U.S. State Department OSAC Jordan Political Protests Bulletin

JORDAN: RECENT SURGE IN POLITICAL PROTESTS

  • 2 pages
  • The contents of this (U) presentation in no way represent the policies, views, or attitudes of the United States Department of State, or the United States Government, except as otherwise noted (e.g., travel advisories, public statements). The presentation was compiled from various open sources and (U) embassy reporting. Please note that all OSAC products are for internal U.S. private sector security purposes only. Publishing or otherwise distributing OSAC-derived information in a manner inconsistent with this policy may result in the discontinuation of OSAC support.
  • February 4, 2011

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With the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, OSAC constituents are concerned about opposition groups in other Middle Eastern countries attempting to stage similar uprisings. Many countries in the region, including Jordan, suffer from similar economic and demographic problems, which put them at increased risk of civil unrest. The recent series of Friday protests and subsequent conciliatory measures by King Abdullah has only increased these concerns. Nevertheless, Jordan is a unique country with significant differences, and its potential for civil unrest needs to be judged based on its own internal dynamics, even if that includes accounting for recent regional changes.

Review of Recent Protest Activity

Jordan remains one of the U.S.’s closest strategic allies in the Middle East. Its stability is of key importance to U.S. private sector organizations operating in the country and throughout the region. However, the country is faced with its worst economic situation in recent memory, shouldering a $2 billion deficit and a 12 percent unemployment rate, while its income gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Although significant economic and political concerns do exist, the ongoing protests in Amman were catalyzed by the grassroots demonstrations that led to the overthrow of the Ben-Ali regime in Tunisia. Islamists, opposition groups, and retired army generals have been some of the key leaders in organizing protests and demonstrations following Friday’s noon prayers in downtown Amman.

Demonstrations began on January 14, when protesters called for Prime Minister Samir Rafai’s dismissal in addition to economic reforms to address the rising food costs that have affected much of the region. Despite these protests, the cost of food has continued to increase every Friday since. On January 21, approximately 5,000 protestors gathered for a “Day of Rage” against free market reforms and high unemployment. On January 28, some 3,000 people conducted a second round of protests. Protestors also renewed their demand for the sacking of Prime Minister Rifai and called for freer elections and parliamentary reforms. Thus far, protests have been peaceful and have not required police intervention.

King Abdullah’s Political Concessions

In a move intended to quell additional civil unrest, King Abdullah II dismissed Prime Minister Samir Rifai and his cabinet on February 1. Unlike similar moves by Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, Abdullah has likely garnered some favor with protestors who view Rifai’s replacement, Marouf al-Bakhit, as a moderate and stable prime minister. King Abdullah has turned to al-Bakhit during previous challenging times for the country. In November 2005, Abdullah appointed al-Bakhit prime minister following a series of terrorist attacks on three Amman hotels. al-Bakhit is viewed by many Jordanians as a mature leader who exudes confidence.

In addition, King Abdullah recently announced pay raises for civil servants and $125 million in subsidies to counter the high cost of food and fuel, which may go far in dampening national outrage. The country’s poor, however, still struggle with a high cost of living, specifically food and fuel prices, as well as low salary levels, and these moves may not be enough to satisfy their concerns. The Islamic Action Front, the local political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood and some trade unions and leftists have expressed their belief that the King’s moves are cosmetic. Up until now, recent protests have focused their disapproval at the former prime minister, but have not explicitly stated any objection to King Abdullah or the ruling family. If opposition groups began explicitly calling for the removal of King Abdullah, as occurred in Tunisia with Ben-Ali and Mubarak in Egypt, it is possible that these calls may provoke a harsher reaction from the security forces. Thus far, however, dissent has focused on general government transparency issues and economic reforms, and protests have remained peaceful with no police intervention.

2 comments for “U.S. State Department OSAC Jordan Political Protests Bulletin

  1. Taleb Amer
    September 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Jordan, with its unique geographical placement and its unique demographical structure is of great importance to the future ‘well being’ of the region.

    Jordan cannot be compared to any other Arab country, as the changes and upheavals faced in neighboring countries cannot be applied to Jordan, due to its ties and location. One should not underestimate the possible instability of the country as it will have a significant detrimental impact on its neighbors. The impending uprising of certain opposition factors based on tribal, origins and/or religious lines makes it a boiling pot that can potentially blow over in no time.

    The kingdom is currently facing economic hardships, and the masses are feeling the pinch. Jordan’s society used to be comprised into three loosely formed but healthy economic structure: high class (elite), middle and lower. The majority were comprised of the middle class who in turn was divided into three tiers: upper middle, mid-middle and lower middle. The generating force of the economy used to be the middle class, as it comprised the majority of the Jordanian populace. And even in times of budgetary deficit and economic instability, the economy was a thriving one. Today however, what is prevalent is a distinct upper class, a small minority of middle class and a growing high number in the lower classes. This alarming fact has caused everyone to take a step back. Demonstrations stem not because Jordanians are seeking to up root the ruling family which have served as the safety valve of the society over the past decades. People demonstrate due to lack of financial resources and not due to taking part of governing the country.

    Jordan is of great strategic importance to the G8 countries, as such, these world powers must chip in to help bring economic stability that will in turn lead to political stability. If the situation remains unchecked, Jordan will be taken over be extremist whose policies will spill over to neighboring countries. The formula is indeed very simple in meeting King Abdullah of Jordan progressive vision and ideas to have Jordan as a bridge for peace and economic stability.

    Jordan should not be analyzed based on the ‘winds of change’ sweeping the Arab continent. Jordan and its leaders should be supported unconditionally due to the monarch’s idea of making Jordan a safe haven for everybody. Looking at Jordan from afar does not help its people nor does its ruling class meet the objectives of having a moderate, peace loving, stable economy and country.

  2. shareef hijazi
    April 3, 2012 at 6:05 am

    unfortounatly jordan has no say regarding its feature.for the past 40 years the jordanian economys back bone has been foreign aid from the gulf region and the united states.after the privatization of most of the countries assests the kingdom of jordan has become a slave to the international will.if suffecient foreign aid continues all the unrest in the country will quiet down.if this aid stops jordan is looking at bancrupsy wich will eventualy take us to anywere from the control by fundemetal islamic factions to civil war.this all depends on the master plan drown for this region.

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