Jordanian protesters, police water canon 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Majed Jaber)
Jordan's social cohesion is quickly unraveling, local experts warn, following violent demonstrations in the kingdom and an obtuse government response to public demands for change.
RELATED:1 killed in anti-government clashes in Jordan
One protester was killed and 120 wounded in the bloodiest demonstrations yet to take place in the kingdom since popular protests began sweeping through the Middle East in January.
"The King must intervene and come up with a political initiative accepting the demands of the protesters, including constitutional reform," Fahed Al-Khitan, a political columnist with Jordan's Al-Arab Al-Yawm
, told The Media Line. "If reform does not take place, the sense of animosity could lead to clashes between citizens."
A demonstration organized last Friday in Amman by "March 24 Youth", a
grassroots group demanding dissolution of the lower house of parliament
and constitutional reform, turned violent as supporters of King Abdullah
II pelted the reformists with stones, leaving 30 injured. Protesters
blamed the government for allowing thugs to beat them, while at least
10,000 people took part in a parallel rally in support of the king.
Jordanian reformists were dealt a further blow Sunday when the kingdom's
parliament voted against limiting the king's constitutional
authorities. "The parliament absolutely rejects the calls of some to
limit the king's constitutional authorities," an official statement
read. "The king is strong in the constitution, and we will see to it
that he remains strong to safeguard Jordanian identity."
During a tour of the southern city of Petra on Sunday, King Abdullah II
called for "social unity" but did nothing to address the specific
demands of reformists.
"We are seriously pursuing political reform and there is nothing for us to fear," Abdullah told the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad
But as the level of both political and real violence reaches a new
high, Jordanian analysts believe the King has much to fear.
In his nation-wide political column Monday, Al-Khitan issued a dire warning that the tensions in Jordan were a powder keg.
"Concern is no longer the correct description for the situation we are
going through over the past days," he wrote in Al-Arab Al-Yawm. "There
is a sense that the situation may explode at any moment."
Al-Khitan's sense of immediacy was shared by an editorial in the Jordan Times
the country's English-language daily. "The Friday events tarnished the
image of the country; they are a big step back from its forward
movement," the editorial said. "A more immediate dialogue is now needed,
one that implies an exchange of views on how best to overcome the
consequences of the clashes."
Jordan, a resource-poor country, socially divided between Palestinian
and East-Jordanian citizens, has so far managed to avoid the deep social
unrest experienced by other countries in the region. A close ally of
the United States, King Abdullah has dismissed demands for reform,
ordering just limited political measures including a cabinet reshuffle
and the establishment of a National Dialogue Committee.
But 21of the 53-member National Dialogue Committee resigned following
Friday’s demonstrations. Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Al-Bakhit
appointed the members of the committee on March 14 to discuss amendments
to the much criticized Elections Law and Political Parties Law.
Immediately, three Islamist appointees refused to take part in the
deliberations unless constitutional amendments were on the table; a
demand the government has so far refused to address. It’s not clear how
the current resignations will impact the committee.
Prime Minister Al-Bakhit blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for instigating
the violence in Friday's demonstration in an attempt to undermine the
authority of the state. But in an unusually scathing critique, columnist
Fatima Al-Samadi of Al-Arab Al-Yawm wrote on Monday that Al-Bakhit's
words were nothing but desperate scare tactics.
"When we heard Al-Bakhit … many of us felt that Gaddafi was speaking.
Our minds recalled the picture of Gaddafi blaming the Libyan people for
being Al-Qa’ida or of Omar Suleiman (former Egyptian vice President)
warning America that Islamists will take control of Egypt."
"With all due respect to the Prime Minister's information – the
Islamists are not the organizers of 'March 24'," wrote Al-Samadi.