Jordan's opposition parties seek common ground

30-01-2014 12:21 PM

Ammon News - Al-monitor - The Husseini Mosque Square in downtown Amman, which hosts many of the Jordanian opposition’s marches and sit-ins, reveals that the most common causes of the differences between the political parties are external issues.

This raises several questions. First, why are common issues like fighting corruption and returning power to the people, unable to a unifying political framework for the opposition? And how can the outside situation fragment the Jordanian opposition, transforming it into several factions who hold rallies together?

Quarrels on outside issues have helped alienate the street from the opposition. Will that decline in support lead to the end of the opposition’s political role in the country?

Regional events divide us

Erahil al-Gharaibeh, coordinator of the Jordanian National Initiative for Building (otherwise known as the Zamzam Initiative), painted a specific picture of the opposition. He told As-Safir that all deep-rooted and traditional Jordanian parties are no more than offices and branches for outside parties.

Gharaibeh, who for a long time was the representative of the Islamic Action Front in the supreme committee for coordination between the Jordanian opposition parties, provided more details by saying, “There is a Jordanian party that follows Bashar al-Assad, and one that followed Saddam Hussein, and one that followed Moammar Gadhafi. And there is a party that descends from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another from the Communist Party and another party descends from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.”

Sa’id Diab, secretary-general of the Democratic Popular Unity Party, told As-Safir: “The dispute over territorial issues in Syria and Egypt strongly imposed itself within the higher committee for coordination among opposition parties, and it became impossible to continue with the Islamists, who didn’t attend the meetings for over eight months since the departure of [former President Mohammed] Morsi in Egypt.”

It's noteworthy that the supreme committee for coordination among the opposition parties is an opposition national framework that originated 20 years ago when the Wadi Araba treaty was signed. That framework’s goal is to coordinate among the opposition parties to press for the abolition of the treaty and to confront its effects. Today, the framework is living “in the recovery room under life support, because no one wants to euthanize it for the foreseeable future.” Diab said its continuation is “automatic,” and stressed that all national frameworks are in crisis for a lack of a unifying national framework based on a consensus program.

The fighting in Syria and the differences between the Egyptian currents are being reflected in the Jordanian opposition. A youth official in the Arab Baath Progressive Party, Darrar al-Bustanji, told As-Safir, “The two sides, those pro- and anti-revolution, haven’t resorted to rational political dialogue, and we were accused from the first moment of being mercenaries for the Syrian regime. Some of the movement’s figures asked us not to be present with them in the rallies demanding reform.”

Bustanji doesn’t deny the errors committed by supporters of the Syrian regime who didn’t craft a clear, integrated, rational, nationalist discourse that explains how by standing with the Syrian regime they are in fact supporting Syria and that their stance was in favor of a nationalist cause, not in favor of an individual.

Gharaibeh pointed out that external events have contributed to the failure of the frameworks that seek to find common ground for political parties and movements in the country. Among the most prominent of these frameworks is the National Front for Reform, which was founded in 2011 and is headed by former Jordanian official Ahmad Obeidat. Gharaibeh said that the outcome “succeeded in theory. But in practice, it was formed in a wrong way and produced something similar to the higher committee for coordination between the parties with the addition of Ahmad Obeidat’s group to it.” Like other political frameworks, the National Front for Reform was affected by external events and suffered internal disagreements with Morsi’s removal in Egypt.

Recalling these and other experiences has pushed Gharaibeh to say that each party considers Jordan its playground and doesn’t try to understand the other side, adding, “In my opinion, I don’t see a real national party.” In this context, he criticizes the Jordanian Islamists’ shouts of “Sisi, Sisi, my president is Morsi.” He also criticizes the defense by nationalists for Syrian President Assad at the start of the Syrian revolution before the founding of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army. In effect, the parties in Jordan are searching for someone to follow.

So Jordanian political parties are weak because of their inability to find common ground to achieve shared aspirations despite ideological differences or external links. Political analyst Yasser al-Qubailat told As-Safir: “It turned out that Jordanian political parties, over the past two and a half years, are too weak to adopt a position other than worn-out slogans, and they are not aware of the historical moment and deal with it. They are lost and beyond repair. They have political talent but are not effective.”

