A prominent writer from Jordan’s Christian community was shot dead by an Islamist gunman on Sunday 25 September, outside the court in Amman where he was due to stand trial for contempt of religion after sharing an allegedly offensive cartoon on Facebook. Nahed Hattar was arrested in August for posting a cartoon that depicted jihadist beliefs about heaven, which Jordanian authorities claimed provoked “sectarian rifts”. He had planned to contest the charges, but if found guilty could have faced up to three years' imprisonment.
Although Jordan is often viewed as one of the most tolerant countries in the Middle East, Islam is still the state religion. The Christian minority have a significant presence in the business community and a permanent allocation of seats in the Jordanian Parliament. However, Muslim converts to Christianity face opposition and discrimination from their families and communities, as well as the authorities, and there are indications that Islamic extremism is growing in the country.
In last week’s parliamentary elections on 20 September, the Muslim Brotherhood, under the banner of the Islamic Action Front, secured its first seats since the group refused to take part in elections in 2010 and 2013. Christian candidates won nine seats, the number already guaranteed by their permanent allocation, but did not receive sufficient votes to gain any additional representatives. However, political power remains almost entirely in the hands of the royal family - the King appoints both the Prime Minister and the upper house - and the monarchy has traditionally styled itself as a supporter of Jordan’s Christian minority.
Archbishop Maroun Lahham, Patriarchal Vicar for Jordan of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, described Hattar’s murder as “political and ideological. And not religious.” This statement seems misleading to say the least, given not only the subject matter of the cartoon, but also the fact that Christians have previously been deliberately targeted in the Middle East and elsewhere in response to the publication of cartoons deemed to have insulted Islam.