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03/01/2013

Maybe Islam isn't the solution

AMMAN - When I lived in Amman in 2007, long before anyone fathomed an Arab spring, the Islamists here enjoyed strong support from ordinary Jordanians. It was all quiet support of course. Jordan is not the type of place where you can openly talk about political convictions. Criticizing the king is illegal.

The corruption, high levels of poverty and extreme wealth – Range Rovers speeding past sheep herders – was easy fodder for the Muslim Brotherhood which called for a more just society. 

Jordan is still a poor and unjust country. But belief that Islam is the solution is wavering.

Over the last few days I’ve spoken to many Jordanians who feel uneasy at the dark forces political Islam has unleashed in the region: Egypt elected the Muslim Brotherhood but it is in political shambles, Syria’s Islamists have taken a violent course.

Some people in Jordan wonder if the Islamists would be any better at home.

“The Arab spring is not as it should be and many people who thought the Islamists were going to change things for the better, it hasn’t happened,” Rami Sawalha, a local resident told me outside popular supermarket Spinney’s as he loaded his car with groceries. “I don’t want to see them here because they are mentally close-minded.”

Jordan’s Christians, a well-established but dwindling minority have always feared the end of the ruling Hashemite dynasty which has protected them. I’ve met several who keep second passports, usually to Canada or the U.S. as an insurance policy.  One Christian journalist told me that to her relief more of her Muslim friends did not want the Islamists in power.  

“It’s not just the Christians, even the Muslims will not accept them,” she said. 

Jordan has no political parties that are active except the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.  But the IAF, which is the largest opposition party and best organized, has no members in parliament because it boycotted the recent elections in January.

All this is a boon to King Abdullah.

Taher al Masri, president of the senate put it this way when I met him for a coffee at his office in parliament: “The monarchy provides good security and continuity.”

Who will ultimately win power across the Middle East is still unknown but what’s clear is the Arab spring has not brought an inevitable groundswell of support for political Islam, either. 

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at The Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is the author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour

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