By: Gina Mussio
Produced and edited by: Molly Nocheck
The Arab Spring has largely steered clear of Jordan, a US ally and relatively stable country. After recent protests, however, all that has changed.
Thousands crowded the streets across the country protesting the sharp increase in gas and fuel prices announced by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour.
“People were there shouting and cursing the government and demanding they rescind the decision,” said Ahmad Tawalbeh, a chemical engineering major at the Jordan University of Science and Technology. “I went with my friend to protest because like a lot of Jordanian citizens I don't agree with the decision and I see it’s unfair for us.”
Jordan’s neighbors in the Middle East have seen their fair share of uprisings and demonstrations as well, starting in late 2010 with the Tunisia Revolution, and reaching its height spring of last year when thousands of Egyptians protested and called for the resignation of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Since then, rulers have been forced from power in Libya and Yemen and civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria.
Jordan too has seen its fair share of protests, over 2,000 in the past two years, but nearly all have been peaceful, with cooperation between both the citizens and the police. Now, however, demonstrations have turned violent. Protesters have been sprayed with water and tear gas, police hit with rocks and two people have been reported killed.
After hearing about the protests, Naseer Alomari, a Jordanian-American principal in Westchester County and online advocate for Middle Eastern democracy, called his family in Jordan to make sure everything was okay. A large demonstration was taking place in Irbid, the city closest to his hometown, and he hoped his family could keep him updated.
His 24-year-old niece, Rawan, explained the situation to him via Skype – the tenseness, the discontent among people throughout Jordan and the conversations happening among friends and neighbors. Alomari’s brother was also in the room, simultaneously calling friends to learn what was going on in the streets below.
It was then that he received a phone call from another relative, telling him that his and Alomari’s cousin had been shot in the chest. Qais Al Omari, 27, was the first killed during the protests on Wednesday, Nov. 14 in downtown Irbid.
|Qais' Coffin. Credit: Naseer Alomar|
The village was traditionally supportive of the government, after this, however, the support of the people eroded. Demonstrators burned down the municipality building, as well as several vehicles belonging to the municipality.
“It was amazing that the first person to fall was in that small town where the king has a lot of support – or used to have,” Alomari said.
There is no doubt that Jordanians are angry. Unemployment in the cash-strapped nation is at 12 percent, with the highest rate, 27.2 percent, among young people between 20-24 years. In fact, similar to Egypt and Tunisia, its predecessors in protest, the youth are largely responsible for organizing protests and spurring conversation online and on the ground.
“My cousin, he has been looking for a job ever since I’ve known him. He’s 27 years old and he’s never held a decent job. When he died yesterday he didn’t have a job,” Alomari said. “People are afraid that they are not going to be able to support their families.”
The protests continued for days, with citizens chanting anti-regime slogans, calling the king a gambler in reference to his accused corruption, and supporting the downfall of the regime.
“I think most Jordanians have lost optimism,” said Zaid Samkari, a 24-year-old medical student and democracy activist in Jordan. “People are really frustrated and they are really angry. We are not seeing any serious measures taking place. The only thing we’re seeing is the government asking us to pay the price.”
Samkari, a member of the youth Herak movement, did not participate in the most recent protests because he doesn’t support their call for the downfall of the regime, but his discontent is palpable. The people’s demands are legitimate, he said, they want to elect a government, a parliament that represents Jordanians, to get through the economic crises and end government corruption. He acknowledged that this will not come easily.
“I’m really scared that things might develop like it has in many other Arab countries,” Samkari said. “Honestly speaking, most Jordanians don’t want that. We want the regime to be wise enough to make true reform without any bloodshed.”
The U.S.-backed Jordanian government has often issued government subsidies to placate the people, this time though, the cash ran out. The state attempted to institute austerity measures, such as the fuel price increase, to reduce a growing budget deficit and decrease public spending.
The protests have continued despite the violence, roadblocks set up by the police and hundreds jailed. Tawalbeh went to protest again after Friday prayer, Nov 16, taking video and continuing to support other citizens and friends on the streets.
Though none have said they believe the protests can be labeled a “revolution” yet, all acknowledge that Jordan is in uncharted waters and that the people are not going to give up their requests for reform.
“We are looking for a better future; We are looking for corrupts to be jailed; We want a democratic government that are elected by the people not appointed; We want a better future for the next generations,” Samkari said.