U.S. Democracy Promotion Policy in the Middle East: The Islamist Dilemma
CRS Report for Congress
U.S. Democracy Promotion Policy
in the Middle East:
The Islamist Dilemma
June 15, 2006
Jeremy M. Sharp
Middle East Policy Analyst
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
U.S. Democracy Promotion Policy in the Middle East:
The Islamist Dilemma
This report assesses U.S. policy toward Islamist organizations in the Arab
world, specifically those groups that have renounced violence and terrorism. The
report analyzes U.S. government attitudes toward Islamist movements and
investigates how U.S. democracy promotion policy is applied in three Arab countries
with a significant Islamist presence in the political sphere: Morocco, Egypt, and
Jordan. It may be updated periodically to include new case studies of Islamist
movements in Algeria, Yemen, Kuwait, Bahrain, or areas outside the Arab world.
The Bush Administration has made the promotion of democracy in the Middle
East a national security priority, stating that greater political freedom can undercut
the forces of Islamic radicalism and indoctrination. As U.S. democracy promotion
policies have moved forward, policy makers have confronted a significant dilemma:
how to respond to challenges posed by political Islamist movements (i.e. parties and
political organizations that promote social and political reform in accordance with
Islamic religious principles that may lead them to oppose U.S. foreign policy).
In response to this dilemma, some observers have questioned whether the
United States should exert pressure on Arab governments to open their political
systems and respect human rights with the knowledge that such steps, if successful,
may benefit Islamist groups. Representing a powerful and popular political force in
the Arab world today, many Islamist political parties and organizations are largely
opposed, at least rhetorically, to key aspects of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle
East, such as support for Israel, the occupation of Iraq, and the large U.S. military
presence in the Persian Gulf. Elections in Iraq, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority
that were supported by the United States have strengthened the political positions of
Islamist organizations, including, in the case of Hamas, armed groups that have
refused to renounce violence.
Non-violent Islamist groups, which have chosen or been permitted to peacefully
participate in politics, present their own challenges to U.S. policy makers. This report
raises the following questions: Are Islamists liberal democrats or fundamentalists?
Should the United States support their participation in democratic politics? Do non-
violent Islamists welcome dialogue with the United States or would such action
discredit them among their followers?
While many continue to speculate over the direction of U.S. democracy
promotion in the Middle East, Congress may use its oversight authority to bring
further clarity to the Administration’s regional strategy, particularly on the issue of
dealing with Islamist groups. Congress also appropriates funds for regional
democratization programs and foreign aid projects and may specify that these funds
be used for certain projects or channeled to certain groups.
Islamism and Identity Politics........................................2
U.S. Government Concern Over Islamist Groups.........................3
U.S. Policy Toward Islamist Organizations: Different Options and Approaches.6
Combating Islamism and Promoting Liberal Alternatives...............6
Engaging Mainstream, Non-Violent Islamists........................7
A Pragmatic Approach?.........................................7
Implementing U.S. Democracy Promotion Policy.........................8
U.S. Democracy Programs ......................................9
Congressional Action to Allow Direct Support to NGOs..........10
The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI)..................10
The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA)....10
Islamist Groups in Selected Arab Countries............................11
Justice and Charity........................................13
U.S. Policy vis-à-vis Morocco...............................14
Role of Congress.........................................18
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood...........................19
Hizb Al Wasat (The Middle or Center Party)...................21
U.S. Policy in Egypt.......................................21
Role of Congress.........................................24
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (The Islamic Action Front)....25
U.S. Policy in Jordan......................................27
Role of Congress.........................................28
U.S. Democracy Promotion Policy in the
Middle East: The Islamist Dilemma
As an ongoing response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and a
justification for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration has made the
promotion of democracy in the Middle East a national security priority, stating that
greater political freedom can undercut the forces of Islamic radicalism and1
indoctrination. However, with ongoing sectarian violence in Iraq and Arab regimes
firmly entrenched in power, this policy has come under increasing scrutiny. Many
have questioned the practicality of this approach and the U.S. ability to accelerate the
forces of modernization and social change across a wide and diverse geographic area.
Yet, despite continuing reservations over U.S. sincerity, depth of commitment, and
consistency on the democratization issue, the enormous attention that Middle Eastth
or Arab democratization has received in the years since the September 11 terrorist
attacks is believed by many skeptics and advocates alike to have reverberated across
the Arab world, for better or for worse, sparking debate, anti-government
demonstrations, and regime-manipulated elections to appease internal and external
demands for democratization.
At the heart of this upheaval lies a long, vexing dilemma for U.S. policy makers:
should the United States exert pressure on Arab governments to open their political
systems and respect human rights with the knowledge that Islamists, the most popular
opposition force in Arab politics, stand to benefit from regional democratization?2
Many observers assert that Islamist political parties and organizations are largely
opposed, at least rhetorically, to key aspects of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle
East, such as support for Israel, the occupation of Iraq, and the large U.S. military
presence in the Persian Gulf. Moreover, some suggest that with the ascent of Shiite
1 Since the Administration set out to promote democracy in the Middle East, some critics
assert that the United States focuses too heavily on holding elections rather than on the
structural underpinnings commonly found in liberal democracies across the world. In a
recent statement on her interpretation of democracy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
remarked that “Elections are the beginning of every democracy, but of course they are not
the end. Effective institutions are essential to the success of all liberal democracies. And
by institutions I mean pluralistic parties, transparent and accountable legislatures,
independent judiciaries, free press, active civil society, market economies and, of course,
a monopoly for the state on the means of violence.” U.S. Department of State, “Secretary
Rice’s Remarks on Democracy at BBC Today-Chatham House Lecture,” March 31, 2006.
2 The term “Islamist” refers to individuals and movements that want the prevailing political
and social order in their countries or societies be based upon their interpretation of Islamic
Muslim parties in Iraq and fundamentalist Hamas in Palestinian Authority elections,
the United States, by encouraging free and fair elections across the region, may have
inadvertently strengthened Islamist opposition movements, particularly militant ones.
This dilemma becomes even more problematic when turning to the possible
participation of non-violent Islamist groups that have chosen or been permitted to
participate peacefully in politics. Many of these groups exist in what some experts
call a “gray zone,” in which their participation in politics is permitted but limited.
Since these so-called “moderate” Islamist groups have renounced violence and
terrorism, it would seem logical that U.S. efforts to promote Arab democracy would
include seeking more rights for all legitimate actors, including these Islamists.
However, circumstances differ across the Arab world, and democracy promotion in
the Middle East is a complex issue with many outstanding questions, particularly
when examining Islamism. This report examines how U.S. democracy promotion
efforts interact with the political realities on the ground in three Arab countries
(Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan) and raises the following questions: Who are the
Islamists? Are such groups legitimate democratic actors or militant fundamentalists
in disguise? To what extent are Islamists opposed to U.S. Middle East policy? Should
the United States engage with non-violent Islamist groups, either gradually or
immediately? Would such engagement isolate key Arab regimes whose cooperation
is vital to waging the war on terrorism and securing other U.S. national security
goals? Do non-violent Islamist groups even welcome or accept dialogue with the
United States or would such action discredit them among their followers? Should
these non-violent Islamist movements be embraced, cautiously accepted, or
circumvented? Are U.S. democratization efforts designed to foster alternatives to
Islamism and Identity Politics
At the heart of the democratization issue in the Middle East is the question of
national identity. In many countries, questions about the role of Islam in political life,
rights for ethnic and religious minorities, and the role of women remain unresolved.
With secular Arab nationalism having been largely discredited in the wake of
successive Arab defeats at the hand of Israel in 1967 and 1973, Islamism and ethnic
politics have largely stepped in to fill an identity vacuum in the Arab world.
Today, a number of competing and overlapping identities vie for primacy in the
Middle East. “Moderate Islamists” seek to balance the need for political and social
reform with the desire to create a society governed by the general principles of
Islamic law (Sharia). Other, more radical Islamists may use elections as a tool to
come to power in order to create more rigid Islamic rule. Non-Islamist reformers
draw support from both secular intellectuals and minority religious/ethnic
communities, who have traditionally been relegated to second-class status. Secular
intellectuals, members of some minority groups, and women’s rights advocates are
frequently accused of collaborating with foreigners because their vision of democracy
may closely resemble the liberal democracies of Western Europe and the United
States. Ruling elites in the military and private sector, who often have manipulated
the state system to obtain a minimum of popular support, have created their own
“national identities” to reinforce their rule. Some regimes have created secular
republics dominated by one ruling party and the military. Other ruling families have
based their legitimacy on their common ancestry from the prophet Muhammad.
Many analysts consider Islamism to be the most popular of the identification
models in the Arab world. According to scholar Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Islamic
activism is rooted in the symbolism, language, and cultural history of Muslim society
and as a result has successfully resonated with increasingly disillusioned populations
suffering from political exclusion, economic deprivation, and a sense of growing
impotence at the expense of outside powers and a faceless process of globalization.”3
Asserting that “Islam is the solution” (a common Islamist slogan) to the socio-
economic problems posed by modernity and Western consumer culture, Islamists,
both radical and non-violent groups, have sought to construct their own institutions
in society, ranging from political organizations to health clinics and schools. Through
their extensive social welfare networks, Islamists have created alternative state
structures that serve to reinforce their appeal among the lower and middle classes.
