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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04AMMAN8402
2004-10-07 15:05:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Amman
Cable title:  

TENSIONS APPARANT ON HANDLING OPPOSITION

Tags:   PREL  JO 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 AMMAN 008402 

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/07/2009
TAGS: PREL JO
SUBJECT: TENSIONS APPARANT ON HANDLING OPPOSITION

REF: AMMAN 7619

Classified By: CHARGE' D'AFFAIRES DAVID HALE, REASONS 1.4 (B) & (D)



1. (C) Summary. Interior Minister Habashneh, taking his cue
from the King, has continued to apply pressure on the Muslim
Brotherhood, with a series of arrests of activist preachers
and threats to prosecute certain MPs. Each step he takes
seems to be reversed the following day by PM Fayez, who
continues to advocate dialogue and compromise with the
Islamist opposition. The debate over handling the opposition
is beginning to take East Bank/West Bank colorings, as East
Bankers accuse the opposition of pursuing &foreign8, i.e.
Palestinian agendas. Palestinians rebut that the East
Bankers, paranoid about the long-term consequences of a
stalled peace process, are embarked on a campaign of pressure
and discrimination. End Summary.



2. (C) Recent weeks have seen intensified interaction
between the government and the Islamist opposition, as
Interior Minister Habashneh pursues the King,s command to
ensure that only the &proper8 message of Islam is spread
from pulpits. In order to dampen vitriolic anti-western,
radical sermons, large numbers of unlicensed Muslim
Brotherhood (MB) preachers were arrested. The MB has fought
back rhetorically, confirming an intent to obey the law while
critiquing the government,s heavy handed tactics and
launching a counteroffensive attacking longstanding,
restrictive GOJ policy on granting nationality to certain
categories of Palestinians (reftel).



3. (C) Contrary trends within the cabinet on handling the
opposition are apparent, however. With each hard swing from
the Interior Minister, the Prime Minister a day later extends
the olive branch, insisting on releases of detainees, the
dropping of charges, and enhanced dialogue. Such regime
stalwarts as Senate President Zeid al-Rifai told Charge that
this does not represent a &good cop, bad cop8 strategy, but
genuine division within the cabinet. No stranger to
iron-fist tactics himself, Rifai lamented that the PM neither
understands the potential danger of dissension posed by the
Islamist elements, nor has the stomach to preside over tough
actions by others in his government. Without leadership from
the PM, the MB and their parliamentary wing, the Islamic
Action Front (IAF) would continue to fan extremism and hamper
the government in parliament. Rifai noted that over 60 MPs
) the core of the King,s men in the Lower House -- were
meeting with Fayez on October 7 to try to stiffen him to keep
the pressure on the MB. As we have heard from the King,s
advisors, Rifai predicted that Fayez, tenure over a
reshuffled cabinet would be short-lived if he does not
succeed in taming both the MB and their secular twins in
opposition, the highly politicized, radical professional
associations. MP Mohammad Arsalan (East Banker, Zarqa -
first district) told PolOff October 7 that a majority of MPs
were growing increasingly alarmed by IAF aggressiveness. He
and some of his colleagues were in the process of drafting a
letter to PM Fayez - which he expected up to 70 MPs to sign -
urging him to take a harder line against the Islamists.
(Note: The IAF holds 17 seats, and can count on an additional
three independent members. The lower house consists of 110
members.)



4. (C) Another former PM, and hardcore East Banker,
expressed a similar analysis to Charge. Fayez Tarawneh
anticipated more arrests of extremist preachers, and believed
popular opinion was supportive (he took pride in having the
radical sermonizer in his smart, West Amman mosque sacked for
talking politics, not religion, from the pulpit). Tarawneh
saw a HAMAS agenda behind the efforts of the
Palestinian-origin activists in the MB/IAF, who he claimed
used the moderate, East Bank leadership of the MB as a front.
He suggested that Fayez was entering into his reshuffled
government on shaky ground with the King and the traditional
East Bank constituencies who see his conciliatory manner
toward the opposition as a sign of weakness.



5. (C) Putting aside certain personality quirks, Fayez faces
a genuine dilemma: he has been handed simultaneously a
reformist agenda and a command to crack down on an opposition
element that is adept at advancing its cause by playing by
the rules. Persistent, public differences with his own
Interior Minister also indicate that Fayez is not in charge
of all elements of his cabinet, as Habashneh is almost
certainly coordinating with the GID, where the sentiments
expressed by Tarawneh and Rifai would be seen if anything as
too soft.



6. (C) This chapter is also a demonstration of how
Palestinian issues continue to bedevil Jordanian politics.
Violence in the West Bank and Gaza, and the absence of
visible diplomatic progress, flavors this debate.
Palestinian activists here seek to use the few existing
channels for political organization ) the MB and the
professional associations ) to exploit popular unhappiness.
East Bankers see in diplomatic paralysis a diminishing hope
of a two-state solution ) and by extension, fear that old
issues of Jordan,s national identity and relationship with
the West Bank could be revived to their detriment. However
misplaced such fears may be to western ears, they are an
element in current agitation over the MB and its
&Palestinian8 agenda.
HALE