US embassy cable - 97AMMAN5383

THE ISLAMIC ACTION FRONT: SOMETIMES A PLATFORM IS MORE TROUBLE THAN IT'S WORTH

Identifier: 97AMMAN5383
Wikileaks: View 97AMMAN5383 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Amman
Created: 1997-06-05 13:40:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: KISL PGOV PINR PTER JO
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 051340Z JUN 97
FM AMEMBASSY AMMAN
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2498
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 AMMAN 005383 
 
PARIS FOR LEAF 
LONDON FOR TUELLER 
SANAA FOR STANLEY 
 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:  6/05/02 
TAGS: KISL, PGOV, PINR, PTER, JO 
SUBJECT: THE ISLAMIC ACTION FRONT: SOMETIMES A PLATFORM IS MORE 
TROUBLE THAN IT'S WORTH 
 
1.  CLASSIFIED BY POLITICAL COUNSELOR ROBERTA NEWELL FOR REASON 
1.5 (D). 
 
2.  (U)  SUMMARY:  A COMMON REFRAIN AMONG OBSERVERS OF JORDAN'S 
ISLAMIC ACTION FRONT (IAF) IS CONDEMNATION OF THE INFURIATINGLY 
VAGUE NATURE OF THE PARTY'S POLITICAL PLATFORM.  AN OPPONENT OF 
THE PEACE PROCESS AND A VOCAL CRITIC OF MYRIAD GOJ INITIATIVES, 
THE IAF OFFERS JORDAN'S VOTERS AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE USUAL PARADE 
OF GOVERNMENT YES-MEN.  THE PARTY'S VISION FOR JORDAN'S FUTURE AS 
AN ISLAMIC STATE IS, HOWEVER, BLURRY AT BEST.  THE IAF'S REFUSAL 
TO DELINEATE ITS OSTENSIBLE RAISON D'ETRE BEYOND A HIGH-MINDED 
CALL FOR "ISLAM" AS THE BASIS OF POLITICAL AND SOCIAL 
ORGANIZATION CAN BE SEEN AS PART OF A PRAGMATIC STRATEGY FOR 
SELF-PRESERVATION.  AS JORDAN'S ONLY "ISLAMIC" PARTY, THE IAF 
STEERS A COURSE DESIGNED TO PLEASE ITS MEMBERSHIP, ITS POLITICAL 
CONSTITUENCY, AND THE GOJ.  END SUMMARY. 
 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
WHAT DO THEY STAND FOR? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING (SAY IT AGAIN) 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 
 
3.  (C)  THE GOJ, IN ITS MORE DEFENSIVE MOMENTS, HAS BEEN KNOWN 
TO CHASTISE THE COUNTRY'S OPPOSITION, AND THE ISLAMIC ACTION 
FRONT (IAF) IN PARTICULAR, FOR ITS ALMOST PURELY REACTIVE STANCE 
ON POLICY ISSUES.  SIMILAR GRUMBLINGS ABOUT THE IAF'S NOTORIOUSLY 
DIAPHANOUS PLATFORM CAN BE HEARD AMONG THE GENERAL PUBLIC, WHO 
WONDER, FOUR YEARS AFTER THE IAF'S OFFICIAL REGISTRATION, JUST 
WHAT IT IS THE PARTY HOPES TO ACCOMPLISH.  THE QUESTION HAS EVEN, 
OF LATE, RESONATED WITHIN THE PARTY ITSELF, CULMINATING IN RUMORS 
LAST JANUARY OF A SPLIT BETWEEN SO-CALLED "DOVES" AND "HAWKS" 
OVER WHETHER THE PARTY SHOULD CONSIDER JOINING THE GOVERNMENT. 
THE "DOVES," LED BY PARLIAMENTARY DEPUTIES ABDULLAH AKAILEH AND 
BASSAM EMOUSH, ARGUED THAT IT WAS TIME FOR THE IAF TO REFOCUS ITS 
ENERGIES ON ADDRESSING THE COUNTRY'S DOMESTIC ILLS.  EVEN THOSE 
SYMPATHETIC TO THE IAF'S STATED AIMS HAVE EXPRESSED FRUSTRATION 
WITH ITS DITHERING.  THEEB ABDULLAH, AN ISLAMIST MP WHO WAS A 
MEMBER OF THE IAF'S PARLIAMENTARY BLOC BETWEEN 1994 AND 1996, 
TRACED HIS SPLIT WITH THE PARTY TO THE IAF'S FAILURE TO GO BEYOND 
THE SLOGAN "ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION" AND "ACTUALLY HELP PEOPLE." 
THE TENDENCY ACROSS THE BOARD HAS BEEN TO TAKE THE IAF'S FAILURE 
TO AGREE ON A DETAILED PLATFORM AS EVIDENCE OF ITS FUNDAMENTAL 
WEAKNESS AS A POLITICAL PARTY.  IN REALITY, THE PLATFORM'S VERY 
VAGUENESS HAS BEEN PART OF A PRAGMATIC AND POLITICALLY SAVVY 
DECISION BY THE IAF TO DEFER UNNECESSARY AND POTENTIALLY DIVISIVE 
DEBATES TO THE DISTANT FUTURE. 
 
