Protests in Jordan garner some reforms, look for more gains

Amman–Amid the region’s revolutionary fervor, Jordanian dissent rose, with the opposition making political and economic demands and a monarchy attempting to appease protesters.

On Friday 25 February, some 10,000 Jordanians took to the streets of Amman to protest. More than 3,000 security forces had been deployed in the capital and the march went off without violence. Come early afternoon, protesters went home, leaving the city center empty.

Following the incident of 18 January, when eight protesters had been injured during clashes with pro-government supporters, relief was palpable. “The protest went without problems, nothing like the past week, and now it is finished. Here we don’t have a revolution like in Egypt and we don’t want to drive out the King” said Mustafa, a juice seller in the city center.

The Jordanian opposition has been calling for a constitutional monarchy in which the government would be appointed by the Parliament rather than by the King.

“Our demands are constitutional changes that relate to the elections and the supervision of the elections. We want a parliamentary government to be formed of the bloc that constitutes the majority of the parliament” Bani Ershed, secretary general of the Islamic Action Front party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, said.

Moreover, economic pleas have been expressed with growing disparities between rising prices and low incomes.

Many in Jordan affirmed that they are not for the king’s departure.  Demonstrating with pictures of the king, people asked for constitutional reform. Muhammad who supports the demonstrations said, “We don’t want the King to step down but political reforms have to be implemented”.

“The King is the guarantor of domestic peace and national unity, it would be terrible if we were to follow Egyptian example,” said Fouad, a teacher.

Many Jordanians say that the king’s presence is key to preserving national unity between Jordanians of Palestinian and Bedouin origins.

Nonetheless, for Lina Ejeilat, editor of a Jordanian media initiative,, those fears are partly baseless. “The regime has managed to make people believe that Jordan is vulnerable… but I think these issues are overemphasized.”

Some argue that the lack of unified demands is a barrier to forming a popular base.  “This split makes it very hard for popular mobilization” affirmed a Western diplomat in Amman who preferred to remain anonymous.

“Many people estimate that no democratic progress has been done and social inequalities are increasing… in addition, they point out to the lack of transparency of the state and want their demands to be answered by real measures and not appointments of new people,” added the diplomat.  

According to analysts, citizens of Bedouin origins have been frustrated by the economic reforms implemented by King Abdallah that bolstered the private sector, mainly in Palestinian hands–38 out of 40 most important assets in Jordan are Palestinians.

On the other hand, Jordanians of Palestinian descent, who represent 60 percent to 70 percent of the country's population, are prevented from holding governmental and administrative positions.

Moussa, a Palestinian entrepreneur, complains that “there is no unity between Palestinians and Bedouins. Despite the fact that Palestinians have the same civil rights they don’t have access to the administration and army.”

In the meantime, despite the unprecedented number of participants and  their growing demands, the movement does not gather a large support from the population.

“The situation is different in Jordan. It is not a popular initiative. Contrary to what occurred in Egypt, it is not people but political parties who are leading the movement,” said Fouad, who also said that people do not necessarily feel represented by the parties who mobilized those protests.

The protests were primarily mobilized by the Islamic Action Front and leftist parties.

Ejeilat agreed that some opponents to the government were not focusing on common demands, and that the pursuit of different demands is disturbing the unity of the movement.

But Ershed argued that the protests has not yet attained full momentum. “We are still in the beginning, we are planning to start an open strike in the capital. Next week will be a turning point if the demands are not met, there will be a major development in the number of protesters and the kind of events we organize”, he said.

For the western diplomat, “except from the Muslim Brotherhood there is no real proposal for reforms that could be widely accepted… But they are not strong enough to impose change”.

The king has adopted a reactive and soft approach to the events, in attempt to contain the situation. He appointed a new cabinet on 9 February and a committee to administer national dialogue had been formed in the immediate aftermath of the demonstrations.

Following the clashes that left eight persons injured, Jordanian police launched an investigation and arrested three suspects. The week after, no violence occurred and the demonstrations were heavily protected by police who even gave water and juice to demonstrators.

Nevertheless, the opposition insists that those measures are inefficient. “They are discussing legal changes while we want constitutional changes. The committee doesn’t have any power, it is a waste of time” said Ershed.

While economic reforms have long been an appeasement strategy, it appears insufficient amidst the growing revolutionary contagion in the region. “Jordan is in a delicate situation. People wait for the monarchy to implement democratic reforms by itself. But despite his reputation of economic reformer, King Abdallah has never step up political reforms,” added the diplomat.

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