After major gains in elections in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco, Islamists are set to make little electoral impact in the first Jordanian polls since a pro-
democracy movement broke out here in 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood — which is Jordan’s strongest opposition force and runs its most organized political party — is boycotting the vote, mainly in protest of an elections law it claims will prevent a fair vote.
The boycott has cast doubt on the legitimacy of Jordan’s first elections since 2010, which officials tout as the centerpiece of the democratic reforms undertaken by the kingdom after nearly two years of simmering protests. But the boycott has also highlighted a key difference, and limitation, that Islamists in the region’s monarchies confront as they seek to capitalize on the rise of political Islam.
Unlike the clean slates enjoyed by Islamists in post-revolution Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — where former autocrats had been overthrown — Jordan’s Brotherhood is competing with the entrenched and still relatively popular Hashemite monarchy. King Abdullah II’s regime has so far proved resilient even in the face of widespread anger over rising prices, and analysts say the Brotherhood, which has unsuccessfully pushed for faster democratic reforms, concluded that it had little to gain by running.
But it also has little desire to pursue more revolutionary tactics. For decades, the Jordanian Brotherhood has had a symbiotic if at times tenuous relationship with the monarchy, which long provided the movement a haven even as it was persecuted elsewhere across the Arab world.
“You simply cannot compare Jordan with Tunisia or Egypt. Here the movement has had a working relationship with the regime for decades while members were imprisoned abroad,” said Mohammed Abu Rumman, a Jordanian columnist and an expert in Islamist movements.
But Abu Rumman said that relationship has “fallen apart” in recent months. And now Islamists are mobilizing to discourage Jordanians from taking part in the electoral process.
“While people across the Arab world are choosing their governments for the very first time, decision-makers in Jordan are continuing to play the same old games,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, deputy head of the Jordanian Brotherhood.
At the center of the dispute is the country’s controversial elections law, which critics say relies on a convoluted voting system and gerrymandering to deliver most parliamentary seats to regime loyalists and too few to political parties. Jordanian officials, who have championed a more gradual approach to reforms, acknowledge that the system is imperfect. But they argue that reserving more seats for parties would unfairly favor the Brotherhood, because smaller parties have not had sufficient time to develop.