Fire of massive protests spreads to Jordan

43279.jpegAfter the events in Tunisia and Egypt, anti-governmental protests sparked in another Arab country - Jordan. King Abdullah II of Jordan took preventive measures after the toppling of Tunisian President Ben Ali. The king ordered to reduce prices on food and assign $500 million on various social projects. However, the measures taken produced no effect.

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against worsening living standards and corruption. Practically all representatives of Jordanian opposition - from moderate trade union activists to leftist and Islamist forces - united against the government.

As a result, the King sacked the government chaired by Samir Rifai and replaced him with Marouf al-Bakhit, an ex-general and former premier.

In his letter of appointment, the King ordered Bakhit to "take practical, speedy and tangible steps to embark on a course of real political reform."

The majority of opposition parties of the country agreed to cooperate with Bakhit, but Islamic Action Front, an influential Islamist organization, refused to do it. The radicals are concerned about the fact that the King preserved his power fully after appointing the prime minister. They urge the King to form the government of national salvation claiming that the head of the government should be appointed through national elections.

The King does not accept such conditions. He realizes that in this case he will become a decorative figure and lose his influence on political processes in the country. In this connection, Islamists are going to intensify their anti-governmental protests in Jordan in near future.

Interestingly enough, not so long ago Western analysts held up Jordan as an example of stable and economically developed Arab state. Even though there are no oil deposits in the country, Jordan actively develops tourism, especially health tourism. In addition, the country holds a big potential for developing the raw materials sector of economy. Jordan is one of the biggest producers of phosphates in the world. One should also mention the recently discovered fields of natural gas and uranium.

There are not many of those who live below the poverty line in Jordan. The number of impoverished people in Egypt nears 40 percent, in Yemen - more than 50 percent. In Jordan, the number of those, who budget themselves to less than $2 a day, is only 3.5 percent. The opposition names a larger number, though - 25 percent.

Social problems have aggravated in Jordan recently. Even official authorities estimate the number of the unemployed on the level of 15 percent (over 30 percent according to the opposition). Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from South-East Asia and Egypt, as well as refugees from Lebanon and Iraq have flooded the country. The demographic situation in Jordan is also a very serious issue. The population growth in this country is lower than that in Yemen, but it is quite an impressive number too. For the time being, there are 6.5 million people living in the country with 150,000 new births every year.
There are other problems in the country. Restricted water resources in the country hamper the development of the agricultural industry, which in its turn is unable to meet the national demand on food.

Nevertheless, the position of King Abdullah II is much more stable than the position of, let's say, Egypt's Mubarak. The West has not not declined the support of the sitting government in the country. Washington has recently transferred $0.66 billion of financial help to Jordan. Beijing promised to allocate not less than $150 million to Jordan as well.

Arabist Sergei Demidenko from the Institute of Strategic Analysis said in an interview with Pravda.Ru that the current protests in Jordan sent an alarming message to King Abdullah.

"It's a wake-up call for King Abdullah. The majority of the country's population may support the protesters under certain conditions. The country's population presumably consists of Palestinians. Many of them are connected with their brethren - members of such radical organizations as Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Many radicals were expelled from the country as a result of the events in September of 1970. However, it does not mean that many Palestinians do not sympathize with them anymore.

"One should also bear in mind the fact that militants penetrate to Iraq via the territory of Jordan rather than Syria. In 2005, Islamists conducted a large terrorist act in Amman, when they exploded hotels. However, they are not strong enough to overthrow King Abdullah.

"Jordan is a poor state in the Arab world because it does not have oil. The Jordanian economy is far from being stable. The previous king of the country used to say that the only capital that the Jordan had was its people. The Jordanian economy was previously developing owing to shipments of cheap Iraqi oil. In return, Jordan was a supporter of Saddam Hussein. As soon as Saddam's regime was destroyed, Jordan faced the question of its future, because the country was unable to purchase oil at market value. Other countries of the Persian Gulf agreed to help Jordan instead of Iraq. However, they revised the prices on black gold, which struck a serious blow on the economy of Jordan.

"The protesters in Jordan are only testing their strength now. They do not want their king to leave. They have the new government now, but it does not mean that the king demonstrated his weakness. He replaced the prime minister with a former chief of Jordanian intelligence," the expert said.

Sergei Balmasov

Read the original in Russian

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov