Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood loses control of powerful union after 26 years

Jordanians rally against US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on Dec. 29, 2017, in Amman. (AFP)
Updated 06 May 2018

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood loses control of powerful union after 26 years

  • Lamis Andoni, a veteran Jordanian columnist told Arab News that the results could be the beginning of a new era.
  • he importance of the union result is that it reflects a change in all governorates in Jordan.

AMMAN: The switch of control after 26 years of Brotherhood dominance of the union follows a series of losses, including control of the main teachers union and a poor showing in the student council elections. 

The Muslim Brotherhood has lost control of one of Jordan’s largest labor unions in the latest blow to the movement.

Members of the powerful Engineers Union voted for a coalition of Arab nationalists, liberals and independents instead of the Islamist list, according to the final results announced early on Saturday.

The switch of control after 26 years of Brotherhood dominance of the union follows a series of losses, including control of the main teachers union and a poor showing in the student council elections. It comes two days after Zaki Bani Irshid, a controversial senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, lost the leadership fight in the Islamic Action Committee, the movement’s political arm in Jordan.

Mohammad Hussayni, director of the Amman-based Hawiya (Identity) Center, told Arab News that the loss of the Engineers Union reflected the Islamists’ internal problems.

“They have been having some big internal problems and splits which have a clear reflection on their abilities to mobilize,” he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood has dominated politics and unions in Jordan for decades, where it was tolerated by the monarchy and in some cases members of Parliament served in the Cabinet.

Relations with the group deteriorated after an extremist attack on hotels in Amman in 2005 and the rise to senior positions within the movement of Irshid, a hard-liner within the group.

Things became more tense after the Arab Spring as Islamist groups in neighboring countries rose to power on the back of the chaos. In 2016, the government banned the Brotherhood and licensed another branch of the movement under a different leadership. 

Lamis Andoni, a veteran Jordanian columnist and a long-time observer of Jordanian professional unions, told Arab News that the results could be the beginning of a new era.

“It reflects the end of the domination of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, which had a huge political and professional effect on local politics for years,” she said.

The importance of the union result is that it reflects a change in all governorates in Jordan and not just the capital Amman, Andoni said. The Brotherhood have traditionally performed strongest in the many conservative regional governorates.

The union results showed that the Numou (growth) list captured seven out of the ten seats, winning decisively in all major governorates including the capital. Bashar Tarawneh, a member of Numou, told Arab News that the success of the movement had to do with increasing voter participation, especially among the youth.

“We took it upon ourselves to visit every governorate in Jordan and we encouraged everyone to vote in these elections,” he said.

More than 14,000 union members voted in the election — 3,000 more than in previous rounds, Tarawneh said. Khaled Ramadan, a member of the Jordanian Parliament and a union activist, told Arab News that the change did not necessarily reflect a retraction of the Muslim Brotherhood but more that the Numou movement has energized young members on a national basis. 

“Look at the number of votes that the Islamists received this round and in previous rounds and you will see that the level of their support hasn’t changed.”

Zeid Nabulsi, an Amman-based lawyer, said the result showed that the silent majority had woken up in Jordan. 

He said that this was due to both the declining fortunes of Islamist groups in countries such as Egypt and Syria and the impact of the digital revolution on young people “which has exposed the Islamists for their real motives.”

Nabulsi, however, argued that Islamists were still a powerful political force in Jordan, particularly in their stronghold of Zarqa.

He warned that activists should not let up in their struggle against what he called “the forces of darkness.”


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 59 min 42 sec ago

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”