Today marks one week since the government announced that subsidies on fuel would be withdrawn, sparking massive protests including many which called for the removal of King Abdullah. The authorities cracked down, arresting many demonstrators and, in some cases, using tear gas and water cannons to break up demonstrations. The King did not publicly mention the demonstrations for several days, appearing to ignore the domestic situation in Jordan entirely, except for his visit to injured members of the security forces, at which he praised their conduct during the protests. His words make us wonder if the “restraint” that he praised extends to their conduct towards children and teenagers arrested and in some cases tortured during the demonstrations.
Today the government-run Jordan Times posted an article about how Jordan’s record of protecting the rights of children is improving, even as authorities were interrogating children and teenagers arrested during the protests. One of them was Taqi-Aldeen Rawashdeh, 16 years old, who was tortured while in the custody of the security forces. Anonymous Jordan (@Freedom_Jordan) posted a video of him (in Arabic) after his release in which he talks about being arrested. @Freedom_Jordan also said that most of the children detained were released on Sunday night, but also that others had been arrested since, including Ahmad Alzou’bi, who was arrested in Irbid. The article in the Jordan Times mentions several areas including education and health care but neglects to mention other fundamental rights – including the right to demonstrate and criticize any government figure – including King Abdullah – without being arrested or tortured.
The government continued its usual pattern, of making token gestures of reform while actually doing nothing to bring out meaningful change – and ignoring the demands of the protesters that the fuel price increases be rescinded. An example of this is when King Abdullah cancelled the pensions of members of parliament, by rejecting a law that parliament had passed which restored them. It’s a token gesture, which does little to nothing – given that there are only 120 Members of Parliament (it will increase to 150 after the election), and in the same article he ordered a study of pensions in the civil service, which is said to have the aim of ensuring the “highest degree of fairness” in civil service pensions. What will this result in? There are no details. The Prime MInister, meanwhile, has repeatedly defended the government’s decision.
Much of the anger is not just about the decision to raise fuel prices but also about the way that it was done, and what it represents. The government’s promise to assist lower-income families misses the point entirely – which is that the decision was implemented without any sort of democratic accountability.
Protests took place around Jordan, including in Amman, Irbid, Maan, Karak, Aqaba, Tafileh, and elsewhere. Many protests in Amman called for the removal of King Abdullah. Irbid was the site of the protest movement’s first martyr, Qais Al-Omari, whom police initially tried to say was part of an armed attack on a police station. The authorities misled their own people – in addition to BBC and the Associated Press – about this incident but it is not clear if anyone is going to be held to account for it. There were also strikes by students, in addition to numerous professional associations.
The largest opposition groups – and many of those demonstrating – are calling for reform rather than the overthrow of the regime, but the regime seems at this point still committed to its course of stalling and making promises that it will later attempt to go back on. The events of the last week have made one thing clear – the people of Jordan have awakened and the regime’s old tactic of promising reform and democracy without ever actually delivering is not going to work anymore. The decision on fuel prices might still be in place, but something has changed in the last week.