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Muslim Brotherhood: 'Jordan needs protests to push political reform’

Published time: January 23, 2013 04:40

Protesters from the Islamic Action Front and other opposition parties hold signs read "Boycotting" during a protest in Amman January 18, 2013. (Reuters / Majed Jaber)

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Jordan is holding a general election on Wednesday as the Jordanian monarchy is set to devolve some powers to the newly elected parliament. This is regarded as a move towards a constitutional monarchy. Since last year, the country has been undergoing gradual reforms to loosen the ruling king’s grip.

On the eve of the poll, Islamist- dominated protests were held in Jordan’s capital of Amman with people calling against “cosmetic” elections and for the long-ruling King Abdullah to relinquish his powers altogether.

Mass protests slowly gripped the Middle Eastern country after King Abdullah pledged in 2011 that the government would in the future be elected rather than appointed, but failed to give a date. Facing public pressure, the king offered a raft of reforms according to which for the first time ever, the Prime Minister will be chosen as a result of the vote.

But Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Rsheid tells Rusiya Al-Yaum that the government reforms brought only minor changes and haven’t influenced the political situation in Jordan, nor have they brought power to the people.

The Muslim Brotherhood and four smaller parties, including communists and Arab nationalists are boycotting the elections in an effort to bring democratic change to Jordan. A balanced parliament is unlikely to come out of the elections whereas election boycott and street protests can bring changes to the regime, says Rsheid.

“We need to establish new governing mechanisms that would empower the people to participate in political decision making,” he says.

The Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader adds that the political parties in the elections are limited and there are no illusions that the new Assembly will differ. They depend on support from the West , which can lead to “an explosive scenario, andpresent national leaders will be entirely responsible for this”.

RT’s full interview with Zaki Bani Rsheid is posted below.

Screenshot from YouTube user majdjmi2010
Screenshot from YouTube user majdjmi2010

RT: Why have you chosen to boycott the election?

Zaki Bani Rsheid: The question we are asking in Jordan these days is, why would anyone choose to be part of this farce that passes for parliamentary election in our country? By its very rules and procedures, this election cannot be taken seriously. It does not represent the will of the people.

This rings especially true if you look at the two previous parliaments, which were dissolved due to their inability to carry out the parliament’s constitutional functions of law-making and oversight. We believe the new parliament will fare no better than the previous two. That is why we are boycotting the election and encouraging others to do the same. We think that those who participate in this election are wasting their political drive to no end. We share objectives with them, or rather, they share our opinion that the existing electoral legislation is good for nothing, that it does not ensure popular representation or assert the will of the people. But we have a difference in opinion on how to deal with this situation. In just a few days, we will witness the harm that Jordan will suffer as a result of this election. In our understanding, boycotting this election is the best way of serving our country’s national interests and pursuing an electoral reform. We arrived at this conclusion based on the past experiences, which had repeated themselves more than once in our country. We have realized that running in this election would bring us next to nothing, whereas an electoral boycott and street protests would be a much more efficient way of pushing for political reforms.

RT: Your opponents in Jordan are criticizing the Muslim Brotherhood for avoiding responsibility.

ZBR: That is not true, we are ready to assume responsibility. In fact, we had proposed a partnership-based model for decision making, and partnership requires national consent. But the regime has turned its back on the Muslim Brotherhood and other national political groups, which have resorted to boycotting the election. Actually, there are seven or more parties in Jordan who are engaged in the boycott, and they include opposition groups as well as parties that are not opposed to the government. Jordan’s popular movement is made up of many different groups. The public in our country is highly skeptical about participating in this election. Decision makers who are willing to assume responsibility must uphold the Constitution and the democratic principles, which state that authority and responsibility should be inseparable. The House of Representatives should be fully empowered in accordance with the Constitution, which defines the Jordanian state as a “parliamentary hereditary monarchy,” where “the people are the source of power.” But under the present system, the people are not the source of power, and the regime cannot be described as parliamentary. The House of Representatives is deprived of authority for carrying out its constitutional functions, and elections are often rigged. Law making resides not only with the House Representatives, but also with the Senate, whose members are appointed by the King. They have nothing to do with the will of the people. In reality, law making initiative rests with the government, which exercises executive powers. It is the government that tables bills and forwards them to the House of Representatives for adoption. From there on, draft laws are submitted to the Senate, which is appointed by a monarch and is therefore partially incapable. After that, it is up to the King to make a final decision. Thus, the House of Representatives has been effectively stripped of its role as a legislature.

