Jordan teetering on civil war
Jordan's social cohesion is quickly unraveling, local experts warn, following violent demonstrations in the kingdom and an obtuse government response to public demands for change.
One protester was killed and 120 wounded in the bloodiest demonstrations yet to take place in the kingdom since popular protests began sweeping through the Middle East in January.
"The King must intervene and come up with a political initiative accepting the demands of the protesters, including constitutional reform," Fahed Al-Khitan, a political columnist with Jordan's Al-Arab Al-Yawm, told The Media Line. "If reform does not take place, the sense of animosity could lead to clashes between citizens."
A demonstration organized last Friday in Amman by "March 24 Youth", a grassroots group demanding dissolution of the lower house of parliament and constitutional reform, turned violent as supporters of King Abdullah II pelted the reformists with stones, leaving 30 injured. Protesters blamed the government for allowing thugs to beat them, while at least 10,000 people took part in a parallel rally in support of the king.
Jordanian reformists were dealt a further blow Sunday when the kingdom's parliament voted against limiting the king's constitutional authorities. "The parliament absolutely rejects the calls of some to limit the king's constitutional authorities," an official statement read. "The king is strong in the constitution, and we will see to it that he remains strong to safeguard Jordanian identity."
During a tour of the southern city of Petra on Sunday, King Abdullah II called for "social unity" but did nothing to address the specific demands of reformists.
"We are seriously pursuing political reform and there is nothing for us to fear," Abdullah told the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad. But as the level of both political and real violence reaches a new high, Jordanian analysts believe the King has much to fear.
In his nation-wide political column Monday, Al-Khitan issued a dire warning that the tensions in Jordan were a powder keg.
"Concern is no longer the correct description for the situation we are going through over the past days," he wrote in Al-Arab Al-Yawm. "There is a sense that the situation may explode at any moment."
Al-Khitan's sense of immediacy was shared by an editorial in the Jordan Times, the country's English-language daily. "The Friday events tarnished the image of the country; they are a big step back from its forward movement," the editorial said. "A more immediate dialogue is now needed, one that implies an exchange of views on how best to overcome the consequences of the clashes."
Jordan, a resource-poor country, socially divided between Palestinian and East-Jordanian citizens, has so far managed to avoid the deep social unrest experienced by other countries in the region. A close ally of the United States, King Abdullah has dismissed demands for reform, ordering just limited political measures including a cabinet reshuffle and the establishment of a National Dialogue Committee.
But 21of the 53-member National Dialogue Committee resigned following Friday’s demonstrations. Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf Al-Bakhit appointed the members of the committee on March 14 to discuss amendments to the much criticized Elections Law and Political Parties Law. Immediately, three Islamist appointees refused to take part in the deliberations unless constitutional amendments were on the table; a demand the government has so far refused to address. It’s not clear how the current resignations will impact the committee.
Prime Minister Al-Bakhit blamed the Muslim Brotherhood for instigating the violence in Friday's demonstration in an attempt to undermine the authority of the state. But in an unusually scathing critique, columnist Fatima Al-Samadi of Al-Arab Al-Yawm wrote on Monday that Al-Bakhit's words were nothing but desperate scare tactics.
"When we heard Al-Bakhit … many of us felt that Gaddafi was speaking. Our minds recalled the picture of Gaddafi blaming the Libyan people for being Al-Qa’ida or of Omar Suleiman (former Egyptian vice President) warning America that Islamists will take control of Egypt."
"With all due respect to the Prime Minister's information – the Islamists are not the organizers of 'March 24'," wrote Al-Samadi.