------------------------------------ 
THE PLATFORM (YES, THEY DO HAVE ONE) 
------------------------------------ 
 
4.  (U)  THE ISLAMIC ACTION FRONT'S PARTY PLATFORM WAS FORMULATED 
IN 1993, WHEN THE PARTY WAS FIRST REGISTERED, AND HAS NOT BEEN 
UPDATED SINCE.  MORE AKIN TO A CHARTER, THE PLATFORM SETS OUT 
BROAD GUIDELINES FOR THE PARTY'S ORIENTATION AND LEAVES THE 
SPECIFICS TO SOME AS YET UNREACHED FUTURE DATE.  THE MOST 
IMPORTANT GOAL FOR THE IAF IS "THE RESUMPTION OF ISLAMIC LIFE AND 
THE APPLICATION OF SHARIA LAW IN ALL FIELDS."  SECOND IS 
OPPOSITION TO THE PEACE PROCESS; A KEY OBJECTIVE FOR THE PARTY IS 
"THE PREPARATION OF THE NATION FOR ARMED CONFLICT AGAINST THE 
ZIONIST AND IMPERIALIST ENEMIES," AND "NON-RECOGNITION OF THE 
USURPER JEWISH ENTITY."  THE PLATFORM CALLS FOR THE ACHIEVEMENT 
OF LIBERTY AND DEMOCRACY THROUGH SHURA (CONSULTATION) AND THE 
PROTECTION OF FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION.  IT ADVOCATES ESTABLISHING 
AN ECONOMY BASED ON ISLAMIC PRINCIPLES, "WHICH ENSURES SOCIAL 
EQUALITY, PROTECTING INDIVIDUAL PROPERTY, PROVIDING EQUAL 
OPPORTUNITIES, AND COMBATTING CORRUPTION AND UNEMPLOYMENT."  THE 
PLATFORM ALSO SETS OUT "MEANS AND METHODS" FOR ACHIEVING THESE 
OBJECTIVES.  THESE ARE PRIMARILY THROUGH THE DISSEMINATION OF 
INFORMATION, STUDIES, AND PARTICIPATION IN PARLIAMENT. 
 
