Jordanians Call For Overthrow After Gas Price Hike
King Abdullah II completely reshuffled the government in early October
Ben Brumfield and Saad Abedine CNN
November 14, 2012
They added the standard battle cry that has echoed from Tunisia to Syria: "The people want to topple the regime!"
This refrain has been the calling card of the Arab Spring. In this case, a government price hike triggered the demonstrations.
Initially, Jordanians thronged to public squares to punish the government for cutting fuel subsidies, which resulted in higher gas prices. But resentment quickly rose to cries for democracy and overthrow, with overtones of Egypt and Libya. And some of these directly addressed the king.
"Hey Abdullah, don't be fooled, look around and see what happened to your peers," a crowd chanted with reference to toppled Arab autocrats.
Violence injured 14 people, 10 of them police wounded by gunfire, Jordan's public security department said. There was also property damage.
The government, which King Abdullah II under public pressure completely reshuffled in early October, announced the price boost for gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and cooking gas Tuesday.
The price of unleaded gas went up from about $3.80 to just over $4.25 per gallon. The price of diesel fuel rose from about $2.80 to around $3.70 a gallon. Cooking gas prices jumped from just over $9 per canister to more than $14.
The government announced a payout to families of just under $600 to soften the blow of the higher prices for the nation's poorest.
Pain at the pump is a drag on government approval ratings anywhere, but in Jordan, where the Arab Spring has kept up the pressure on a monarch who is friendly to the West and a stabilizer in the Middle East, sparking a protest can unleash explosive potential with effects beyond Jordan's borders.
The Hashemite kingdom, which has good relations with Israel, is wedged among the Jewish state, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and serves as a buffer in the region.
As in Egypt, Islamists hold powerful political influence in Jordan, but Tuesday night, the streets were filled with people of all backgrounds, including women without veils and men without beards.
State news agency Petra confirmed protests in at least seven municipalities.
The higher gas prices come on top of high unemployment and inflation.
In addressing the regent, the protesters' tone started out with the usual respectful reference to him by the title of "king" or "your majesty."
"Oh, Abdullah ibn Hussein [king], where is the people's money? Where?" roared one chant. "Raising the prices will set the country on fire!"
Jordanian demonstrators commonly voice anger about corruption and poverty, accusing those in power of misappropriating government money for personal gain.
But as the streets filled, the rhetoric took a caustic turn, dropping the monarch's title and referring to him crudely by first name only, a rare indiscretion in Jordan.
"Hey Abdullah, listen, listen very well, we will kneel to no one but God!" "God is mightier than all tyrants."
Insulting the king is illegal in Jordan and can result in a prison sentence.
King Abdullah does not have a reputation for bloody oppression like Syria's Bashar al-Assad or former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi and is viewed by many as a benevolent king.
He had 20 opposition activists arrested in early October but quickly released them after an international human rights group criticized the move.
His recent announcements of concessions to protesters' demands to democratize have not quelled discontent.
"Let's make it a popular revolution, until we have freedom!" came calls for an uprising.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour, with just over a month in office, took to the airwaves the same night to address the protests and accused Islamists of laying in wait for any opportunity to incite the collapse of a stable government. Speaking directly to the Islamic Action Front, he said:
"They have been trying to mobilize their people in the streets and prepare themselves for such an eventful day. ... "
He reminded them that they had shown no opposition when Egypt's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood, had to raise gas prices there.
He then appealed to Jordanians not to "be influenced by these petty attempts."
Ensour has blamed the gas subsidy cuts on budget slashing made necessary by the uprisings in neighboring countries, which have reduced the gasoline supply to the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.
"In the past 18 months of the Arab Spring, Jordan has lost between $4-5 billion at least as a result of oil stoppage, especially the Egyptian gas supplies," Petra quoted Ensour as saying.
It has put the country's budget deficit through the roof, he said.
Protesters included the prime minister in their rage Tuesday night. "Revolt, revolt my people, Abdullah Ensour must be toppled!" "We will no longer remain silent!" chants rang out. "Death -- and never humiliation!"
Jordan's teacher's union announced an open-ended strike Wednesday, until the government reverses the price hikes.
In early October, thousands of peaceful protesters gathered in Amman to call for constitutional reforms, a reduction in royal power and the establishment of a democratically chosen parliament and prime minister.
King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein reacted by dissolving the appointed parliament and conceding to parliamentary elections, which he has called for in the new year. The former prime minister tendered his resignation, and a new one stepped into his role.
In the past two years, Abdullah has fired four prime ministers. In February 2011, shortly before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of office following weeks of intense protest, the king dismissed his government and ordered "genuine political reform," the country's royal court reported.
Political reforms would mean taking power away from his base -- the Bedouin tribes, a group known as the East Bankers.
On top of that concern, Abdullah is also dealing with more than 200,000 Syrian refugees who have entered Jordan recently fleeing despotism in the neighboring country.
CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali and journalist Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report.