There are many examples across the Middle East of legal or semi-legal Islamist
organizations that have been granted either full or limited participation in the political
system. Some of these groups have renounced violence and peacefully oppose their
respective governments. Some regimes have allowed their participation, in part
because Islamist parties may act to bolster the strength of the one-party state or royal
family. For example, when facing economic recession and large-scale public unrest,
Arab governments sometimes have granted Islamist organizations more leeway in
conducting opposition activities in order to relieve the political system of public
pressure. Thus, non-violent Islamist groups have existed in an ambiguous position.
On the one hand, regimes may exaggerate the threat Islamists pose to state stability
and therefore maintain that these groups are illegal. On the other hand, they may
permit Islamists to conduct limited opposition activity if such activity ultimately
benefits the regime. Arab dissidents have long maintained that some secular
authoritarian regimes offer Islamists limited participation in politics to prevent
secular opposition groups or leaders from challenging the ruling party.
U.S. Government Concern Over Islamist Groups
In previous Administrations, when regional democratization was not seen as a
U.S. national security priority and Islamist extremism was not seen as a significant
threat, the Islamist dilemma was largely an academic question rather than an
immediate policy concern. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the U.S. government
has increasingly believed that, should Islamist groups come to power, they would
pursue a more confrontational approach in their foreign policy toward the United
States and that key U.S. strategic interests would suffer, including access to oil
reserves, military cooperation, and the security of Israel, among others. To the extent
that the United States pushed for regional reform, the focus was largely on economic
reform and trade liberalization; concern over the lack of democratization and human
3 Wiktorowicz, Quintan, Islamic Activism, A Social Movement Theory Approach,
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004, p. 25.
rights was secondary. Arab regimes largely focused on the symbolic rather than the
substantive elements of democratic change in order to diffuse occasional
international attention to their lack of political freedom. Many governments continue
to employ this strategy by manipulating elections, keeping parliamentary systems
weak, and allowing only a token opposition to operate openly and legally.
The entry of the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezballah movements into
the formal political process also has fueled U.S. suspicions of Islamist movements.
As U.S.-designated terrorist organizations and combatants in the Arab-Israeli
conflict, Hamas and Hezballah have maintained armed militias and refused to
renounce terrorism or violence as means of achieving their political goals. Though
both groups participate in their respective political systems, they are infamous for
maintaining armed/terrorist wings that threaten Israel.4 Some experts argue that non-
violent Islamist groups that renounce violence as a tactic in their own countries but
support its use in the Palestinian-Israeli context should not be considered non-violent.
In addition, analysts have long observed how some Arab regimes have played
on Western fears of political Islamism by attempting to paint all Islamist
organizations as radical, thereby positioning themselves as the only moderate
alternative likely to support U.S. objectives. Some Arab governments, such as Egypt,
Syria, and Algeria, have a history of violent confrontation with Islamic extremists
who have assassinated government officials and launched costly insurgencies against
security forces. In some ways, Arab governments have been engaged in their own
“war on terror” for many years, and the experience has made them reluctant to
recognize non-revolutionary Islamist groups. Many Arab human rights advocates
have asserted that regimes have harnessed the fear of fundamentalist-inspired
terrorism and instability in order to justify continued one-party rule and relieve
external pressure for political reform.
4 State Department-designated Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups, such as Hamas and
Hezballah, have played a major role in fostering an extreme distrust of all Islamist groups
in the eyes of many U.S. officials and lawmakers. Though Hamas and Hezballah members
hold government leadership positions and claim that these activities are separate from what
they describe as “legitimate resistance” to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Lebanese
lands, the groups’suicide bombing operations and rocket attacks against civilian targets have
made it difficult for the United States to consider them as anything but terrorist
organizations. Moreover, some supporters of Israel fear that any Western recognition of
Islamist organizations anywhere in the Middle East would lead governments down a
slippery slope and would ultimately strengthen the positions of Hamas and Hezballah, who
seek international legitimacy for their respective political roles in the West Bank/Gaza and
Lebanon. See U.S. State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism and Patters of Global
Terrorism 2005. Available at [http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/65472.pdf].
U.S. Policy Toward Islamist Organizations:
Different Options and Approaches
Bush Administration officials rejected the argument that authoritarian Arab
regimes are the bulwark against Islamic radicalism in the aftermath of the September
11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The idea that a democratic Middle East would be less
vulnerable to the forces of extremism contributed in part to the U.S. invasion of Iraq,
and, in the months following the active combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom,
the President put forth his “Forward Strategy of Freedom in the Middle East,”
“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of
freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long
run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the
Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a
place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export. And with the
spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and to our5
friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.”
With the United States committed, at least rhetorically, to changing “the status
quo” of authoritarian governance in the broader Middle East, many have speculated
about what political outcomes would be preferable for U.S. policy makers should
genuine political reform take hold in the Middle East. Within the U.S. foreign policy
establishment, there has been an ongoing, vigorous debate over the issue of engaging
Islamist groups, some of which have renounced the use of violence and entered into
Combating Islamism and Promoting Liberal Alternatives
Some believe that all Islamists, whether they espouse peaceful or violent means
to achieve power, are suspect. Dr. Martin Kramer, a Middle East expert at the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argues that all Islamists are
fundamentalists who are inherently anti-democratic and anti-Western. In his essay,
“Islam vs. Democracy,” Kramer writes that
Democracy, diversity, accommodation — the fundamentalists have repudiated
them all. In appealing to the masses who fill their mosques, they promise,
instead, to institute a regime of Islamic law, make common cause with
like-minded “brethren” everywhere, and struggle against the hegemony of the
West and the existence of Israel. Fundamentalists have held to these principles
through long periods of oppression, and will not abandon them now, at the6
moment of their greatest popular resonance.
5 “President Bush Discusses Freedom in Iraq and Middle East,” Remarks by the President
at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, Office of the White
House Press Secretary, November 6, 2003.
6 Martin Kramer, “Islam vs. Democracy,” Commentary, January 1993, pp. 35-42.
Other experts have echoed such beliefs, asserting that the idea of non-violent
Islamism is a myth, since even non-violent Islamists routinely fail to condemn
terrorist acts committed by their more radical counterparts. According to Daniel
Pipes, director of the Philadelphia-based think tank the Middle East Forum,
facilitating the immediate political participation of Islamists is tantamount to
“helping the enemy.”7
Others believe that Islamists would set back regional democratization by
restricting the rights of women and religious minorities and that their ascension to
power would be detrimental for U.S. policy in the region. In order to counter Islamist
influence, some have suggested that the United States, if it is going to promote
regional democracy, should aggressively work to strengthen the rule of law,
separation of powers, civil society, and alternative, preferably secular, movements.
There also continues to be strong sentiment among some foreign policy experts and
Arab government officials that the United States should refrain from pushing for
political liberalization and allow market forces and globalization to gradually build
educated middle classes who can push for change indigenously.
Engaging Mainstream, Non-Violent Islamists
Some scholars assert that the United States should, at the very least, lessen its
traditional suspicions of non-violent Islamist groups and not oppose their integration
into political systems. Many Middle East experts have asserted that if Islamists were
able to exercise real political power, considerations of realpolitik would moderate
their behavior and consequently improve their relations with Western governments.8
Some point to more or less cordial U.S. relations with Turkey, whose government is
led by a conservative or center-right Islamist party, although Islamism in Turkey is
counter-balanced by Turkey’s long tradition of secularism and constitutional
provisions supporting secularism. In addition, some counter-terrorism experts have
long suggested that the recognition and integration of non-violent Islamist groups
into politics would provide a positive outlet for Muslim activists and lessen the allure
of more radical groups.
A Pragmatic Approach?
With U.S. democracy promotion policy toward Islamists left somewhat vague,
perhaps even deliberately so, there are many foreign policy practitioners in the U.S.
State Department who believe that, at the moment, the United States is taking a
pragmatic approach toward Middle East democratization. Some officials assert that
U.S. policy is flexible and applied to specific circumstances on a country-by-country
7 “Should the United States Support Islamists?” Program Brief, Nixon Center, October 24,
8 According to University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami, “Skepticism about the
real aims of these groups [Islamists] should be balanced by openness to the possibility that
their aims once they are in power could differ from their aims as opposition groups. This
requires partial engagement, patience, and a willingness to allow such new governments
space and time to put their goals to the test of reality.” See “In the MidEast, the Third Way
is a Myth,” Washington Post, February 17, 2006.
and case-by-case basis, since political conditions and the orientation and legal status
of Islamist movements in one country may be markedly different from another.
According to one scholar, moderate Islamist parties are mistakenly treated as
monolithic entities, when instead, groups “differ among themselves on the question
of how much of the historical Sharia (Islamic law) — that is, the corpus of traditional
Islamic legal rulings inherited from the past — can and should be revised.”9 Some
suggest that the U.S. government, because it is constrained by its strategic
relationships with authoritarian regimes, may only be capable of selective
engagement with some non-violent Islamist groups. In this viewpoint, such an
approach, though it would be far less ambitious than the grand rhetoric outlined by
the Administration and would leave the U.S. government open to accusations of
promoting reform inconsistently, could serve U.S. interests by promoting reform
where it is possible without disrupting relations with other key Arab partners.
