Jordanians protest for democratic and economic reform, 2011

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Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
The resignation of the prime minister, and the government's curbing of rising prices, inflation, and unemployment

Beginning in December of 2010, massive protests against hunger and joblessness manifested all over the country of Tunisia. Similar violent protests erupted in Algeria over food costs. Consequently, on January 12, 2011, the Jordanian government made attempts to prevent similar events from happening; the government announced a plan worth $169 million dollars to control the price of essential resources and to spur job creation. That same day, trade unionist Mohammad Sneid called for a protest to happen two days later; he declared the slogan to be "a march for the downfall of Prime Minister Samir Rifai for a decent living."

On January 14, 8,000 Jordanians participated in demonstrations in Amman and other Jordanian cities. Protesters carried Jordan's national flag and chanted "Down with Rifai's government. Unify yourselves because the government wants to eat your flesh. Raise fuel prices to fill your pockets with millions." Others carried banners as they marched that read, "Jordan is not only for the rich. Bread is a red line. Beware of our starvation and fury." Two days afterward, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), its Jordanian political affiliate the Islamic Action Front (IAF), and several trade unions initiated a sit-in outside the parliamentary building.

In another effort to discourage unrest, the Jordanian government announced an additional aid package to be given out. On January 21, the government granted military and public workers a monthly salary raise of $28. King Abdullah II also made an effort to speak with Jordanians inhabiting the poorer areas of Jordan regarding their struggles. The MB responded by calling for additional protests to occur. Hamza Mansour, the leader of the IAF, called for democratic reforms that would allow the people of Jordan to elect a prime minister instead of having the king select one.

A week after the arrival of a second aid package from the government, more massive protests took place. Thousands reentered the streets chanting "We want change!" and displaying banners calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Rifai. 3,500 protesters gathered in the capital city with banners that read "Send the corrupt guys to court." All protests occurred after the noon prayers.

The campaign experienced a moment of success on the 1st of February when King Abdullah II announced that he was dismissing his cabinet, reforming the election law for the position of Prime Minister and replacing Prime Minister Rifai with another appointment. Marouf Bakhit, a former general, replaced Rifai. Bakhit, who had previously served as Prime Minister from 2005-2007, became a new source of frustration for Jordanians. The IAF said Bakhit "[was] not a man of reforms." The following day, several demonstrators from the Popular Union Party and the MB held a rally and chanted "no Bakhit, no Samir."

On February 4, the IAF held a sit-in outside the parliamentary building to protest the new Prime Minister. In Karak and Amman, hundreds of citizens marched in protest, carrying the Jordanian flag. The protests appeared to be smaller than earlier ones, as some Jordanians were willing to give Bakhit a chance to make reform. On February 10, the new cabinet was introduced and it proved to be a disappointment from the perspective of many demonstrators; the IAF refused to take part in it. The cabinet did, however, take immediate steps to enact reform; just five days after being sworn in, it removed restrictions on public protests.

Substantial protests resumed two weeks later when the IAF held a rally calling for the creation of a constitutional monarchy. Islamists also formed a 24-man commission to explore all the possibilities of a constitutional monarchy "under which the king does not rule." Prime Minister Bakhit issued a statement soon afterward rejecting such an idea. The result was a protest of 1,500 on the streets of Zarka.

Further protests calling for democratic reform occurred in late March. On the 25th, 500 Jordanians prepared a protest camp in Amman. The group appeared to be mainly college students that were a part of the Youth of March 24. As they sat-in, they chanted "Intelligence Department, we want your hands off politics!" and held banners that read "new Jordan, clean of corruption and corrupt officials." About 100 supporters of King Abdullah II organized a similar protest nearby to counter the one already in progress. A week prior, over 100 Jordanians had been injured after loyalists fought with demonstrators.

In response to the violence, King Abdullah II prohibited his own supporters from protesting in Amman. More violence occurred afterwards when alleged members of the conservative Sunni Muslim Salafist group attacked police officers with weapons, leaving more than 90 people hurt. According to reports, the attacks were unrelated to the campaign for economic and democratic reforms, but rather to demand the release of prisoners. 136 people were eventually arrested for their involvement in the violence. King Abdullah II then created a 10-person panel in late April to review the constitution and consider additional reforms. This marked the end of a highly successful campaign in which many reforms and aid packages came about as a result.

Research Notes

Jordanians' protests were inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. (1)

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----. "Jordanians protest living conditions, blame govt" Agence France-Presse 14 January2011

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----. "Jordan king creates panel to review constitution" Agence France-Presse 26 April 2011

Aljazeera. "Rallies for reform held in Jordan" Aljazeera. 4 February 2011

----. "Protest camp set up in Jordan capital" Aljazeera 24 March 2011

----. "Jordanian police separate rival rallies" Aljazeera 1 April 2011

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Al-Sharq al-Awsat. "Jordan foreign minister cites difficult economic situation as cause of protests" Al-Sharq al-Awsat (London) 13 April 2011

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Halaby, Jamal. "Hundreds set up protest camp in Jordan's capital" Washington Post 25 March 2011

Luck, Taylor. "In Jordan, Islamists try to spin popular protests into political uprising" Christian Science Monitor 21 january 2011

PressTV. "Jordan braces for its 'largest' rally" PressTV 25 February 2011

Reuters "Jordan's king appoints new PM after protests" Kippreport (Dubai) 1 February 2011

Seeley, Nicholas. "After Egypt's protests, Jordan's king faces more assertive public" Christian Science Monitor 2 February 2011

----. "Jordan aims to avoid unrest with dialogue on sweeping reforms" Christian Science Monitor 23 March 2011

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Tehran Times. "Thousands protest in Jordan" Tehran Times 29 January 2011

Thai Press Reports. "Tunisia/Jordan: Tunisia Unrest Inspires Jordan Protesters" Thai Press Reports 28 January 2011

TradeArabia. "Jordanians protest against soaring food prices" TradeArabia (Bahrain) 15 January 2011

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Julio Alicea, 05/05/2011