From a podium at an Amman street rally, the leader of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood vowed that soon the country would become a “state in the Muslim Caliphate,” bringing cheers of “God is great” from the crowd of bearded, Islamist supporters. It was extreme rhetoric, suggesting that the monarchy that defines this U.S. ally in the Mideast will disappear to be replaced by an Islamic state. The Brotherhood, the top opposition group in Jordan, usually avoids such bold strokes and insists on its loyalty to the king. But the speech last week by Hammam Saeed points to how the heat is turning up in the country’s simmering political confrontations as Jordan holds parliamentary elections Wednesday that the government touts as a milestone in a gradual process of bringing greater democracy.
King Abdullah II is trying to control the pace of change, ceding enough of his absolute powers to parliament in hopes of forestalling any Arab Spring-style uprisings like the ones that toppled autocratic leaders in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia and devolved into a bloody civil war in Syria. But the Brotherhood and others in the opposition say his moves do not go far or fast enough to end his monopoly on power.
“The elections are a theatrical comedy, which we will not take part in,” said Zaki Bani Irsheid of the Islamic Action Front, the Brotherhood’s political party. “It is part of a royal gimmick to buy time and block any moves toward real and genuine reforms.”
The Brotherhood is boycotting the vote, as are four smaller parties, including communists and Arab nationalists. But the Islamists’ frustration is growing because they haven’t been able to rally a large sector of the public to their side. Though there is anger over the economy, rising prices and corruption, many Jordanians also distrust the Brotherhood, eyeing its rise in Egypt and fearing it could grab power in Jordan and throw it into instability.