It was only a matter of time before the unrest seen throughout the Middle East the past two years spread to Jordan, a longtime U.S. ally.
Peaceful protests throughout Jordan have been growing for weeks, but the spark that ignited the nation’s fury was a Nov. 13 decree by King Abdullah II that raised the price of fuel. Three days of protests followed throughout the kingdom, including one that turned violent in the city of Irbid, where a 23-year-old man was shot and several police officers injured.
Worse yet was the reaction of Jordanian national police chief Hussein al-Majali, who vowed to strike down the demonstrators with an “iron fist” and jailed 157 marchers, who were charged with “threatening to undermine the regime, illegal gathering, and creating civil strife.”
Jordan has a history of filing but later dropping such charges against dissidents simply to send a message. And to his credit, Abdullah II has taken a conciliatory tone and urged compromise with his opposition.
But lip service is one thing; real reform that will hold the Hashemite monarchy accountable is something else. The protesters’ message has been clear: Jordan’s wealth and productivity are being squandered by a corrupt, unresponsive system of political patronage, and Abdullah II seems long on talk of reform but short on action.
“We are not subjects, we are citizens,” protester Mohammad Hadid said on Oct. 6. “These are our rights, and not gifts from the king.”
For now, Jordan’s protests have remained an internal problem free from the sectarian and geopolitical meddling that has turned Syria into an international battlefield. Of course, Jordan’s opposition hasn’t yet felt the need to ask for outside help in toppling Abdullah II. As Syria has shown, this could change quickly if the king refuses to budge.