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Monday, December 12, 2011
MEMRI: The Arab Spring in Jordan: Regime Concerned about Increasing Protests, Calls to Overthrow It

MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis |771|December 12, 2011


The Arab Spring in Jordan: Regime Concerned about Increasing Protests, Calls
to Overthrow It

By: H.Varulkar*


Since January 2011, Jordan has seen a growing wave of protests and calls for
reform by citizens, who have steadily increased the level of their demands.
The protests are led by the Islamist movement, which dominates the political
opposition, and by the popular protest movement, which encompasses numerous
pro-reform organizations established in the recent months. Also prominent in
the protest movement are organizations representing Jordan's tribal
population, which for decades was considered the powerbase of the Hashemite
regime. In recent years, this population has developed a growing sense of
resentment and discrimination as a result of the economic policy advanced by
the Jordanian king.[1] This has triggered the emergence of several
pro-reform organizations representing the tribes. Political oppositionists
have also intensified their criticism against the regime; prominent among
them is Islamist oppositionist Laith Shbailat, as well as the former prime
minister and chief of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), Ahmad
'Obeidat, who has recently emerged as a leading oppositionist and
established the National Front for Reform.

Oppositionist Ahmad 'Obeidat and Islamic Movement official Hamza Mansour
(second and third from left) in an October 7, 2011 protest march in Amman[2]

October 21, 2011 protest march in Amman[3]

Following mass demonstrations in Amman and other provinces, especially in
the south of Jordan, and in light of the revolutions in the Arab world that
have sparked intense violence in several Arab countries and brought down the
rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, King 'Abdallah launched a series of
reform measures aimed at appeasing the public and preventing an escalation
of the protests.[4] The chief of these measures was the introduction of a
new constitution, which came into force on October 10 and included
amendments to 42 constitutional articles.[5] The amendments met some of the
demands of the opposition and protest movement,[6] and, according to the
king's associates, even involved a certain curtailing of the king's

This measure was not enough to satisfy the opposition and the protest
movements, however. They demanded more extensive changes, including efforts
to combat the corruption rampant in the regime; instate an elected prime
minister (rather than a prime minister appointed by the king); abolish the
king-appointed senate, or transform it into a body elected by the people,
and pass a new elections law. In essence, they were demanding to
considerably diminish the powers of the king and grant greater freedom of
action to the parliament. [8]

King 'Abdallah II signing the constitutional amendments[9]

The popular protests, which have been going on for approximately ten months,
intensified dramatically in recent weeks. This is manifest primarily in a
shift from general criticism aimed mainly at the government to a harsh
denouncement of the Jordanian regime itself, even including calls to
overthrow it or to establish a constitutional monarchy. It should be
stressed that until ten months ago, calls to topple the regime were
virtually unheard in Jordan. Today, they still remain infrequent; the
majority of protest movements are calling for reform, rather than for the
ouster of the regime. Still, it cannot be ignored that such calls are
beginning to be heard, not only in closed conferences of the protest
movement but also in demonstrations throughout the kingdom.[10]

In response to the escalation in the protests, the regime has taken numerous
steps to appease the Islamic movement and the tribes, including attempts to
buy them off with money and positions of power. Concurrently, it has begun
to show flexibility on issues previously considered unmentionable. For
example, the king himself has begun discussing curtailing his powers and
establishing a constitutional monarchy.[11] In the past, former prime
minister Ma'rouf Al-Bakhit denounced these demands, calling them "harmful to
the balance and the foundations of the political regime," "a violation of
the constitution," "nonsense," and an attempt to incite the public.[12]

The Jordanian regime has apparently learned from the experience of other
Arab regimes in the region, as evident from its vastly different reaction to
the protests. Unlike other Arab rulers, the king promptly accepted the
demands for reform, and even initiated some measures to advance it, while
promising further reforms in the future. Moreover, since the beginning of
the protests, the regime has permitted marches and demonstrations throughout
the kingdom, and has largely refrained from violence against
demonstrators.[13] It has also pursued a policy of dialogue with the
opposition and the protest movement, rather than confronting and persecuting
them. The opposition and protesters, however, remain dissatisfied, so if the
Hashemite regime wishes to remain stable, it will apparently have to enact
more substantial and far-reaching reforms.

