“We are very realistic,’’ Mansour said. “The Muslim Brotherhood does not want to be solo.’’
That caution reflects the survivalist nature of an organization founded in 1928 as a Sunni revival movement in Egypt that has spawned affiliates across the Muslim world. While the region’s recent revolts have presented unparalleled opportunities for political payoff, experts say the Brotherhood has remained at heart a constellation of domestic chapters shaped by local regimes and dynamics, and groups like those in Jordan are wary of overreaching to grasp the revolutionary wave.
“The Brotherhood doesn’t do revolution,” Shadi Hamid, research director at the Brookings Doha Center, said of the Jordanian branch and its regional counterparts. “The Brotherhood wants to survive as a political force, so when change does happen, they’re going to be in a position to take advantage of it.”
Even then, the group’s ability to do so is not automatic. That was underscored on July 7 in Libya, where a liberal coalition bested the Brotherhood in national elections. The movement was long quashed in that country, as it was in Syria, where it has now resurrected to dominate a motley rebellion.
In other countries, the Brotherhood withstood suppression to cultivate popularity through mosques, charities and dogged organization. In Egypt and Tunisia, chapters were tolerated on the edges of political life, helping them emerge into nascent democracies with networks that delivered votes.
The Islamist rise is different in Arab monarchies such as Jordan, where rulers’ traditional legitimacy has served as a buffer against protests, which generally call for reforms, not the ouster of royals. Experts say the shifting winds have alarmed absolutist kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia, which once nurtured the Brotherhood but now views it as an ideological competitor, and the United Arab Emirates, where the Dubai police chief warned that the Brotherhood is “plotting to change the regimes in the gulf.”
Jordan, on the other hand, says it is following a path similar to Morocco, whose king responded to demands for change with more open elections that brought to power a government now led by Islamists, while reserving vast powers for the monarchy.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II responded to Arab Spring demonstrations with democratic reforms he says he long favored, including an end to restrictions on public gatherings, the establishment of an independent elections commission and a pledge to strengthen political parties for an eventual parliamentary government. He faces widening criticism that the moves are cosmetic, but the country’s divided opposition has not posed a serious threat.