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.
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If the polls are seen as illegitimate, it will be a substantial blow to the state narrative that reform is underway, but at a measured pace. Already an argument is brewing over voter registration, which concluded on Oct. 15. Nearly 2.3 million Jordanians have registered to vote – roughly 70 percent of the electorate – according to Hussein Banihani, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission created in 2011.Skip to next paragraph
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The commission will oversee the January polls – the first time they will not be run by the interior ministry.
While the voter registration figures seem to contradict the argument that Jordanians are not satisfied with the changes in the system, opposition figures say it does not represent actual buy-in. Several activists complained that people were pressured to register by the state, or were registered without their consent, because of a provision in the registration procedure that allows people to sign up family members for the polls.
"Our next target is those who registered already, to try to convince them not to go for elections," says Saed Oran, an activist from the economically depressed southern town of Tafileh, which has been a protest hotspot for months.
No mass uprising
The argument over poll registration frames the larger debate over whether Jordan's protest movement is representative of widespread discontent, or whether it is the work of a dissatisfied minority, asking for more change than the Jordanian public wants.
The University of Jordan poll sheds some light on the matter: According to Mr. Alkhatib, when Jordanians were asked whether the reforms enacted in 2011 were enough, the population was genuinely and deeply divided – substantial numbers accepted and rejected the measures. The survey is not published yet, but Mr. Alkhatib says the exact numbers will be released soon.
The activist, Gharaibeh, is part of a small group who eschewed massive demonstrations, instead responding to the fuel price hikes with peaceful, hyper-local protests in some of Amman's poorest neighborhoods. "You [can] go to a place, and ask all the people of Jordan to spend money to stand with you, get beaten and smell tear gas," he says. "Or you [can] go to them."
"Who says change has to happen in two minutes?" he asks.
He hopes going into neighborhoods and talking about national problems like poverty and state corruption will engage more people with the reform movement. Eventually, he believes, those people will come out to protest themselves, whether it's in a week, a year, or longer.
In Tafileh, organizers from the opposition expressed similar sentiments.
"All Jordanians are working for one goal, the reforms, before we [think about] changing the regime," said Ibrahim al-Oran, a young organizer there. "We don't want to be like Syria. ... We want to live in peace. We will work in the long term, until we can change the regime in peace."
Gathered in the chilly Ottoman fortress that has become their de-facto headquarters, leaders of Tafileh's opposition explained that their movement, too, has its roots in popular anger. Protests there surged in response to waves of arrests of opposition figures, and again after the fuel price hikes. But Saed Oran says the tactics are changing.
"We are becoming institutionalized," he says. "There is a management committee, media and communications with the public. ... At first we put peaceful pressure on the government, and then we started not paying the taxes that they are demanding from us. And then we put political pressure by boycotting the local elections."