Royal Pardons Do Not Equal Reform or Democracy

Today King Abdullah ordered the release of 116 detainees who were arrested during the protests following the increase in fuel prices last month. The King did not however, pardon 13 inmates who were accused of “criminal conspiracy, vandalism, and illegal detention of people during the wave of riots.”

First of all, what’s with the “illegal detention” charge against some of those still being held? What are the specific accusations against them? Did they hold people while denying them medical care? Did they keep teenagers in custody? It’s in many ways an extremely ironic charge to be made by a regime that has done all of those things since Prime Minister Ensour announced the increase in fuel prices. What’s to say that these people still in detention did what they were accused of doing?

King Abdullah, by issuing this pardon is trying to do two things. First, he wants to appear moderate, willing to reconcile, as though he is making a compassionate gesture to those who (according to his and the regime’s logic only) have erred. Second, he is also trying once again to make a symbolic gesture by issuing a pardon while implementing no real reform. It’s from the same playbook as the decision to eliminate pensions for MPs or to prosecute a former intelligence chief. It’s designed to look good but nothing has really changed.

Day 5: Ensour Refuses to Back Down, Protests Continue (Update 1)

(Update 1: November 17, 2012) It is now Day 5 since the people began to rise up in protest following the government’s decision to raise the price of fuel. We still have heard no public statements from King Abdullah, and the government shows no intention of listening to the will of the people, and protests continued today, with strikes scheduled to begin tomorrow. Numerous rallies were held today in Amman in the evening. The government still is seeming to hope that if it ignores the will of the people for long enough that the protests will go away, and they can return to their usual strategy of stalling while making repeated promises of reform, while doing little to nothing.

Today, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour spoke to reporters and defended the government’s decision to eliminate the fuel subsidies, and gave a television interview at 8:30pm (Amman time). We found this on his Twitter account @drensour (which is in Arabic). Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh is also scheduled for an interview on Sky News.

Part of the reason why we haven’t heard a great deal from the government may be that the Prime Minister is unfamiliar with Twitter. His account, as mentioned above is @drensour, but it’s not verified (so all I can actually do is presume that it’s really him and his staff updating it) and has only (as of now) about 700 followers, and his description still says “Member of Parliament.” Perhaps he decided that since Prime Ministers generally don’t last that long anyway, he might as well save the time and not update his Twitter account.

In the afternoon, he met with the board of the Jordanian Professional Teachers Association (JTA), in an attempt to persuade them not to strike tomorrow, but at a subsequent meeting later in the evening JTA head Mustafa Rawashdeh announced that the one-day strike would go forward on Sunday and urged parents not to send their children to school. He said that although the Prime Minister requested the meeting he “did not have anything new to say.”  However, Rawashdeh called for reform and said he rejected calls for the overthrow of the regime, but called for reformist protests to continue peacefully.

According to @Freedom_Jordan, the Prime Minister agreed at the meeting to release teachers who were detained during the protests, and they were released later. However he reports that there are still more than 250 detainees, including a young man named Laith Rawashdeh who is only fifteen years old.

He also said in a tweet a short time ago that the teachers are in fact going to participate in an open-ended strike along with the professional associations for engineers and agricultural teachers, although we do not have other confirmation of this yet. He also reports that student unions at universities and other youth movements throughout Jordan are planning to hold an open-ended strike as well.

Much of the media seems to take a dismissive attitude towards what is taking place. David Kirkpatrick, who writes for the New York Times said that “A wave of demonstrations against King Abdullah II set off by an increase in fuel prices appeared to reach its peak on Friday without having won any concessions from the monarchy.” As though the goal of the demonstrations were to beg for concessions from the King and that the people would go home when he didn’t make any. The King assumes that he’s going to be able to get away with the same tactics again but eventually they wear out – as the people have become aware of the government making the same broken promises over and over again.

This daily update has sections for each area where events have taken place. As we obtain more information we will add it to the respective section. If you witness any developments don’t hesitate to contact us or tweet to us on Twitter @ImpatientBedu, and we can add the information here. If you provide us with information and request anonymity we will publish the information without naming you as the source.

Amman

According to @Freedom_Jordan Protests were scheduled to take place this evening after Isha prayers (which started at about 7:06pm local time) in numerous neighborhoods, including a large demonstration Ashrafiyyeh, Ras El, Jebel al-Jofeh, Wehdat, and a joint demonstration from Jafaileh and Mahasreh. The protesters from Wehdat later joined those in Ashrafiyyeh. Protesters chanted against the regime and said that they would not stand outside the palace and beg. @joanarchists reports that plain-clothes security forces attempted to arrest protesters at the Ashrafiyyeh rally.