Implementing U.S. Democracy Promotion Policy
Though many have criticized U.S. democracy promotion efforts both inside and
outside the Arab world, there has been widespread recognition that President Bush
and his Administration have made the pursuit of regional reform a high-profile issue
and have provided additional resources for its implementation. The United States
employs a variety of diplomatic tools and policy instruments to promote democracy
in the Middle East. Behind the scenes bilateral diplomacy, in which U.S. officials
engage Arab governments on the reform issue, is considered by many experts to be
one of the most effective ways of promoting democracy.10 Public statements by
Administration officials visiting the region, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice’s July 2005 policy speech on democracy at the American University of Cairo
in Egypt, is another way for U.S. policy makers to keep reform a visible issue in U.S.
dealings with Arab regimes. However, visiting U.S. officials who raise the
democratization issue are often accused in the Arab media of unfairly meddling in
Arab affairs or as patronizing the Arab people. Islamist groups often reiterate such
attacks, seizing on opportunities presented by visiting U.S. delegations speaking on
reform to criticize U.S. policies in the Middle East.
9 “Islamists at the Ballot Box, Findings from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey,” Judy
Barsalou, U.S. Institute for Peace Special Report 144, July 2005.
10 See “In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How,” Council on Foreign Relations
Independent Task Force Report No.54, Madeline K. Albright and Vin Weber Co-Chairs,
U.S. Democracy Programs
Since the September 11,
2001, terrorist attacks, theLeading U.S. Organizations Supporting
United States has significantlyDemocracy in the Middle East
increased funding for
democracy promotion in theNED. The National Endowment for Democracy (NED)
Arab world. Measuring itsis a semi-private, nonprofit organization created in 1983
effectiveness is difficult sinceto strengthen democratic institutions around the world
democracy cannot be quantifiedthrough non-governmental efforts. [http://www.ned.org]
or measured like traditional U.S.NDI. The National Democratic Institute for International
foreign assistance for tangibleAffairs (NDI) is a nonprofit organization funded by NED
projects, such as roadthat works to strengthen and expand democracy
construction, water resourceworldwide. [http://www.ndi.org]
development, and schoolIRI. The International Republican Institute (IRI) is a
improvement. Further,nonprofit, nonpartisan organization funded by NED
proponents of current policy saydedicated to advancing democracy, freedom, self-
that the United States continuesgovernment, and the rule of law worldwide.
to spend far more resources on[http://www.iri.org]
military assistance to the regionMEPI. The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI)
than on reform. While thisis a U.S. State Department program designed to promote
statement is factually correct, itpolitical, economic, and educational development in the
focuses too narrowly on levelsMiddle East. [http://mepi.state.gov]
of spending rather than on theUSAID. The United States Agency for International
substance of U.S. programming.Development (USAID) is an independent federal
Support for indigenousgovernment agency that supports economic and political
reformers does not necessarilydevelopment around the globe. [http://www.usaid.gov]
require large amounts of
financial assistance. Rather, it
must be properly channeled to support reformers without de-legitimizing them in the
process. Providing democracy assistance can be problematic since some regimes
legally restrict foreign assistance to non-governmental organizations.
Through annual foreign operations and State Department appropriations,
Congress currently provides funding for the following reform programs:
!the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a State Department
program designed to encourage reform in Arab countries by
strengthening Arab civil society, encouraging micro-enterprise,
expanding political participation, and promoting women’s rights;11
!the State Department’s Human Rights and Democracy Fund
(HRDF), an account that funds human rights promotion in Muslim-
majority countries; and
!the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Muslim
11 See CRS Report RS21457, The Middle East Partnership Initiative: An Overview, by
Jeremy M. Sharp.
Beyond U.S.-sponsored programs, the Administration proposed and participates in
the “Broader Middle East & North Africa Initiative,” a G8-led development and
reform initiative aimed at fostering economic and political liberalization in Arab and
other Muslim-majority countries.12 USAID also funds a number of democracy and
governance activities through bilateral assistance to Arab recipients such as Morocco,
Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen.
Congressional Action to Allow Direct Support to NGOs. Congress may
also specify how U.S. democracy funds are spent on the ground. Traditionally,
USAID’s Democracy and Governance grants have been awarded to U.S. and
international subcontractors to carry out specific programs, mainly due to certain
Arab governments’ reluctance to allow U.S. support for domestic groups. However,
the FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 108-447) stipulates that U.S.
funds for democracy and governance activities in Egypt are no longer subject to the
prior approval of the Egyptian government. Now, USAID can channel funds toward
non-governmental organizations in Egypt in coordination with an independent board
of Egyptian political activists and experts. Funds for NGOs are awarded
competitively, using an Annual Program Statement (APS) method that describes and
publicly advertises the types of activities USAID is interested in funding and then
invites interested NGOs to submit proposals. There are quarterly meetings to review
new proposals received as a result of the advertisement, and awards are made
throughout the year following those reviews.
The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). Some analysts believe
that MEPI can have a positive impact on the region by promoting democracy and
economic development. In 2004, MEPI began issuing small grants directly to NGOs
in the Middle East in order to support political activists and human rights
organizations. MEPI grants were awarded to some NGOs to help train election
monitors for the 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections in Egypt.13 Critics
charge that MEPI, as a State Department-run program, has little credibility in the
Arab world, as it awards grants to mostly American-run organizations to implement
programs with little long-term impact.14 Some experts have recommended that MEPI
be transformed into a private foundation in order to partly disassociate it from direct
U.S. government control. U.S. officials have rejected this idea, asserting that the
United States needs such policy tools to effect change in the region.
The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA).
BMENA is a multilateral initiative among G-8 countries and regional partners to
promote democracy and reform in the “Broader Middle East.” The main component
of BMENA is the convening of an annual conference designed to promote dialogue
between the reformers and Arab and Western governments. The inaugural “Forum
for the Future” was held in Rabat, Morocco in December 2004. The following year,
12 See CRS Report RS22053, The Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative: An
Overview, by Jeremy M. Sharp.
13 See “Tentative Steps: Democracy Drive by America Meets Reality in Egypt,” Wall Street
Journal, April 11, 2005.
14 “Statement of Amy Hawthorne, Analyst, Middle East Democracy,” Hearing on Political
Change in the Arab World, House International Relations Committee, April 21, 2005.
the forum was held in Manama, Bahrain. A third meeting is tentatively scheduled to
take place in Jordan in late 2006.
At this time, it is unclear what additional resources the international community
will devote to BMENA or how the initiative will be institutionalized beyond its
annual convention. By helping to create BMENA, the Bush Administration has been
credited with raising awareness within the international community for the need for
political and economic reform in Muslim-majority and Arab countries. However,
some analysts believe that BMENA is too broad to promote reform effectively and
doubt that it can evolve into something more than a forum for inter-governmental
Currently, BMENA countries support two funds. The “Foundation for the
Future” is designed to channel financial grants toward non-governmental
organizations in the region to help civil society strengthen the rule of law, to protect
basic civil liberties, and ensure greater opportunity for health and education. The
“Fund for the Future” is designed to help businesses in the region, especially small
and medium-sized enterprises, gain access to the capital they need to create jobs and
economic growth. U.S. contributions to both funds come from MEPI-controlled
accounts and appropriations.
Islamist Groups in Selected Arab Countries
The following section profiles several non-violent Islamist movements in
Morocco, Egypt, and Jordan. This is not a comprehensive assessment of all non-
violent Islamist groups in the Middle East. Indeed, many groups inside and outside
the Arab world would provide additional insights. Groups that have not disarmed
their militias or renounced terrorism are not treated in this study.
Long before the September 11th terrorist attacks, experts focused their attention
on the Moroccan reform process because of its possible implications for
democratization elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. Over the past
decade, Morocco has embarked upon a limited liberalization process that has
witnessed a moderate, non-revolutionary Islamist party, the Parti de Justice et
Développement (Islamist Justice and Development Party or PJD), gain seats in
successive parliamentary elections in 1997 and 2002.16 With a history of stable
monarchical rule in which the King, as “Commander of the Faithful,” derives his
religious authority from his dynasty’s claimed descent from the prophet Muhammad,
Morocco has accepted some Islamist political activity so long as Islamists do not
15 For more information, see CRS Report RS21579, Morocco: Current Issues, by Carol
16 The PJD holds 43 seats in parliament (the third largest party) and could significantly
expand its presence there during the next round of elections in 2007.
challenge the king’s authority.17 The PJD has accepted such a bargain, and the
relationship between it and the palace, though at times confrontational, has overall
been mutually beneficial. Moroccan authorities have sought to avoid the kind of
bloody confrontation with Islamists that plagued neighboring Algeria throughout the
1990s, but concern remains over the proliferation of Jihadist terrorist groups, like Al
Qaeda, that seek to recruit Moroccans at home and abroad. Thus, Morocco has
chosen a path of inclusion rather than exclusion in order to lure Islamists away from
militancy and toward more legitimate means of political participation. There also
may be an economic reason to allow Islamists into the political system. Morocco,
which lacks natural resources like oil and depends on foreign aid and trade with the
West, has an economic incentive to maintain its momentum on the reform front,
particularly given the recent focus by Morocco’s key trading partners in Europe and
the United States on democracy and human rights promotion.
