Jordan's King Balances Threats Abroad And Critics At Home : Parallels Jordanians now support the military campaign against the self-declared Islamic State. But King Abdullah still faces domestic opponents, religious and secular, who chafe at restrictions at home.
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Jordan's King Balances Threats Abroad And Critics At Home

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Jordan's King Balances Threats Abroad And Critics At Home

Jordan's King Balances Threats Abroad And Critics At Home

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I was in Amman, the capital of Jordan, last week hearing from Jordanians about the state of the kingdom. It's an interesting place at an interesting time. Jordan is an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country that borders Iraq, Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Jordanians had been far less committed to fighting ISIS in Syria than their monarch, pro-Western King Abdullah II. But when they saw their pilot, Moaz Kassasbeh, killed on video by ISIS, they rallied behind the king, even Dima Tahboub.

DIMA TAHBOUB: This is the phase where we should unite our efforts with the government and with the regime because we thought that our country is threatened, our Islam is threatened, so we should stand united in the face of that.

SIEGEL: Dima Tahboub, Ph.D, is the spokesperson for the Islamic Action Front, the Jordanian political party allied with her country's wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, an Islamic social and political movement, is big and legal in Jordan. Tahboub was educated at the University of Manchester in England, and that phase that she spoke of lasted less than a month. Last week, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood was sentenced for remarks he posted on Facebook attacking the United Arab Emirates. He was convicted of insulting a friendly government - one and a half years in prison.

TAHBOUB: Our king speaks well. He promotes Jordan very good in Western communities.

SIEGEL: But for domestic opposition groups like her party, she says, things are not so good. For example, the electoral system makes it impossible for a party to win many seats in parliament. In a more representative system, the Islamic Action Front with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood could run very well. Some defenders of the status quo fear that if they won power, Dima Tahboub's party would reverse Jordan's pro-Western alignment. So what does the party stand for?

TAHBOUB: Our belief is not that radical. We believe in moderate Islam. There has to be a social contract between people. Making woman wear the headscarf or, you know, preventing people from drinking liquor is not going to be our priority at that time. Our priorities will be educating people, empowering people to rule themselves to be free in their own countries.

SIEGEL: But when you say it's not your priority at that time, a skeptical listener says, aha, it's down the road. It's what comes next.

TAHBOUB: If people agree to that - if we put that to the vote and the majority of Jordanian people say OK, we want to prevent liquor in the country, then that's democracy. That's their decision. Why has democracy to be different than the democracy in the United States? If people agree and there's a consensus, well, let it be.

SIEGEL: Polygamy - it should be legal or it's an old, outmoded social custom?

TAHBOUB: OK. Polygamy is like other issues. They're not our priority to handle now. We should be interested more in human rights. We're suffering from all kinds of injustices. These things have to be discussed, but they're not a priority. And the West should appreciate that the Arab countries and the Muslim countries have their uniqueness. If we meet, we meet as equals, but we have our differences and this uniqueness has to be appreciated, not battled against.

SIEGEL: As for the battle against ISIS in Syria, Dima Tahboub's party, the Islamic Action Front, supports retaliatory airstrikes against ISIS provided they don't kill innocent civilians. But Jordanian troops entering Syria - the party is against that as are most Jordanians.

TAHBOUB: We have to face the ideology of ISIS in Jordan to protect the minds of our youth from what ISIS present. All the efforts should unite in serving this purpose.

SIEGEL: A Jordanian friend told me that when ISIS declared a caliphate, it was a problem because in the hearts of many Muslims, the idea of restoring the caliphate is a very positive idea.

TAHBOUB: Yes. This is the problem. They are hijacking Islam to us.

SIEGEL: But the argument that's raised in the U.S. is it feels as if Muslims who hate ISIS are trying to avoid any responsibility from any connection between more reputable Islamic institutions - those attached to Saudi Arabia - and it sounds to American ears evasive - that people don't want to say, yeah, these people, they're part of our family - that's the really bad end of our family.

TAHBOUB: It's like fanatic Christians. Should we blame Christianity for that? Should we blame the churches for that? Each faith has its problems. Each faith has its alien offsprings.

SIEGEL: But we ask the National Council of Churches to renounce those groups, and they do.

TAHBOUB: And we do also in our Islamic institutions. You know, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, which is, you know, a very prominent Muslim scholar in Qatar - he was one of the first to offer his condolences to the family of Moaz, and he denounced that crime. He said it was a hideous, heinous crime. So we have that offspring like any faith - like any group, and we're trying to deal with it. But, you know, we are being handcuffed by our governments, by our regimes. They are treating us, you know, as an equal problem to these radical fanatics.

SIEGEL: Dima Tahboub, spokesperson for Jordan's Islamic Action Front, the party linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Tomorrow, an online journalist, a government minister and Jordan's balancing act with the media.

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