During the protests police attempted to arrest hunger striker Abdullah Mahadeen along with other activists but they failed to do so, @Freedom_Jordan reports.

Irbid

The Yarmouk University Student Union, as we mentioned yesterday, plans to hold an open strike beginning Sunday, citing its opposition to the government’s decision to raise fuel prices. The University administration has announced that despite the strike classes will be held as scheduled.

Maan

Al-Hussein University said that classes would be held as scheduled despite a student strike for tomorrow.

Tafileh

Tafileh Technical University’s Student Union announced that a strike would be held on Sunday while the university claims that classes will go forward.

Zarqa

Zarqa Private University announced that classes would go forward as scheduled and urged students not to participate in the student strike scheduled for tomorrow.

Day 4: Still No Word from King Abdullah (Update 1)

Protests against the government’s fuel price hike have entered their fourth day, and still we have heard nothing from King Abdullah even as protesters in Amman called for his removal. Protests today continued in Amman, as well as throughout Jordan. Still, despite the fact that the King has increasingly become the target of protesters’ anger, he still has yet to make a statement or public appearance since the crisis began.

There were only a few pieces of news that came out about the King today. The first was that he has cancelled his visit to the United Kingdom that was scheduled to take place next week. He also received a call from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and according to Petra, the state news agency, the King expressed his concern over Israeli aggression in Gaza and warned against escalation, and also urged regional and international efforts to help ease the crisis. The end of this article is the interesting part. It says “She also hailed King Abdullah’s roadmap for political reform as well as the government’s efforts to achieve economic reform, stressing the importance of the Jordanian-US partnership.” and that they agreed to continue coordinating on regional developments, “Especially the situation in Gaza” (emphasis ours). Another article discusses the comments made by a state department spokesman indicating support for King Abdullah and his governments reform measures, while acknowleding the right to peaceful protest.

There is another, perhaps more ominous article on Petra, which discusses a conversation that King Abdullah had with the King of Bahrain, Hamad Bin Issa Al-Khalifa. It says that they discussed events within the region “especially the situation in Gaza.” Bahrain, if you recall, was where GCC forces led by Saudi Arabia suppressed demonstrations as part of “Operation Peninsula Shield.” Did they talk just about Gaza? Or was anything else discussed?

What is going on? There’s no news from the King, nothing. Is he trying to ride out the situation, planning to repress demonstrators, or simply in denial? There’s no information. It’s this sort of denial that the people outside the palace and well-connected circles actually exist that serves as a catalyst for those out on the streets demonstrating.

The opposition Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing supported the demonstrations today and said they would participate until the government reversed its decision. The Muslim Brotherhood also emphasized its focus on dialogue, especially regarding reform of the electoral law. A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood says that the group “Isn’t against the King.” Pro-government groups also demonstrated in Jordan.

For this daily update, we have created sections for each area where events have taken place. As we obtain more information we will add it to the respective section.

If you witness any developments don’t hesitate to contact us or tweet to us on Twitter @ImpatientBedu, and we can add the information here.

Amman

At least 6000 people protested, with many calling for the removal of the King. This included a crowd estimated at 4000 at the Husseini mosque, where minor clashes with police were reported. There were also protests at Istkilal street and at Dakhliyya Square, which is near the interior ministry. This where previous protests were violently dispersed by police using water cannons.

Police closed streets to demonstrators, including  between Abdoun bridge and 4th circle, and between Blue Fig and Abdoun Circle, according to @LumaQ

Aqaba

Here is a video posted by @Freedom_Jordan of a large crowd protesting in Aqaba.

Irbid

According to Ammon Times, there were two protests in Irbid, both of which were held after Friday prayers. One of them was organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, and called for modifying the election procedures, reversing the subsidy cuts, and taking measures against corruption. The second protest was organized by youth and popular reform activist movements, and called for political, social, and economic reform. Security forces were present but no clashes were reported.

Demonstrations took place at the funeral of Qais Al-Omari, who was killed by the police during a demonstration on Tuesday.

Also in Irbid, the student union at Yarmouk University declared an open-ended strike.

Karak

Large protest reported. Here’s a video posted by @Freedom_Jordan.

Also, @che_palover tweeted numerous photos of the demonstrations today, including this one of protesters rallying on Friday night in Karak.

Tafileh

Protest calling for reforms held by youth and popular activist groups, which pledged to continue protesting until demands were met. Security forces were present but no clashes were reported.