Another factor that contributes to the unrest in Jordan is the difficult
economic situation and the rising poverty and unemployment. Referring to
this situation in a Washington Post interview, King 'Abdallah said: "The
Arab Spring didn't start because of politics; it started because of
economics poverty and unemployment. ...What keeps me up at night is not
political reform because I am clear on where we are going. What keeps me up
at night is the economic situation because if people are going to get back
on the streets, it is because of economic challenges, not political."[14]

The Protestors Escalate Their Tone, Call for Ouster of Regime

The change in the tone of the protests was triggered by a specific event:
the attack on an October 1, 2011 rally in the village of Sakeb in the Jerash
province, at which veteran Islamist oppositionist Laith Shbailat was
delivering a talk on political reform to an audience of 3,000. A mob of
hundreds stormed the rally and threw stones, injuring several people and
causing damage to property. The Islamic movement, the protest movements, and
Shbailat himself claimed that the attackers had been thugs sent by the
authorities to keep Shbailat from criticizing the regime.[15]

Shbailat (seated in the center) following the attack on the rally in

Shbailat's talk in Jerash was part of a series of lectures he gave
throughout the kingdom in recent weeks, in which he spoke to thousands and
presented a document of principles a kind of "road map" for political
reform in Jordan. In these talks, he leveled unprecedented criticism at the
king, saying that the king had no legitimacy without the consent of the
people, and calling upon him to give back the lands he had taken from the
people, to abolish the corruption that has spread among his court officials,
and to stop the interference of the security forces and the intelligence
apparatuses in public life. Shbailat even hinted that the king engaged in
dubious activities forbidden by the shari'a, and praised the protest
movements, saying that they should lead the reform in the country. He urged
the king to take stock and change his ways, before the people forced him to
do so.[17]

On the very night of the attack on Shbailat, the popular protest movements
organized marches in various provinces at which harsh slogans were heard,
including against the royal court, and threats were made to escalate the
demonstrations. At one march, which set out from the Al-Tafaila neighborhood
in Amman (inhabited by immigrants from the city of Al-Tafila in south
Jordan) and ended in front of the royal court offices, demonstrators called
out "Al-Tafaila will not obey and can topple the regime."[18]

The attack on Shbailat triggered a shift in the discourse of the opposition
and protest movements vis--vis the regime (which, as mentioned, was
suspected of being behind the incident). If before the attack the protest
focused its criticism on the government, it now leveled criticism at the
king and the regime themselves. An example is a statement by Zaki Bani
Arshid, head of the political department of the Islamic Action Front, who
warned the regime that the attack could spark "a fierce popular intifada"
and "set events on a course from which there is no turning back."[19] The
Popular Association for Reform issued a statement that "the monopolist
[character] of the Jordanian regime, and the fact that [power] is
concentrated in the hands of the king, mean that the king is solely
responsible for the corruption, violence, and brutality [in the country]...
Every drop of civilian blood spilled will fuel the [people's] fury..."[20]

Protestors: "The Jordanian People Is Capable of Toppling a Regime"

On October 3, 2011, two days after the attack on Shbailat, the "Second
National Convention for Reform" was held at the home of former parliament
member Ghazi Abu Jneib Al-Fayez in Al-Lubban. It was attended by
approximately 1,000 representatives of all the protest movements, tribes and
political forces, including prominent oppositionists such as Ahmad 'Uwaidi
Al-'Abadi and the former general guide of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood,
Salam Falahat.

