JORDAN: King calls for political, economic reforms after weeks of demonstrations
Following two weeks of demonstrations in various cities across Jordan against high commodity prices and government policies, the country's ruler King Abdullah II said on Wednesday that it's time to bring about more political and economic reforms in the desert kingdom.
"Abdullah II insisted on the need to move forward with clear and transparent programmes of political and economic reform, which will allow the kingdom to overcome the economic challenges, and assure Jordan and Jordanians the decent future they deserve," the royal palace reportedly cited the king as saying in an apparent bid to connect with disgruntled Jordanians.
But the country's main political opposition group, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has called for fresh rallies on Friday, and previous pledges by the Jordanian government this year to create more jobs and control rising commodity prices have not stopped demonstrators from taking to the streets.
"We are at a sensitive moment in Jordan," Dr. Mustafa Abou Rumman, a political researcher at the Center for Strategic Studies at Jordan University, told Babylon & Beyond. "It's a very important and very big [protest movement]. They think this government doesn't have the credibility in political reform ... they want the king to push harder against corruption. They want to make a turning point in the political life here."
Official figures say about 14% are jobless in Jordan, a country of 6 million people, while other estimates put the number of unemployed people much higher at about 30%. Meanwhile, the cost of living in the Jordanian capital is reportedly the highest in the Arab world.
Demonstrators have voiced rare and stinging criticism toward the Jordanian government, headed by Prime Minister Samir Rifai, at recent protests aside from addressing their complaints about unemployment and rising food prices.
"Rifai, out, out! People of Jordan will not bow," thousands of protesters chanted as they marched through the Jordanian capital Amman last Friday demanding that the government resigns, according to Agence France Presse.
King Abdullah II's call for introducing reform programs in Jordan comes as violent protests against President Hosni Mubarak continue to rage in neighboring Egypt and thousands of demonstrators take to the streets of the Yemeni capital Sanaa to denounce the government there. The demonstrations in Egypt and Yemen are both believed to have drawn support and inspiration from the recent uprising in Tunisia.
As for Jordan, Abou Rumman thinks the upheavals the country is currently witnessing clearly are fueled by the events in Tunisia but emphasizes that the recent unrest and the demands for reform in Jordan started before the Tunisian revolt. But ever since the people of Tunisia ousted their ex-authoritarian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and sent him into exile, the protest movement in Jordan appears to have gained more and more steam.
The movement also includes players from across the political spectrum in its current form. Earlier this month, union groups along with left-wing activists and the Muslim Brotherhood staged a "Day of Rage" in Amman -- a demonstration in which they reportedly demanded that Jordanians should be the ones electing their prime minister and other ministers instead of King Abdullah II appointing them for the people.
The king, said to currently be conducting consultations with various officials about solutions to the situation, probably will find himself in the hot seat in the coming days and weeks as the opposition plans for more protests.
"I expect ... that the opposition will continue its struggle asking the king for political reforms. If these demands continue, I think we will have an official response coming soon. He [the king] is looking to the street listening to the people," said Abou Rumman.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photos: Jordan's King Abdullah II and Queen Rania. Credit: Agence France Presse. Lower image: Jordanian demonstrators hold a giant national flag, as they march during a protest demanding the resignation of the prime minister and his government over price increases and inflation, in Amman, January 2011. Credit: Associated Press