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Plausible and implausible aspects of Jordan’s protests

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Recently, deprivation and lack of satisfaction in the daily life of the population have generated waves of protests among Arab states in the Middle East. Nowadays, Jordan resembles a drama, as protests seem to be erupting on a schedule known beforehand. Mass protests are permitted in Jordan, but the recurrence of existing protests weakens violent manifestations.

Influenced by dissatisfaction with everyday life and inspired by the protests in other states, especially Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, the Jordanians have made peaceful demonstrations since the beginning of 2011 asking for better living standards through economic and political reforms. So far, the protests have spread and developed in different forms such as gatherings, sitting-in, boycotts, picketing of governmental institutions, issuing statements and distributing leaflets.


Budget deficit, inflation and unemployment generate deprivation of certain goods and social services among Jordanians. Lack of consensus on fundamental issues corroborated with economic instability leads to material constraints for the working class, forced to pay higher taxes. Besides economic factors, there are several political and social discontents such as nepotism (wasta), the corrupt elite and the sense of social injustice and marginalization, between the population of the South and North, especially in favour of the former. The reminiscence of wasta in Jordan has a very negative impact on the general level of competence in political and economic sectors.

The first demand of the demonstrators was the resignation of the Prime Minister Mr. Samir Rifai and his cabinet, and urgent implementation of economic and political reforms to satisfy the protesters, the coalition of Islamists, the secular opposition groups, young people, and also the tribes of Bedouins from rural areas joining a collective protest. Since January 2011, on every Friday after prayers the downtown area of Amman becomes a theatre of collective self over.

On February 1st 2011, His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al-Hussein dismissed Rifai government and appointed Mr. Marouf Suleiman Al-Bakhit as the country’s new Prime Minister. Marouf Al-Bakhit is a former army general and his primary objectives have been to take firm and fast action to strengthen democracy and provide a better life for all citizens. On the one hand, the drafting of the election law seems to last longer than expected, causing impatience among Islamist groups. On the other hand, the first step in liberalization of press was made by the appointment of Mr. Taher Odwan as Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications in February 2011. Until he took over the presidency, Odwan had been an editor for the Jordanian newspaper “Al Arab Al-Yawm”, which virulently criticized the former government and the measures taken against press and Internet censorship. Therefore, on June 21st, Minister Taher Odwan resigned from his position in protest against the draft law which restricts media freedom. In his speech commemorating 12 years on the throne, the King stated that he would relinquish his right to appoint prime minister and cabinet, and that the election law will be announced soon.

Protests in Amman came into international attention almost episodically, following the clashes between supporters and protesters of King Abdullah II, or clashes between the police and demonstrators. On July 15th, a violent incident was recorded when protesters and journalists were injured in clashes with the police. After this incident, the Public Security Directorate undertook full responsibility for this violent episode, announcing compensations for the damaged equipment and injured journalists. The protests against corruption that followed were peaceful, demonstrators demanding better governance.
 
As witness to the protests on July 22nd, I have seen about 700 people gathering near Al-Hussein Mosque after the Friday prayers, sending a repeated message against deprivation of certain goods and freedoms. Protesters also criticized the government for its failure to fight corruption and protested against the peace treaty with Israel. This comes only one week after the protest urging the resignation of Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit.

Protesters had specific signs - national flags and banners - with messages for the Jordanian government, shouting in unison, demanding reforms. I stayed there, joining foreign journalists, making steps towards the crowd, living the climax of the day at the end of the rally, with the American flag burning. No violence, no aggressive incident, they only showed disapproval of the US government interference in Jordan’s internal affairs. The banners reflected their grievances, while the scripts in their hands included short expressions such as “People want to stop corruption”, “Bread and freedom: social justice”, “We want government”, “Hunger is the red line”.  

The Israeli ambassador to Jordan, Daniel Nevo, left Amman for few days as a protective precaution, after mass protests were announced outside the Israeli Embassy. Protests against Israel are a result of the rejections that many Jordanians show in the relationship with Israel, based on considerations related to its formation by occupying the Palestinian territory. Hence, several hundred of protesters called for Jordan to repeal the peace treaty with Israel.  

The local media showed little of these protests, but international news channels often presented the turbulences in Amman and other towns like Jerash, Aqaba and Irbid. Because the news sometimes neglect to provide details about the Jordanian society, merely presenting demands is never enough to classify plausible and implausible aspects of protest movements. To understand a protest you have to deconstruct it, to connect feature society with the protest leadership. There are few motivations for understanding Jordan’s protests. There is a gap between Jordanians (or Jordanian Bedouin) and Jordanian Palestinians, so society is divided in two groups, a protest group and a counter-protest group. The negative cohesion between these groups subsists on discrimination, weak political rights and material disadvantages, because cultural features and identity dimensions are boundaries in collective protests.
Jordanian Palestinians feel an unofficial institutionalized political exclusion, and being a deprived group they become an instrument for Islamists or other organized entities, which easily recruit participants through social networks and use crowds to send their political messages. Jordanians supported the political system and the King and protested against the government using Arab Spring repertory, calling for change and social justice.
Protests might bring change in the social life, but hardly in the economic one in times of internal crisis. Moreover, irrational decisions were adopted and economists do not agree with these measures. In this context, Jordan’s Central Bank Governor Mr. Faris Sharaf resigned, criticizing the tax policies adopted by the government, insisting on reducing bureaucracy, as civil servant salaries weigh on the state’s budget.

The majority of citizens consider that His Majesty must redesign and implement reform measures. Furthermore, the King agrees to reform the country and undertakes to oversee the entire reform process. So far, the King has secured his place by promising new reforms. In the meantime, political reform, economic development and better living standards remain the main concerns of the Bakhit government.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1.    Greenberg, Joel. Jordan’s King Abdullah II ousts prime minister, cabinet in wake of mass protesters, washingtonpost.com, accessed in 27 August 2011.
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