Jordanian websites called the rally "a significant and serious development,"
because there were "unprecedented statements that crossed all the lines,"
such as calls for a constitutional monarchy, which means a significant
curtailing of the king's powers, and even calls for "change, not reform."
But the most far-reaching statements were made by oppositionist Al-'Abadi,
who said that the people wanted to topple the Hashemites, and by Dr. Sabri
Jar'a, who called on the king to "apologize and resign." It was also
reported that the host, Ghazi Abu Jneib Al-Fayez, said in his opening speech
that "the Hashemite kings are a red line" (meaning that questioning their
legitimacy, as opposed to criticizing them, is taboo). After several
participants left in protest over this remark, Al-Fayez recanted and said
that "the only red line is the homeland."[21]

The Al-Lubban rally[22]

Since early October, more and more rallies and protests have been held at
which demonstrators threatened to topple the regime, as they never dared to
do before.[23] For example, in an October 21 demonstration in Amman,
organized by the Islamic movement, protest movements and tribal forces,
far-reaching slogans were heard, including "O regime, listen, the Jordanian
people will not obey and is capable of toppling a regime."[24] Islamic
movement official Muhammad Al-Zyoud warned that Jordan must choose between
two options: reform or hell. Khaled Al-Da'aja, a spokesman of four tribes,
said: "For now, we are not telling [the king] to go, but only to enact
reforms before it is too late."[25] In a November 1 interview on the
Al-Jazeera talk show "The Opposite Direction," oppositionist Sufian Al-Tal
urged the regime to "heed the demands for reform, otherwise it will end up
like the other Arab regimes [that have been overthrown]."[26]

October 21, 2011 march in Amman[27]

The Jordanian Opposition Abroad: The Royal Family Are a 'Gang of Parasites'

Before early October, the only body that dared to openly call for the ouster
of the regime was the Jordanian Overseas National Assembly, a London-based
organization of oppositionists in Britain, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand,
and Ireland. In May 2011 it launched the online news portal Jordanian
Tribune (jordaniantribune.com), edited by Nhar Alobaitha, who is also the
organization's general coordinator. The organization's first statement,
issued July 22, 2011, contained an unprecedented call to overthrow the king
and "hold [him] legally responsible for all corruption in Jordan," and to
establish the "Jordanian Arab Republic." The statement called the royal
family "a gang of parasites," and accused it of "occupying the land."[28]

From the website of the Jordanian Overseas National Assembly: "Down with the
Hashemite Regime"[29]

Prominence of Tribal Forces in Anti-Regime Protests

Jordan's tribal population has always been considered the backbone of the
regime. Therefore, its participation, and indeed dominance, in the protests
movement poses a severe problem for the regime and may even undermine its

As mentioned, the tribes feel discriminated against and harmed by the king's
economic policy as well as by the gaps in infrastructure development between
Jordan's larger cities and the more remote areas, where most of them reside.
In addition, the tribes, headed by the largest of them, the Bani Sakher and
Bani Hassan, demand the restoration of many lands they claim were taken from
them and handed over to entrepreneurs and private developers as part of the
king's privatization and economic policies. In February 2011, the tribes
staged sit-in strikes and protests and blocked traffic in various

The lands in question are, in fact, "miri" lands owned by the state.
However, the tribes, who have been living on them for generations and using
them for pasture and agriculture, regard them as their own. Their rage was
aroused when the state began selling them to private entrepreneurs and
contractors. Moreover, in recent months, some in the kingdom, including the
tribes, repeatedly accused the king and his wife of transferring lands to
the possession of the royal family.[32] On November 20, 2011, riots broke
out in the city of Ma'an when dozens burned tires and blocked roads,
demanding the restoration of their lands.[33] At the same time, rumors
circulated that many of the lands in Ma'an had been transferred to the
possession of Queen Rania's brother, businessman Majdi Al-Yassin. Al-Yassin
denied this, stating that neither he nor anyone else in his family owned any

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