5.  (U)  IN THE FOUR YEARS SINCE THE PLATFORM'S PROMULGATION THE 
PARTY HAS, TO A CERTAIN EXTENT, REFINED ITS POSITIONS ON A NUMBER 
OF ISSUES, PRIMARILY IN THE FORM OF COMMUNIQUES TO THE GENERAL 
PUBLIC.  IN THESE STATEMENTS THE IAF HAS BEEN ALMOST ENTIRELY 
REACTIVE, RESPONDING TO GOJ DECISIONS OR WORLD EVENTS AS THEY 
ARISE, WITHIN AN ANTI-ISRAELI, ANTI-WESTERN AND ANTI-GOJ 
FRAMEWORK.  IN THE PAST YEAR ALONE THE IAF HAS ISSUED STATEMENTS 
OPPOSING THE RULE OF THE TALEBAN REGIME IN AFGHANISTAN FOR ITS 
"UNISLAMIC" CHARACTER, EXPRESSING SUPPORT FOR THE GOVERNMENT IN 
SUDAN, CONDEMNING U.S. TREATMENT OF MUSA ABU MARZOUK, OPPOSING 
GOJ POLICY ON PUBLIC FREEDOMS, AND CALLING FOR THE ABROGATION OF 
THE JORDAN-ISRAEL PEACE TREATY.  NOTABLY, THERE HAVE BEEN 
REMARKABLY FEW COMMUNIQUES DETAILING THE IAF'S VISION OF AN 
"ISLAMIC" JORDAN, ITS OSTENSIBLE RAISON D'ETRE. 
 
6.  (C)  IN A MAY 15 MEETING WITH POLOFF, THE ISLAMIC ACTION 
FRONT'S MODERATE SECRETARY GENERAL, ISHAQ FARHAN (PROTECT), 
ELABORATED (SEEMINGLY RELUCTANTLY) ON THE ISLAMIST MOVEMENT'S 
PLANS FOR AN ISLAMIST-GOVERNED JORDAN.  FARHAN SPOKE IN VAGUE 
TERMS ABOUT ISLAM SETTING "GUIDELINES" FOR APPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR, 
UNTIL PRESSED WITH SPECIFIC QUESTIONS.  POLOFF ASKED ABOUT THE 
IAF'S INTERPRETATION OF CERTAIN ASPECTS OF ISLAMIC LAW.  WOULD 
HANDS BE CUT OFF IN CASES OF THEFT?  FARHAN WOULD NOT RULE IT OUT 
ENTIRELY, COMPARING IT TO THE DEATH PENALTY AS APPROPRIATE FOR 
REPEAT OFFENDERS GUILTY OF "TERRIBLE CRIMES."  HE DISMISSED 
EXECUTION AS A PUNISHMENT FOR APOSTASY, SAYING THAT INDIVIDUALS 
ARE FREE TO CHANGE THEIR RELIGION.  THE DEATH PENALTY IS ONLY 
JUSTIFIED, HE SAID, IN CASES WHERE CONVERTS "ATTACK ISLAM" AND 
TRY TO WOO MUSLIMS AWAY FROM THE FAITH.  FARHAN CONCEDED THAT 
JORDAN IS "FAIRLY ISLAMIC," AND THAT THE IAF AGREES FOR THE MOST 
PART WITH POLICIES AS THEY ARE TODAY.  THE NOTABLE EXCEPTIONS ARE 
ALCOHOL AND MONETARY INTEREST.  THE IAF HAS REPEATEDLY PROPOSED 
BANNING ALCOHOL.  MUSLIMS, SAID FARHAN, SHOULD NOT BE ABLE TO 
BUY, SELL, OR PRODUCE ALCOHOL.  CHRISTIANS WOULD STILL BE ABLE TO 
BUY AND CONSUME ALCOHOL.  BANKS, HE WENT ON, SHOULD NOT BE 
ALLOWED TO CHARGE INTEREST ON LOANS.  FARHAN ALSO EXPRESSED THE 
HOPE THAT AT SOME TIME IN THE DISTANT FUTURE THERE WOULD EXIST A 
"UNITED STATES OF ARABIA."  THE MUSING TONE OF FARHAN'S RESPONSES 
DURING THE MEETING LEFT POLOFF WITH THE IMPRESSION THAT THE 
SECRETARY GENERAL WAS NOT SPEAKING FOR HIS PARTY AS A WHOLE, BUT 
WAS IN FACT EXTRAPOLATING FROM HIS OWN BELIEFS AND VIEWPOINTS (IN 
SOME CASES APPARENTLY FOR THE FIRST TIME) AS TO THE APPROPRIATE 
INTERPRETATION OF ISLAMIC LAW FOR JORDAN. 
 
