'King Abdullah is very nervous' about Jordanian opposition

Opposition groups plan to increase anti-government activity; monarch reportedly set up "special operations room" to prevent anarchy in Jordan.

King Abdullah (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
King Abdullah
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Jordan’s opposition groups plan to step up their anti-government protests in the coming days amid increased fears that the kingdom may be headed toward a period of instability and unrest.
Some Jordanian opposition figures are talking about organizing a one-million-strong demonstration in Amman in a bid to force the king to remove the unpopular government headed by Prime Minister Samir Rifai.
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Palestinians who returned to the West Bank from Jordan in recent days said that many Jordanians were openly talking about the need to copy the Tunisian model and revolt against the regime.
“King Abdullah is said to be very nervous,” said a merchant from Ramallah who spent the past three weeks in Amman. “There is even talk in Jordan that the king has set up a special operations room in his palace to prevent the kingdom from plunging into anarchy and lawlessness.”
In recent days, thousands of Jordanians have staged street protests to demand the resignation of Rifai’s government, which they hold responsible for the bad economy and high rate of unemployment.
On Friday, thousands of people emerged from a mosque in downtown Amman chanting, “Jordan is not only for the wealthy,” “Down with the Samir Rifai government!” and “Bread is a red line.”
The demonstrators also chanted slogans in support of the “Tunisian revolution.”
Although the protests were directed primarily against the Rifai government, some Jordanians, especially those affiliated with Islamic groups, openly called for regime change in the kingdom.
“He who appoints governments is responsible because fighting corruption starts with the head,” opposition leader Leith Shbeilat told the demonstrators in an implicit reference to Abdullah.
Although the anti-government protesters have been careful not to mention the king by name, some Jordanians, like Shbeilat, did not hesitate to express their disenchantment with the monarch, who appoints the prime minister.
“Many Jordanians are furious with the Rifai government because of unemployment and poverty, but there are also many people who are blaming the king,” said Mufid Abu Khalaf, a businessman who shuttles frequently between Amman and Hebron. “Some Jordanians are saying that what happened to [deposed Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine] Ben Ali will repeat itself in other Arab countries, including Jordan.”
The demonstrations have, meanwhile, spread to other parts of the kingdom, especially Karak and Maan, prompting Abdullah to instruct his government to reduce prices of fuel and basic commodities. But the latest attempt to appease angry Jordanians has thus far failed to contain the resentment.
The current wave of anti-government demonstrations is being organized by secular leftist parties and Islamic groups. But the two forces have thus far refrained from holding joint protests, and the feeling among many Jordanians is that they are even competing with each other over who will attract the biggest number of demonstrators.
Many Jordanians are also angry with their parliament, which has almost unanimously backed the Rifai government in votes of noconfidence that had been submitted by opposition parties. In the most recent vote, the government won the support of 111 out of 120 members of parliament.
On Sunday evening, hundreds of Jordanians staged a demonstration outside the parliament building in Amman to express their anger with the legislature’s actions.
Security authorities have been cautious in dealing with the anti-government demonstrations, allowing protesters to vent their frustration and anger.
“The authorities can tolerate the demonstrations as long as they are directed only against the government’s economic policies,” said Muneer Shami, an east Jerusalem university student who has been living in Amman for two years. “Everyone knows that the situation will change if the demonstrators turn against the king. The law in Jordan forbids citizens from saying anything bad against the king.”
Meanwhile, the king has been busy of late dealing with feuds between rival tribes in various parts of the kingdom. The violence has claimed several lives in the past few months.
In some cases, entire tribes have been forced to leave their homes due to the authorities’ failure to enforce law and order.
The removal of Ben Ali from power is expected to serve as a catalyst for further unrest in Jordan. In the coming days and weeks, Jordanian opposition groups plan a series of public protests that could lead to scenes of anarchy and lawlessness similar to those coming out of Tunisia.
“The pressure on the king is mounting,” said Maher Abdel Kareem, a Palestinian journalist who used to work in Amman. “If the demonstrations spread, things could get out of control and lead to the downfall of the monarchy.”