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Jordan Cracks Down on Islamists Protesting Peace With Israel

King sends clear signals that he will not tolerate opposition

JORDANIAN television did not broadcast the historic moment, but most Jordanians saw King Hussein's flight over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem this week on Israeli television anyway.

The monarch, who often flies planes himself, was not just launching an Israeli-Jordanian pact to use each other's air space as he returned from signing an historic peace agreement with Israeli in Washington.

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The overflight sent a clear message to Jordanians and, particularly, the opponents to peace with Israel: The king himself is leading every step to end the state of war with Israel, and consequently, any opposition will be viewed as a challenge to him.

In a country where a crucial distinction is drawn between opposition to the government and opposition to the monarch, the monarch is emphasizing that critics of the ongoing peace process with Israel have to avoid a showdown.

The strong Islamist opposition, which traditionally has shunned confrontation with the palace, received warnings long before the king's return this week that the palace would take aggressive steps against peace-plan opponents.

During the king's absence, tight censorship was imposed on state-run television and radio, and the government took steps to curb active dissent by the influential Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), which holds 16 of the 80 parliament seats.

Two IAF parliament deputies who preach at mosques were interrogated by the prosecutor general, and at least four more were warned or questioned for inciting opposition against the peace deal with Israel.

The interrogations of the preachers triggered strong criticism by parliamentarians, who viewed it as an insult to the legislative house.

A potential crisis was swiftly contained when Crown Prince Hassan interfered to prevent legal procedures against at least two deputies on charges ranging from insulting the Jordanian Army to incitement to violence.

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At the same time, Prince Hassan was stern in warning Islamists against using mosques to propagate politics. ``Incitements to violence from pulpits and other public platforms do not constitute democracy, but a perversion of democratic rights,'' Prince Hassan cautioned.

The Muslim Brotherhood, however, has publicly responded that it was the preachers' right to use the ``House of God'' to air their views, threatening that all IAF deputies would resign from parliament if the government continues to marginalize them by interrogating preachers.

Purge of Islamists

According to Islamist sources, at least 24 preachers have been suspended by the ministry of religious affairs from sermonizing, and the ministry of education has started a mass purge of pro-IAF teachers from public schools.

The claims come amid indications that the Jordanian government is abandoning its long-standing policy of accommo- dating the Islamic movement. Jordanian television, for example, is no longer censoring love scenes and kisses on its programs.

Apparently, the government feels it can afford to clip the wings of the Islamists, especially now that more than half the members of parliament have declared support for the king's peace deal with Israel, and there have been no signs of strong popular protests.

But the Islamists disagree. ``We can mobilize hundreds of thousands against peace with Israel if we choose to,'' says an IAF official. The IAF and seven other leftist and nationalist parties say they confined their protests to a symbolic sit-in on the day the Jordanian-Israeli peace agreement was signed to avoid a clash with the government.

Public mood unknown

Independent observers believe that Jordanians are adopting a wait-and-see approach about anticipated economic benefits to flow from a peace with Israel, but most view the agreement as an outcome of Arab defeat.

But the government cannot take public reaction for granted. Jordanian media did not air a brief radio conversation between King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that occurred as the king flew over Jerusalem.

As his plane passed over the hotly contested city, Mr. Rabin asked, ``What do you think of our capital?'' The loaded question indicated that Israel does not intend to abandon East Jerusalem and expects Jordan to accept the Israeli annexation of the holy city it captured in 1967.

``There is no real threat to the king from the Islamist opposition,'' observes a European diplomat. ``But it is unwise, if not dangerous, for the government to curb freedom of expression by the opposition.''

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