Reforms do not go far enough

Last Sunday, 13 March, some 6,000 Jordanians took to the streets of Amman in the biggest pro-democracy rally in eight weeks of protest. Fearing a repeat of last Friday’s violent clashes, more than 3,000 police were deployed in the city centre for this week’s ‘Day of Anger’.

Inspired by Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrators want greater political say and economic change. Some are also voicing support for their Libyan brothers and sisters.

Waving Jordanian flags, the people marched, and members of the country’s largest political opposition group - the Islamic Action Front - joined them.

One protester, Amer Warat, said he was calling for lower prices, new elections and changes to the constitution which gives King Abdullah absolute power.

People are suffering badly from rising global food prices and a rate of 12% unemployment. The reforms promised by Jordan’s newly-appointed government earlier this month are not coming fast enough.

Eight people were injured on Friday in the Jordanian capital of Amman, after loyalists of the regime attacked hundreds of young demonstrators who were demanding political reforms in the kingdom. This incident is the first of its kind since the start of the current protests in Jordan. In recent weeks, there have been many protests but without violence.

After Friday prayers scores of people participated in the march, organised by the leftist opposition, while others participated in a rally to support the government near the Husseini Mosque in the centre of the Jordanian capital, Amman. There were conflicting reports about the nature of the clashes, including one which said that the Jordanian security forces separated the two sides.

There were a number of people seriously injured. The opposition said "thugs" tried to prevent the march, and there was a clash with sticks and stones, without the intervention of the security forces.

The protesters carried banners saying, "Bread and freedom; social justice!" "We want an elected government!" "People want to stop corruption!" and "Hunger is a red line (we cannot tolerate)!".

Cosmetic changes

The demonstrations joined on Friday by thousands across Jordan, are inspired by the unrest in the region and reflect a growing discontent stoked by the most serious domestic economic crisis in years and accusations of rampant government corruption.

In the opinion of one of the protest leaders, Bani Irsheid, “[King] Abdullah’s response so far has been just a public relations campaign that doesn’t solve the crisis. "The regime wants a solution without paying the price, and it is offering cosmetic changes. We told them that what was acceptable yesterday is not acceptable today, and what could resolve the problem today may not be a solution tomorrow. Delaying and hesitation will only complicate matters."

For now, the lightning rods for criticism are the prime minister and members of his cabinet, who opposition critics say personally profited from the sale of state companies as part of the king’s policy of privatisation and free-market reforms to attract foreign capital. Critics say the king’s policies, and accompanying corruption, have only widened the gap between rich and poor and exacerbated Jordan’s economic ills, which include a rising national debt and high levels of unemployment and poverty.

Ali Habashnah, one of the retired generals advocating reforms, said that public resentment has spread to rural areas dominated by Bedouin tribes that have been the traditional backbone of the monarchy and its security forces. It was the first time that members of that section of Jordanian society had joined with other groups in demanding change.

Solidarity protests

On Sunday, thousands of students gathered at the main gate of Jordan University in Amman to march to the Israeli embassy on a protest against the massacres in Palestine. It was organised by the Islamist-dominated ‘Preparatory Committee for a Students Union’ which is now banned after the government announced on Friday that it “would deal firmly with people who defy the orders of the security authorities” and go on rallies or demonstrations.

Hundreds of demonstrations have been staged in Jordan calling for the Jordanian- Israeli peace treaty to be abolished and Israeli ambassador to Jordan to be expelled. On this occasion, hundreds of policemen attacked the gathering. Several protesters, including school students, were arrested.

At the time of writing, the bloodiest clashes between demonstrators and security forces are underway for the third day in a row in the Baqaa refugee camp to the north of Amman. 18-year-old Osama Abdul Karim was shot dead during clashes here. The police are seen as responsible but they claim the shooting happened due to the “personal settlement of a dispute”. The Baqaa camp is still under siege by the police, whose way is blocked by thousands of protestors.

For the movement to develop, a mass socialist party based on a united struggle for real democratic rights and fundamental social change, is needed.

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