The PJD is not the only Islamist group in Morocco. A second group, known in
Arabic as Al-Adl wal-Ihsan or Justice and Charity (JCO), is only legally recognized
as a charity. The JCO rejects the legitimacy of the Moroccan monarchy. Though no
reliable data on the popularity of either group are available, there seems to be a
consensus among Morocco experts that the JCO has a wider national base of
grassroots support, though the PJD is very active in urban areas.
The PJD. Like many Islamist groups across the globe, it is difficult to discern18
what the PJD’s true goals and objectives are over the long term. Some believe that,
although the party has agreed to work within the current system, it remains
committed to establishing an Islamic state in Morocco with Islamic law, or Sharia,
as the basis for legislation. Others see the PJD’s principles as deliberately ambiguous,
with its leadership desiring to strike a balance between continuing its opposition to
government corruption and nepotism while possibly participating in future
government coalitions, perhaps after the 2007 parliamentary election. Reportedly, the
PJD covets the Social Affairs and Education ministerial portfolios, where it could
pursue an Islamist agenda.
Due to its participation in the Moroccan political system, some have called the
PJD the “Islamists of the palace,” though observers note that the PJD’s aggressive
campaigning among lower- and middle-class Moroccans has made the group more
popular than many of Morocco’s older and more established parties.19 Nevertheless,
the aspirations of the PJD remain limited, as it has consistently sided with the
monarchy, even on issues that would appear to contravene a conservative
interpretation of Islamic law, such as their acceptance of King Muhammad’s 2004
groundbreaking revision of the family code (Mudawana), which, among other things,
raised the legal age for marriage for women from 15 to18 and allowed women to
divorce with a judge’s approval. The PJD argued that because the family code
17 Experts also note that Islam commonly practiced in Morocco is traditionally less dogmatic
and more tolerant than the more austere and rigid interpretations in places like Saudi Arabia.
18 The PJD’s party website is located at [http://www.pjd.ma/sommaire_en.php3].
19 Observers have noted that political parties in Morocco are extremely weak and generally
ineffective. Under such circumstances, the PJD stands apart as a real party actively seeking
revision was democratically enacted, its members should accept it, since the party is
committed to both democratic and Islamic principles.20 According to PJD Vice-
Secretary Abdelah Baha, “Islam and democracy can go together as global principles
... our party bases its objectives on religious principles, and then adapts them to
political ends. We’re like the American evangelicals.”21 Some critics in Morocco
believe that the PJD has failed to articulate original policies, other than general
pledges to fight corruption and unemployment. Others are encouraged by the PJD’s
campaign to bring more transparency to Moroccan politics. One recent report noted
that the PJD publishes the attendance record of all members at parliamentary sessions
in order to highlight chronic absenteeism found in other parties.22 The PJD’s party
leaders require PJD parliamentarians to attend all legislative sessions and to be more
productive than members from other parties.
Justice and Charity. Though the PJD and Justice and Charity are
ideologically similar, the latter group has had a far more contentious relationship with
the Moroccan government due to its outright rejection of the monarchy. Justice and
Charity is led by Shaikh Abdessalem Yassine, a sufi cleric and former employee of
the Education Ministry who spent decades under house arrest and remains under
surveillance. His daughter and JCO spokesperson, 47-year old Nadia Yassine, was
arrested in 2005 after stating in a newspaper interview that Morocco would be better
off as a republic than as a kingdom. Observers suggest that although Nadia Yassine
has made similar remarks on more than one occasion, she may have finally pushed
the government to its limit. According to Morocco’s Minister of Communication, “In
certain countries, you can talk about republican values ... here, we have monarchic23
values, and she is transgressing these values.” The PJD immediately condemned
Yassine’s remarks, saying that she harmed the country’s sacred institutions. In an
uncertain political climate, in which opposition figures like the Yassines have
become emboldened and regimes have grown more wary of political dissent, the
prosecution of Nadia Yassine has drawn widespread international attention. In May
2006, the trial was indefinitely postponed, and Yassine remarked in a press interview
that “I wanted the trial to take place — it’s an important battle for us.... But I could
feel their trepidation. They (the regime) realized the trial was a big mistake.”24
Justice and Charity condemns terrorism and the use of violence for political
means. The government has tolerated its social service activities and campus
activism, though it is reportedly closely monitored and generally treated as a
subversive organization. Moreover, many Moroccans question its political agenda
beyond merely opposing authoritarianism, believing that Justice and Charity would
20 “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring the Grey
Zones,” A Joint Publication of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the
Herbert-Quandt-Stiftung, Number 67, March 2006.
21 “Morocco’s Rising Islamist Challenge, Christian Science Monitor, November 23, 2005.
22 “The U.S., the EU and Middle East Reform: What Can We Learn from Morocco? A
Middle East Program Morocco Trip Report,” Center for Strategic and International Studies
(CSIS), March 2006.
23 “Feud with King Tests Freedoms in Morocco,” Wall Street Journal, February 13, 2006.
24 “An Islamist Feminist Tackles Moroccan Taboos,” Financial Times, June 1, 2006.
limit social freedoms by imposing restrictions on women’s dress and banning
alcohol. Although supporters of Nadia Yassine believe she is an Islamic feminist, she
opposed the 2004 revision of the Moroccan family code, remarking that “it was
signed to please foreigners and the feminist movement in Morocco rather than to
change the real situation of women.”25 She also led demonstrations against an earlier
attempt to revise the code. One recent assessment of the JCO’s political program
stated “The group’s leadership has such faith in the moral and spiritual power of its
movement that it assumes that once Moroccans are sufficiently familiar with the
group, they will support it en masse and will also support the imposition of Islamic
law, or Sharia.”26
In 2005 and 2006, Nadia Yassine made several visits to the United States to
speak on college campuses and promote her new book. Full Sails Ahead.27 During
one lecture at Georgetown University in April 2006, Yassine remarked that she
“swears on the Koran” that should the JCO come to power, the rights of all women
will be respected and no woman would be forced to wear the veil. She also noted that
Yassine also opposes a quota system for women in government or parliament
because she believes that such systems, found in other parts of the Arab world, are
insulting to women.28 However, when asked about her group’s opposition to the
King’s changes to the personal status laws, Yassine was careful not to criticize the
actual reforms and even suggested that her group proposed such changes two decades
ago. Furthermore, Yassine acknowledged that the JCO has no specific economic
agenda and would therefore seek out opinions from all Moroccans.29
U.S. Policy vis-à-vis Morocco. There are multiple dimensions to the U.S.-
Moroccan relationship, with democracy and human rights promotion being one of
several pressing priorities for U.S. policy makers. Morocco has long been considered
a key U.S. partner in North Africa and the Arab world and has assisted U.S. efforts
to promote Middle East peace and counter terrorism in the Sahara. Since theth
September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States has taken a number of concrete
steps to further its relationship with Morocco including increasing military and
economic aid, concluding a free trade agreement, and sponsoring an international
conference in Rabat on reform as part of the Administration’s “Broader Middle East30
and North Africa Initiative.” Morocco is eligible for funding under the Bush
Administration’s new foreign aid initiative, the Millennium Challenge Account. In
25 “Is Change Just Around the Corner?(Morocco),” The Middle East, June 1, 2004.
26 CSIS, March 2006, op.cit.
27 Supporters of Nadia Yassine maintain a website devoted to her writings and the Justice
and Charity organization. Analysts believe that the JCO draws most of its funding from
Moroccan expatriates living in Western Europe and the United States. Yassine’s website is
available online at [http://nadiayassine.net/en/index.htm].
28 Morocco reserves 30 parliamentary seats for women.
29 CRS notes from Nadia Yassine lecture at Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Bin
Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, April 20, 2006.
30 For more information on BMENA, see CRS Report RS22053, The Broader Middle East
and North Africa Initiative: An Overview, by Jeremy M. Sharp.
addition, Morocco has been used as a test case for the Administration’s other new
reform program, the State Department’s Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).
All told, concern that deteriorating socio-economic conditions in Morocco could lead
to increased radicalism has led to a number of new activities and increased U.S.
funding for education, health care, women’s rights, job creation, and structural
readjustment programs, all of which have been welcomed by the Moroccan
To a certain extent, U.S. democracy promotion efforts in Morocco are largely
regime-friendly, as policy makers may be reluctant to disrupt strong U.S.-Moroccan
relations. Nevertheless, the United States has become more involved in Moroccan
domestic politics and has sponsored several programs in which the PJD is an active
participant.31 In fact, U.S. diplomats and PJD party leaders openly acknowledge such
participation, though, according to U.S. officials, there are no special outreach efforts
to work with the PJD or any other Islamist group in Morocco.32 The PJD is simply
treated as one of several organizations whose members attend National Democratic
Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI)-sponsored seminars on
strengthening political parties and enhancing campaign skills. Public opinion polls
conducted by IRI in Morocco have indicated that up to 47% of the Moroccan
electorate were leaning toward supporting the PJD.33
Perhaps as a sign of the PJD’s growing activism and grasp of democratic
politics, several democracy specialists in Morocco noted that PJD members have
seized opportunities for additional training and technical support from a variety of
international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to a far greater extent than
older, more established Moroccan parties. Experts also noted that the PJD initially
rejected participating in U.S. government-sponsored training programs; however,
over time, its opposition abated.34 According to Thomas Carothers, a democracy
specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Morocco’s PJD
clearly has a legitimate role to play in Morocco’s electoral politics. I also think it is
normal for the U.S. government to develop and maintain contacts with a wide variety
of legitimate political actors in a country, including those that may not like some
elements of U.S. foreign policy.”35
U.S. officials in Morocco state that the United States should pursue a policy of
engagement with the PJD rather than ignore it. In May 2006, the U.S. State
31 U.S. dialogue with Islamists in Morocco does not extend to members of the Justice and
Charity organization. Although some speculate that the JCO is actually stronger than the
PJD in terms of its grassroots support, its rejection of the monarchy precludes it from
participating in politics.
