Jordan was not spared from the repercussions of the Arab revolutions. Despite a few, benign protests — in comparison to the million-man demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, and the use of weapons in Libya and Syria — the Kingdom had to deal with an escalation of demands from political movements on the one hand, and popular demonstrations on the other.
Furthermore, there are those who are calling for curtailing the powers of King Abdullah II, while others are calling for the fall of the monarchy altogether.
Similar to the Arab Spring countries, political Islam groups in Jordan — namely the Muslim Brotherhood — enjoy prominent support in society, and are known for negotiating with the regime.
The fact that the Brotherhood is adamant about boycotting the legislative elections, and called a few months ago for staging weekly demonstrations to demand political reforms, is seen as an attempt to drag the regime to the dialogue table once again. This will lead to the participation of the Brotherhood in the elections, and as a result political representation, which will pave the way for the group to control the regime in the future.
On another note, there are demands calling for the fall of the regime by other forces, which were accused of crossing red lines. These forces have been active over the past month, in which they organized protests in the al-Tafilah neighborhood, one of the largest neighborhoods in Amman.
Activists in the Ahrar Movement from al-Tafilah neighborhood issued a strongly worded statement following the arrest of its members, warning those “in the palaces” that “you are not safe from the Arab Spring.”
The activists said that the Jordanian king is “hiding under the cloak of democracy and freedom,” adding, “You are attempting to conceal the fact that you adopt fascism, and control the fate of the country and the livelihood of the citizens.”
Jordanian political Islam forces have acknowledged the presence of the aforementioned calls — even though they are very few — however, Brotherhood Deputy Comptroller General Zaki Bani Arshid told As-Safir that the Brotherhood “has not and will not adopt such calls.”
A number of activists stated that the king’s strategy to contain the protests and the calls for reform is by pinning the blame on the government and the parliament. When protests escalate against the government, the king imposes some reformist measures, making the government look like it is not doing its job.
He takes credit for “understanding the demands of his people. The best example of this is when the king decided to freeze the government’s decision to raise the gas prices.”
This was mentioned in the Carnegie Endowment’s September report, which states that “the monarchy has even scapegoated a few of its institutions as targets for public discontent — namely, the parliament and the prime minister. But the monarchy itself (and the intelligence and security forces backing it) has been off-limits to public rebuke.”
It appears that the authorities have so far failed to implement real political reforms, or learn from the events taking place in the region. Instead, the regime resorted now more than ever to requesting financial aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and from its US and Arab Gulf financiers, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Jordanian writer Muhammad Faraj told As-Safir that there are ongoing reports claiming that the king might raise gas prices, yet release political detainees so as to calm the public.
Faraj explained that in the past period the government went back on its decision to raise gas prices following a negative reaction from taxi drivers. He said that the king is “convinced to attempt once again,” and as usual he will make certain concessions in return for raising the prices.
A recent example of Jordanian suppression is the decision to amend the press and publications law, which limits freedom of expression online.
Following this decision, online news websites are now forced to pay $1400 to register with the government, and are responsible for the comments posted on their sites. This decision also forces news websites to keep the comments so that the intelligence agencies can pursue bloggers.
Faraj said that this measure “is similar to all Jordanian laws, which contain a lot of grey areas.” He added that the king is “capable of punishing any press publication.”
Let us revisit the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan’s popular movements.
According to the Carnegie Endowment, “The Muslim Brotherhood is able to rally thousands of protesters in the streets; however, if it feels that ramping up rhetoric against the monarchy could lead to its destruction via a government crackdown, it will likely stay on the sidelines.”
Faraj concurred with this statement and added that the Islamist movements — namely the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the Brotherhood’s political wing — “decided to take to the streets in an attempt to negotiate with the authorities over the electoral law.”
He then added that “the situation of the Brotherhood in Jordan is similar to that of its counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia.” On the political level, the Jordanian Brotherhood is “not against the US-Zionist project in the area,” and “does not have an alternative to the current economic situation, in which it will continue to depend on the IMF and raising prices.”
Bani Arshid refutes those claims, while reiterating his movement’s stance to boycott the parliamentary elections. In this regard, he says that the “Brotherhood is calling for reformist demands, which are endorsed by Jordanian national forces. Through achieving these demands we can attain democracy, allowing the people to be the source of power.”
The stance of the Brotherhood pertaining to the monarchy is still unclear. Bani Arshid gives a diplomatic response and says that “absolute power destabilizes the path of democratic change in Jordan. Hence, it is necessary to amend the political rules before engaging in elections.”
It seems that the IAF cannot escalate any further and is strictly demanding political reforms. Bani Arshid notes: “We are referring to an intermediate state between an absolute monarchy and a constitutional one.”
This will grant the parliament more powers, in which it will no longer be a tool in the hands of the security services.
Regarding improving the relationship between the Islamists and the regime, Faraj said that there are two possible scenarios in this regard. The first one is “chaos between the regime and the Islamists,” followed by “a settlement between the two sides sponsored by the United States. The US has opened channels of dialogue with both the Islamist movement and the regime.”
Bani Arshid continues to defend his group’s call for political reforms. He goes on to say that, despite the fact that the Brotherhood is totally against calls for changing the regime, “nobody can control the people.” This comes in light of the events taking place in Jordan and the region, namely in Syria.
Certainly, Syria is an important part of the dilemma. Bani Arshid says that “the regime utilized the events taking place in Syria to scare people about a potential security crisis. For this reason, certain sides from the public remained silent and did not take to the streets. If the Syrian regime changes, the situation will also change and citizens will have more options.”
Faraj agrees that the Jordanian government is employing the Syrian crisis internally. However, he accuses the Islamists of demanding “a greater representation in authority, in anticipation of upcoming changes and developments on the regional level, i.e., Syria.” Their presence in power “will allow them to operate on a vast level, and control the authorities,” a plan that might require the support of the US.
This issue was discussed in the Sept. 30 issue of UK-based The Guardian. The newspaper said that if the regime agrees to real constitutional and political reforms there is a risk that the IAF will obtain control of parliament and as a result it would be able to challenge the authority and power of the king — for example by introducing further amendments to the constitution.”
It is important to keep in mind the Saudi role, “the main financier of Jordan, which strongly opposes further democratization in the Middle East,” the paper said.
Furthermore, any change in Jordan does not serve the benefit of Western nations, which are currently dealing with the chaos in Syria. Change might lead to chaos in Jordan and as a result threaten the security of Israel and the peace treaty.
Similar to the situation in all Arab countries, the ones who pay the highest price are the “leftist and secular movements” that have not been able to unify their fronts in order to play a key role in politics.
In this regard, Faraj noted “that the majority of Jordanians claim that the regime and the IAF will reach an agreement regarding the latter’s participation in the elections.”
As a result, “the traditional leftist movements began discussing the possibility of their participation in the elections as well. These movements have always followed the stance of the IAF.”
We still have hope for the secular movements, which led the largest protests in Jordan and started to organize their ranks as part of syndicates independent from ones affiliated with the authorities.
The Carnegie Endowment gives great importance to the role of the secular movements, saying that their role changed the debate over reforms. The secular movements allowed Islamist leaders to discuss the issue of minimizing the powers of the king.
The “secular opposition,” which has been in the limelight in the past few months, should gain public support to “defy the king.”