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.
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Most concerning to decisionmakers is that unlike the urban, middle-class Tunisians who led the uprising there, the bulk of Jordan’s protesters have been Trans-Jordanians from rural areas. They are ardent tribal supporters of the regime who feel jilted by economic restructuring, which they believe has left them out in the cold.Skip to next paragraph
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“This group is anxious about their economic future, they are afraid about the future of the state, and they need answers from the government,” said Mohammad Abu Rumman of the University of Jordan's Centre for Strategic Studies.
The protests also revealed a prevailing sense that the government’s focus on privatization and foreign investments have failed to spur job creation outside the capital.
Inaction over inflation has riled Bedouin tribes and villagers who have long relied on careers in the public sector, where most salaries still hover close to the $225 monthly minimum wage, analysts say.
“This is the traditional backbone of the political system. These protests are being organized by issue-oriented people who are much more difficult to reign in,” says Fares Braizat of the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.
Ruling class seen as out of touch
While the Hashemite monarchy has been immune to the simmering frustrations on the Jordanian street, protesters have directed their anger at Mr. Rifai, the king's appointed prime minister and the scion of an influential family that has yielded three prime ministers.
To them, Rifai, who previously served as the chairman of an investment firm, has become a symbol of everything that is wrong in Jordan: a ruling class increasingly out of touch with the pressures facing ordinary citizens, analysts say.
“They feel that this government is from the upper 5 percent and has not traveled outside Amman or understood the challenges they face. They represent the class divisions in our society,” says Oraib Rantawi of the Amman-based Al Quds Political Studies Center.
Oil, sugar, politics
To prove that it is sensitive to citizens’ struggles, the government introduced an economic relief package on Jan. 12, lowering fuel taxes and subsidizing sugar and cooking oil at state-run consumer markets.
The measure failed to impress many protesters, who went on with plans to demonstrate across the country two days later.
Yesterday, on the eve of more nationwide protests, the government announced a second economic package: a $28 monthly raise for all military personnel and public sector workers and subsidized fuel cylinders, the two initiatives adding some $648 million to the country’s near-record $1.5 billion budget deficit.
Analysts say that although the recent measures may succeed in calming the street and reassuring the regime’s tribal base, Amman has yet to fully apply the lessons learned from Tunisia and address the disconnect between citizens and the government through political reform.
“Until there are new channels of dialogue, there will be more political alienation, with the people on one and those in power on the other. The gap is growing wider and larger,” Braizat said.