32 U.S. Embassy officials in Morocco must constantly respond to Moroccan media and other
accusations that the United States is destabilizing Morocco by maintaining relations with
the PJD. CRS Analyst conversation with U.S. Embassy officials in Rabat, Morocco, April
33 “Morocco Sees the Rise of Acceptable Islamist Party,” Financial Times, May 23, 2006.
34 CRS analyst conversation with U.S. democracy specialists in Morocco, April 24, 2006.
35 “Dealing with Moderate Islam,” Asia Times Online, July 15, 2005.
Department’s International Visitor’s Program sponsored a visit by the PJD’s leader,
50-year old Saad Eddine Othmani. In a sign that the PJD itself may be eager to
expand dialogue with the United States, the party sponsored a March 2006
conference in Morocco entitled, “American Decision Making and its Impact on the
Moroccan-American Relations.” When asked about U.S. democracy promotion
policy in the Middle East, Othmani remarked that “We cannot deny the role of
external factors, but the reforms have not been simply imposed from outside.... The
U.S. administration cannot achieve its goals at our expense, and should seek to build
trust and identify common interests through a cooperative dialogue.”36
U.S. engagement is complicated by internal divisions within Islamist
organizations such as the PJD, in which liberal and conservative factions vie for
influence. The PJD, while outwardly more moderate in its political discourse, has its
hardliners, many of whom are opposed to better relations with the West and may be
more emboldened following the Hamas victory in the January 2006 Palestinian
legislative elections.37 The PJD’s leadership must balance its more progressive
approach to politics with the needs of conservative Islamist party members. When
asked about its relations with the United States and U.S. policy in Iraq, one PJD
leader remarked that, “I’m not in favor of meeting Americans who are on official
missions. They are killing Muslim people.... I am against any relation with them. If
they say they are going to leave Iraq, I don’t have any problem with meeting them.
Our position is very clear. We don’t approve their policy.”38
Thus, the party has occasionally boycotted some U.S. embassy-sponsored
events, particularly during times of regional tension. The PJD has demonstrated
against the U.S. presence in Iraq and has criticized the United States and European
Union for ending all direct support for the Palestinian Authority following the 2006
Hamas victory. Nevertheless, PJD leader Saad Eddine Othmani has been cautious in
his remarks on Hamas, stating in a recent interview that the Hamas victory “was a
major event that marked both the victory of democracy and of the strategy of
resistance to the occupation. Hamas in government will be different from the Hamas
36 “Interview with Saad Eddin Al Othmani, leader of Morocco’s Party of Justice and
Development,” Arab Reform Bulletin, Published by the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, December 2005, Volume 3, Issue 10.
37 In January 2006, the PJD’s newspaper published many articles praising the Hamas
electoral victory. One front page article mocked attempts to violently suppress Islamist
movements saying “Only the Arab eradicators who call themselves neo-liberals, that is
America’s liberals, and the modernists of the culture of tyranny that falsely dons the robe
of democracy and modernism, these eradicators are the only ones who will be biting their
fingers for anger, and who will notice a rise in the levels of their adrenaline, blood sugar,
and salt. They alone are going to go through dark days.” “Morocco: Paper Says Islamists
Sure of Victory at Next Legislative Elections,”Casablanca Al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyah ,
February 1, 2006, translated from Arabic to English by the Foreign Broadcast Information
Service (FBIS) or Open Source Center (OSC), Document ID: GMP20060201710043.
38 Asia Times Online, op.cit.
in the opposition, and I do not rule out the possibility of its moving towards a search
for a peaceful solution.”39
Overall, U.S. policy makers have been careful not to overemphasize U.S.
contacts with the PJD, since there continues to be widespread public skepticism in
Morocco of all political parties, the PJD included. The United States may welcome
more European Union cooperation with Islamists groups since EU intentions are far
less suspect among Moroccans in general. 40 Observers have focused intently on the
2007 parliamentary elections, speculating whether the PJD will decide to or be
permitted to run the maximum number of candidates. In past elections, the PJD
succumbed to government pressure and fielded candidates in just 20%-30% of
electoral contests. The PJD, like the United States, takes a gradualist approach to
political reform in Morocco. Also, it may not want to relinquish its position in the
opposition, which according to some officials, allows it to comfortably criticize
government corruption and inefficiency without having the responsibility of running
the country’s day-to-day affairs.41 Others suggest that the PJD might participate in the
next coalition government to develop experience in governance and improve its
electoral chances in the 2012 elections.
Some commentators are dismayed by any U.S. government dealings with
Moroccan Islamists, asserting that the ultimate goal of all Islamist groups is the
establishment of a non-democratic state based on Islamic law (Sharia). These experts
argue that the PJD’s non-violent approach to politics masks its ultimate non-
democratic agenda and that non-violence is merely a tactic rather than an end goal.
According to Dr. Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for
Near East Policy,
The spread of radical Islamism, not U.S. unpopularity, is the most serious
challenge to U.S. interests in many Arab and Muslim societies. The solution —
as frequently expressed by liberal Moroccans — cannot be found in reaching an
accommodation with Islamists... Anti-Islamist Moroccans complain that
Washington sends the wrong message when it provides parliamentary training
funds that are used by Islamist legislators to become more effective critics of the42
Critics contend that U.S. policy should be exclusively focused on promoting
democratic alternatives to Islamists. U.S. government officials insist that they are not
39 “Secretary General of Morocco’s Islamist PJD Party Interviewed on Political
Issues,”Paris Jeune Afrique-L’Intelligent, April 2, 2006, translated from French to English
by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) or Open Source Center (OSC),
Document ID: GMP20060420380001.
40 For more information on EU support to Morocco, see the European Commission’s Office
of External Cooperation (Morocco program) online at [http://europa.eu.int/comm/europeaid/
proj ec t s / me d / b i l a t e r a l / mo r o c c o _ e n .ht m#EU%20co-operation%20programme %202002-2
41 CRS analyst conversation with U.S. Embassy officials in Rabat, Morocco, April 21, 2006.
42 “Lessons from the Front Line: My Two Years in Morocco,” PolicyWatch, number 889,
August 2, 2004, published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
favoring groups like the PJD and treat all Moroccan parties equally. Some Moroccan
media outlets have reiterated demands that the United States cease all contacts with
Islamists, fearing that U.S. policy may inadvertently empower organizations like the
PJD and perhaps lead to a Hamas-like outcome. For its part, the Moroccan
government often warns U.S. observers that non-violent Islamists in Morocco view
electoral politics as a means to come to power and establish a theocracy in the
Role of Congress. Congress has been supportive of the Administration’s
efforts to strengthen ties to Morocco. Congress approved a free trade agreement
(FTA) with Morocco (P.L. 108-302) on August 17, 2004, and it came into effect on
January 1, 2006. Congress has appropriated increasing amounts of foreign aid to
Morocco to assist with countering terrorism, democratization, and the FTA. In
FY2006, Morocco is receiving $10.890 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF),
$12.375 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF), $8.217 million in
Development Assistance (DA), and $1.856 million for International Military
Education and Training (IMET). For FY2007, the Administration has requested $18
million in ESF, $12.5 million in FMF, $5.4 million for DA, and $1.975 million for
The potential dilemma that non-violent Islamist movements pose for U.S.
democratization policy is of greater strategic importance vis-a-vis U.S. relations with
Egypt than with Morocco or possibly elsewhere in the Arab world. The Egyptian
government, led by 78-year old President Hosni Mubarak, is a strategic Arab partner
for U.S. national security interests in the region. Egypt, which has been at peace with
Israel since 1979, received the largest amount of U.S. foreign assistance to Arab
countries until U.S. involvement in Iraq. Both countries cooperate closely on military
and intelligence issues, and President Mubarak has fashioned himself as a reliable
interlocutor in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Some analysts believe that Egypt’s
strategic importance has increased since the Hamas 2006 rise to power, as Egypt,
Israel, and the United States all share a common interest in containing Hamas.
Nevertheless, the Egyptian government has been wary of U.S. calls for political
reform because authorities do not want to empower the Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood (MB), by far the most organized and effective opposition group in Egypt
today. Despite the MB’s decades-long commitment to pursuing political power
peacefully, it stands opposed, at least rhetorically, to Egypt’s close ties to the United
States, and many observers are uncertain whether MB leaders would reverse the
course of Egyptian foreign policy should they come to power. Furthermore, Egypt,
unlike Morocco, has a long history of violent confrontation with fundamentalist
terrorist groups, which has led the government to discredit all Islamists, militant and
non-violent alike. Finally, Egypt is a heterogeneous society. Egyptian Coptic
Christians number in the millions and have a strong presence in the private sector.
