Much ado about nothing? Jordan's 'Brothers' protest politely

Published October 6th, 2012 - 03:49 GMT
Will Jordan's protest fever go further? 'Raghdan' protestors arrive at the downtown venue in Amman's 'Friday to rescue Jordan'
Will Jordan's protest fever go further? 'Raghdan' protestors arrive at the downtown venue in Amman's 'Friday to rescue Jordan'

Jordan's biggest Friday protest to date has come and gone with less of a fuss than anticipated. Yesterday saw the Muslim Brotherhood make a peaceful stand for serious reform and against flagrant corruption in the Kingdom that has staved off a viable Arab Spring til now.

King Abdullah II has tolerated Jordan’s street protests in the past-- since the region acquired the Friday protest habit in 2011, Jordan has had its fair share of what has become quite routine in a repressive Kingdom known for its watchful security police. Ahead of this Friday, HM, King Abdullah II had positively encouraged freedom of expression so long as it was kept ‘quiet’ (read Jordanian 'polite'.)

The Hashemite monarchy knows what it is doing and is quietly confident that it is playing its cards right.

Remember, this is the same King who just a fortnight ago spoke more candidly to Western audiences than he does back home in an interview with Jon Stuart on US cutting commentary slot "The Daily Show", expressing his favor for the Arab Spring, cementing the impression of what a people's monarch he was.

Til now, it has responded to the increasingly audible rumbling for change by merrily scapegoating certain institutions as easy targets for public displeasure—namely, the two p's, the parliament and the prime minister. 
Proactive measures 

Ahead of yesterday's mass public grumble, the King opted for more of the same quick-fix - dissolving parliament or sacking PMs - when he dismantled parliament on Thursday, together with calling forward the elections.

Still the monarchy is seen to be leaving its people wanting. Criticism of the king, in this tight-lipped nation, has gradually mounted over the past year. Inevitably, tongues have been loosened and confidence fed by a region speaking candidly about change and revolution. But Jordan has enough to warrant debate if not outright complaint.  People are feeling the strain of living in a country where cost of living seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to income. Abdullah is still taking more-than-is-comfortable in foreign aid from the US and his Gulf sponsors, as well as seeking more IMF pots of money to plug the gaps.

It's not just the desert dust blurring their vision, but in the eyes of the Jordanians, the monarchy has failed to deliver any tangible political reform at a fast enough rate to be appreciated by a patient people (some 16 are currently held as prisoners of conscience) who can be expected to be arraigned under the bill for 'terrorism' acts for speaking freely about the royal regime. They want the constitution ammended to reflect popular will for civil and political freedoms, and fast.

Yesterday's pedestrian show of protest on the streets was matched in wheels last month when a fuel hike protest last saw Amman turn yellow in a taxi show of force, which resulted in the King stepping in to call off the inflation and quell the frustration for now. Yet the people are apparently no longer so easily beguiled into seeing their King as the solution. Their anger has been simmering and while quelled intermittently by shows of change, they may be starting to question the system as a whole that depends on the (outmoded) King's pardon, sacking, or overriding public decisions of office.

Plus the people see less reasons to believe the pro-Arab Spring monarch is completely on side. The recent passage of a heavy-handed press and publications law clamping down on national online media outlets is just another face of the regime’s regressive solutions to increased demands for reform and progress.

While all interest has been on Egypt’s reigning Muslim Brotherhood as Morsi takes up his place on the international stage this month, the same party of the Kingdom of Jordan has been stealing centre stage and causing a stir in the usually stolid kingdom.

Perhaps galvanized by Islamist influence in neighboring countries where their counterpart political brothers have been ascending to power, they have been ramping up the drive to effect real protest in Jordan, after a spell of attempts to register discontent usually fell flat on their face in the ‘safe haven’ kingdom. 

In Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated political party has been trying to rev up the nation’s own soft-launched revolution by waging a campaign for a Friday protest with a difference. They called for a demonstration of their people prowess and billed it the 'Friday of Saving the Nation'. A tall order but the popular party was not intimidated by the mission, already threatening boycott action of the country's upcoming elections to make known their absolute objection to the current electoral system.

The build-up was huge and the street had been abuzz with mounting speculation of this October Friday that was going to rally the largest Jordan crowd yet. Yesterday, the MB affiliates may not have rounded up the 50,000 promised but they nevertheless pulled in an historic (and disputed) 'tens of thousands'  - 12,000 though some estimates pitted it at closer to 8,000 and police reports suggest a less impressive 2,000.

However the Islamist numbers race was always up against a power bigger than even their mighty beliefs could reckon with. The powers that be issued an order Thursday night that nobody - local, Bedouin, or foreign - was allowed to pitch up their tents and sleep overnight in the downtown Husseini mosque quarters. 

Friday morning, commuting protestors were met with a surprise embargo when buses going to Amman were all halted from the provinces. Karak, Irbid and Tafeeleh citizens were all blockaded from joining their Ammani brothers in peaceful protest, though the resourceful and dogged among them came up with alternative transport arrangements, pooling private cars. Those that had planned to come in hordes to support the MB's big day had been foiled by a deliberate logistical obstacle.

A counter rally for the loyalists to the King was called off to prevent a major clash also, so numbers were lower all round. The real volume  was in the police force who lined the streets in anticipation of the Islamist contingent doing its worst.

Police predicted a riot and came armed to the teeth and geared up for a show-down, with tanks at the ready signalling expectations for hostilities, though as it happened there were more organised speeches and non-threatening sit-ins than violence or force. Potential trouble was nipped in the bud by a vigilant riot policeforce who were quick to leak the news that 8 men allegedly armed with knives and guns were stopped from entering the gathering and arrested. These arraigned 'Ammani 8' will be charged with threatening national security which in the Kingdom carries a draconian penalty.

Still that didn't prevent a contingent among the police, security and army from getting rowdy and forgetting their peace keeping, restraining remit  – when all the speeches yelling and shouting done, a member of the army leaders stood up and started chanting slogans for the King. 

The BBC called Friday afternoon's sunny Amman demonstration ‘good-natured’. Those that weren't a no-show, put on a decent spectacle of peaceful demonstration consisting in bulk of organised long speeches calling for real changes to the government,  real anti corruption, and speedier visible palpable change. When all was said and done, a more thuggish element did start yelling obscenities against the King, crossing what Arab media were calling 'red lines'.

October 5 passed with far less fuss and commotion than expected if you'd put much store by what the Jordan media were saying or what the Muslim Brotherhood had promised. Downtown Amman Husseini mosque and surrounding streets held at least a couple of thousand of citizens who poured in from three of four identifiable locations. Some entered from Jabal al Jawfa, another stream from Palm Square near the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) head quarters and still another contingent emptied out from the Salt Street opposite central bank. A final flow trickled in from Raghdan bus stand facing the Royal court. 

Debut of Arab Spring lines

There were no divisions in the agenda of the day (with the pro-King rally called off) and the demands were presented in 7 points, including a transparent electoral system and process that guaranteed a ruling power representing the people's will; reform in an amended constitution accountable to the people; 'seriously' combatting corruption; and establishing a constitutional court ...(that leaves out the kingly pardons).

While there were a whole medley of mixed chants, featuring anti-corruption cries, the  protest was given a real injection of Arab Spring with those present mainly reporting the chants more famous at Tahrir: "The people want the fall of the regime".

Share your thoughts freely: was this any different from earlier Jordan mass-rallies? Is Jordan's Spring getting underway or is this just a copy-cat attempt by the Muslim Brotherhood to take the helm as Islamists have done in neighboring Arab countreis?


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