--------------------------------------- 
LACK OF SPECIFICITY IS THE KEY TO UNITY 
--------------------------------------- 
 
7.  (C)  THE IAF'S FAILURE TO COME TO GRIPS WITH THE OVERRIDING 
ISSUE OF HOW TO INTERPRET ISLAMIC LAW STEMS IN LARGE PART FROM 
THE SURPRISINGLY WIDE VARIETY OF BELIEF AND PRACTICE AMONG ITS 
MEMBERS.  (PARTY OFFICIALS NUMBER IAF MEMBERSHIP IN THE 
"THOUSANDS.")   MEMBERS TAKE ALL SHAPES: IBRAHIM GHARAIBEH, A 
THIRTY-SOMETHING MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD MEMBER, IS CLEAN-SHAVEN AND 
SHAKES HANDS WITH WOMEN.  NAWAL FAOURI, A MEMBER OF THE IAF'S 
SHURA COUNCIL, IS THE HEADMISTRESS OF THREE SCHOOLS, AND 
CONSIDERS POLITICAL ACTIVISM A "RESPONSIBILITY" FOR WOMEN.  ABDUL 
MUNEM ABU ZANT, A PARLIAMENTARIAN KNOWN FOR HIS FIERY RHETORIC, 
ADVOCATES THE WEARING OF HEADSCARVES BY GIRLS AS YOUNG AS EIGHT 
YEARS OLD AND, ACCORDING TO A CANADIAN EMBASSY SECURITY SOURCE 
(PROTECT), HAS BEEN REFUSED ENTRY TO CANADA FOR HIS HAMAS 
FUNDRAISING ACTIVITIES THERE.  EACH OF THESE INDIVIDUALS BELIEVES 
THAT FOR JORDAN, "ISLAM IS THE SOLUTION."  HOWEVER, EACH ONE ALSO 
HAS A UNIQUE CONCEPTION OF WHAT ISLAM REQUIRES OF ITS BELIEVERS 
AND OF THE MOST APPROPRIATE WAY FOR ISLAM TO BE IMPLEMENTED. 
GHARAIBEH, ECHOING THE PARTY LINE, HAS CALLED THIS DIVERGENCE IN 
OPINION "A SOURCE OF STRENGTH" FOR THE PARTY, BECAUSE IT ALLOWS 
FOR OPEN DEBATE AND DISCUSSION OF ISSUES.  THE IAF LEADERSHIP 
APPARENTLY ALSO VIEWS IT AS A POTENTIAL SOURCE OF WEAKNESS, AS 
FINAL DECISIONS, OR EVEN DISCUSSION, ON DIVISIVE ISSUES SUCH AS 
THE APPROPRIATE ROLE FOR WOMEN COULD CONCEIVABLY UNRAVEL THE 
PARTY'S DELICATE WEB OF LINKS AMONG ISLAMISTS OF ALL STRIPES.  TO 
AVOID SUCH AN EVENTUALITY THE PARTY HAS STUCK ASSIDUOUSLY TO 
GENERAL TOPICS: OPPOSITION TO PEACE WITH ISRAEL, PAN-ARAB UNITY, 
AND PROMOTION OF PUBLIC FREEDOMS. 
 
