Last week, protests broke out in Jordan after a government decision to raise fuel prices. While protests have been taking place in Jordan for almost two years now, for the first time there is major involvement from Jordan’s Palestinians, with open calls for toppling the regime. With the future of Jordan’s King Abdullah in jeopardy, so is regional stability as well as Jordan’s peace with Israel. Pro-Western forces have critical options to consider.
The protesters, last week, started openly to call for the king to step down. The Independent noted that previously the protests had been “peaceful and rarely targeted King Abdullah II himself,” and reported that this time crowds “chanted slogans against the king and threw stones at riot police as they protested in several cities.”
Al Jazeera, as well, reported that protests have been taking place “across the width and the length of the country,” with “most chanting for toppling the regime.” Several of the king’s photographs – regularly displayed in public places in Jordan – were set on fire.
What came as a surprise in the recent protests, according to Al Jazeera, is that Palestinian refugee camps have been also participating to the fullest. These protests apparently broke out in the Al-Hussein refugee camp, close to Jordan’s capital, Amman. Protesters were seen calling for toppling the regime.
In another protest, Al-Hussein refugee camp protesters chanted: “Our god, may you take away our oppressor. Our country Jordan has existed before the Arab Revolution,” referring to the revolt against the Turks by which Jordan’s king’s great grandfather established the Hashemite kingdom.. Al-Hussein refugee camp protesters eventually marched into lively Douar Firas area near central Amman, where they were attacked by the fearsome Jordanian gendarmerie.
The gendarmerie officers were even harsher in the Al-Baqaa refugee camp, Jordan’s largest, where protests broke out for the first time, and slogans targeted the king with demands that he step down. Protesters reportedly burned tires, blocking the highway which borders the camp and connects Amman to Northern Jordan.
The Jordanian news website Ammon published a video showing an al-Baqaa refugee camp leader calling for “calm” within camps in Jordan, while admitting that the refugee camp’s leaders, usually favored by the regime over the Palestinian public, were not able to form a public committee to reach out to protesting youths. The Palestinian-dominated Jabal Al-Nuzha camp has also been the site of regular protests, with demonstrators also calling for toppling the king.
Other Palestinian-dominated areas are witnessing first-time protests as well, including Al-Ashrafiah, the Hiteen refugee camp and the broader East Amman.
It is not the Palestinians alone who are protesting against the king. “East Bankers” in Northern Jordan had generally kept away from the protest movements until last week, when the residents of Irbid, the biggest city in Northern Jordan, started calling for toppling the regime.
Other major protests have been taking place in several parts of the country. Tensions ran high in the southern city of Kerak, an East Banker-dominated city. A known opposition leader in Kerak, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he was expecting serious escalation from the regime, and alleged that Jordanian police were cracking down on protesters and arresting their leaders. His claim was consistent with footage that appeared on YouTube, exhibiting parts of the unrest. He also claimed that southern Jordanians “have made up their minds, they will not tolerate the king any longer …it is too late for him to make any reforms.”
The Muslim Brotherhood too organized a protest, in the city of Rusifay, east of Amman. Their demonstration, critical of Abdullah’s Prime Minister, Al-Nosuor, but with no criticism of the king or calls for toppling his regime, simply demanded that fuel prices be reduced.
On November 18, the popular Jordanian news website, Al-Sawt, published an article entitled: “Will the Muslim Brotherhood get the price for its realism and positivity during the fuel-prices protest?” In the article, editor in chief, Tarek Dilawani (also a seasoned journalist for the Jordanian daily, Ad-Dustor), claims that the Jordanian regime had “an arrangement with the Muslim Brotherhood not to surf the tide of the protests, and to keep their demands fixed on peaceful reform of the regime.”
Nonetheless, the supposed arrangement between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Hashemite regime has not worked. It has not stopped protests by either Palestinians or East Bankers. As The Independent recently wrote: “The protesters…were led by activists that included the secular Hirak Shebabi youth movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and various nationalist and left-wing groups.” It is therefore possible that the Muslim Brotherhood is only a part of the opposition, and not “the opposition.”
About the Author: Mudar Zahran is the Secretrary General of the Jordanian Coalition of Opposition, a known Jordanian- Palestinian politician and writer, who now resides in the UK as a political refugee. His writings regularly appear in Arab, Israeli, and American publications.
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