One gunman was killed and thirteen police officers were among 17 seriously wounded when militants attacked two police stations in Jordan. The attacks followed violent demonstrators over price rises in what aianalyst Osama al-Sharif calls a “serious challenge, probably the most crucial since he (Abdullah) became king” in 1999.
The protests,” the worst in Jordan since Arab Spring protests began 23 months ago, stoked fears of deepening unrest in this strategically vital U.S. ally,” write The Washington Post’s Joby Warrick and Taylor Luck.
“The protesters, spanning an array of different political groups, also targeted King Abdullah II — a rare public display against the monarch,” according to reports. “Criticizing the king in public is forbidden in Jordan and is punishable by up to three years in jail.”
The authorities blamed the unrest on the country’s powerful Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“This was not spontaneous,” said a government security official. “The Muslim Brotherhood had a plan, and they were well organized. For them, it is a gift from heaven.”
Other observers insisted that the Islamists were only exploiting popular discontent.
“It’s popular and spontaneous; it was not called by activists and Islamists,” said Kamal Khoury, an activist and blogger. “It was regular people going crazy about what’s going on.”
The leader of the country’s most powerful opposition group, called the protests “a wakeup call to the king to avoid a replica of the violence in Egypt and Tunisia.”
“The street is seething with anger and an explosion is coming,” the Brotherhood’s Zaki Bani Irsheid said. “We want to create a Jordanian Spring with a local flavor — meaning reforms in the system while keeping our protests peaceful.”
He called on the king to rescinding a decision to cut fuel subsidies, notes H. Varulkar of the Middle East Media Research Institute. He also demanded “immediate constitutional reforms to restore the rule to the people, so that it can settle accounts with corrupt officials and reclaim the funds, companies, and land that have been stolen from them” and called on the king to postpone the parliamentary elections, “as the present atmosphere would not [permit] elections that will be acceptable to the people.”
The government has failed to honor commitments to reform a system based on monarchical patronage and tribal loyalties, say analysts.
The authorities “have been slowly walking back from the comprehensive political reforms that were promised in the initial euphoria of the Arab Spring,” says Daoud Kuttab, director of the AmmanNet Community Media Network and a former professor of journalism at Princeton University.
“Many…believe that the Arab Spring has run its course. After all, popular protests have failed to gather steam; Bashar Assad’s regime has held firm in Syria; and Egypt, with neither a constitution nor a parliament, has apparently veered from democracy, if not descended into chaos,” he writes.
But Khasawneh, who had encouraged Islamists to join the political process, and forged a rapprochement with the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas, warns that it is a mistake to write off the Arab Spring. In May, shortly after his resignation, he warned Jordanian leaders against complacency in the reform process. His last words after being replaced by a conservative were to remind Jordan’s leaders that spring was a season that always returned.
“This is the beginning of the Jordanian Spring, Nov. 13,” said Hassan Barari, a political science professor at the University of Jordan, where students blocked a main road near campus. “Because this is no longer a political thing; this is the lives of the people. If you go around to the tribes, this is the backbone of the king, they can’t afford anything. It can’t be worse.”
AmmanNet is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.