Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets last week in the largest protests to hit the country since the start of the Arab uprisings. The demonstrations, sparked by a rise in fuel prices by as much as 54 percent after a cut in government subsidies, quickly turned violent as protesters and security forces clashed, resulting in 75 injuries and one death across the country. Amman slashed the subsidies to reduce the nation’s budget deficit of $3 billion and help obtain a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Last week’s protests, which continued this week, differ from those in the recent past by its scope, degree of violence, and perhaps most importantly, nature. Unlike in the past, some protesters this time around called for the overthrow of King Abdullah II, and popular slogans from the Arab uprising were heard in the streets, notably: “The people want the downfall of the regime.” In addition, the crowd included a new mix of people, from tribal members who traditionally back the king to first-timers and protesters unaffiliated with political parties, unions, or the secular opposition. The kingdom has witnessed protests for nearly two years — since the start of the region’s uprisings — but the latest round seem to mark a turning point.
Jordanians demonstrate following an announcement that Jordan would raise fuel prices in Amman on Nov. 13, 2012. (Photo: Muhammad Hamed/REUTERS)
Jordan’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, walked a careful line during the protests. While it officially joined in on the demonstrations, it also stated that it does not demand the king’s ouster. The movement will likely try to use these new protests to its advantage by pushing for reforms from the king. Some analysts even argue that the Brotherhood is fanning the flames of dissent in Jordan. In order to fend off unrest thus far, King Abdullah has instituted certain reforms that eat away at his power, changing one-third of the Jordanian constitution to encourage a multiparty system and a more independent parliament, as well as allowing Jordanians to elect a prime minister for the first time in upcoming elections. These changes may not be enough.
In response to the demonstrations, Jordan’s military prosecutor charged 89 activists with inciting violent revolt. The charged face up to 15 years in jail. King Abdullah, for his part, has stood by the actions of the nation’s security forces in response to the events. And Jordan’s key ally, the United States, stated its support for Amman, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying, “There are concerns — economic, political concerns, aspirations — by the Jordanian people. We believe that King Abdullah’s roadmap for reform addresses these.”
The protests raise serious questions about the Hashemite Kingdom’s future. Jordan has avoided the worst of the Arab uprisings to date, but the recent violence and demands from activists indicate growing discontent with the status quo.