RT: Does this mean that you refuse to acknowledge the reforms proposed by the King, and the constitutional amendments currently contemplated by a specially established commission? Do you consider them superficial and doomed to failure?

ZBR: For all the talk of amending laws and reforming the Constitution, we are offered but minor changes, which will have no impact on the political system at large. It would be wrong to say the reforms have brought about a democratic change in Jordan. And what we need is a true democratic transition, for the people to reclaim the power that they have been deprived of for decades. We live under a paternalist regime imposed on the people by a political elite and its secret service. The people must free themselves of paternalist rule and take back the power.

It is time for fundamental change; the time of the Arab Spring, and everyone should realize that the old ways of governance can serve no longer. We need to establish new governing mechanisms that would empower the people to participate in political decision making. We know from experience that a regime that practices authoritarian decision making assumes absolute power and breeds rampant corruption. Today’s Jordan is a nation ridden with debt and grappling with a chronic budget deficit – and we cannot even prosecute our corrupt officials! This has come to be because there is no way for the people to have a say, and no genuine political will on the part of the government to pursue real reforms. Admittedly, they are taking some action, but it is not enough. What we need is a genuine systemic reform.

RT: Some believe that you serve the interests of some external players, whether deliberately or unintentionally, helping them destabilize the country, so that the government of Jordan would be forced to seek patronage from its powerful allies. How much truth is there in such an allegation?

ZBR: Was there ever a time when the Jordanian regime did not depend on the West to sustain its legitimacy? Since its very inception, it has relied on Western support, primarily that from the United States. If the government should continue with its present policies, it may end up driving the country toward an explosive scenario, and our present national leaders will be entirely responsible for this.

The Islamic movement provides constructive opposition to the government, arguing in favor of reforming the regime. This is a purpose we share with most patriotic opposition groups in Jordan. We also share an understanding that our street action must be peaceful and civilized. But if the regime should go on turning its back on us and ignoring our demands, the situation may explode. We have already witnessed great masses of people take to the streets last October to demand a regime change in response to surging prices.

So if it should come to unrest and violence, it will be no fault of the responsible opposition, but the result of the government’s policy of ignoring the people’s legitimate demands for a reform.

RT: What if the newly elected National Assembly were to have a strong share of representatives who side with the Muslim Brotherhood – would that enhance your standing as the most influential political party in Jordan?

ZBR: We are quite clear about the likely composition of the House, so we entertain no illusions in this regard. Political parties that run in this election are limited in what they can do, and all the influential politicians of nationwide repute have quit the race back at the nomination stage. Therefore, there is no reason to believe the new Assembly will make a serious change. We expect them to play by the old rules and act within the existing framework. You cannot expect hornets to make honey, you need bees for that. And the future parliament is exactly a nest of hornets, and I don’t think it will prove capable of delivering on its tasks.

RT: Opinion polls show that people are not that reluctant to vote in this election, after all.

ZBR: Public surveys tell us that the election will have a meager turnout; the people will shun polling stations as much as possible. All the reliable polls prove there is a popular boycott of the election going on. Back in 2010, only two parties refused to participate in the election. This time, a great share of the public, including popular parties and youth groups, will join the boycott.

This relates to the public sentiment as regards the previous parliaments, which were notoriously ridden with corruption. It deserves a mention that a relevant authority in Jordan has launched an investigation into an attempted embezzlement of 370 million dinar ($500 mln) by people close to the crown. But that is just a tiny bit compared to the actual extent of crime.

RT: Some say the Muslim Brotherhood has grown overly confident following its victories in Egypt and Tunisia. Meanwhile, your role in Syria is evident. Do you have any plans for assuming full dominance in those countries?

ZBR: There is a distinct difference between having a sense of superiority and having faith in the people. Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood established itself well before the start of the Arab Spring, and our claim to having a say in policy making goes back beyond this regional uprising. We initially introduced our reform plan back in 2005, way before the Arab Spring. As for the sense of superiority, what kind of attitude would you expect, considering that the moderate reform movement has proved a failure? And as far as our alleged plans for global dominance are concerned, the Muslim Brotherhood is a truly popular reformist movement with an agenda that aims for improving the quality of life for the people within the framework of a modern civilization. Any political party that pursues a lesser goal confines itself to being a mere charity, and deprives itself of its very reason for existence. We do not aspire to assume power; our one principal demand is that the will of the people should be paramount. We have come to power in Egypt and Tunisia without staging a coup or riding on the tail of a U.S. invasion. We won by a popular vote, through transparent democratic elections that were watched closely by the entire international community.

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