Jordanian Islamists seek to win Palestinian vote

Behind a poster of Jerusalem’s Muslim shrines, Islamist activist Omar Zaib tells a crowd of refugees at a Jordanian election rally that Israel is doomed — if not by this generation of jihadists then the next.“May we ask Allah to become mujahideen who carry arms to liberate Palestine,” Mohammad Aqel, a candidate for the Islamic Action Front in Tuesday’s elections, tells the enthusiastic crowd in the sprawling Palestinian refugee camp.

Twenty-two candidates from the IAF, political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, are seeking election to Jordan’s 110-seat assembly in a campaign otherwise dominated by tribalism and pro-government figures.

Many of Jordan’s 5.6 million citizens are Palestinians, whose families settled after successive Arab-Israeli wars, placing the kingdom — which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 — at the heart of decades of conflict.

Inside the camp of over 140,000 Palestinians, the Jordanian Islamists enjoy strong backing because of their support for the refugees to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.

At Aqel’s rally, held in an open space near the alleys of the ghetto-like Baqaa camp, he lambasted next week’s U.S.-backed Annapolis conference on Palestinian statehood, saying it will erode further refugee rights.

“…Palestine is an Islamic Waqf (endowment) that cannot be given up by anyone, whatever position he may hold. Who is this person who dares give up our rights?” he told an emotional crowd chanting “Allah Akbar” (God is Greater).

Many residents fear pro-Western Arab leaders will agree to a settlement that will never allow citizens of Palestinian origin to return to a Palestinian state or what is now Israel.

ISLAMIST APPEAL

The Islamists’ appeal also comes from a platform that stands up for civil rights in a country where the poorest of Jordanians of Palestinian origin face daily discrimination in jobs and services, even if they acquired citizenship rights.

“We defend your loaf of bread and your rights and anyone who tries to attack you,” said Aqel.

Jordan’s electoral system favors staunchly tribal constituencies over the largely Palestinian urban centers, which are Islamic strongholds and highly politicized.

The IAF reluctantly participated in Tuesday’s elections which they say take place under an election law where gerrymandered districts are tailored against them.

But they have campaigned actively in impoverished quarters of the capital Amman and the larger cities like Zarqa, where a majority of voters are of Palestinian origin.

The IAF says it will be unable to block unpopular laws because of an expected clear government majority that will make parliament a rubber stamp body. But its presence in the assembly will put some pressure on a political system critics say has become increasingly autocratic.

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