43 For more information on Egypt, see CRS Report RL33003, Egypt: Background and U.S.
Relations, by Jeremy M. Sharp.
Many Copts fear that an Islamist government would exacerbate sectarian tensions,
which already are flaring in various parts of Egypt.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has the
precarious status of an illegal organization whose treatment by the government
fluctuates between support, tolerance, and outright suppression. Moreover, despite
an almost three-decade commitment to non-violent opposition, the MB’s radical
history, its fundamentalist ideologues, and younger and perhaps more militant
members have prompted differences among Western observers over the issue of
pursuing engagement with the group. Complicating matters further is the steadfast
opposition of the Egyptian government to any Western dealings with the MB. With
terrorist activity resurfacing in Egypt, authorities may be even more resistant to
further legitimizing political Islamists. Nevertheless, some democracy experts believe
that, over the long term, Egypt and Western governments will ultimately have to
engage with the MB since it is by far the most powerful opposition group in Egypt.
Others would rather see the West promote alternative secular opposition groups.
Finally, many observers believe that the issue of Islamist inclusion in the political
system is strictly an Egyptian domestic issue and that foreign involvement will only
stoke the fires of Egyptian nationalism, further entrenching government opposition
Since its founding in 1928, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has been the
vanguard of Sunni political Islamism in the Arab world, as branches of the MB have
spread to countries across the region. Between 1930-1950, the movement grew
increasingly militant in pursuit of its political, social, economic, and legal goals. By
the late 1940s, the Brotherhood was presenting serious challenges to the Egyptian
regime. Though it did assist the Egyptian Free Officers in overthrowing the monarchy
in 1952, the MB soon turned against Egypt’s new military leaders and was violently
suppressed and forced to go underground after a failed Brotherhood assassination
attempt against Egypt’s second post-monarchical ruler, Prime Minister (and later
President) Gamal Abdul Nasser in 1954. With many members imprisoned and the
organization badly weakened, the MB renounced violence in the early 1970s and its
members were gradually allowed to reenter politics, though the organization itself
Since the mid-1970s, the MB has fielded candidates in parliamentary elections
by either joining other opposition parties or, more recently, running as independents.
In the 2000 parliamentary elections, 17 independent candidates, who were regarded
as Brotherhood sympathizers, were elected. In 2005, Brotherhood-affiliated
candidates won 88 seats in parliament (it agreed to contest only a limited number of
seats). Though opinions vary on how much mass support the Brotherhood
commands, it is recognized by many Egyptians for its charitable and social services
work and its support among the professional middle class. The MB controls many of
the professional syndicates (associations), including those representing engineers,
doctors, lawyers, and academics.
Although the MB has long renounced the use of violence, opinions differ
whether this criterion alone should allow it to enter into mainstream politics.
According to one scholar, “For some, the movement is a reaffirmation of moral
idealism, for others an outlet for frustration and resentment [in which] good and bad
factors apparently are working together ... real religion and neurotic fanaticism,
honest idealism and destructive frenzy. It would be wrong to deny the former and
perhaps dangerous to ignore the potentiality of the latter.”44
The MB claims that it is in favor of Egyptian democratization. According to one
of its leaders, “Since the early 1970s, in the context of [President Anwar]Sadat’s
liberalization, opening and dialogue, the Society adopted a new strategy, which relies
on democracy as a means of change and as an objective. Democracy is not
incompatible with Islam; shura [consultation] is like democracy, it forces respect for
basic liberties and the rights of women. We don’t disagree with the West on this,
except that the West has left democracy behind.”45 In 2004, the Muslim Brotherhood
published a 50-page declaration endorsing elections, reform, accountability, and non-
violence. Nevertheless, some doubt the MB’s democratic credentials. Internally, the
group is traditionally led by a septuagenarian or octogenarian “Supreme Leader,”
who, in the past, was tied to the movement’s early leaders, including its founder,
Hassan al Banna. Much of the inner workings of the MB remain unknown to
outsiders, fueling suspicions.
Due to Egypt’s proximity to and involvement in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, MB anti-Israeli rhetoric is particularly pronounced and anti-Semitic
(although Egyptian state-owned media outlets also fuel anti-Israeli incitement). In
December 2005, MB leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef said that the Nazi holocaust
was a myth, reiterating comments made earlier by Iran’s president, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad.46 The Israeli-financed Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)
regularly translates Brotherhood statements on Israel and Judaism. In one dispatch
from April 2006, MEMRI translated excerpts from a Brotherhood website for
children, in which there reportedly were anti-Semitic passages that accuse Jews of
murdering Muslim prophets.47
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is one of the most vocal organizations
rejecting the normalization of Arab relations with Israel. Although the organization
itself may not commit acts of terrorism against Israel, its leaders call for continued
resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands (and U.S. occupation of Iraq and
Afghanistan). After the Hamas 2006 legislative victory, the MB launched a fund-
raising campaign on behalf of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. Despite
Brotherhood condemnations of terrorist bombings aimed at tourist resorts in the
Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, MB leaders do not extend such condemnations to
Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. According to MB leader Akef,
“Israel is an occupier, and it’s the right of the people of the country to resist
44 Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, Islam in Modern History, New York: Mentor, 1957, P.164.
45 “Islamism in North Africa II: Egypt’s Opportunity,” International Crisis Group, Middle
East and North Africa Briefing, Cairo/Brussels, April 20, 2004.
46 “Muslim Brotherhood Leader Says Holocaust Is a Myth, Lashes Out at U.S,” Associated
Press, December 22, 2005.
47 Available on the MEMRI website at [http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&
occupation by all means.”48 Whether such rhetoric would lead the MB, if it came to
power, to abrogate Egypt’s nearly three-decade long peace with Israel is an open
question. Some experts believe that, in a scenario in which the MB ascend to power,
the Egyptian military would intervene to preserve the status quo. Others assert that,
under the same scenario, economic realities would force the MB, despite its harsh
rhetoric toward Israel, to be pragmatic and maintain Egypt’s “cold peace” with Israel.
Hizb Al Wasat (The Middle or Center Party). Although not a legally
recognized party, the Al Wasat organization has received attention among Western
observers for its commitment to pluralism, religious toleration, and acceptance of49
secular political principles. Established in 1996 by former Brotherhood members,
Al Wasat is made up of a cadre of younger political activists and encourages
participation by women and by Coptic Christians. According to party leader Abu-al-
Ila Madi, the Al Wasat Party is not a religious party. “We affirmed on many
occasions that we are against religious parties that are based on a religious basis, and
adopt the theocratic thinking of clergymen, which we totally reject.”50 However, its
application for legal recognition as a political party has been rejected on three
separate occasions by the government’s Political Parties Committee on the grounds
that it illegally sought to establish a party with an Islamic basis (Egyptian law
prohibits political parties based on religion). Overall, the organization appears
relatively weak in terms of popular support.
U.S. Policy in Egypt. Although the United States has long advocated the
promotion of human rights and political freedom in Egypt, most experts agree that,
prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, economic reform superseded
political reform in the West’s relations with Egypt, as well as other Middle Eastern
countries. However, with the recent push for democracy in the Middle East seen as
a counterweight to Islamic militancy and intellectual and social stagnation, U.S.
policy regarding Egypt has been reinvigorated, as policy makers seek to balance U.S.
security and economic interests with U.S. democracy promotion policies.
U.S. officials have employed a variety of diplomatic tools to push for reform in
Egypt. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made visits to Egypt and has
spoken about the need for reform at the American University in Cairo and held
meetings with political activists. The United States also has expanded its foreign aid
and democracy programming activities in Egypt. In 2005, the State Department’s
Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) began distributing small grants directly to
NGOs in Egypt to support secular political activists and human rights groups,
48 “Muslim Brotherhood Leader Criticizes Sinai Blasts, Supports Palestinian Bombings,”
The Daily Star Egypt, May 2, 2006.
49 Augustus Richard Norton, “Thwarted Politics: The Case of Egypt’s Hizb al-Wasat,” in
Robert W. Hefner (ed.) Remaking Muslim Politics: Pluralism, Contestation,
Democratization (Princeton, 2005).
50 “Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Sharply Criticizes Gamal Mubarak’s Statements,”Al-
Misryun, January 26, 2006, translated from Arabic to English by the Foreign Broadcast
Information Service [FBIS] or Open Source Center [OSC], Document ID#
particularly during the presidential and parliamentary election seasons.51 The United
States has been less willing to overtly pressure Egypt; though when Egyptian
authorities arrested, tried, and imprisoned Ayman Nour, an opposition leader and
runner-up in the 2005 presidential election, the United States protested and reportedly
withheld announcing its intention to negotiate a long sought after U.S.-Egyptian free
trade agreement. Although some have labeled Nour as an opportunist and minor
political figure, he represented a secular alternative to the ruling National Democratic
Party (NDP), a tenuous position that the authorities may have deemed unacceptable.