----------------------------------- 
THE VOTERS: A COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS 
----------------------------------- 
 
8.  (U)  THE PARTY HAS ALSO CLEARLY COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT 
IN ATTRACTING SUPPORT (AND VOTES) AMONG THE POPULACE, SPECIFICS 
ARE MORE OF A LIABILITY THAN AN ADVANTAGE.  THE COUNTRY'S 
ISLAMISTS CONTINUE TO BE SUBJECTED TO PUBLIC RIDICULE FOR THE 
MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD'S HANDLING OF THE EDUCATION, SOCIAL 
DEVELOPMENT AND AWQAF PORTFOLIOS IN THE GOVERNMENT OF PRIME 
MINISTER MUDAR BADRAN IN 1990.  PUBLIC OPPOSITION TO MINISTER OF 
EDUCATION ABDULLAH AKAILEH'S PROPOSAL TO BAN FATHERS FROM THE 
BASKETBALL GAMES OF THEIR SCHOOLGIRL DAUGHTERS IN ORDER TO 
PROTECT THE MODESTY OF THE OTHER PLAYERS HAS TAUGHT THE IAF THAT 
WHILE JORDANIANS ARE BY AND LARGE SOCIALLY CONSERVATIVE, THEIR 
BRAND OF RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE IS TEMPERED WITH A HEALTHY DOSE OF 
COMMON SENSE.  INSTEAD, THE PARTY PREFERS TO TRADE ON ITS 
STRENGTH AS JORDAN'S ONLY PARTY PURPORTING TO REPRESENT ISLAM. 
FOR NOW THE IAF CONTINUES TO GARNER SUPPORT FROM THE MANY 
JORDANIANS WHO BELIEVE THAT AN "ISLAMIC" PARTY MUST NECESSARILY 
BE BETTER (MORE HONEST, MORE MORAL, MORE IN LINE WITH GOD'S WILL) 
THAN NON-ISLAMIC PARTIES, AND GIVE LITTLE THOUGHT TO THE DETAILS. 
THERE IS SOME EVIDENCE, HOWEVER, THAT THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THIS 
STRATEGY IS BEGINNING TO WANE.  FOUR YEARS AFTER THE PARTY'S 
FOUNDING, MANY SUCH SUPPORTERS ARE BEGINNING TO QUESTION WHETHER 
THE IAF IS, IN FACT, DIFFERENT FROM THE REST AND WILL EVER BE 
EFFECTIVE IN BRINGING ABOUT SOCIAL CHANGE.  THESE GRUMBLINGS HAVE 
LED SOME OBSERVERS TO BELIEVE THAT POPULAR SUPPORT FOR THE IAF IS 
ACTUALLY DIMINISHING.  FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE, HOWEVER, THE IAF 
SEEMS TO HAVE DETERMINED THAT ITS COMPARATIVE ADVANTAGE IN POLICY 
TERMS LIES WITH INACTION.  THE PARTY MAY HAVE TO RETHINK ITS 
STRATEGY IF, AS IS POSSIBLE, THE IAF SEES A REDUCTION IN ITS 
PARLIAMENTARY REPRESENTATION AFTER THE NOVEMBER ELECTIONS. 
 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
JORDAN'S NASCENT DEMOCRACY: NOT READY FOR THE DETAILS 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
 
