I began these reflections with talk of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan and the fact that the Jordanian government turned on them after a long alliance; thus following the trend across the Arab monarchies to cut off movements that they perceived as having turned from an asset to a burden. The dispute between government and Islamic movements in Jordan and elsewhere highlights the nature of authority in the modern state on the one hand, and the source of authority in these movements on the other.
The agreement between Islamic movements and the traditional monarchies of the Arab world historically came about based on the mutual threat from left wing and nationalist radical movements. The radical movements were hostile towards the Islamists, and their emergence threatened the existence of the monarchies too.
These monarchies did not have a repertoire of thought, ideology, or even mass support, nor did they possess political administrative cadres to fight off the emerging radical trends from the eastern bloc. Therefore, the monarchies resorted to the West and the Islamists to fight on their behalf in the intellectual, media and political arenas, and to help govern the state.
This deal was beneficial to both sides, but it was costlier for the Islamist because they were forced to remain silent on many matters and continue to act as a servant and followers rather than being involved in matters.
Such complacency is very costly to any political movement, especially if it practices it for a long time. Perhaps the most exorbitant price of this deal is that it was made at the expense of the political and intellectual development of these movements, which remained like plants in the shade for decades; not being exposed to sun or fresh air, thus withering and suffering from stunted growth. This is because these movements had no legal or legitimate existence in the Gulf, with the partial exception of Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan, each of which only allowed the movements to exist and work in the form of “organisations” stripped of any political nature.
This reminds us that these organisations are organic organisms that are linked to their surroundings by means of links based on cultural, social, and political interests and common grounds, and that they need to be nurtured in order to survive. In the case of Jordan, the Palestinian cause was the common ground between the movement and the regime, and it later became the grounds for separation and division.
In the beginning, the Brotherhood protested using the same argument Muawiya used with Caliph Omar when he described the Levant as being a “confrontation state” with the Romans, and thus that there are matters permitted there that wouldn’t be permitted elsewhere. The Brotherhood believed that Jordan is just such a confrontation state, and that they should avoid conflicts that might threaten Israel, thus leaving the reins to the government. Some even issued a fatwa prohibiting jihad in Palestine until an Islamic state declares jihad on Israel, which delayed the participation of the Islamist in Palestine for two decades after the outbreak of the Palestinian revolution.
However, when Hamas was established under the pressure of internal conditions, the fatwa changed and dictated that jihad must be declared in Palestine and that it takes priority over everything else. This was followed by the Wadi Araba agreement, which acted as the straw that broke the camel’s back for the Jordanian government.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan followed the mother movement in Egypt, which verbally condemned the Camp David Accords but continued to cooperate with the Egyptian regime and accepted its legitimacy, both governments considered the movement as a threat. This is especially true after the movement’s popularity grew in the two countries.
The Islamists grew in popularity in both Egypt and Jordan because of the bankruptcy of the left wing and secular movements in general, especially the liberal and nationalist ones. The former became bankrupt because of their acceptance of colonialism and the ruling elite linked to the West, paving the way for radical movements. As for the latter, they lost all of their credibility because of their atrocious actions and failures in governance, including dependence on foreign parties and domestic failures. In addition to this, the culture of religiosity emerged and grew due to domestic, regional, and global factors, and the Islamist movements benefit from this.
However, the real problem remained in the fact that these Islamist movements were unable to invest in their popularity because of their weak political and intellectual development (as a result of the reasons I mentioned earlier) and their continued submission to the governments in these countries. Therefore, these movements did not propose projects for change and governance; their greatest ambitions were to allow them to carry out political work under the umbrella of the existing governments.
This in turn created another problem, i.e. the movements were acting and working like associations or civil organisations. However, their overwhelming popularity, which they did not earn, continued to push them to governance they were not ready for because of their lack of realism in dealing with their surroundings. They continued to address people with idealistic discourse they knew more than anyone else would be difficult to achieve in reality.
Therefore, these movements became a danger to themselves and to society, especially when trends, acting likes waves or wind, pushed them, without realising or wanting it, towards governments and authority, as was the case in Algeria in 1991, Tunisia in 1987, Jordan in 1989, Palestine in 2006, and Egypt in 2012.
In all of these cases, the Islamists’ rise to power occurred like a natural disaster – like an earthquake or flood – that came about by planned political action. The movements were more surprised and more confused than anyone else by the results of the popular protests.
It is also important to note the reservoir of power these movements possessed at the grassroots level. When Hamas received the overwhelming majority of votes in the 2006 election, its victory was more like a defeat, as the “victorious” Hamas was begging all of the “defeated” parties to join it in a coalition, but not even the weakest parties would join it and they all avoided Hamas.
Perhaps Hamas is a special case, as it does not govern an independent state, as the movement and the people are under occupation, and the function the so-called Palestinian National Authority is to help the occupation and lighten its burden, which was also the case during the colonial era. However, this did not stop the Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, from citing Hamas’s predicament as an example when he feared that his country would face the same fate as the Gaza Strip if a president was elected from the Brotherhood.
But Morsi was not accurate in his example; Egypt, unlike Gaza, is an independent state – or so we believe. However, the Brotherhood still faced an impossible task of convincing anyone outside the movement to run under its list. Therefore, it was inconceivable that the presidency of Egypt would be given to those who did not even dream of it. When a president from the Brotherhood was elected, he faced great isolation, but the main reason for this was the Brotherhood’s rejection of coalition proposals. The Brotherhood later found out that it was neither them nor the Egyptian people who possessed the power, it was the military junta that did.
Of course, the Islamist movements can rally their elements of power and seize authority by force, as Hamas did in 2007, the Islamists in Sudan did in their 1989 coup, and the Iranians did with the Wilayat al-Faqih. However, this will only change the equation slightly. Gaza and its inhabitants were besieged, while Sudan was subjected to a similar situation. The Sudanese government today is celebrating the illegitimate Egyptian coup-led government – those following the political discourse in Sudan today would be confused between who is the opposition and who is the government.
This poses the question of who the true sources of authority and power are in our modern world, which still has not progressed past the colonial era.