Last week, the minor Jordanian newspaper al-Diyar published a story attributing several interesting remarks to Ambassador David Hale during a meeting with tribal leaders: that the Jordanian tribes should confront Islamists in the upcoming Parliamentary elections, and that Jordan's Islamists had been insufficiently tough on Iran and the Shia menace. Salem al-Falahat,
head of the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan, blasted Hale on both counts: first, Jordan's tribes are deeply connected to the Islamist movement, making his call both absurd and a deeply offensive intervention in Jordan's internal affairs; and second, Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood had been plenty tough on Iran, pointing to its statement denouncing Iran last month. The story escalated, with various Islamist figures and newspapers piling on, an IAF Member of Parliament raising the issue in session, and a prominent tribal leader sending a rare letter of complaint to the US Embassy ( "the tribes of Hashemite Jordan do not need American advice"). The Embassy denied the report, saying that the meeting in question never even happened. Was this a case of a very clumsy, downright stupid, American intervention in Jordanian politics, or a case of a Jordanian paper distorting events and causing a minor Jordanian-American political crisis out of nothing? Or a little of both? Or part of a MB electoral strategy? I'm trying to find out.
Whatever it is, the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood lost a lot of potential political allies in Jordan with its pathetic role in the recent press and publications law struggle, where it bitterly disappointed reformists by siding with the government's repressive version. Evidently they decided that punishing offenses against religion was more important than protecting freedom of the press. I guess that leaves it free to fight to force Jordanian officials to "speak in the language of the Quran" and stop using English in the schools... the really important issues facing the Kingdom. Pathetic. It led Batir Wardum to revisit the IAF's seemingly impressive political reform document issued a while back: what happened to those fine sentiments, he asks? Because to Wardum, it now looks like the MB wants to reserve freedom of expression to itself and to deny it to others.
One other note. I saw this report on Salem al-Falahat on al-Arabiya about the Shia in Jordan. Falahat denied specific allegations of "Shia-ization" among the ranks of the MB in the Baqaa refugee camp, but then confirmed that there was political Shia-ization going on. He warned against exaggeration, saying that there were no Shia conversions going on in Jordan because of the strength of Sunni conviction, but that there was "political Shi'ism" inspired by Hezbollah's success. The al-Arabiya reporter asked about press reports of Shia'ization in Irbid and Ramtha and on and on - to which Falahat responded that there were half a million or more Iraqis now refugees in Jordan and nobody asked whether they were Sunni or Shia. He blamed the United States for stirring up the Sunni-Shia tensions, and said directly that "the Sunni are not converting to Shi'ism." And all of this ran under a headline "Guide of Jordan's Ikhwan: reality of Shia-ization of Ikwhan ranks and Shia penetration.. confirms the existence of political Shi'aization." At first I thought that the Jordanian MB was out of step with the Egyptian MB, which has been trying to dampen down Sunni-Shia tensions. But after reading the whole piece, it became clear that it was really al-Arabiya trying to stir up those tensions, not the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood. Which fits right in what I've been saying all along - that most of this alleged Sunni-Shia tension is coming from the top down, driven by the Saudi, Egyptian, and Jordanian regimes and not by a genuine popular upsurge of sectarianism.