Anti-Government Protests Escalate In Jordan

Protesters in Jordan continued calling for an end to King Abdullah II’s regime for the second straight day on Friday, as 2,000 people gathered in downtown Amman to protest price increases and subsidy cuts. On November 15, nearly 4,000 protesters in Amman adopted the unofficial slogan of uprisings across the Arab world for the first time: “The people want the downfall of the regime.”

Protests turned violent earlier this week, as people opposed to price increases and subsidy cuts clashed with police. Wednesday’s demonstrations resulted in the first protest-related death Jordan has experienced since uprisings began around the Arab world in early 2011.

Jordan’s protests have mostly been driven by economic grievances, rather than political. King Abdullah is generally well-liked, and he has made an effort to accommodate reformers’ requests, though critics say he’s moved too slowly. For example, in August, he accepted constitutional reforms placing some limits on his power. Subsidies are another important tool the regime uses to stop serious protests from breaking out, but a budget shortfall of almost $3 billion is forcing the government to make cuts. Corporate tax rates were expected to increase, businesses’ electricity rates went up, the price of high-octane gasoline climbed 25 percent, and subsidies for cooking oil and other fuels have been cut.

Though the government has fairly strong institutions, which some argue may prevent regime collapse, the demographic makeup of Jordan is similar to that of other Arab countries that have faced serious unrest and should be a cause for concern. Namely, it is a young country — almost 70 percent of the population is less than 30 years old — with a youth unemployment rate approaching 28 percent. In addition, over 14 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and it is home to almost 3 million Palestinian refugees.

Demographics are not the sole factor to determine whether protesters’ goals shift from reform to revolution, of course, but they play an important role. There is no guarantee Jordan is heading down the path countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen have traveled, but the outbreak of violence is worrying.

Greg Noth