The Arab Spring has blossomed – and sometimes wilted – in nearly every country
in the region, aside from Jordan.
Now, with large demonstrations planned
for Friday in Amman – which organizers say will be the biggest the Hashemite
Kingdom has seen in years – some question how long Jordan can remain immune from
the demands for change that have swept through the region, sparking uprisings
and unseating dictatorships.
Jordan is a relatively small, stable country
with a measure of freedom and a popular monarchy. But the conflation of new
pressures on the desert kingdom – an influx of Syrian refugees, an economic
crisis exacerbated by the region’s recent instability, and the ascent to power
of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt – are adding up to a potentially combustible
atmosphere that many analysts say should not be underestimated.
think Jordan is on the same Arab Spring track as other countries, but we are
looking at a new peak of these demonstrations. It’s normal that when dialogue
channels are closed, people will go to the streets,” said Oraib Rantawi, founder
and director-general of the Al-Quds Center for Political Studies in
The dialogue in question is between the government and the Muslim
Brotherhood, as well as a variety of other organizations demanding
King Abdullah II, who ascended the throne following the death of
his father King Hussein in 1999, has sworn to answer demands for reform and says
he will hold new elections by the end of the year.
But many say the mode
of elections the king has on offer promises to be a “copy and paste” of the same
kind of parliament, Rantawi said.
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While a new elections formula increases
the number of deputies who would be voted in on a national basis – in other
words, through parties which had been virtually banned in Jordan – the king also
increased the number of deputies from 120 to 150.
The burgeoning number
would effectively dilute the potential impact of new electees. And the upper
house of Jordan’s bicameral National Assembly consists of 60 members appointed
by the king.
Given this formula, the Muslim Brotherhood, along with
several other non-Islamist opposition groups, says it will boycott the
elections, for which a date has yet to be set.
“This is a bad sign from
my point of view. If the upcoming elections go ahead as planned, they will be
part of the problem, not part of the solution,” Rantawi said.
absence of serious dialogue, this has led us to situation where there are
worries, concerns, and a degree of polarization in Jordan that is increasing
like never before in the past 10 years. If we don’t have a last-minute
initiative by the king himself to postpone these early elections, and to put all
the parties around one table to have a serious dialogue, things will become very
difficult in Jordan,” he said.
The situation in Jordan has been simmering
for the past year and-a-half. But few protests have garnered international
attention or have indicated that a critical mass of Jordanians demand
In recent weeks, however, frustration has grown. This
Friday, there will be a large protest in Amman, billed as Jordan’s largest
demonstration in decades. It’s main organizer is the Muslim Brotherhood, but
opposition parties are expected to join, including the leftist Wihda and the
On Monday, the protest’s organizers outlined seven demands
for reform and said that the gathering would attract some 80 parties, reform
groups and other local organizations critical of the Jordanian government, The
A pro-monarchy group announced it would hold a
counter-protest adjacent to the one demanding reform, raising concerns that
there would be clashes between the two groups.
The Jordanian branch of
the Muslim Brotherhood declared its gathering as a “Save the Homeland” rally,
and outlined demands which, if implemented, could change the face of Jordan.
These include constitutional amendments which would place citizens “at the
source of authority” – an apparent reference to royal rule.
They refer to
the formation of a “national salvation” government.
This would apparently
coincide with greater efforts to rein in corruption; a loosening of control on
civic and political life by Jordan’s security services; greater freedom of
expression; and the release of imprisoned protesters and political
Several weeks ago, Jordanian journalists, academics and other
reform-minded activists were deeply disappointed when the king endorsed a
controversial media law which threatens to stifle freedom of expression
“This Friday will be a test,” predicted Oded Eran, an expert on
Jordan at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies and a
former Israeli ambassador to Amman.
“Looking at the last two years and
the numbers involved, they are not enough to create a Tahrir Square affect.
People come out on Fridays, which means it’s not a daily phenomena.
use the mosque prayers as a focal point in time and space.
show great force,” Eran said.
“However, given the political agenda plus
the economic one, this compounds and erodes the king’s traditional base of
“For example, in the largely Beduin south, one sees people who
are criticizing the king for economic reasons, and this never happened in the
People never touched the royalty itself. Yes, the system, the
ministers, but never the king.
“But now, the royalty is also a subject,
and people are talking about the style of leadership in Jordan and the
corruption that exists,” he said.
Indeed, given the lack of dayto- day
uproar that defined the Arab Spring in other countries, some Jordanian analysts
argue it’s inappropriate to even compare the tidal wave of protesters in Tahrir
Square with the tepid demonstrations they’ve seen so far in Jordan.
Muslim Brothers have been demonstrating every Friday, from the same place, from
a mosque in the middle of the town, for the last year and a half,” said Tariq
Masarweh, columnist from Al- Rai newspaper, and a former Culture
“They prepared some cameramen to take shots while the
worshipers are leaving the mosque. So the demonstrations, which is something
like 500 people, looks as if it’s 5,000,” he said.
“I think the
Brotherhood is asking for some blood in the streets. They are trying to provoke
the policemen to shoot somebody or hit somebody, because so far, no one tried to
“On the contrary, the police gave them water on the hot days
and let them demonstrate,” Masarweh said.
“The Brotherhood wants to
abolish the corruption from the government, but they don’t say how they want to
reform. They say Islam is the solution, but they don’t really present
solutions,” he said.
“They are against the World Bank, they are against
the peace treaty with Israel. In short, they want power,” said Masarweh.
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