Nevertheless, some analysts have questioned the depth of the U.S. commitment
to democratization in Egypt, particularly after the recent Hamas victory in Palestinian
parliamentary elections earlier this year. With the Hamas takeover of most of the
Palestinian Authority, Egypt, the United States, and Israel have a shared purpose in
containing Hamas and the spread of its violent Islamist influence into neighboring
states. In this changed atmosphere, in which Egyptian security cooperation on the
Gaza-Egyptian border also is valued, some observers have speculated that U.S. policy
makers may tone down their rhetoric on reform in Egypt. For example when the
Egyptian parliament voted to approve the two-year extension the nation’s 25-year old
Emergency laws in April 2006, a move long opposed by the United States, the
Administration was careful not to overly condemn the maneuver, particularly as it
came only days after several deadly terrorist attacks in the Sinai Peninsula.52
At present, the Islamist dilemma in Egypt appears to perplex U.S. policy makers
and outside observers alike. Should the United States aggressively push for reform
and run the risk of a nationalist backlash or of empowering radical groups? Or should
the United States patiently pursue long-term modernization and institution-building
programs that are largely regime-friendly and thereby run the risk of deflating the
hopes of Egypt’s liberals? Are there other paths to pursue?
The United States respects the Egyptian government’s desires not to allow
illegal Islamist organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, to officially
participate in U.S.-sponsored reform activities in Egypt or have extensive contacts
with U.S. diplomats in Cairo. Reportedly, U.S. non-governmental democracy
organizations must ensure that no Brotherhood participants attend U.S.-funded
seminars or training programs. Moreover, Egyptian law prohibits even legal
organizations or parties from accepting financial support from “foreign entities.”
Nevertheless, the United States has not outrightly rejected having any contact with
Brotherhood members. According to the U.S. State Department, the United States
will not deal directly with the Brotherhood since it is banned under Egyptian law, but
51 For a list of MEPI programs in Egypt, see [http://mepi.state.gov/c10154.htm].
52 The State Department did comment on the action saying, “It’s a disappointment. We
understand that Egypt is facing its own issues related to terrorism, but President Mubarak
during the presidential campaign had talked about the fact that he was going to seek a new
emergency law, but one that would be targeted specifically at fighting terrorism,
counterterrorism, and that would take into account respect for freedom of speech as well as
human rights. Certainly we would like to see President Mubarak and his government follow
through on that pledge.”U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing, Sean McCormack,
Spokesman, Washington, DC, May 2, 2006.
Brotherhood members will not be barred from meetings between U.S. officials and
parliament members. According to J. Scott Carpenter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State for Near East Affairs at the U.S. State Department, “There is recognition that
there are a number of folks who have been elected to Parliament, and they are there.
This is an issue for Egyptian society to deal with it, it’s not something for us
necessarily to involve ourselves with.”53
Given these barriers, U.S. officials must be cautious in broaching the Islamist
issue in Egypt. Still, according to some observers, the possibility for informal
dialogue between the United States and some Egyptian Islamists exists. The Al
Wasat organization, whose legal status is precarious since it is an aspirant political
party that has been unsuccessful in its registration attempts (rather than an outright
illegal organization like the Muslim Brotherhood), could be more amenable to future
participation in U.S.-government sponsored democracy training programs. However,
U.S. policy makers would need to be careful about appearing to favor any one group
in Egyptian politics. In June 2006, the Egyptian government accused the local head
of the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Egypt program of meddling in
Egypt’s internal affairs and demanded that the organization temporarily halt its
U.S. officials are continually pressing Islamists on their views on issues of
importance to U.S. policy in the region. With 88 independent members of parliament
sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood, MB politicians operate openly and are
readily accessible. According to J. Scott Carpenter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State for Near East Affairs at the U.S. State Department, “On specific things like
protection of minorities and protection of women’s rights, that is something that in
our discussions with Islamists parties we have to continue asking them: What is your
position? Do you protect women’s rights? What about the Coptic (Christian)
community in Egypt? It is important that we retain our clarity even as these groups
struggle to come to a conclusion within the gray zones.”54
Some analysts question whether Islamists in Egypt would welcome U.S.
dialogue in the first place due to their deep suspicion of Western intentions and
foreign meddling. Observers note that many Muslim Brotherhood members are
opposed to U.S. policy in the Middle East and might want to steer clear of any
appearance of cooperation in politics. Although there are always individual members
who may not be as resistant as most party members to participating in U.S. programs,
for the most part, only a few Brotherhood members interact with Western observers.
Overall, while many experts recommend that U.S. policy reinforce, rather than
initiate, local demands for accelerated political liberalization in Egypt, there is lack
of consensus over which reformers the United States should bolster. By limiting the
realm of political space to either the ruling National Democratic Party or the Muslim
Brotherhood, Egyptian authorities have forced the West to choose to support the
53 “U.S. remains committed to reform in Arab World despite Islamist gains, such as
Brotherhood in Egypt,”Daily Star Egypt, March 23, 2006.
54 “The US Is Gauging Islamist Organizations’ Commitment to the Democratic Process,”
Voice of America, March 31, 2006.
regime or the MB with little else in between. Though many U.S. programs are
designed to foster what some call a “Third Way,” i.e., non-Islamist or secular liberal
movements, regime action has succeeded in stymying such attempts.
Some experts believe that U.S. support for reform in Egypt does not necessarily
have to resemble a zero-sum game. Some suggest that the United States should
refrain from openly supporting any opposition movement and instead promote
openness and provide resources that will enable Egyptians to address these problems
themselves. According to Michele Dunn of the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace, “ The principal role of foreign governments is not to negotiate
with oppositionists but to deal with the Egyptian government. Thus, what the United
States and Europe can and should do is press the Egyptian government to keep open
the political space needed for productive dialogue between Islamists and secularists.
Such a dialogue among Egyptians themselves is where solutions to the problem of
Islamist inclusion in the political sphere can emerge.”55 Other observers have stated
that the Egyptian government, by limiting political space, has stoked the West’s
impatience with the pace of change in Egypt.
Role of Congress. Through annual foreign operations and State Department
appropriations legislation, Congress provides funding for reform in Egypt through
the following programs: the United States Agency for International Development’s
(USAID) Egypt Office; the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a State
Department program designed to encourage reform in Arab countries by
strengthening Arab civil society, encouraging micro-enterprise, expanding political
participation, and promoting women’s rights; the State Department’s Human Rights
and Democracy Fund (HRDF), an account that funds human rights promotion in
Muslim-majority countries; and the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED)
Muslim Democracy Program.
Congress also seeks to ensure that U.S. foreign assistance for Egypt is being
appropriately used to promote reform. In conference report language accompanying
P.L. 108-447, the FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act, conferees specified that
“democracy and governance activities shall not be subject to the prior approval of the
GoE [government of Egypt]. The managers intend this language to include NGOs
and other segments of civil society that may not be registered with, or officially
recognized by, the GoE. However, the managers understand that the GoE should be56
kept informed of funding provided pursuant to these activities.”
P.L. 109-102 (H.R. 3057), the FY2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act,
designates $100 million in economic aid (out of a total $495 million) for USAID
education and democracy and governance programming. In addition, report language
accompanying the bill stipulated that “not less than 50 percent of the funds for
democracy, governance and human rights be provided through non-governmental
organizations for the purpose of strengthening Egyptian civil society organizations,
55 “Evaluating Egyptian Reform,”Michele Dunn, Carnegie Papers - Middle East Series,
number 66, January 2006.
56 Conference report (H.Rept. 108-792) to accompany H.R. 4818, November 20, 2004.
enhancing their participation in the political process and their ability to promote and
monitor human rights.”57
In June 2006, the House narrowly defeated an amendment (198-225) to H.R.
5522, the FY2007 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill, which would have
reallocated $100 million in economic aid to Egypt and used it instead to fight AIDS
worldwide and to assist the Darfur region of Sudan. Many supporters of the
amendment were dismayed by the Egyptian government’s spring 2006 crackdown on
pro-democracy activists in Cairo.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a valuable but vulnerable U.S. partner in
the war on terror, may be the Arab country most affected by the electoral gains of
Hamas in the Gaza Strip and former Jordanian-controlled West Bank. With perhaps
over half the population of Palestinian origin, there are potentially thousands of
Hamas sympathizers in Jordan, whose government has tried vigorously to construct
a unique Jordanian identity in order to lessen the appeal of Palestinian nationalism
and Islamism. Jordanian Islamists, many of whom claim Palestinian descent, could
be tempted to forge closer ties to Hamas in the West Bank. With municipal elections
scheduled for this year and parliamentary elections in Jordan tentatively scheduled
for 2007, many observers are carefully monitoring Jordanian politics in order to
assess the prospects of non-violent Islamists.
The Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood (The Islamic Action Front). The
Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood has long been integrated into the political mainstream
due to its acceptance of the legitimacy of Hashemite monarchy, although relations
between the Brotherhood and the Palace have fluctuated over the years. The
Brotherhood presence in Jordan dates back to the 1930s, as it has been tacitly
recognized first as a charitable organization and later as a quasi-political
organization, which has openly fielded candidates in parliamentary elections albeit
under a different name (Islamic Action Front - IAF). The relationship between the
Brotherhood and the Palace has been mutually beneficial over the years. Successive
Jordanian monarchs have found that the Brotherhood has been more useful politically
as an ally than as an opponent (as opposed to the Brotherhood in Egypt), as it secured
Islamist support in countering Arab nationalist interference during the 1950’s and
Jordanian Islamists have been most effective at gaining control of Jordan’s
educational system. After the Brotherhood sided with King Hussein during the Black
September crisis of 1970, in which the Palestinian Liberation Organization openly
clashed with the Jordanian armed forces, King Hussein granted the Brotherhood
control over the Education Ministry. Through its extensive charitable networks, the
Brotherhood also established a number of Sunni Muslim schools (Madhaheb), in
57 Conference report (H.Rept. 109-265) on H.R. 3057, Foreign Operations, Export
Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2006, November 2, 2005.
