Jordan’s would-be revolutionaries express pessimism

Activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere in the region, to discuss strategies for the changing Middle East at Amman workshop.

Jordan political reform 521 (photo credit: Hani Hazaimeh)
Jordan political reform 521
(photo credit: Hani Hazaimeh)
AMMAN – “Nadine,” a veteran of the January 25th movement that brought down Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in February, sat in a posh café on Amman’s Rainbow Street on Thursday – furiously updating her Facebook page and scouring Twitter – while opposition forces in the capital mobilized for Friday’s protests here, which they vow will be the biggest yet, and may pose a threat to the current regime.
“Jordan only has five million people; a million at least are with the army. Then there’s the Palestinians,” she said. “In Cairo alone, we have 20 million. The protests here tomorrow will only be a few thousand people at best. It won’t be Tahrir Square.”
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Friday’s rallies are widely seen as a make-or-break effort by the so-called “March 24th” movement. The movement announced Tuesday that it would hold a sit-in Friday at the Greater Amman Municipality headquarters in Ras al- Din after Friday prayers, the Jordan Times reported this week.
In an effort to prevent violent clashes with pro-reform protesters, like those that occurred last Friday, the government has reportedly said it will ban pro-government loyalists from rallying in Amman.
One of Nadine’s Egyptian colleagues, “Amjad,” said the two of them had flown into Amman earlier in the day to take part in a workshop being held here for anti-government organizers from around the region. Amjad said the workshop, which is bringing together 35 activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere in the region, will discuss strategies for the changing Middle East.
Surveying Amman as he strolled around Thursday, Amjad seemed less than impressed.
“I still can’t tell where the belly of this city is,” he said. “Where would a revolution come from? There’s only five million people here; we had that many just in Tahrir.”
Amjad, a self-professed “Facebook warrior,” drew a parallel between the upscale Amman neighborhood and Cairo’s finer districts, saying that “this reminds me of the Zamalek neighborhood, where people were praying the revolution would fail.”
He also noted how this city of hills and narrow switchback roads seemed to lack a giant public square. Still, he said, beneath the veneer of normality, he had a feeling things were not quite as they seemed.
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
“Everyone I talk to says, ‘No, don’t worry, everything’s fine,’ especially the cab drivers. From Egypt, I know this usually means nothing is fine,” he said.
Last Friday, riot police and armed government loyalists stormed the Tahrir-inspired protest camp set up in Gamal Abdel Nasser square across from the Interior Ministry in central Amman, leaving one demonstrator dead and well over 100 injured. The square remained clear on Thursday, the only trace of clashes being a series of pro-monarchy banners that praised King Abdullah as the glory and leader of Jordan. Other than that, a high number of cars were flying Jordanian flags and had flags taped or tied to their hoods or back windows.
Last Friday’s violence followed protests in February that led the king to sack his cabinet and appoint Marouf al-Bakhit as the country’s new prime minister. Bakhit was also tasked with effecting a series of reforms, but protesters say the measures do not go far enough.
The largely youth-led revolt, in a country where over two-thirds of the population is under 30, is seeking a wide range of reforms and serious government efforts to curb corruption. It has also drawn support from leftists and Islamic activists.
Unlike other popular movements in the Middle East, the would-be reformers are not looking for the ouster of the country’s leader, who remains widely revered in Jordan.