The Hirak have always called for reform in Jordan, but with the significant increase in living costs and the events following recent protests, the demographics of the opposition have changed
The first I heard of Habbit Tashrīn, the November Uprising in Jordan, was a video of protests in Jabal Al-Ḥussayn on a friend’s blog on the 14 November 2012, one day after the events had actually started. There was nothing on al-Jazeera, CNN or the New York Times. Al-Jazeera English wrote on the issue on the 15 November, almost two days later, and many articles followed elsewhere.
Despite Jordan’s long history of protest, there has been a lack of national and international media coverage, an issue which has troubled some Jordanians for years now. Opposition sympathisers have claimed media reports often unfairly attribute protests to Jabhat al-‘Amal al-Islāmi, the Islamist Justice Action Front, and ignore more nationalist movements, leaving some Jordanians looking for alternative news sources about Jordan and the Jordanian opposition, the M‘uāraḍah.
There were significant stirrings proceeding the November uprising. Three years before the uprisings in Tunisia began, the Hirāk (Jordanian opposition and reform movement) was established in the summer of 2009. Initially, the Hirāk called for reforms in Jordan, and not the ouster of the king. Jordan’s government is a constitutional monarchy where the king assumes the positions of chief executive, head of state, and commander in chief of the armed forces. The king exercises this authority through the cabinet and prime minister, both of whom are held answerable to the House of Notables and House of Deputies.
The Hirāk’s platform of reforms, according to opposition leader Sufyan al-Tal, include the nullification of the agreement of Wadi ‘Araba, which Israel did not respect, and which denied Jordanians their rights to their water (already a scarcity) and land (by running pipeline through Jordanian villages); the refusal of conditional foreign aid and the acceptance of Arab aid in a transparent fashion (given the arguments that the royal family and the government are misusing funds; cutting off ties with the CIA and Mossad; taking away the hold that the secret service (al-mukhābarāt) enjoy over education, social services and mainstream politics; severing ties with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which they argue have made Jordanians penniless and impoverished; returning the natural resources and institutions – which were sold by the king to foreigners – to the people; and dissolving the current parliament and establishing a new government based on a new constitution which will restore the country.
So this question of protests is definitely not only a recent phenomenon. What, however made the recent November uprising different? Since the Hirāk started, many groups began weekly protests after the Friday congregational prayer. On the 13 November 2012, according to activist and journalist ‘Alā’ al-Fazā‘, 90 per cent of all the cities in Jordan held protests. In the following days, teachers held strikes across Jordan, and 70 per cent of boys’ schools and 50 per cent of girls’ schools were closed. Furthermore, according to activists and journalists, the enormous number of people who were protesting in November were doing so for purely economic reasons. Directly before the Habbih, Abdullah Al-Nsour, the prime minister of Jordan, announced price increases of 53 per cent in gas (which many low-income Jordanians use for heating), and 12 per cent in petrol, followed by an additional 11 per cent in public transport fares, and 28 per cent in kerosene oil (used for household heating as well).
As of 30th November 2012, according to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, over 300 people have been arrested. Over days, several dozen have been released, but at least 107, including nine children, have been referred to state security courts on charges of “vandalism of property”, “participating in unlawful gatherings” and “subverting the system of government”. Since the beginning of the Habbih 13 policemen have been injured, compared to 70 protestors, one of whom has been killed.
Interestingly, aside from the difference in the numbers and the direct cause of protest, the demographics represented in these protests are noticeably different. The “common people” and many who had formerly accused members of the Hirāk of destroying the country and causing problems were now the people being held back by members of the Hirāk from destroying public property. The numbers now are not just nationalists, or Marxists, or youth groups, or the Brotherhood, but people from so many more walks of life – people who are without political affiliations, in fact.
The fact that this large group of people have begun calling for the ouster of the king, and criticising the royal family instead of just the cabinet, is yet another reason why perhaps this Habbih could be the beginning of a greater social awareness and protest among Jordanians. Or, perhaps as Hassan Barari, a professor of Political Science at the University of Jordan declared, this would be the beginning of an Arab spring in Jordan precisely because of the differences in demographics and what people were protesting against. “Because,” he explained, “this is no longer a political thing; this is about the lives of the people”.
Accusations regarding the royal family’s spending habits and the king’s gambling addictions are considered common knowledge among some members of the growing protest movement, and others. These accusations have increasingly become a part of protesters’ chants, causing particular outrage owing to dramatic increases in the cost of living, rendering people’s very livelihoods at risk.
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