The scent of revolt is in the air in Jordan / Small protests around Jordan could be a sign that a Jordanian Spring is still to come (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Zvi Bar´el 05/16/12)
HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE
HA'ARETZ} NEWS SERVICE Articles-Index-Top
"Fayez, Fayez, bye-bye, go with [Lebanese leader] Aoun to The
Hague," "Neither Fayez nor anyone else - only the people will decide
These slogans, which rhyme in Arabic, shouted by more than a thousand
people on Friday at a demonstration in Jordan, were ostensibly aimed
at the country´s new prime minister, Fayez al-Tarawneh, who replaced
Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh (formerly a judge on the International Court
of Justice in The Hague ). But the real target of the voices of
protest was Jordanian King Abdullah´s kingdom.
Ostensibly, the Arab revolution has skipped over Jordan. The kingdom
has not experienced huge demonstrations against the government
system, nor have their been massive demonstrations against the king.
Though calls have sometimes been heard against Queen Rania or against
the corruption that runs deep in the kingdom, "our lord" (sayyidna,
as the king is called ) has thus far remained as unscathed as the
rest of the rulers of the monarchies in the Middle East.
His Majesty is perhaps unscathed, but the country is seething. On
Saturday the head of the small and medium-sized manufacturers´
association, Fathi Jaghbir, said that if the government raises the
price of electricity, "We will shut down our factories and hand the
keys to the government." According to data he presented, more than 60
percent of the workers in the private sector in Jordan are employed
at small and medium-sized factories, where the expenditure on
electricity amounts to about 30 percent of the input.
On that same day, across from the royal palace, there was a quiet
demonstration by 300 blind people and the people who accompany them,
demanding improvement of their conditions and provision of jobs. The
government, as usual, promised to discuss their request; but were it
not for intervention by the security forces and the dispersal of the
demonstrators, who tried to enter the palace grounds, this strike
would have gone on for several more days.
Workers´ strikes in the provinces occur nearly all the time. For
example the strike by tobacco factory workers who are demanding
increased pay and adjustment to inflation (which is estimated at 6
percent annually ), and the administrative workers in the Petra
District who want to improve their employment conditions. These are
small, local strikes that do not endanger the stability of the
regime, at least for now. But "small" strikes that began in Egypt
seven years ago, and that eventually swelled into massive strikes,
are really what marked the start of the revolution there.
Now, when the atmosphere of revolt is part of the reality that also
exists in Jordan, these strikes are liable to snowball. The
appointment of new prime ministers - al-Tarawneh is the 10th since
King Abdullah ascended the throne in 1999 - has usually served as a
nostrum to calm things down.
The term "government of technocrats" is also part of the lexicon King
Abdullah has adopted, in order to demonstrate his serious intention
to institute reforms of the economy and the regime. However, to his
critics, the word "reforms" has become a synonym for the king´s
ineffectiveness. In its last report, the World Bank praised the
measures the Jordanian government is taking; but it is also demanding
that the kingdom implement real reforms, especially deep cuts in the
subsidies for fuel and electricity, which are costing the government
coffers about $2 billion. It is doubtful the reformist king will
accede to this demand, which is liable to increase prices and bring
thousands of demonstrators out into the streets. The king tried to
cut the subsidies last year, but he immediately changed his mind,
especially in light of the fear of the Arab revolution seeping into
Use of the terms "reforms," "technocrats" and "transparency" has
ceased to convince people that there is meaning behind them -
especially opposition movements, the Islamic bloc and the Muslim
Brotherhood - which are demanding with increasing vociferousness
fundamental changes not only in the government members, but also in
the system of government.
"The gang of the corrupt has taken over the decision-making
processes, it has a monopoly on the state´s resources and the
national institutions, and every time there is a disagreement it is
decided in favor of the security mechanisms," said the sharpest
statement issued by the Muslim Brotherhood thus far. The organization
is casting blame in particular on "the diplomatic and economic
decision in favor of imperialist countries, which has toppled the
state into a deficit, ineffectiveness and humiliation."
The "decision," of course, is the king´s.
Abdullah´s decision to change the Elections Law in order to enable
the election of parties on a political basis, and not purely on a
personal basis, now looks like an insufficient cure for the
opposition´s complaints. The appointment of a committee to supervise
the elections, headed by former Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah
al-Khatib, is also arousing suspicions of "royal supervision" of the
elections, which critics say is liable to tip the results.
The Elections Law, which has not yet been approved, has been defined
by the Muslim Brotherhood as "a step forward," but too little too
late, because it does not include, for example, a redrawing of the
electoral districts in a way that would prevent an assured victory
for representatives of the Bedouin tribes that support the king.
Above all, it is not yet clear when the elections would be held. The
king does want to bring them forward but the opposition wants to
change the proposed Election Law first.
The most worrisome question at present is the extent to which the
king seriously intends to decentralize his power and give more
authority to Parliament, allow real political activity and above all,
change the face of the kingdom´s economy. Judging by the 13 years of
his reign so far, the chances are not great. (© Copyright 2012
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY