Demonstrations in Amman, ostensibly over gas prices, highlight a deeper malaise
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Demonstrations in Amman, ostensibly over gas prices, highlight a deeper malaise

Protesters at rally organized by Muslim Brotherhood shout critical slogans at Jordan’s King Abdullah

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Jordanians celebrate independence day in Amman, June 1, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Jordanians celebrate independence day in Amman, June 1, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Hundreds of Jordanians demonstrated Saturday in downtown Amman, calling for the resignation of prime minister Fayez Tarawneh’s government. But experts say a 10 percent rise in fuel prices — the immediate pretext for the demonstrations — is just a symptom of deeper issues plaguing the Hashemite Kingdom.

“O you who raises prices, look where Gaddafi ended up,” shouted protesters near the ministry of interior in a thinly veiled threat directed at King Abdullah II. “It’s all obvious; the seller is Abdullah, the middleman is Abdullah and the buyer is Abdullah,” went another slogan.

The Muslim Brotherhood called the demonstration, bemoaning a steady rise in commodity and fuel prices and protesting government corruption. In their speeches, Brotherhood leaders referred to the government as “the regime,” evoking memories of Arab Spring demonstrations in other Middle East capitals.

‘O you who raises prices, look where Gaddafi ended up,’ shouted protesters near the ministry of interior in a thinly veiled threat directed at King Abdullah II

Assaf David, a Jordan researcher at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said Jordan’s calm in the last few months — induced by the Ramadan fast and the violence in Syria which has frightened Jordanians — was misleading.

“The underlying grievances concerning corruption never went away,” David told The Times of Israel.

“The government, quite arrogantly, seems not to care about anything. There’s a feeling at the top that they’ve survived the Arab Spring and now they can proceed as they wish.”

David noted that the protests, which took place across Jordan, were not limited to Muslim Brotherhood activists but included non-politicized Jordanians from the impoverished periphery. Social activists are now calling for a general strike on Wednesday, September 5.

Saturday’s hike in gas prices joined a series of unpopular decisions recently adopted by the government. An amendment to the publications law was criticized for muffling freedom of speech. The sacking of two directors in Jordan’s Social Security Institution last week and their replacement with government cronies sparked public allegations of nepotism.

The government, quite arrogantly, seems not to care about anything. There’s a feeling at the top that they’ve survived the Arab Spring and now they can proceed as they wish.”

“Recently, decision-makers have come to the conclusion that excessive capitulation to the sentiments of the street has stymied the state’s ability to make difficult decisions,” wrote Fahed Khitan, a columnist for independent Jordanian daily Al-Ghad.

“[For Jordanians], the bloody course of the Syrian revolution has given stability priority over reform, officials estimate. So the government has found an opportune time to revisit its decision-making process.”

But it was not just the lack of domestic pressure that gave the Jordanian leadership a false sense of security, claimed Khitan. International pressure for domestic political reform has all but dissipated; Western attention is now directed at developments in Syria and Iran. Jordan has also reached total agreement with international financial institutions on economic reform, which most Western countries view as necessary for stability.

Saturday’s Islamist speeches indicate that the Jordanian government will not be resting easy for long.

“Betting on the patience of citizens is a losing gamble,” said Zaki Bani Rsheid, a Muslim Brotherhood leader. “Gambling on people’s food [elsewhere] has cost those governments their heads.”

 

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