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Cablegate: Jordan's Islamists Back Down, for Now

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHAM #7420/01 2701433
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 271433Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4419
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE

C O N F I D E N T I A L AMMAN 007420

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/27/2016
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KISL KPAL LE JO
SUBJECT: JORDAN'S ISLAMISTS BACK DOWN, FOR NOW

REF: A. AMMAN 6724
B. AMMAN 6335
C. AMMAN 5907
D. AMMAN 5879 AND PREVIOUS
E. AMMAN 5222
F. AMMAN 1692 AND PREVIOUS
G. AMMAN 809

Classified By: Ambassador David Hale for reasons 1.4 b and d

1. (C) Summary: After ten months of tension between the GOJ
and Jordan's legal Islamist movement, advocates for
confrontation appear to have lost the debate within the
movement's leadership. Some in the leadership are confident
of gains in 2007 elections; others worry that more Jordanians
are growing tired of the movement's non-violent tactics. End
summary.

The Dispute
-----------

2. (C) Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood, and its political wing
the Islamic Action Front, complain the GOJ has been
pressuring them since late 2004. Their most prominent
grievance was the conviction, imprisonment, and expulsion
from parliament of Front MPs Muhammad Abu Fares and Ali Abu
Al-Sukar on charges of incitement for statements they made
after the death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in June (ref C).
Islamists also point to the security services' attempt to
influence their internal elections (ref F); a press campaign
to link the movement to alleged Hamas arms caches in Jordan;
a roundup of activists in April; the government's takeover of
the movement's large charity network because of alleged
corruption (ref D); and a recent further tightening of
government control over mosque sermons (septel.)

3. (C) For its part, senior GOJ officials have worried that
the movement -- Jordan's only effective non-governmental
political organization of any magnitude -- was drifting away
from its traditional role as a loyal opposition, and that the
younger, Palestinian-Jordanian base of the movement was
displacing the East Banker, old guard leadership. Hamas'
electoral victory in January, and an exultant Front MP's
claim that Jordan's Islamists were also "ready to govern"
(ref G), shocked and provoked the security establishment.
COMMENT: After the Hamas election, the King directed GID to
put the movement back in its place, and to reduce the
influence of the Front's Secretary General Zaki Bani Irsheid,
whom the security services viewed as the champion of Hamas
admirers within the movement. While Bani Irsheid's base in

the movement is among Palestinian-Jordanians, Bani Irsheid is
of East Bank origin. END COMMENT.

Hawks vs. Doves, and a Hizballah Factor
---------------------------------------

4. (C) Government pressure on the Islamists touched off a
debate within the movement's leadership between so-called
"hawks" advocating confrontation with the government, and
"doves" counseling patience. The debate broke down largely
along West Banker-East Banker lines. According to contacts
close to the movement's leadership, some hawks worried that
Hizballah has become so popular in Jordan this summer that
the Brotherhood and Front looked ineffective in comparison.
Hawks also voiced concerns that disillusioned supporters
would drop out of the movement unless it confronted the
government with strikes or withdrawal from parliament.

5. (C) Despite these concerns, and with some help from the
security services, the dovish old guard prevailed, and
publicly re-asserted its leadership over that of Bani
Irsheid. On July 11, Brotherhood leaders (without Bani
Irsheid) met with the Prime Minister and issued a
conciliatory statement (ref E), prompting hawks to push back
with calls for the Front's MPs to walk out of parliament. On
September 6, Muslim Brotherhood leader Salem Al-Falahat
announced that the Front's fifteen remaining MPs would not
walk out of parliament over the 13-month sentences imposed on
Abu Fares and Abu al-Sukkar.

6. (C) Although a walkout and strikes are now off the table,
rhetorical attacks on the government continue. Both hawks
and doves in the Brotherhood press populist themes in public,
criticizing the government for allegedly muzzling free
speech, for corruption, and for "dishonorable subservience"
to the U.S. and Israel (ref D). Falahat's interviews with
Arab satellite channels are full of fiery denunciations of
"the Zionist and American enemy," though his statements in
domestic Jordanian media are more restrained. Bani Irsheid
bashed the government September 27, according to local media,
for its continued hold on the movement's charity network.
(Note: The GOJ replaced the board of directors of the
Brotherhood's charity network with non-MB members shortly
after the arrest of the Front MPs, claiming it needed to root
out corruption in the network (ref D). The
government-appointed chairman of the interim board told
polcouns September 19 that he did not expect the GOJ's
ongoing investigation to uncover any serious wrongdoing, and
opined that the episode was part of a government campaign to
pressure the movement, which it was.)

Electoral Prospects
-------------------

7. (C) Post contacts close to the movement say old guard
East Bankers argued successfully that time was on the
movement's side. Jordanian public opinion, claimed the
"doves", was more sympathetic than ever to criticism of
Jordan's elite for corruption and proximity to the U.S. The
"doves" expect this sentiment to bring the Front big gains at
the municipal and parliamentary elections expected in 2007.

8. (C) However, these contacts also said Falahat himself -
and other old-guard leaders - complain privately that
Jordan's political system is so irretrievably corrupt that
disillusioned voters will increasingly disengage from
conventional politics. (Comment: Complaints from Islamists
and other oppositionists about corruption and manipulation of
the electoral process are nothing new, but, assuming our
contacts' accounts are accurate, given the current sour
popular mood (ref B) it's surprising that Falahat is not more
upbeat about next year's elections. End comment.)

Conclusion
----------

9. (C) The Muslim Brotherhood's apparent decision to eschew
for now further confrontation with the government is a
welcome victory for the GOJ and its security services. Many
in Jordan hope the government will reciprocate with a royal
pardon for Abu Fares and Abu Al-Sukkar, though there have
been no recent hints of this from the Palace. Both the
government and the movement's leaders should worry if
significant numbers of Jordanians have indeed lost patience
with conventional politics and the non-violent tactics of the
Brotherhood and the Front.

Visit Amman's Classified Web Site at
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/amman/

Hale

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