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Jordanians send message to opposition: Let's take it slow

Popular opposition to the Jordanian monarchy is strong, but it will not manifest itself in massive anti-government uprisings like elsewhere in the region.

By Nicholas SeeleyCorrespondent / November 27, 2012

In Amman's Jabal Hussein neighborhood, a protester headed out ahead of the line where protesters took refuge from tear gas used by security forces earlier this month.

Jared J. Kohler

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Amman, Jordan

Jordanians poured into the streets this month, staging hundreds of protests after the government announced that it was reducing fuel subsidies. A number of them devolved into riots or clashes between police and protesters as demonstrators chanted, "The people want the fall of the regime."

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After two frustrating years of minimal gains, some opposition members seemed to even welcome a confrontation, or at least see it as an opportunity to pressure the regime. 

But the anger that drove November's protests quickly faded: Opposition leaders continued to call for demonstrations, but fewer people showed up. By Nov. 23, the now-traditional Friday protest in Amman drew only a few hundred demonstrators who braved the rain. For the moment, Jordan's fuel price crisis appears to have ended, and its swift conclusion suggests the opposition underestimated how high a premium most Jordanians place on stability.

Activist Mothanna Gharaibeh says the angry rhetoric of protests earlier in the month has actually scared people away.

"Those 'revolution' people, they don't really understand how strong the regime is," Mr. Gharaibeh says.

Despite the slow pace of reform, when the University of Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies asked Jordanians in October if they believed political movements should continue protesting in the street until their demands were met, or if they should participate in elections and try to achieve their desires through Parliament, an overwhelming majority chose elections.

"A majority want those political parties to be part of the reform process through constitutional ways," says Walid Alkhatib, the head of the center's polling unit. The poll was taken before the gas riots, so the results were not affected by any backlash against the recent violence, but rather point to a deep-rooted desire for stability and incremental change, even among many Jordanians who are dissatisfied with the reforms so far.

That conservatism is something protesters will be trying to take into account, as they to try to win people to their side before the next crisis comes.

The next stand-off

The date for the next crisis is already set: Jan. 23, the date of the next parliamentary elections.

Dissatisfaction with the legislature has been a major opposition complaint for years. In 2011, the government responded by passing a new elections law, meant to change a voting system that makes it very difficult for political parties to get candidates into parliament, and leaves many of Jordan's urban areas radically under-represented.

The king also revised the country's constitution, saying that the changes would pave the way for a cabinet of ministers formed by Parliament rather than appointed by the crown. But opposition leaders and analysts say those changes are cosmetic. Several opposition parties, including Jordan's powerful Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, have already announced a boycott of the new elections.

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