Jordan courting Islamists after Morsi's victory

AFP , Monday 2 Jul 2012

Jordan's King Abdullah II pays efforts to contain the Islamist opposition by amending the electoral law and improving the ties with Hamas movement leaders

Jordan is trying to woo the powerful Muslim Brotherhood after it gained more ground following the election of Islamist Mohamed Morsi as Egypt's first civilian president, analysts said on Monday.

Urging opposition Islamists to take part in early elections this year, King Abdullah II on Thursday ordered parliament to amend a controversial electoral law after they threatened to boycott the polls.

On the same day, he hosted Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal on his second official visit this year since his expulsion in 1999.

"The turning point in Jordan's official position towards the Islamists following Morsi's victory is very obvious," Oreib Rintawi, who heads the Amman-based Al-Quds Centre for Political Studies, told AFP.

"Decision-makers here have realised that the region is now in the 'Brotherhood era.' The Islamists are already ruling in some Arab countries."

In the wake of the Arab Spring, moderate Islamist parties recorded electoral victories in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco.

In 1946, Jordan officially recognised the Brotherhood as a charity, which in 1992 formed its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).

The movement has never called for an Islamic state in Jordan, where it is tolerated by the authorities and has wide grassroots support.

"One clear indication was the king's order to amend the electoral law to convince them to take part in the upcoming elections," said Rintawi.

On Sunday, the Jordanian king said "our doors and hearts are open to everyone, including the Muslim Brotherhood and their party."

The Islamists and other opposition groups have said they are considering a boycott mainly because they can only compete for 17 of the lower house's 140 seats. But the king has asked MPs to increase that number.

Currently the IAF holds no seats because it boycotted the last election in 2010.

"Jordan is trying to adapt, particularly after the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The king hosted Meshaal and received a delegation of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood. This is another indication," said Rintawi.

Relations with Hamas have been strained since Jordan expelled Meshaal and three other Hamas members after the group had been accused of threatening security and stability.

"I think Jordan's Islamists are more confident now. We will see a new stage of relations between the kingdom and Islamists here and the entire region."

Islamist affairs expert Hassan Abu Hanieh agreed, but had a different point of view.

"I think the regime still fears the Islamists. Until now the two sides do not trust each other," he told AFP.

"If the Islamists boycott elections, the political process will fail and Jordan could enter a dark political tunnel. So the idea now is win them over."

Abu Hanieh said receiving Meshaal in Amman "was definitely part of efforts to court the Islamists."

"Jordan has taken into consideration that the victory of Morsi and other Islamists in the region would help raise the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood. Amman now tries to act accordingly."

The Islamists and others have been staging almost weekly protests since last year, demanding reforms that could pave the way for a parliamentary system in which the premier is elected rather than named by the king.

"I know that there is increasing pressure on Jordan after Egypt's elections, but the kingdom's policies should not turn into reactions to regional developments," said analyst Labib Kamhawi.

"It is smarter and better if Jordan acts objectively and comprehensively with these developments. Seeking to just satisfy one side or another is wrong, and Amman will pay for this later."

After Morsi was declared winner in Egypt on June 24, Jordan issued a cautious statement welcoming "the choice of the fraternal Egyptian people to continue on the democratic path," without mentioning Morsi's name.

"The government's reaction was slow. The next day, the king fixed the situation by sending a warm cable to Morsi," Hamzeh Mansur, IAF secretary general, told AFP.

"Morsi's victory has given a boost to all Arab peoples, including Jordanians, strengthening their demands to see and feel sweeping reforms. We hope all this reflects positively on Jordan."

Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, sought to calm fears.

"Our demands are limited, clear and legitimate. They have no regional dimensions," he said.

"We simply seek refroms in line with Jordan's national interests. Nothing more."

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