Arab World: Here, we love our king

Despite protests over economic conditions in the Hashemite kingdom, there is no chance of a Tunisia-style revolution, people of Jordan say.

Jordan Protest 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Jordan Protest 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
AMMAN, Jordan – It’s Monday evening downtown and the hundreds of small shops selling an array of colorful wares – clothing, groceries, household goods, toys and electronics – were busy serving customers with oversized bags all vying for a bargain.
While the scene might seem typical of any weekday in the bustling city center, resentment over the government’s failure to improve the quality of living and curb rising consumer prices, as well as a growing curiosity at how their Arab brothers in Tunisia managed to break the ironclad grip of a decades old dictatorship simmered under the surface.
At first, vendors and individuals on the street shook their heads or looked blank when asked to comment on whether what happened in Tunisia could also happen in the Hashemite Kingdom, which has been ruled by the same family since the creation of the East Jordan Emirate in 1921. But after a little encouragement, the people opened up and firmly said what is on their minds.
“I’m not convinced that what happened in Tunisia will improve the situation for the people there,” commented one shop owner, whose store houses floor-toceiling shelves of neatly folded traditional Arab dresses.
“They will either get another dictator who is just as bad or the country will end up descending into civil war.”
He shook his head when asked whether the Jordanian people are capable of ousting their leaders and seeing through a revolution along the same lines.
“Jordan is very different; it is not like Tunisia,” he insisted. “We have a monarchy here and we respect the king; the people here are happy with him, it’s the government they’re not happy with and that’s what needs to change.
“The demonstrations held here last week were peaceful,” he continued, gesturing towards the central Al- Husseini Mosque across the street, the site of last week’s “Days of Anger” protests that saw more than 5,000 people take to the streets. “People came here for two hours, said what was on their minds and then went home again. There was no trouble. I just stayed inside my shop and watched them.”
Amman was among several cities, others included Irbid, Kerak and Madaba, that witnessed angry protests last Friday, fuelled by what the people claim is their government’s inaction to address unemployment, deteriorating living conditions or curb ongoing price hikes on essential items.
Official figures from the kingdom show that unemployment could be as high as 14 percent, with 70% of those seeking work younger than 30, the Egyptian news website Ahram Online reported Saturday. Some sources, however, believe that unemployment figures are even higher, although even among those who do have jobs the minimum wage stands at around $211 a month.
The deteriorating living conditions were exacerbated last month when members of the recently elected House of Representatives turned their backs on the masses by showing support for what is widely seen as a corrupt government – 111 out of 119 MPs voted in favor of the current government during recent confidence motions.
BARELY REPORTED by the local media, last Friday’s demonstrations did, however, force the government to implement some new economic measures, such as the introduction of competition laws to prohibit overpricing and tougher punishments for offenders, the promise of stiffer consumer protection and even some tax reductions on fuel and items such as rice and sugar.
Despite this, protesters – backed by the opposition parties, the Islamic Action Front and the professional associations – say they will demonstrate again this weekend.
“As long as this weekend’s action remains peaceful, the government will allow the protests to go ahead,” Hani Hazaimeh, a senior reporter and political commentator at The Jordan Times, told The Jerusalem Post.
He pointed to the prime minister’s statements issued ahead of last week’s protests that claimed he respects the rights of citizens to protest and express their sentiments as long as they do not resort to violence and act in accordance with the law.
“Of course, it remains to be seen whether this week’s action will turn violent,” observed Hazaimeh, adding that it was unlikely Tunisia’s revolution would unleash a similar chain of events in Jordan.
“The anger is against the government and not the king. Jordanians see the monarchy as a source of pride and history for the country. When they look at King Abdullah II, they do not only see him but they see his father, King Hussein, his grandfather King Abdullah I, and the great Sharif Hussein of Mecca, the first Arab to stand up and fight against the Ottoman Empire and Turkish oppression.”
Analyzing the national sentiment further, he added, “The current king is always with the people and is always showing that he cares about their lives.
It was he that instructed the government to lower prices and take measures to deal with the economic hardships immediately and because of this, the people here see him as their savior against the government’s marginalization of the public.”
“In the Jordanian case, the people will rise against the government but they vow to the king to take their side,” said Hazaimeh, pointing out that unrest has happened before and the king reacted in dissolving parliament.
While the government is appointed by the king directly, elected members of parliament have the authority to topple the government if they believe it is not acting on behalf of the people, explained Hazaimeh.
“People are angry at the MPs for giving an unprecedented number of votes in the confidence motion to a government that is clearly not keeping the best interests of the people at heart,” he said.
MEANWHILE, IN downtown Amman, Emad, who said he was a lawyer, seemed happy to speak out against what he called the “dictators” of this region.
“Here we love our king, but in other countries the old dictators are getting worried because of what has happened in Tunisia,” he said. “This should be a sign to all dictators that if the people are unhappy, they have the power to make change.”
His criticism of regimes extended to the West too, which he blamed for assisting leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the now ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to stay in power.
“The West contributes to this instability,” he said.
“They placed these leaders in power and made sure there was domestic unrest so the leaders could stay strong. It is time for all corrupt governments to realize that the people have the power to make change too.”