Last month, a new Jordan government was appointed and sworn in before King Abdullah. The new prime minister, Awn Khasawneh, stressed in his speech that his government will commit to making economic and political reforms. He vowed to review the country’s electoral system by setting up an independent entity to oversee and administer municipal and parliamentary polls. He also declared to be open for ‘constructive dialogue’ with any other political party and pledged for a free and transparent electoral system. Regarding the ongoing street protests and demands for economic reforms, he stated that it is within his duties to ‘include measures that will make a positive change in Jordanians’ lives’.
By examining Khasawneh’s recent speeches and his government’s pro-reform agenda, the similarities between these and ex-PM Bakhit’s pledges for reform made a few months ago are similar (see previous article on socialistworld.net). Nothing has really changed but the names and the ‘look’ of the administration. The new government is mainly made up of technocrats, as ‘technocracy’ is supposed to be the element of ‘success’ for developing ‘democratic’ states, such as Jordan. Another key feature of the new parliament is that ministers are placed according to geographic distribution. This, in a country like Jordan, really means trying to keep the tribes well-represented and contented, as they have enough power to topple any regime.
Awn Khasawneh, Jordan’s new Prime Minister
Bakhit’s government was removed from office just nine months after it was appointed, as the most straightforward way to avoid more upheavals in the country. The change in government comes at a time when governments all around the region keep falling, one after the other, when people in neighbouring countries are in revolt against the ruling elite and demand democracy, work and decent living conditions. No wonder that the ruling elite in Jordan are trying hard to avoid such developments by putting on a new ‘non-corrupt’ face and taking into consideration public opinion.
But Jordanian people’s reaction to this is growing disbelief. They question whether they are going to see any real change. They ask can this really be achieved when they cannot even vote directly for their representatives. Even some of the mainstream media echo these views.
The challenge now is to show that the way for real change in Jordan is through the mass action of people themselves, by using the combined forces of the working class, the youth, the unemployed and the poor. The ongoing protests will not go far unless people realise their power and demand fundamental change.
Police attack demonstrators and journalists
The state has regularly attacked protesters over the last months, with one of the most brutal assaults taking place last July. About 2,000 people protested in Amman on Friday 15 July, demanding political and economic reforms. The protesters assembled at Al-Husseini mosque in downtown Amman just after midday prayer and continued towards AL-Nakheel square in the centre of the city. Although the organisers had originally called for an ‘open-ended’ sit-in protest, like a previous protest on 24 March (see previous article on socialistworld.net), this time the protesters were dispersed by police forces just a few hours after the rally began. Clashes took place between the demonstrators and the riot police, with about a dozen people severely injured by police, along with several journalists.
A heavy security forces’ presence was maintained from the beginning of the march. The police and Public Security Directorate forces surrounded the square, blocking streets around it and not allowing the demonstration to continue towards the next assembly point at Greater Amman Municipality Square. Police used batons to disperse the crowd, although only a peaceful chanting of slogans was taking place at that time. Journalists and reporters from the local and international media were attacked by security officers, despite the fact that they were wearing bright orange vests, clearly marked with ‘PRESS’ logos. The only excuse given by the police spokesperson regarding the attacks was that the security forces were trying to “prevent clashes” between the pro-reform protesters and the King’s loyalists who were also demonstrating at the square. But many protesters said that the so-called ‘loyalists’ are nothing more than undercover police thugs. This unjustifiable police suppression was clearly planned. A day before the rally, the government announced that Jordan cannot afford to risk its international image as a ‘peaceful country’ with street protests and “violent incidents”, especially during the main tourist season.
Protests and leadership
Despite the police repression and crude regime propaganda, the protests continued. As weekly pro-reform protests entered their 11th month on Friday 4th November, activists from the Jordanian Youth and Populist pro-reform movement protested in downtown Amman against the “security grip over citizens’ lives”. The protesters assembled at Al-Husseini mosque in downtown Amman just after midday prayers, under the banner of ‘No Reform Amidst Security Grip’. The protesters chanted slogans against the heavy repression by security forces of pro-reform activists in recent demonstrations around the country. They also accused the government of contradicting itself by guaranteeing civil freedoms while it uses scare tactics against people. They also claimed that the intelligence police blackmailed activists with losing their jobs and threatening their families. It has been reported that intelligence forces in Jordan have been repeatedly hacking social media networks, such as Facebook, Twitter etc, to snuff out any potential protests and that they have been systematically blackmailing many activists, especially from the youth movements, since the beginning of the protests last January (see previous article on socialistworld.net). Protesters also called for the formation of an elected government, putting an end to appointed governments, and demanded more constitutional amendments that will guarantee that the ‘people are the source of all powers’. They also called for "reclaiming stolen state lands" and condemned the privatisation of state institutions.
Pro-reform protests in Jordan, and especially in Amman, have been organised by two main movements: the youth and leftist movements that have initially sparked the protests as a reaction to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions in early 2011, and the Islamic Action Front – the Muslim Brotherhood’s Jordanian ‘branch’ and the main opposition party. Regarding the youth movement, there has been a big shift in terms of its agenda and leadership. The ‘March 24 Youth Movement’ was first formed by university students and young workers against corruption and unemployment. Since its beginnings, however, the movement has seen its leadership shifting towards the Islamic Party’s direction, with its demands getting less radical and its activities fading out. According to an ‘independent’ protester seen on a 15 July public rally: ‘The movement was more pure when it started. People believed that it could change something and that it would defend their interests. But its leaders have betrayed it and they are now only looking for a way to get into power by connecting themselves to the Islamists.’
Influence of the Islamic Action Front
The Islamic Action Front (IAF) has both a direct and indirect influence to the current movement of protests in Jordan. They usually call for their own separate marches on the same date as other rallies in different locations and times, thus spreading confusion amongst people. Although it has not been officially admitted, the IAF have gained big influence within the youth movement and have managed to shift it to a less radical direction, certainly in terms of slogans and activities.
The involvement of Islamic parties in the workers’ and youth movements is a quite common feature in several countries in the Middle East. Directly or not, political Islamic organisations and their leaders try to take advantage of the mass disillusionment over governments, thus creating national divisions and disbelief amongst the broader layers of people. What needs to be done now, on the part of the most politically aware of the opposition movement, is to immediately recognise and disconnect from the political Islamic leaders. Strong links with the unions and youth and Left movements need to be initiated, regionally as well as nationally. It is urgent that all opposition movements in Jordan, big or small, are run democratically and act as a strong front against the ruling elite and for real change.
The CWI calls for:
- Unity of the working masses against the ruling elite and state repression
- End corruption
- For the dismantling of the secret police forces
- For a programme that represents an alternative for workers and the poor, to build a mass movement against sectarian politics and impoverishing economic policies
- For immediate elections to a democratic constituent assembly! For a majority workers and small farmers’ government, with socialist policies
- A living minimum wage and affordable food and other essential goods and housing. For massive investment in the public sector, including education, health care, social security and pensions
- End unemployment; jobs for all
- The building of a workers’ movement to unite the working class and fight for the eradication of poverty, sectarianism and racism
- Struggle for a real alternative society; for genuine democratic socialism