58 For more information on Jordan, see CRS Issue Brief IB93085, Jordan: U.S. Relations
and Bilateral Issues, by Alfred Prados.
addition to institutions of higher education. The Brotherhood’s educational, social,
and health services have grown so extensive over the years that some experts believe
that the Brotherhood’s budget for services rivals that of the Jordanian government.
In 1992, the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Islamist Action Front (IAF) was
legally recognized as a political party in Jordan under a new political parties law.
Three years before that, Jordanian Islamists running as independents gained almost
40% of the seats in parliament. The government responded by altering the electoral
law, changing the system from a multiple/transferable vote system in which voters
could cast as many ballots as there were seats in their constituency, to a one-person,
one vote system, which led most voters to choose candidates from their extended
families or tribes over ideological parties, such as the IAF.59 Those Jordanians who
did vote for the IAF hailed predominately from urban areas dominated by middle-
class Jordanians of Palestinian origin. Government-IAF relations have not always
been smooth, however, and the IAF boycotted the 1997 elections. The most recent
parliamentary elections, held on June 17, 2003, gave 62 seats in the 110-member
lower house to conservative, independent, and tribal allies of King Abdullah.
However, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) won 22% of the vote, thereby gaining 18
seats in the lower house, plus 6 sympathizers. When asked about the IAF’s prospects
in future elections, one member reportedly remarked that “I am not optimistic that
we can win a majority now, because the laws have still not been changed.... But we
are not trying to take everything away. We just want to take part in a fair process.”60
In 2006, there has been much speculation about the IAF’s ties to Hamas. In a
recent interview on Al Arabiya, Zaki Sa’d Bani-Irshayd, the new secretary general of
the IAF, was careful to emphasize that the IAF and Hamas have agreed to avoid any
inter-organizational relations, emphasizing that each movement has its own financial,
administrative, and organizational system.61 On February 16, 2006, Jordanian Prime
Minister Marouf al-Bakhit congratulated Hamas on winning the January 2006
Palestinian Authority legislative elections and said Jordan would welcome a visit by
a Hamas delegation. However, on April 20, 2006, the press reported that Jordan
cancelled a planned visit by the Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar,
who is also a high-level Hamas official, on the grounds that Hamas had hidden
weapons and explosives in a cache in Jordan. Hamas denied the charge and claimed
that Jordan was using this allegation to justify cancelling the visit. Hamas had been
expelled from Jordan in 1999, shortly after the ascension of King Abdullah II to the
The IAF has questioned the Jordanian government’s accusations against Hamas,
believing that security officials fabricated the story in order to discredit Islamists.
59 Clark, Janine A. Islam, Charity, and Activism. Bloomington: Indian University Press,
60 Possible changes to the electoral law are still being discussed within the Jordanian
government. “Jordan Islamists Stir Tensions by Displaying Election Skills,” New York
Times, May 12, 2006.
61 “Jordan’s Islamic Action Front Leader Comments on Ties with HAMAS,” Dubai Al-
Arabiyah Television, translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service [FBIS], April
Some experts believe that the IAF’s new leadership is more closely tied to Hamas
than in the past. According to one recent assessment, “While East Bank Jordanians
still control a majority of the seats in the IAF, Bani-Irshayd’s election represents a
trend toward a growing Palestinian presence in the organization’s leadership and
suggests a potential “Hamasization” of the group.”62
Like other Islamist groups, the IAF’s attitude toward the United States combines
pragmatism with a general opposition to U.S. policy in the region. With a growing
population and a severe lack of natural resources (Jordan is one of the most water
deprived countries in the world), observers remain doubtful that non-violent Islamists
groups in Jordan could afford to cut ties with the United States should they ascend
to power. However, if such a situation were to occur, Jordan’s nearly 12-year old
peace treaty with Israel could be at risk, as Islamists in Jordan are at the forefront of
the anti-normalization campaign which calls on the Jordanian government to cut all
relations with Israel. According to IAF leader Bani-Irshayd, “We are clear....We
reject this treaty because it is against Jordan’s national interest. But we will move
cautiously. We will ask for a referendum on it.”63
In June 2006, just days after the death of the terrorist mastermind Abu Mus’ab
al-Zarqawi, four IAF parliamentarians were arrested after making statements praising
the Al Qaeda leader. One IAF deputy reportedly remarked that Zarqawi was a martyr
and a holy warrior.
U.S. Policy in Jordan. Given Jordan’s dependence on foreign assistance
from the United States and Europe, its government continually touts its reform
credentials, as the Jordanian government has sought to position itself as the regional
model of a modernizing Arab state, particularly in the economic sphere. Observers
note that the pursuit of reform-minded programs allows Jordan to conform to the
policy priorities of the United States, which provides large amounts of economic and
military aid to Jordan. Jordanian leaders also are anxious to develop opportunities for
the country’s largely young population, which faces unemployment rates that may be
as high as 30% unofficially. U.S. policymakers have welcomed Jordan’s initiative,
emphasizing that encouraging development in the region is part of a U.S. national
security strategy, especially after the September 11, 2001, attacks. On October 24,
2000, the United States and Jordan signed a free trade agreement, leading to a
dramatic increase in Jordanian exports to U.S. markets.
One sector which has already been targeted for reform is Jordan’s educational
system. In July 2003, the Education Ministry, in conjunction with USAID, the World
Bank, and other international lenders, developed a program called the Educational
Reform for a Knowledge-based Economy — a $380 million, five-year
comprehensive educational reform plan. Under this plan, Jordan, with help from
Microsoft and Cisco Systems, has built computer labs in several public schools and
developed a modern curriculum which incorporates information technology.
62 “Hamas Weapons in Jordan: Implications for Islamists on the East Bank,”
PolicyWatch,#1098, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, May 5, 2006.
63 “Political Islam’s Opportunity in Jordan,”Washington Post, April 13, 2006.
However, this initiative has drawn much criticism from Islamist deputies in
Jordan’s lower house of parliament. Many Jordanian lawmakers were upset that 10th
grade teachers were teaching a curriculum that drew distinctions between terrorism
(specifically suicide bombing) and “legitimate resistance.” According to IAF deputy
Moussa Wahsh, “the United States has pressured several Arab and Muslim countries
to change their school curriculum under the slogan of modernization.”64 In early
2004, the Jordanian parliament held a special session in which several deputies
expressed similar sentiments. The government must try to balance the need to
improve institutions while avoiding Islamist charges that the government was
beholden to outside or secular interests.
U.S. democracy assistance to Jordan has focused on female participation in
politics. In 2003, King Abdullah established a six-seat quota for women
parliamentarians in Jordan’s National Assembly, the 110-seat lower house of
Parliament. In 2003, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) launched a women
candidates’ training program for women wanting to run in local and parliamentary
elections. NDI has trained four of the current six women in parliament. The
International Republican Institute also runs programs in Jordan focused on
overcoming political apathy and increasing citizen participation in politics.
Jordan has become a major target of Jihadist terrorist groups, particularly
organizations operating from Iraq led by the terrorist mastermind Abu Mus’ab al-
Zarqawi -- himself a Jordanian citizen now in exile. On November 9, 2005, near
simultaneous explosions at three western-owned hotels in Amman (the Radisson,
Grand Hyatt, and Days Inn) killed 58 persons and seriously wounded approximately
100 others. The terrorist organization Al-Qaeda in Iraq headed by Zarqawi claimed
responsibility for the act.
Consequently, U.S. officials may be hesitant to push the monarchy too hard on
the issue of political reform. While some IAF members, particularly women, may
participate in U.S.-sponsored workshops, there is no concerted effort among U.S.
diplomats in Amman to engage the IAF, though occasional dialogue may take place.
King Abdullah and other senior Jordanian officials have repeatedly emphasized that
change is necessary for Jordan’s survival but that a reform process should be
internally driven. On March 11, 2004, then Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher told
a Washington audience at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars that “We do not
differ over the content of this reform,” but he went on to say that such a program
should not be “imposed, or perceived to be imposed, in any way, from the outside.”
With Jordan facing a terrorist threat emanating from Iraq in the east, and with Hamas
in control of parts of the bordering West Bank, the United States seems willing to
accept whatever pace the government sets for the political reform process.
Role of Congress. Congress has supported Administration efforts to bolster
Jordan’s economy and military in recent years. Jordan has seen a steady increase in
its aid since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The war in Iraq also has led
Congress to provide Jordan with additional assistance in appreciation of its efforts
64 “Jordanian MPs Slam Government Plan to Reform Education,” Daily Star (Beirut), March
to train Iraqi police and army units. Between FY2002 and FY2005, Jordan received
an annual average of $780 million in economic and military aid (including
supplemental funding), up from an average of $246 million per year between FY1996
and FY2001. The Senate version of H.R. 4939, the FY2006 Emergency
Supplemental Bill, contains $100 million in economic aid for Jordan to continue and
accelerate economic reforms.