The failure of Western observers to correctly assess the so-called “Arab Spring” has come in part from the Western preoccupation with the nation-state model. The view in the West is that the Tunisian revolution took place principally due to factors affecting the Tunisians, and the Egyptian revolution due to factors affecting the Egyptians, the Syrian revolt due to factors affecting the Syrians, and so on. This view is not shared by the Islamist factions who in every case have established themselves as the beneficiaries of what is, in fact, a single revolution. Despite the desire by many, particularly in the Western media and among the policy elite, to dissect the triumphant force of Islamism into a complicated mixture of “Al-Qaeda”, “Al-Qaeda-linked”, “Salafists” (purportedly not Al-Qaeda-linked), “Muslim Brotherhood (each allegedly characterized by their national party organizations)”, and “Non-Muslim Brotherhood moderate Islamists” (such as Tunisia’s Ennahada party), the reality is that all of these allegedly “disparate “organizations march to the beat of the same ideological drum. They analyze the correlation of forces and interpret world events in precisely the same manner, guided by the same overarching belief system, on the basis of Sharia law.
Even to the extent they debate among themselves, they do so only within the confines of their shared system. They may debate which strategic “milestone” – taken from the late Muslim Brotherhood thinker Sayyid Qutb’s seminal work “Milestones” – they have reached in their effort, but it is a shared effort.
An example of this cooperation can be seen in the call by the Egyptian President and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi for the release of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya leader Omar Abdel Rahman. Rahman, also known as the “Blind Sheikh, is a native of Egypt who moved to the U.S. and was imprisoned there for his leadership in an Al Qaeda-linked bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. At the same time the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was approaching the Obama Administration about Rahman’s release, in post-Gaddafi Libya a new Al-Qaeda linked group, named the “Imprisoned Omar Abdel Rahman Brigades”, was making a name for itself among the Islamist militias in that nation. On 9/11/12, in Libya, this group’s fighters may have participated in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic building in Benghazi that killed our Ambassador and three others. Almost simultaneously, on 9/11/12, in Egypt, protestors stormed the American Embassy and raised the black flag of Jihad popularized by Al Qaeda during a protest, not over an alleged movie, but in support of freeing the “Blind Sheikh.”
Where we see the Muslim Brotherhood activity aligning with Al Qaeda-linked activity, we can be sure that the target of their attentions represents a genuine strategic goal for the forces of Islamism. Using this method, we can predict that the state next targeted for Islamist takeover is Jordan.
In recent months, King Abdullah of Jordan has faced an increasingly intransigent opposition, led by the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, the Islamic Action Front (I.A.F.). Abdullah’s response has been wish-washy at best, alternating between attempts a crackdown, such as proposed legal changes which would ban the Brotherhood party, to efforts at appeasement. This has been combined with an increasing unwillingness among the King’s traditional power base, the Jordanian tribes, to go along with his policies.
For example, there was the decision by the Obeidat tribe to disown one of its own members and instead stand with the I.A.F. against the King’s decision to appoint Walid Obeidat as envoy to Israel. Jordan’s relationship with its Jewish neighbor, with whom it has been at peace since 1994, has come under great pressure recently by Islamist forces. Muslim Brotherhood leader Yusuf Al-Qaradawi has issued a fatwa against any Muslim traveling to Jerusalem while it remains in Israeli hands, specifically stating that it is forbidden because it “normalizes relations” with Israel. This is clearly a snub of Jordanian policy. He also made a statement targeting Jordanian stewardship of the Al-Aqsa mosque. Such declarations, while seemingly insignificant, begin to build the juridical case under sharia for opposing the Jordanian monarchy, and carry significant weight when issued by the spiritual leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood.
This increased Islamist pressure sets the backdrop for an increase in violent jihad activity in Jordan as well. This has primarily been described as “spillover” from the raging Syrian civil war. In the most recent Al Qaeda plot to be thwarted, 11 Jordanians were arrested for planning to attack multiple targets throughout the country. Most reporting focused on their proposed strikes against the U.S. Embassy and shopping malls. But the strike was designed, according to the Washington Post’s sources to “destabilize Jordan’s pro-Western government with massive blows against government institutions and tourism-dependent economy.”
And contrary to the expectations of those who claimed the Al Qaeda attack would act as a “gift” to King Abdullah, permitting a security crackdown on Islamist militants, Abdullah actually caved to the Islamists. The King responded by releasing six Al Qaeda terrorists, including the man responsible for assassinating a U.S. official. Presumably, Abdullah is unsure that a “mailed fist” policy would be supported by his Western allies, based on the example of President Obama’s 2011 abandonment of Hosni Mubarak.
If we accept that Jordan is indeed the next target on the Islamist chopping block, it is worth asking why, and who’s next?
Jordan makes an excellent subsequent target for several reasons. One, of course, is its location next to Syria, which is the current primary target of the Islamists. Additionally, if the Islamists control both Syria and Jordan they will have successfully surrounded one of their principle enemies (Israel), and they will have successfully toppled both of the Arab governments who maintain peace treaties with the Jewish State (the other government being Egypt, which is now Muslim Brotherhood-controlled).
Most importantly, Islamist control over Jordan can serve as a gateway into the Gulf States and specifically to the real prize, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the only Arab Muslim state with the financial wherewithal to finance the growing Islamist revolution. Egypt, home of the Muslim Brotherhood and their first successful conquest, is bankrupt, and few of the other countries that have fallen (or might be expected to fall) are able to pick up the financial slack. Only the Saudi Kingdom can.
Jordan remains just on the edge of The Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.). It has been proposed for membership in the economic and security union led by the Saudis, but not yet formally inducted. Indeed the purpose of the proposed membership is, in part, the effort to enhance security, particularly against revolt, a role the GCC is taking increasingly serious in the past two years.
Gulf States Kuwait and United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) are also under pressure, with Kuwait banning protests (without success), and the U.A.E arresting and stripping citizenship from Islamist activists. Both of those states might have some expectation of security assistance from the Saudi-led economic and security union, the Gulf Cooperation Council (G.C.C.), if open revolts seem likely to topple their monarchies. This would be comparable to the Saudi-led intervention in the Gulf State of Bahrain. Speaking before a delegation of Saudi security officers and G.C.C. officials on the occasion of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, Saudi King Abdullah warned:
We are surrounded by seditions which can only be deterred by depending on Allah Almighty and standing in the face of whoever contemplate tampering with the security, unity and sovereignty of our country. Therefore, we should shoulder our responsibility.
Sedition is surrounding us from all sides, there is nothing to protect us from this except to stand firm, with total reliance on Allah, against anyone who contemplates tampering with the security, unity and sovereignty of our country.
The repeated references to “sedition” make clear Saudi King Abdullah is focused here on the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies, and not on the threat posed by the Shiite Iran. That he addressed this to both his own security forces and to representatives of the G.C.C. suggests that the G.C.C .will be the primary vehicle for the Saudi’s efforts to restrain the growing revolutionary Islamic fervor. This makes Jordan an increasingly attractive target by the Brotherhood (and Al Qaeda), since it would allow them to “pick off” a future G.C.C .member, and raise the specter of Saudi inability to respond effectively. In turn, this would jeopardize the sense of security the G.C.C. alliance may provide to its other smaller members, and put additional pressure on Kuwait, the U.A.E., and ultimately, Saudi Arabia itself.
All eyes should be on Jordan. Will it prove the high water mark of the Islamist so-called Arab Spring, or will it be the beginning of the end for the traditional Sunni monarchies?
Time will tell.
Kyle Shideler is the Director of Research and Communications for the Endowment For Middle East Truth (EMETonline.org)