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In Jordan, Islamists try to spin popular protests into political uprising

Nationwide protests in Jordan have focused mainly on economic issues. But the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to make them a catalyst for political reform.

By Taylor LuckCorrespondent / January 21, 2011

Jordanian protesters 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, Jordan, Friday, Jan. 21.

Nader Daoud/AP

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Amman, Jordan

Young people in the street waving baguettes and decrying unemployment rates, rising prices, and the government – protests in the Jordanian capital today unmistakably resembled the popular uprising in Tunisia.

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Rather than a revolutionary movement, nationwide protests in Jordan have instead highlighted a rift between traditional government supporters in rural areas and a rising urban elite, analysts say.

As other Arab regimes struggle to find ways to deal with the ripples of Tunisia's so-called "Jasmine Revolution," Amman has rushed to reassure the conservative bedrock of the Hashemite Kingdom with economic incentives.

While it is yet to be seen whether the new measures will satisfy citizens, the pressure is on for Amman to outmaneuver the Islamist opposition, who are attempting to transform an economic crisis into a political debate.

'Political reform key to fixing economic problems'

At first slow to harness the growing discontent, the Muslim Brotherhood led today’s demonstrations and is trying to link Jordan’s economic woes with the need for greater political freedoms.

In addition to lowering taxes, the opposition has called for a new elections law based on proportional representation, electoral redistricting, even proposing constitutional reforms to have the position of prime minister selected by the people, rather than the king.

“Our message is that political reform is the key to fixing all social and economic problems. We need a new unity government and early elections for a democratically elected parliament representing the people that can handle these challenges,” said Muslim Brotherhood Spokesman Jamil Abu Baker.

Jordanian decisionmakers have made no indications of enacting the political reforms demanded by activists and protesters, resisting calls to dismiss Prime Minister Samir Rifai or dissolve the parliament, counting on populist economic measures as enough to ride out the Tunisia effect.

Economic unrest

Few took notice on Jan. 7, when 200 public-sector workers took to the streets in a village south of Amman over the rising cost of living. Without the participation of political parties or trade unions, the event did not even garner a mention in local newspapers.

Emboldened by the toppling of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the impromptu street protest grew into nationwide “days of anger,” with thousands of Jordanians hitting the streets.

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