire to establish a supra-national Islamic nation - does not prevent the organization's leaders from becoming members of the Jordanian parliament and participating in its decision-making process. "The matters that concern the Muslim Brothers in Jordan are primarily national. They are members of tribes and clans. Five of the seven members of the movement's leadership are Jordanians and only two are of Palestinian extraction," explains a scholar of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Jordan. "That explains their reluctance to be identified as an inseparable part of Hamas, or that Hamas be perceived as an inseparable part of them."

They want democracy

Nevertheless, in recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan has been accused of being taken over by Hamas, a claim the organization's leadership vehemently rejects. One such leader recalls the time Khaled Meshal came to visit Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who originally called the organization the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Yassin, who was receiving medical treatment in Amman in 1997, did not know who Meshal was and did not recognize him as the head of the organization's political bureau.

"Meshal was nothing, he grew as a result of circumstances, as a result of the Israeli assassination attempt. He was never an important person in the Muslim Brotherhood," the source says.

But he was the man who wanted to take over the Brotherhood, together with a group of Islamists who came to Jordan in 1991 from Kuwait, from where they were driven out in wake of the Gulf War.

These Islamists came with money and connections and could compete with the welfare services provided by the Muslim Brotherhood. It comes then as no surprise that when the question of the return of Hamas to Jordan comes up, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, which mediates between Hamas and the Jordanian government, is not terribly successful.

"I would not be surprised if among the Brotherhood there are those who are convinced that for the sake of the integrity of the movement, it would be preferable not to bring back the Hamas leadership," says the Jordanian scholar.

This also explains the great caution exercised by the Muslim Brotherhood in terms of being identified with external Islamist organizations. This week, in their publication Al-Sabil and their Internet site, they harshly condemned those who carried out the terror bombings, despite the political price that such a condemnation could cost them. It is in the very areas where their political power is based, such as towns like Karak and Zarqa (where Zarqawi was born), that Zarqawi's supporters also live.

But the guaranteed loyalty of the Muslim Brotherhood does not calm other political fronts in Jordan. The king has great ambitions to implement a number of important economic administrative reforms, to adapt the structure of the economy to the demands of the World Bank, to create more jobs and reduce the far-reaching bureaucracy. Here, he finds himself coming up against a double wall - a number of ministers in his government and the Islamic bloc in the parliament, which is made up of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who demand political reforms before economic ones.

The Muslim Brothers want democracy, a change in the constitution that will enable parties to be elected freely and will enable the winning parties to form a government. The king announced last week that such a change in the constitution is a line in the sand as far as he is concerned. In other words, he is the one who will continue to form the governments. But he will find it difficult to carry out his administrative reform. Thus, for example, he established a Ministry for Public Sector Affairs one and a half years ago and appointed Tayseer Smadi to head it. However, the new minister is opposed by the ministers of development and finance, who are preventing budgets from reaching the new ministry. The most serious clash came when the finance minister determined that a loan that the World Bank wanted to give the ministry was too high and that the ministry did not need that much money - a grand total of $15 million.

King Abdullah, who when he took the throne pledged not to replace governments at the quick rate his father had, is finding himself once again facing a similar situation: conservative governments skilled at hamstringing any innovation. Now the king's attempts to tread on eggshells, between quasi reforms and quasi political quiet, will have to pass a new test: The terror attacks in Jordan could severely damage Jordan's tourism industry and trigger an acute economic crisis. And economic difficulties have always served as fertile ground for subversive elements seeking to stir up the public against the government.