Thiban

Police forces fired on protesters according to activist Mohammad Alsneid (related by @freedom_Jordan), though we have not seen other reports of this. We will keep you updated if we have confirmation.

Zarqa

Large protests were reported according to @freedom_Jordan. Here is a link to a video of demonstrators.


Update 1: The Death of Qais Al-Omari

Update 1 (November 16th, 2012): Qais Al-Omari was laid to rest by his family today in Irbid. Although he was initially reported to be 22 years old, he was in fact 27 and married, and his wife and mother mourned him along with other relatives before his funeral in a photo published by the Associated Press. He is already being referred to as “the martyr of the price hikes” by demonstrators.

It is still not entirely clear what exactly took place on Wednesday night at the police station in the town of Kfar Asad (which is in the Wasitiyeh district of Irbid), but what is clear is that the police gave an inaccurate report of what took place, and that they were able to fool both the Associated Press and BBC into believing their version of events. If something like this were to happen in the United States, in which police shot an unarmed man and then misled the media into believing it was part of an armed attack it would most likely be front page news the next day. The unnamed source who told reporters this information was likely used by the police to cover up the incident.

According to the account of Firas el-Azzam, (which can be found beginning at the fifth paragraph of this New York Times article) who was another protester there at the time, al-Omari was “part of a group of about 30 unarmed men who walked to the police station to complain about abusive language they said officers had used while breaking up an earlier protest.” The confronted police at the front door of the police station about the language they had used, and this was when the police opened fire, killing al-Omari and wounding three others. Angry crowds then attacked a municipal building and burned government vehicles. This violence (which broke out in response to Al-Omari’s death) then gave the police the opportunity to cover up shooting an unarmed protester, son, and husband by saying that he was part of an armed attack.

Other than a confirmation of his death, we have heard nothing from the government about the death of an unarmed protester who wanted only to express his anger at the treatment by police who sought to suppress his right to speak out against the fuel price hike, and then misled the media into believing it was part of an armed attack.

Initial Post (November 15th, 2012): Here is what we know: yesterday Qais Al-Omari, a 22-year-old young man involved in youth activist movements participating in the ongoing protests was killed by police in Wasatiyeh (on the outskirts of Irbid) as part of an incident at a police station. Nothing else is clear. The story has changed since the incident took place to the extent that its not entirely clear what happened at all, and it seems increasingly likely that the story told by police isn’t accurate. After all, they have a vested interest in attempting to cover up facts that are contrary to the official account. With the people of Jordan protesting against the government following the fuel price increase, it is only natural that the security forces would seek to prevent Qais Al-Omari from becoming a martyr for those demonstrating.

According to the version told by police (and initially carried by both BBC and the Associated Press), it was part of an attack by gunmen against a police station that resulted in 17 people being wounded, including 13 police officers. However, this version of the story has one major flaw – it was based largely on accounts of the incident given by the police themselves. According to an unnamed source (who was, in familiar parlance, not authorized to comment publicly), the police were investigating the incident. In a country with a regime that is on the ropes after increasing unrest, the police would have every reason to cover up the death of an innocent person, even if there was such an attack and Qais Al-Omari was a protester caught in the crossfire.

A clue that there is more to the story than it seems: In the Associated Press story, someone from Wasatiyeh identifies him as a 22-year-old youth activist Qais Al-Omari, but insisted on anonymity becuase they were afraid of the police seeking retribution against them. Why would someone need to fear retribution from police if the version of the story that the police told were accurate?

Today more information has come out. Another version of the story came out in Reuters, which said that “The protester was killed and scores were injured during an attack on a police station in the country’s second-largest city of Irbid, the witnesses said.” A score is 20. “Scores” means that there were significant numbers of people injured in the attack. However, in the original version of the story published by the Associated Press, there were only four people injured, in addition to the 13 police officers. The story has changed and it doesn’t seem that very many, at least in English-language media, have been paying attention to it.

More information has also come out from inside Jordan. According to @Freedom_Jordan, Al-Omari’s family has refused to bury him and they deny that he broke into the police station, and his tribe is meeting to discuss the consequences of his death.

In these circumstances, with the people of Jordan rising up against repression, the regime has a vested interest in making sure that an innocent person shot by police does not come to be a martyr. We don’t know what happened in Wasatiyeh, but a young activist is dead and the person who identified him fears retribution from police. Stay tuned. This could be one of the sparks that helps ignite a revolution.

King Abdullah MISSING: Have You Seen Him?

Today is day 3 since protests erupted following the government’s announcement that fuel prices would be increased, and once again King Abdullah is nowhere to be seen.

