Jordan Acts to Curb a Rising Chorus of Critics

September 30, 2004

Author: Scott Wilson

Source: The Washington Post

His arrest started as an invitation to coffee and ended three days later, when he walked out of a jail cell.

Ahmed Kafaween, a longtime leader of Jordan's most influential Islamic group, arrived at the provincial government building in the southern city of Karak one afternoon this month after being summoned for a chat by the police chief, who had kindly provided an escort.

"On August 20th, did you say during Friday prayer that the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem was in danger of being destroyed by the Jews and that the United States supported its destruction?" Kafaween recalled being asked by an Interior Ministry agent, who was reading from a file. "Did you denounce other Arab governments for doing nothing about it?"

Kafaween said yes, then refused to sign a pledge never to do so again. He was jailed for three [days as] part of a nationwide roundup of 38 Islamic leaders, activists and clerics on Sept. 9 for allegedly violating a law prohibiting political commentary inside mosques.

"It was a way to stop our tongues," said Kafaween, 57, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and a former member of parliament. "But we can't be made to keep our mouths shut."

The detentions signal a rare crackdown by one of the Middle East's most tolerant governments, now facing uncharacteristically strident criticism from a popular Islamic movement over its alliance with the United States and diplomatic relations with Israel. As violence worsens in Iraq on this small desert kingdom's eastern border and in the West Bank in the opposite direction, Jordan's traditionally moderate Islamic activists have intensified their rhetoric denouncing the government, which has responded by enforcing strict limits on free speech.