Jordanian Islamists, the State, Society and the perspective of “Cultural Hegemony”

The recently published book, “Islamists in Jordan: Religion, State, and Society” (to be published soon by the Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung in Amman) deals with the developments and transformations of the Jordanian Islamists in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, although it is, as the authors say a revisit to the field of political Islam in Jordan, however, goes beyond the traditional division of Islamists in general, to single out a special chapter and specialized analysis in the methodology, concepts, and theoretical framework related to how to approach political Islam, and reconsiders the process of formulating questions, research agenda, and hypotheses that prevailed through a large percentage of studies specialized in political Islam and Islamists, not only in Jordan, but in the Arab world in general.

The authors of the book, the author of these lines, and researchers Hassan Abu Haniyeh and Abdullah Al-Ta’ie, deal with the main Islamic movements and groups (the Muslim Brotherhood, traditional Salafists and jihadists, Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, post-political Islam parties), but this time through new concepts and theoretical frameworks, moving from questions which previously focused on ideological dimensions (such as the position on democracy and the political process), or criteria of moderation, extremism, radicalism, reform, or the relationship with political regimes, which are necessarily important aspects in understanding these movements and groups. However, they only represent a part of other equally important issues, if not added on, especially with regard to the social and cultural roles and missions of Islamic movements.

From here, it was clear that the authors of the book borrowed multiple methodological keys from Gramsci, Foucault, and Bourdieu, as they introduced the tools of cultural hegemony, the war of positions and the organic intellectual (far from the class system), the relationship of society to power with the discourse of Foucault, and the symbolic, cultural and social capital of Bourdieu, which is what was reflected in the first chapter of the book devoted to discussing many fundamental questions in the concept and method in the field of “political Islam”.

The concept of political Islam was dismantled, as well as the discussion and controversy surrounding it, and the various ideological and intellectual schools on it, were then discussed. Many theories and hypotheses prevailed in the field of Islamist studies, such as the approach to the relationship between semi-authoritarian politics and Islamic ideology, or the approach of moderation, inclusion, exclusion and extremism, and a review of the used approaches. In the social sciences, such as Talcott Parsons, social functionalism, institutional perspective…etc.

Through the foregoing, the methodological shift took place in reviewing the field of Islamists and re-reading them in light of the post-Arab Spring transformations. Some important paradoxes appeared in the context of the concept of “cultural hegemony”, although the Muslim Brotherhood was subjected to the largest process of splits in its political and organizational history. In Jordan, in the post-Arab Spring stage, when important, effective and influential leaders emerged from its womb, and hundreds of young leaders emerged, and two main parties were established (the National Coalition and the Partnership and the Salvation Army, which were dealt with in detail in the book), and the group was legally banned, and a new association was established under the name of the Brotherhood Muslims, tt wanted to withdraw the legal and political rug from the parent group, despite this, the phenomenon of defections had a great impact in liberating hundreds of personalities to work in the public sphere outside the traditional hierarchical method of the group, and thus creating a non-Brotherhood pluralism in the public sphere, whether through merging into new parties ( After political Islam) or through civil society and its various forces, or through the private sector, signs of influence appeared on the public space, for this religious current or what the young researcher at the Institute of Politics and Society in Amman, Muhammad Assaf, used the term “Brotherhood’s brother”, without a direct clash with the political power on the basis of the historical bipolar conflict between the two parties, the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, this shifted the conflict from confining it to the political sphere and predetermined rules of the game to the concept of cultural hegemony in social and cultural circles.

Cultural hegemony goes beyond the problem of the relationship between the group and the state, which was confined to a large proportion of studies of political Islam, as it deals with many aspects related to the relationship of religion to society and the state, and here we find that the hidden competition is greater; Multiple parties enter into it, and differ within the framework of the structure of the internal conflict, to take on a different character between the religious and the secular, as appeared, for example, in the Child Law, when secular groups, personalities and forces in civil society lined up to support the draft law, while the religious current, the Brotherhood, Salafis and post-political Islam in some of its colors, and the non-public support of the official religious establishment against the draft law, lined up on the basis of the religious-secular identity of society .

In the question of cultural hegemony, the book leads us to another arena of conflict and competition, which is between the traditional Salafist movement, which was favored by the state, and religious policies that began to distance themselves from this current and adopt (unofficially) the Ash’ari – Sufi – sectarian line, and the writers clash ( It includes meetings and focus groups with Salafis) with the Salafist realization of these transformations and how to deal with them, and the emergence of a new phenomenon among the Salafist movement, which is represented in the intensive transition towards the virtual world, as a kind of compensation for the loss of the traditional spaces for the activity of this movement and its roles, and an investment in the great role that the virtual world is now playing in the field of cultural and political influence in Jordan. In his discourse and dissertations, he used advanced modern technology to deliver his message!

Not even the jihadist current was spared from the struggle over the legitimacy of representation and identity, which had split after ISIS into two directions: the traditional, whose representative in Jordan is Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, and the ISIS, which includes the majority of the new jihadi youth generation, then a third current emerged today with the other fission of al-Qaeda , and the establishment of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, and the departure of the Guardians of Religion Organization in Syria from it, a movement that some of its circles refer to as “moderate jihadism,” and a Jordanian Abu Qatada al-Filistini approaches this line.

The divisions extend to the Islamic Liberation Party, as severe disagreements occurred between its leaders, especially in Jordan and Palestine. The book deals with the party’s interaction with the events of the Arab Spring, its role in Syria, and the defections within it and their causes.

Going back to the beginning, the important methodological approaches, according to the book, to understand the dynamics of Islamists in Jordan, are represented in the analysis of Jordanian policies and their determinants, at the heart of which lies the concept of geopolitics, the Israeli factor, security and political considerations, and the impact of foreign policies in delineating internal equations, therefore, the study and analysis of the relationship between the state and Islamists, or the political behavior of Islamists, is not linked to legislation, the constitution and laws, which are “structured” according to policies, and not the other way around. Whether we talk about policies of employment – targeting, containment – exclusion, there is a near zero-sum game between the state and any major political force that rises, whether Islamic or non-Islamic, that represents a challenge to the regime, not necessarily standing against its policies, but rather on the level of escalating political leaderships and owning a base. Popularity enables it to set rules or impose certain political rules.

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