Protests continued today in numerous locations around Jordan, including in Amman, where tear gas was used against protesters in Dakhliyeh Circle, where the Interior Ministry is located, according to @LinaR and @Nadine18. Tear gas was also dropped on protesters in Jabal Al-Jussein, according to @LinaR, who also said that there were approximately five hundred protesters outside Raghadan palace. There were, however, fewer protests today, and one could argue that this is because of Islamic New Year.

While we have seen nothing of the King, we did hear from General Hussein Majali, who vowed to “strike with an iron fist” against those who continued to demand their rights. He also said that 158 people were arrested during the protests had already had charges against them, including – he seemed to emphasize – two Syrian nationals, who he said “confessed to having been paid by an unidentified Jordanian political party to join protests to beef up crowd numbers.” Let’s examine that allegation for a moment – thousands of people protested, but an “unidentified political party” paid them to “beef up” the numbers of people in the crowd? By two? With Syrians so that the regime would have a convenient excuse to blame protests on outsiders? This would be funny if it didn’t involve the state thwarting the democratic aspirations of its people. Not to mention how interesting is it that all these “criminals” who had charges against them decided to convene in the one place that they could all get arrested simultaneously? Coincidence or simply a stroke of luck?

Majali also said that “freedom of expression is guaranteed” but that protests had to be peaceful. But why, then, has the government used tear gas against peaceful protestors today and since the current wave of demonstrations began. Why is the government degrading its own people by saying that they are criminals for simply speaking up? It is as if they see in vandalism an opportunity to discredit those who are peacefully demanding their rights.

Prime Minister Ensour made an appearance on Al-Jazeera today. As if this isn’t comical enough, other figures within the government have spoken also, offering the same promises of future reforms. Nasser Judeh, the Foreign Minister claimed that “the political reform process is on track, the social reform process is on track, and the economic reform process has to be on track,” according to the New York Times. He also defended the cosmetic changes that the government had made over the last year. The government fails to grasp that promises of future reform no longer keep the people satisfied. When you promise someone something over and over again without any change or a plan for implementing that change, your word becomes useless and in this case pathetic.

We have also heard from the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which urged the King to rescind the price hikes and said thatdemonstrations are planned in Amman for tomorrow. Some leading figures in the Muslim Brotherhood, including IAF General Secretary Hamza Mansour held a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister but no agreement was made to resolve the standoff.

That leaves King Abdullah. He’s nowhere to be seen. Indeed, some of the only news about him that we have heard is from Petra, which announced that King Abdullah received a phone call from Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and they “discussed regional developments, especially the situation in Gaza…” and “bilateral ties, especially in the economic field.” The article also mentioned that the Egyptian President congratulated the King on the advent of the new Islamic year. We also heard when the protests first began King Abdullah went to visit the grave of his father King Hussein. At least we know the great leader of Jordan is making good use of his time, while his people are protesting in masses simply asking for him to implement the reform that he’s been promising. Other than these two siting it appears as if King Abdullah is missing in action!

This makes us wonder? Where is King Abdullah? Has anyone seen him? Reward has not yet been promised.

Jordan Erupts for Second Day: Where is King Abdullah?

Protests that erupted after the government announced an increase in the price of fuel continued for a second day. Someone was conspicuous by his absence today – King Abdullah has not spoken publicly since the people rose up in anger at the government’s abrupt announcement (nor is any speech planned, according to Ammon News. Indeed, the most iconic image of the King has been that of a poster being guarded by riot police as though the poster was King Abdullah himself – rather than an enlarged picture.

Qais Alomari, only 22 years old, became the first protester killed since the people rose in anger at the government’s abrupt announcement. An AP story about his death claims that he part of an armed attack on a police station in Irbid in which 13 officers were injured, but there’s no actual confirmation about this other than from the police themselves who say the police station was sprayed by bullets from a moving vehicle. A witness identifies him as a young man involved in political activism. It seems likely that police killed an unarmed young protester and then sought to cover it up – and discredit protests at the same time – by making it seem like part of an armed attack.

The government’s continued silence is in many ways deafening. They have behaved in a consistently undemocratic manner really ever since Jordan first became independent. These protests were triggered by the fuel prices – especially the increase in the price of cooking gas by 50 percent – but there is something deeper here.

A major source of anger is the fact that the government has mastered the art of stalling. You can go back to any number of previous years and find a statement by King Abdullah saying that there will be reform and democracy, but then it simply doesn’t actually happen. Eventually though people see through continued broken promises and rise up to demand their rights. These protests could be the first sparks of a revolution.