9.  (C)  THE LIMITED NATURE OF JORDAN'S DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT 
ALSO PUTS A CONSIDERABLE DAMPER ON ANY ATTEMPTS BY IAF MEMBERS TO 
BRING THEIR PARTY'S AIMS MORE CLEARLY INTO FOCUS.  THE VAGARIES 
OF THE CURRENT ELECTORAL LAW, WHICH IS WEIGHTED IN FAVOR OF PRO- 
GOVERNMENT, TRIBAL CANDIDATES, AND THE CONCENTRATION OF POWER IN 
THE EXECUTIVE GIVE THE IAF LITTLE INCENTIVE TO GO OUT ON A LIMB 
IN ITS POLICY PRONOUNCEMENTS.  WITH NO CHANCE OF GAINING POWER, 
THERE IS SIMPLY NO NEED.  MOREOVER, BY AGREEING TO ACT AS A PART 
OF THE COUNTRY'S "LOYAL OPPOSITION" AND OPERATE WITHIN THE 
GUIDELINES OF THE POLITICAL PARTIES LAW, THE IAF HAS LIMITED 
LATITUDE TO ADVOCATE TRULY SIGNIFICANT POLITICAL CHANGE.  THE 
1992 PARTIES LAW REQUIRES THAT ALL PARTIES ABIDE BY THE 
PROVISIONS OF THE CONSTITUTION (WHICH RESERVES VIRTUALLY ALL 
POWERS FOR THE KING) AND WORK TO PRESERE JORDAN'S INDEPENDENCE. 
THE LAW RULES OUT ANY ACKNOWLEDGMENT ON THE PART OF THE IAF THAT 
IT MIGHT SOMEDAY SEEK TO FUNDAMENTALLY REORGANIZE THE COUNTRY'S 
POLITICAL APPARATUS.  FARHAN'S UTOPIAN DREAM OF A "UNITED STATES 
OF ARABIA," NO MATTER HOW IT MIGHT RESONATE AMONG ISLAMISTS (AND 
THAT IS DEBATABLE), WILL NEVER FIND ITS WAY ONTO THE IAF'S 
PLATFORM.  THE PARTY MAY EVEN BE UNDER PRESSURE FROM THE GOJ TO 
AVOID STEPS, SUCH AS ARTICULATING A DETAILED PLATFORM, WHICH 
COULD CAUSE A RUPTURE IN PARTY UNITY.  A PARLIAMENTARY 
CONTACT TOLD POLOFF IN JANUARY OF HIS BELIEF THAT THE GOJ, AND 
SPECIFICALLY THE GENERAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTORATE, PREFERS TO 
KEEP THE IAF WHOLE IN ORDER TO KEEP AN EYE ON THE MORE RADICAL 
ELEMENTS OF THE PARTY'S MEMBERSHIP. 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
10.  (U)  THE IAF'S PRAGMATIC STREAK HAS WIDENED MARKEDLY DURING 
ITS FOUR YEARS OF POLITICAL PARTICIPATION, AND ITS PLATFORM (OR 
LACK THEREOF) IS JUST ONE EXAMPLE OF HOW THE PARTY HAS LEARNED TO 
"WORK THE SYSTEM" TO ITS ADVANTAGE.  AS LONG AS THE STATUS QUO IN 
TERMS OF DEMOCRATIC PROGRESS REMAINS IN PLACE, THE IAF WILL 
CONTINUE TO AVOID SAPPING ITS STRENGTH THROUGH A COSTLY INTERNAL 
DEBATE ON INTERPRETATION OF SHARIA LAW OR THE MECHANICS OF 
"ISLAMIC ECONOMICS."  SHOULD JORDAN CONTINUE TO PROGRESS ALONG 
THE PATH TO DEMOCRACY, HOWEVER, THE PARTY WILL BE FORCED TO COME 
TO TERMS WITH THE WIDE IDEOLOGICAL SPECTRUM CURRENTLY REPRESENTED 
WITHIN IT.  IN A WORST-CASE SCENARIO FOR THE PARTY, THE MOVEMENT 
WOULD BREAK UP INTO A NUMBER OF SMALLER PARTIES WITH OVERLAPPING 
BUT COMPETING VISIONS FOR AN ISLAMIC GOVERNMENT FOR JORDAN.  THIS 
IS CURRENTLY THE SITUATION FOR JORDAN'S LEFTIST PARTIES, WHICH 
ARE DISPROPORTIONATELY WEAK DUE TO THEIR INABILITY TO OVERCOME 
INTERNECINE SQUABBLES.  WHAT IS MORE LIKELY, GIVEN THE PARTY'S 
INCREASINGLY PRAGMATIC MODUS OPERANDI, IS THAT MEMBERS ON BOTH 
EDGES MAY DRIFT OFF, BUT THE CENTER WILL HOLD AS THE IAF ADOPTS A 
PLATFORM DESIGNED TO APPEAL TO JORDAN'S CONSERVATIVE, BUT 
SENSIBLE, MAJORITY. 
 
 
EGAN 

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