Thousands Protest For Political Change in Jordan
King Abdullah II dissolved country's parliament and called for early elections close to new year
Sara Sidner and Ashley Fantz CNN
October 05, 2012
The demonstration comes less than a day after King Abdullah II dissolved the country's parliament and called for early elections close to the new year.
The peaceful rally called for constitutional reforms, with protesters complaining that the king has too much power. They demanded that representatives be able to run for election in a democratic system rather than be under his control.
"Whoever (is) corrupted is the enemy of God," they chanted, waving Jordanian flags.
Many people said Jordan's economy is hurting, and too many people cannot afford the high cost of living and are being burdened by high inflation. Unemployment is too high, they said, and young people especially are without work. The complaints have been echoed for some time in Jordan and gained steam when the Arab Spring began to sweep North Africa and the Middle East in 2010 and 2011.
Popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have ousted longtime leaders from power.
Abdullah has made some changes over the past year, but he hasn't done enough, protesters said.
"The king saw this coming and he's been watching the Arab Spring carefully," said Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations with a specialty in Middle Eastern affairs. "But it's important to remember that Jordan is much more open than Libya. Here you had 10,000 people demonstrating, and they're allowed to."
In the last few years, there has been much more open criticism of the king, he said. "Five years ago, people might have grumbled in private but not publicly," he said. "There's more criticism of the royal family."
But the king is in what appears to be in a tough spot. If he makes political reforms, that would mean taking power away from his base -- the Bedouin tribes, or what is known as the East Bankers.
On top of that concern, the king is also dealing with more than 200,000 Syrian refugees who have entered Jordan recently.
"So what you've had this past year or so is the king promises change, but then nothing really happening," Abrams said.
In nearly two years, Abdullah has fired four prime ministers. In February 2011, shortly before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down following weeks of intense protest, Abdullah dismissed his government. The king ordered "genuine political reform," the country's royal court reported.
The king then promised that the government would "take practical steps, quick and concrete, to launch a process of genuine political reform" and "comprehensive development," according to a letter from the king. The government would act to strengthen democracy, the letter said.
New prime ministers were appointed in October 2011 and May 2012.
On Thursday, government spokesman Samih al-Maitah framed the king's latest decision to dissolve parliament as part of his promised reforms.
"This was not a surprise decision," al-Maitah said, adding that to ensure fairness, an independent commission will oversee upcoming parliamentary elections.
Protesters chanted Friday, "We came to call for reforms and an amendment to the constitution so the people can see the light!"
The Muslim Brotherhood organized the protest.
The religious and political group -- which was started in 1928 and counts Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsy, as a member -- believes Islam is not simply a religion but a way of life. It advocates a move away from secularism and a return to the rules of the Quran as a basis for healthy families, communities and states. The Brotherhood has repeatedly called for political reform in Jordan.
It's unclear how much power the Brotherhood has in Jordan. The group has publicly vowed, Abrams said, not to contest the parliamentary elections in the new year.