AMMAN (Reuters) - Police in Jordan sealed the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Amman on Wednesday, a senior figure in the Islamist movement said, as the authorities clamp down further on the kingdom’s most vocal opposition group.
The Brotherhood, which is close in ideology to its Egyptian namesake and has strong ties with the Palestinian movement Hamas, wants sweeping political reforms but stops short of calling for the overthrow of the monarchy.
Jordan’s authorities suppressed Arab Spring pro-democracy protests in which the mainstream Islamists played a prominent role, and human rights groups say that since then the kingdom has strongly curbed dissent.
Police acting on orders of the Amman governor evacuated staff and closed off the building, giving no reason for their actions, said senior Brotherhood member Jamil Abu Bakr.
Brotherhood spokesperson Badi Rafai later said the police closed another of its offices in the northern city of Jerash.
The movement, which has operated legally in Jordan for decades and has widespread grass-roots support in major urban centers, has scores of offices across the country.
Its political arm, the Islamic Action Front, is the kingdom’s largest opposition party and represents many disenfranchised Jordanians of Palestinian origin, who are in the majority in the population of seven million.
Grossly underrepresented in parliament and government posts that are dominated by native Jordanians, many of the Brotherhood’s poor Palestinian supporters in the major cities see them as defending their interests.
“We are not a group that is rebellious or operating outside the law. This is not an appropriate means to deal with us ... deploying heavy-handed security measures against us rather than reaching understandings,” Abu Bakr told Reuters.
In keeping with a regional crackdown on political Islam and public freedoms, Jordan has been tightening restrictions on the Brotherhood in the last two years, forbidding their public rallies and arresting vocal government dissenters.
The authorities have also encouraged a splinter group to legally challenge the main movement’s license to operate, which goes back to 1946 when Jordan’s monarchy saw the Muslim Brotherhood leaders as strong political allies.
Government spokespeople refrained from comment, but one official said privately that the move related to legal claims by the faction, backed by the authorities, aimed at seizing its rival’s assets after it won a judicial order pronouncing it as the legitimate group.
Senior Brotherhood members, who say these moves are politically motivated and illegal, say the latest crackdown comes after they were warned not to hold their Shura council elections - which they nevertheless went ahead with this month.
But Brotherhood figures say the elections for the four-year terms on the council, its highest leadership body, were not held to challenge the authorities.
Diplomats say the latest move could pave the way for outlawing the main group and handing over its assets to the pro-government faction to ensure that it participates in parliamentary elections expected by the end of this year or in early 2017.
Politicians warn that outlawing a party which has long shunned political violence could widen support among alienated youths for extremists in a country were radical influences, including support for Islamic State militants, was on the rise.
Earlier this year, the movement’s deputy leader Zaki Bani Rusheid was released after serving an 18-month jail sentence for criticizing on social media the United Arab Emirates for its crackdown on Islamists.
His detention was the first of a major political opposition figure in Jordan in recent years.
In contrast, Gulf Arab countries have banned Islamist groups and jailed its members, and in Egypt thousands of Islamists have been jailed and sentenced to death in mass trials decried by human rights groups.
Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Hugh Lawson