Amman, Jordan – The arrest last week of Zaki Bani Irshid, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, could signal a “tougher stance” by the Jordanian government towards the group, analysts say.
Local authorities arrested Bani Irshid late on Thursday, November 20, as he exited the Muslim Brotherhood’s Amman headquarters, where he was attending an executive council meeting. He was charged with violating the country’s newly amended anti-terror law and “jeopardising Jordan’s relations with neighbouring countries”.
The arrest stemmed from a Facebook post critical of the UAE’s decision to label the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist” group, in which Bani Irshid accused the UAE of playing the role of “a police officer for US interests in the region” and of serving “Zionist agendas”.
The Muslim Brotherhood swiftly condemned Bani Irshid’s “police-state style arrest”, telling Al Jazeera it “contradicts the Jordanian constitutional right of freedom of expression”.
“They are trying to weaken the Islamist movement by succumbing to pressure placed by Arab countries,” Murad Adaylah, deputy head of the Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Jordan, told Al Jazeera.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders say Jordan’s allies have been pressuring Amman to follow the examples of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and ban the group as a “terrorist organisation”.
Adaylah said that over the past two months, Jordanian authorities have arrested 20 members of the group. Most of the detainees had participated in a rally organised by the group in solidarity with Gaza in August; some were charged with possessing weapons and explosives.
Jordanian officials could not be reached for comment on the matter.
Former government spokesperson Samih Maaitah dismissed as “inaccurate” claims that Bani Irshid’s arrest came due to pressure from neighbouring states.
There is increasing fear across the region from the growth of Islamist movements in general, to which Jordan is not immune.
“The government is not changing its policy in dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Maaitah told Al Jazeera. “What Bani Irshid posted is not criticism or political speech, but rather a series of insults and accusations aimed at the United Arab Emirates.”
Banning the Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest opposition group, is “not one of the state’s priorities”, Maaitah added.
But analysts say the recent arrests could signal a “tougher stance” by the Jordanian government towards the Muslim Brotherhood, warning that Amman could go as far as banning the movement as a “terrorist” group. Commentator Fahed al-Kheetan described the wave of arrests as an “alarming shift” in Jordan’s policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The government seems to be wrapping up their case to provide evidence of terrorist activity,” Kheetan told Al Jazeera. “This could open the way for Jordan to ban the MB as a terrorist group.”
Hasan Abu Hanieh, an Amman-based analyst and specialist in Islamist movements, told Al Jazeera the arrests suggest that Jordan is struggling to strike a “middle ground” in its approach to the Muslim Brotherhood amid pressure from regional allies to ban the group.
“There is increasing fear across the region from the growth of Islamist movements in general, to which Jordan is not immune,” Abu Hanieh told Al Jazeera. “But the group has proven historically that it is no threat to the regime in Jordan. It is very unlikely that Jordan will change its position, but will instead keep its relationship frozen; not completely banning it but also not integrating it politically.”
Columnist Rakan Saaidah said Jordanian decision-makers would be reluctant to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains the strongest opposition group and “the most influential actor in mobilising the Jordanian people”.