Prince Hamzah and Jordan’s Protesters

The New York Times reported about the support that Prince Hamzah has among some of the protesters in Jordan. According to the article, activists from the opposition movement Hirak are planning to hold up pictures of Prince Hamzah at upcoming demonstrations. Prince Hamzah was said to be King Hussein’s favorite, and he insisted that King Abdullah name him Crown Prince when he assumed the throne. He did so, but in 2004 removed him, replacing him with his own son, Prince Hussein, saying that replacing him as Crown Prince enabled him to perform other duties.

Many of the supporters of Prince Hamzah are from the tribal base which the monarchy has relied upon for support. Many of the protesters arrested for chanting against the King came from areas which would traditionally be considered to be supportive of the monarchy, and they have been especially angered over the government’s recent decision on fuel subsidies. At the same time, their anger is not one-dimensional, as they are upset about the fuel subsidies but are also upset – despite being the traditional base of support for the monarchy – at the lack of political reform despite repeated promises even as they oppose the fuel price increase. In politics, nothing is ever simple.

As these same people remember King Hussein fondly, support for Prince Hamzah becomes an attractive alternative to King Abdullah, whom they view as corrupt. It is also worth noting – as this article points out – that Queen Rania has not been spared their anger either.

As of now, Prince Hamzah has said nothing, and many of the demonstrators chanting against the King have called for a republic, but Prince Hamzah’s role as an additional factor is too important to overlook. Stay tuned.

Jordan: One Week Later

Today marks one week since the government announced that subsidies on fuel would be withdrawn, sparking massive protests including many which called for the removal of King Abdullah.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.

Day 6: King Praises Security Forces, Protests and Strikes Continue

Sunday in Jordan was the sixth day since protests sparked by the government’s decision to raise prices on fuel began. In addition to his meeting with Quartet Envoy Tony Blair and condemning Israeli attacks on Gaza, King Abdullah finally addressed the ongoing crisis, and demonstrated his sympathy is with the security forces rather than the people demanding their rights. He visited injured police and security personnel in the hospital, and praised their “restraint” and their efforts to enforce the law and protect constitutional rights, the most important of which is “which is the right to demonstrate peacefully and express their opinions. I can’t help but say that if he truly believes that the people have the right to express their opinions, they should be able to express their opinions about anyone and anything, including him.

He had nothing but praise for the security forces. He said that “Members of these apparatuses are our brothers and sons who have manifested the highest levels of professionalism, responsibility, patience and wisdom during the recent riots and over the past two years in which they made remarkable efforts and did a perfect job.” In other words, to the King, the events of the past few days, when people demanded their rights are “riots.” Jordanians heard nothing from him for several days and then when they did hear something it merely confirmed what they had known for a long time – that he appears to be completely out of touch.

He seems to be attempting to follow a familiar strategy of stalling and offering vague future promises only to break them later. It’s as though, by visiting security forces he’s trying to act as though he’s a limited constitutional monarch when he isn’t, and requiring the government – his 12th since assuming the throne – to take responsibility for the fuel price increase while he appears to be a neutral arbiter. Then, in a short while he’ll make vague promises of future reform and – in a show of generosity – pardon those arrested for criticizing him, in the hope that the cycle can continue indefinitely.

The cabinet announced that independent state agencies would be restructured. This includes the Executive Privatization Commission which is going to be folded into the Finance Ministry.

Protests and strikes continued today, both in Amman and around the country. According to @Freedom_Jordan, the Teachers’ Association announced that its strike would continue for another day, and the general strike had a greater impact outside the capital, in Karak and Maan than it had in Amman. All major unions except for the nurses union participated in strikes on Sunday, including the doctors’ union, although that union made provision for emergency personnel to remain at work. The National Front for Reform announced that there would be a large demonstration in Amman on Friday, November 30th.

Once again, today’s summary includes sections about developments around Jordan. If you witness any developments, do not hesitate to tweet to us at @ImpatientBedu or email us using our contact us form. Let us know if you do not want to be mentioned by name.

Amman

According to @freedom_jordan, protests in Amman were scheduled to begin at the Abu Hanifeh mosque, and at the Hussein mosque in Jebel al-Hussein. The protest in Jebel al-Hussein walked to the Nuzha area. There was also another protest beginning at Tafaileh neighborhood, which headed downtown. Demonstrators chanted that they were proclaiming a republic, and police responded by attacking the demonstration. However, all the demonstrations in Amman ended peacefully.

Karak

Two protests were held in Karak. The general strike had a greater impact here than in Amman, according to @freedom_jordan.

Maan

According to @freedom_jordan, the general strike had a greater impact here than in Amman.

Tafileh

According to @taylor_luck, there were hundreds of demonstrators protesting in Tafileh today.

It’s Not Real Reform If You Can’t Criticize the King

Image by World Economic Forum

The security forces are reported to be interrogating 130 detainees whom they have determined are to be detained for 15 days. These detainees, who were arrested during protests this week might be charged with “threatening to undermine the regime.” The charges, if someone is convicted of them, carry a potential prison sentence of five years. Reuters reports that many of those being interrogated are teenagers. The Washington Post, meanwhile, says that Jordan’s military prosecutor has charged 89 protesters with “inciting violent revolt,” which carries a potential 15 year jail sentence.

The Reuters report tempers the jail sentences the activists face by saying “convictions in such cases are rare” and that during recent demonstrations last winter there were dozens of protesters who faced similiar charges who received pardons. One example is Uday Abu Issa, only 18 years old, who was sentenced to two years in prison for “undermining the King’s dignity” after he burned a picture of King Abdullah.

He was convicted on January 28th, 2012. About a month later, on February 29th, King Abdullah pardoned him. This means that he still spent more than thirty days in jail simply for burning a picture, which he said when interrogated that he did in solidarity with an unemployed man who set himself on fire due to his poverty. His action – burning the King’s picture – was deemed so threatening that he needed to be prosecuted for it. In a truly free society, if someone burned a picture of the King, nothing would happen.

Dignity is something that’s earned, not something that can be protected by the threat of jail time. In a true constitutional monarchy, if a critic of King Abdullah called for his removal, someone who disagrees with them should express their own opinion, argue with them, and say why constitutional monarchy is a good idea – not by threatening to have that person arrested.

To have true reform and democracy – rather than just token steps to buy time – all institutions, and the monarchy is no exception, must rest upon the will of the people, under laws agreed upon and passed by a democratically elected parliament with real power, with a Prime Minister chosen by such a parliament, where none of these institutions can be suspended or dissolved simply by royal decree. Until Jordan has that, any token measures that the government announces are merely cosmetic.

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.

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.