He added: “Jordanian political parties didn’t move from one state to another. But the events have revealed the truth. It is interesting that this revelation not only illustrates the state [of the parties] but also the state of the so-called Jordanian democracy.”

Qubailat said: “The parties have not benefited from the Arab events that have affected the Jordanian arena through the emergence of movements that attracted the attention and participation of large segments of the youth, workers and employees. [The Arab events] did not strengthen the parties’ membership base, which remains limited.”

Diab said the government had a role in weakening the political opposition and that the government has put a lot of energy over the past two years to achieve this goal. Among the tools it used was to harm the image of the parties and exaggerate regional events and what is happening in Syria.

Diab, who admitted that the parties made mistakes, said, “Some parties are tending to the right and that trend is getting translated into reaching an understanding with the government. [That trend] is making [the parties] less effective in the street. And this error is borne by the parties.”

The opposition and ignoring common ground

The higher coordination committee between the opposition parties came about as a result of a unifying issue: the rejection of the Wadi Araba treaty. That means that there is common ground on which the parties can unify again. These days, Jordan is very politically active, as shown by the visits of US Secretary of State John Kerry to the region, who is carrying a “framework plan” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which will affect the Jordanian people. It also affects Jordanians of Palestinian origin because of their right to return, which is the major item in the “framework plan” since the refugee issue is one of the pillars of the end solution.

The political movement in the region and the debate in closed rooms did not suggest to Jordanian parties that it is necessary to unite and overcome differences on regional issues. The opposition square saw nothing but loud press releases, a signature campaign that did not exceed 50 names and a lecture. Only one or two parties showed that they really cared about the issues.

On the other hand, the inability of the parties to put pressure on the authorities regarding the details of the end solution to the Palestinian issue reflects their weakness in the street. On that, Qubailat said, “The relationship between state and society, the government and the people, in Jordan, no matter how complicated, does not lead to a dangerous political movement but only complicates the relationship between the centers of power in the state. ... Also, some active currents in Jordan are an extension of the centers of power, and that has greatly facilitated [the government’s] ability to control and steer the popular movement to a large degree.”

Qubailat's comment is reminiscent of the wave of political activism witnessed by Jordan between 2006 and 2010, when there was a conflict between the centers of power.

But Diab recalled the popular demands of the Popular Unity Party, such as the refusal to raise prices, the issue of the teachers’ and other issues that a pro-opposition mass. But he stressed that left-wing parties have become like right-wing parties regarding policies, in addition to their low effectiveness in the street.

Reaching safety

Opposition parties in Jordan are in a sorry state. Yet to not sound completely hopeless, let's see how they can be saved. That could be accomplished by agreeing on national fundamentals, despite different ideologies, to benefit the country. This would ensure the success of an inclusive political framework for the opposition despite differences on foreign issues.

Gharaibeh said: “We live a transitional phase. And no party can cross it by itself, regardless its popular support. We must cross it together by creating a formula that everyone feels they belong to.” He stressed that reconciliation must precede elections, citing the experiences of Poland and Spain, and how their factions’ leadership led to the political transition. They agreed on the form of the state and the political system before going to the polls, and “we didn’t do that yet in Jordan, and the Arabs didn’t learn it either.”

Gharaibeh added: “That was reflected in the Muslim Brotherhood’s experience in Egypt. They wanted to seize power without caring about reaching a national consensus on the political system in Egypt.”

Gharaibeh, who hails from the Islamic movement and is familiar with the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder Imam Hassan al-Banna, sees that having an Islamic party runs counter to the founder’s ideas. He quoted Banna by saying, “You are not a political party nor an association with limited purposes. You are a new spirit in the nation.”

Gharaibeh said: “In other words, you are not a part of the umma that seeks to control the state. The triumph of the individual in the Muslim Brotherhood is when he triumphs in the arena of consciousness,” stressing that whoever turns the Brotherhood’s thought into a partisan thought has betrayed that thought. He said that partisan work is important but without making Islam a line of confrontation between Islamists and other groups in society.

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