Jordan made headlines yesterday when protests in Amman turned violent for the first time—or at least, the first eye-catching time. Two people were killed.
We have been having regular, organized, largely peaceful protests on Fridays by the mosque downtown, and yesterday’s demonstration began this same way. I have heard the violence explained in two ways: the first is phrased in a way that is less indicative of malicious violence against anti-government protesters: New York Times quoted a police spokesperson as saying the violence was a ‘ “quarrel” that broke out “between a pro-government rally and another demonstration staged in the same location” ’.
The second explanation: an anti-government protester was quoted by the same NYT article saying that “more than a hundred young thugs surrounded us from in front and behind and started attacking us”. When I hear about political attacks by “thugs” in Jordan, the stories are always accompanied by raised eyebrows and a nudge, nudge that implies perhaps the thugs were employed by...someone...to attack. I’m sure the same will be said about these—whether they were pro-government protesters or attackers they were shouting their support for the King. The most terrifying accusation is that the police, though they were asked for help in the midst of violence, did nothing.
The anti-government protests are aimed against the (brand-new) Prime Minister, Marouf Al Bakhit. The complaint is obviously: we asked for change and you gave us a new prime minister and a new cabinet, but nothing has changed that affects us. This is not reform.
The new elections law has not gone through. People are clamoring for a constitutional monarchy that would reduce the total executive power of the king. This past Wednesday there was a meeting on Jabal Al Weibdeh in Amman centered around discourse on what a constitutional monarchy would mean, socially and politically, for the people of Jordan. A really interesting thing is that recently 36 representatives of some of the Bedouin tribes issued a statement calling for these same kinds of reforms. And this brings to mind something that Salem said to me in Wadi Rum, while we were sitting around the fire: I asked him what he thought of what was going on, politically, and he shrugged and said:
“We bedouin are ready. We have our guns.”
Since this is the first sign of violence, I am not yet convinced Jordan will fall into the same kinds of violence that we're seeing in other places. I am convinced that people will keep protesting until they see reforms.