Headlines about the Middle East have been full of news and speculation on the protests and potential regime change in Egypt. What is happening there is a moment that will be remembered in history for years to come. It is a popular uprising against a regime that has too long looked the other way and allowed corruption to flourish, the economy to languish and the lives of everyday citizens to fade into nothingness. The protests seem to be a massive grass-roots effort (not needing western politics as a catalyst) to force a change that is long overdue.
Over the weekend some new sidebars accompanied the main articles about the situation in Egypt. Many of these speculated about the potential for the Kingdom of Jordan to be the next Middle Eastern nation to be engulfed in widespread popular protest after Tunis, Yemen, and Egypt. Friday’s post-prayer anti-government street rally and a protest near the Prime Minister’s residence fed fuel to the fire of this speculation. And today headlines announced that His Majesty King Abdullah II had disbanded the cabinet and appointed a new Prime Minister. Some articles characterized this move as “caving to public pressure” and painted a picture of huge street protests in Jordan forcing the King to the action.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There have not been huge, widespread protests here in Jordan. To my knowledge there were two significant rallies as I mentioned before. I live in Amman currently and many people I have asked about the Friday rally near the mosque downtown weren’t even aware that it had happened. If you were not in the neighborhood or on the street where these were occurring, you wouldn’t have been aware they were even taking place.
I saw some video posted of the anti-government rally. There were a lot of flags being waved and there was a truck with big loudspeakers and some chanting. But the crowd was peaceful and orderly. There was a much bigger stir here in Amman during the month-long protests against the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in January 2009. I attended one of those demonstrations and that ended up in stone throwing and tear-gas being shot. The recent protests here in Amman didn’t come anywhere close to that.
Were these small protests enough to force HM King Abdullah II to do something about his government? I find it hard to believe. The King has demonstrated his low tolerance for government corruption and ineffectiveness before when he disbanded the entire lower house of parliament a few years ago. There has been a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the the economy and politics here in Jordan over the last several months (since Parliamentary elections) and years. Consumer prices have been on the rise and some people view politicians as affluent and out of touch with the people. (Of course that could be just about any country in the world right?) So is today’s government house-cleaning in response to a couple of weekend protests? Is it because of what happened in North Africa? Or is this a wise move that has been in the planning for a while?
But in the end I don’t believe Jordan will be the next Egypt, and here’s why:
- The economy is bad – but not that bad. Inflation in Jordan was around 0% in 2009 and just over 5% in 2010 compared to 18% and 10% in Egypt in those same years. Consumers have certainly felt the 5% pinch this past year especially in key areas such as fuel and staples like flour and sugar. These increases have hit the poor hard, but life in Jordan is still much better than life in Egypt as attested to by the vast number of Egyptian guest workers who come here for little pay rather than sit unemployed in Egypt.
- The population of Jordan is only 6.4 million. The entire population of the Kingdom is around 1/3 the size of the greater Cairo metropolitan area. The population density of Cairo is over 44,000 people per square mile compared to Amman’s relaxed 4,300 people per square mile. (For reference NYC is only 27,000 people per square mile). When it comes to the development of and controlling of civil unrest what is Cairo going to do? When you have that many dissatisfied people in that small of an area the potential for unrest is huge. Amman is just not the same.
- Related to #2 above. Everybody is related to everybody or knows everybody else in Jordan. Everyone is interconnected. Tribal affiliations still mean something. Less than 100 years ago most of the population was made up of bedouin tribes for whom family and honor meant something. These values still exist today and fuel the protection of the common good of the kingdom.
- The King is well-loved. And so is his father. There is an Arabic saying, “If you know the son, you know the father.” Despite grumblings about the economy and the job-performance of elected or appointed officials people still love and respect HM King Abdullah II and HM the late King Hussein. This ruling family has held the Kingdom of Jordan together for well over half a century – not by force and oppression nor by turning a blind eye. They have ruled with wisdom and concern for their people. Although not elected, from what I have seen, they have the respect and allegiance of their people. Hosni Mubarak on the other hand has been re-elected by sham elections for 30 years. He might well have been called king rather than president. A “king” who ended up a petty tyrant perhaps in the eyes of his people. Much different than the wise and respected Kings who have ruled Jordan.
- Despite #4, of course there has been opposition to the government over the years. In recent years certain Islamic groups have been particularly outspoken. In fact these groups have been instrumental in the recent protests. They are not satisfied with HM King Abdullah’s new Prime Minister, either, citing him as the reason they lost many parliamentary seats in the 2007 elections. They forget however that those were the first elections after the 2005 hotel bombings. In any event, the current opposition leaders have made it clear in a public statement that they are not seeking regime change in Jordan, but rather political reform. Which leads me to my last point . . .
- Jordan is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. This means that HM King Abdullah II traces his lineage to the prophet Muhammad himself. Islamic groups here have stated that they recognize the Hashemite’s right to rule. I have to imagine that it would take quite a lot for Muslims to seek to overthrow a King who is descended from Muhammad. They may take exception to his appointees, but I think it will be quite some time before we see widespread violent protesting in the streets of Amman.
Of course this is just my layman’s outsider point-of-view. I could be totally off base, but I doubt it. Throw a few hundred flags and a PA system in the street these days and you’ll have the western media hearing “regime change” in every slogan.
Filed under: Jordan | Tagged: Amman, Egypt, Egyptian protests, HM King Abdullah II, Hosni Mubarak, Jordan, Jordan Headlines, Jordan Protests, King Abdullah, Kingdom of Jordan, Local Life, Politics, politics, Regime Change | 4 Comments »