What’s happening in Jordan?

It seems the “Arab Spring” (or at leas part of it) has finally arrived in Jordan, even though the outcome will certainly vary from the ones we have been witnesses to in Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia. First and foremost, because (at least for now) most among the Jordanian population seem to love their King (even though a majority thinks its powers should be curtailed), their royal family, and the “stable” system the latter has been building over the last decades. But the people are not blind to what their neighbours have been fighting for and, moreover, to what they have achieved so far. It seems what Jordanians actually want is constitutional reform rather than revolution. King Abdullah II himself has admitted the country is experiencing “national challenges”.

On 10 October, the latter surprisingly appointed a new Prime Minister: Abdullah Ensour, former MP in the dissolved Parliament and head of various ministries in previous governments, substituting Fayez Al-Tarawneh, who had resigned on the same day. A statement by the Court clarified: “the resignation of Tarawneh’s government goes in line with recent constitutional amendments, which resulted from political reforms requiring that the government resign after parliament is dissolved”.

Apparently, new PM Ensour, widely believed to be an experienced seasoned politician closer to the reformist and moderate opposition line, firmly rejects a law whereby legislative elections are set to be held under the “one man, one vote system” at the beginning of the upcoming year (or even before the end of 2012), a text that many amongst the opposition,particularly the Jordanian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and specifically their political wing the “Islamic Action Front”, demand to amend. But, at least as of now, it seems the King has won this battle (though maybe not the entire “war”),for no law can be adopted without a Parliament in place. Indeed, it is clear what both the regime’s and the new Head of Government’s main challenge will be:how to deal with Islamists insisting on boycotting parliamentary elections, a move they already opted for in 2010, although without mind-blowing consequences.

When did all of this started? Months ago, the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan (a group that, according to the Carnegie Endowment Centre for Peace, “is able to rally thousands of protesters in the streets” and,unlike their neighbours in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, a group that has never been banned, but even allowed to carry on political activities), after several rounds of talks with the former Government and other authorities failed, called for weekly demonstrations demanding political reform (especially concerning granting the parliament more powers, an overhaul that would however need a constitutional amendment) and threatened with the boycott of legislative elections. Islamists accuse the electoral system of favouring the votes cast in rural areas, areas considered to be hugely loyal to the regime and the politicians the latter backs: they principally ask for the establishment of a parliamentary system in which the Prime Minister would be elected, rather than appointed, by the King. Most pundits believe theBrothers’ actual ultimate end is to participate in the elections under those terms, and to win the majority of seats, a political feat that could pave the way for the group, in that case able to challenge the authority and power of the King, to control the regime in the future, following the Egyptian example (nonetheless,I wonder whether secularists and liberals will unite to tilt the political balance?).

Several protests broke out in Amman,particularly in the Al-Tafilah neighborhood, followed by the arrest of dozens of activists. Such a repressive move entailed further demonstrations, embodied by statements warning those “in the palaces” that they “are not safe from the ArabSpring” anymore. In this sense, protesters pointed to what seems to be the King’s customary pattern: whenever protests escalate against the government, he imposes a series of reformist measures, and puts the blame on the Government in power (his favourite scapegoat), taking credit for “understanding the demands of hispeople” and thus remaining in an incredibly comfortable position. Jordan has witnessed other examples of public discontent throughout the last months:against the decision to amend the press and publications law (the new text clearly limits freedom of expression, particularly regarding online media) or against the decision to raise gas prices.

I believe an important point has to be stressed: the stance of the Brotherhood pertaining to the monarchy remains unclear, though, and its representatives have shown nothing more than ambiguousness in that respect. For his part, King Abdullah conceded in an interview with a US TV channel on September “the Brotherhood is a part of the regime, since it is a political party and a portion of the mosaic of Jordanian society. However, they would not enjoy such legitimacy in any other Arabcountry”. The Brothers have nonetheless affirmed they are “are cautiously optimistic about the new Prime Minister being appointed”, a stance that shows their pragmatism and willingness to go on negotiating instead of adopting a harder line.

One last note: Jordanians had until 15 October to register, and more than 2,20 million (out of 3 million potential voters) have done so.  Another fiasco for the Brothers?

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