As protests erupt in Amman, has the Arab Spring reached Jordan?
Jordan’s capital braces itself for up to 50,000 demonstrators in constitutional protest
THOUSANDS of protesters have gathered in the Jordanian capital Amman to demand reform to the country's constitution. If turnout reaches the 50,000 mark, a figure predicted by opposition groups, the demonstrations will mark the largest ever show of opposition to the kingdom’s monarchy.
At least 2,000 police have been deployed for the demonstration which was scheduled to follow the main weekly Muslim prayers.
Jordan has remained relatively calm throughout the Arab Spring, as protests raged across the Middle East. Demonstrations in March 2011 were contained and the limited unrest that followed did not reach the capital.
But grievances at the pace of reform in Jordan have now come to a head. Yesterday, King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein was forced to dissolve parliament and call early elections against a background of rising tensions over long-delayed reforms.
According to The Guardian, the move was intended to head-off a violent confrontation between Islamist-led opposition protesters and government supporters at rival rallies planned for today.
But as Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University, points out, “Early elections in Jordan have been expected for a long time, [this is] not a major shift.”
One major concern, says Lynch, has been a new law limiting internet freedoms which would have damaging repercussions for the country’s IT sector, a major employer of Jordan’s youth population.
“It’s hard to see the gain in further alienating disaffected youth and crushing their primary source of economic hope at a time of grinding economic problems and simmering political protests”, said Lynch.
According to The Guardian’s Ian Black, Islamist opposition forces have been “emboldened” by broader regional dynamics, after seeing “the successes of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia”.
Jordan-watchers say that much hangs on the turnout at today’s protest. If the predicted number of 50,000 materialises, this will be a significant marker in Jordanian political history. If it falls short, however, this may damage the credibility of the groups which instigated the demonstration.
Lynch concludes that the repercussions from today’s demonstrations remain unpredictable: “Fears of replicating Syria's bloody chaos may restrain protestors even with these escalating grievances. But for how long can this be enough? And will a disappointing election be a trigger for simmering discontent to turn into something more?”