March 4, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 806

The Arab Spring in Jordan – Part II: Oppositionists Challenging the Legitimacy of the King and Hashemite Royal Family

March 4, 2012 | By H. Varulkar*
Jordan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 806


In recent weeks, Jordanian oppositionists have sharpened their criticism of King 'Abdallah II to the point of questioning his legitimacy as the country's ruler. There have been calls to oust the "occupier" (i.e., the king), and threats of an imminent "explosion" or an armed revolution should the situation in the country remain unchanged. These threats, unprecedented in Jordan, were voiced by oppositionist and retired military veteran Dr. Ahmad 'Oweidi Al-'Abbadi, a former MP and the current head of the Jordan National Movement (JNM), who called for Jordan to be freed from the Hashemite "occupation" and to become a republic. These statements led to his arrest on charges of "inciting to topple the regime." His stance was supported by JNM members, by other retired military veterans, and by some members of the Al-'Abbad tribe, to which he belongs. Following the arrest, his backers organized a rally in his support and called to topple the regime. He was eventually released on bail on March 1, 2012.

Among those who spoke out in support of Al-'Abbadi was oppositionist Laith Shubeilat, who also visited him in prison. He stated that the king was the main source of the growing corruption in the country, and even urged the king to apologize to the Jordanian people and to agree to curtail his authority, threatening that if he did not, Jordan could soon expect an explosion and the anarchy of a revolution.

Another indication of the growing opposition to the king came on January 11, 2012, when 'Udai Abu 'Issa, an activist in the Youth Movement for Reform, torched a street poster of the king outside the Madaba municipality.[1] Two weeks later, the State Security Court sentenced Abu 'Issa to two years' imprisonment for "harming the king's dignity,"[2] but, on February 29, the king ordered the government to pardon him.[3]

The poster of King 'Abdallah II that was torched by activist 'Udai Abu 'Issa[4]

Intense criticism against the king also came from Jordan's tribes, which have traditionally represented the backbone of the Hashemite regime but which, in recent years, have suffered from the king's neo-liberal economic policy that entailed the privatization of state property and encouragement of a free market. The tribes, which have always dominated Jordan's security institutions and decision-making circles, have also taken strong issue with the integration of numerous Palestinians into senior positions in the kingdom, at the expense of tribal forces. The latter feel that these moves not only pose a challenge to their alliance with the regime, but upset the longstanding, delicate balance of powers between the tribal sector and the Palestinians in Jordan.[5]

Retired military veterans are prominent among the tribesmen who harshly criticize King 'Abdallah, Queen Rania, and their associates for granting citizenship to Palestinians and for the king's economic policy.[6] Recently, a group of retired veterans even announced an intention to establish a political party which will advance "new laws curtailing the role of the royal family" and oppose granting Jordanian citizenship to Palestinians living in the kingdom.[7]

It is noteworthy that unlike these oppositionists, Jordan's Islamist opposition stepped down its activity in the past two months, staging fewer demonstrations against the regime. Tensions between the Islamists and the regime reached a peak in early January 2012, when Islamist youth held a paramilitary procession in the streets of Amman reminiscent of those staged by Hizbullah in Lebanon.[8] The procession worried and angered the regime, which was quick to respond. The king, prime minister, and intelligence apparatuses held a series of meeting and discussions with the Islamist leadership, following which the latter expressed a commitment to nonviolence in calling for "reform in the regime."[9] This gave rise to claims, already heard before, that the Islamists have struck a deal with the regime. The Islamist movement denied this, and recently even announced that it would not participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections, expected to take place at the end of 2012, unless additional amendments are made to Jordan's constitution limiting the king's authority.[10]

Economic Crisis Threatening Jordan's Stability

A factor that has exacerbated the frustrations of Jordan's citizens, especially among the opposition, is the country's difficult economic situation, which is a source of concern for the regime as well. Tensions peaked on January 9, 2012, when Jordanian citizen Ahmad Al-Matarneh self-immolated outside the royal court offices, reportedly because he could no longer support his family. The act, which on Facebook earned Al-Matarneh the epithet "Jordan's Abu 'Azizi," set off ripples in the kingdom, sparking demonstrations and protests over the dire economic situation, as well as a wave of articles criticizing Jordan's economic policy in recent years. Al-Matarneh's suicide inspired a series of similar acts, to the extent that the country's General Ifta (Jurisprudence) Department issued a fatwa clarifying that suicide is one the gravest sins according to Islamic shari'a.[11]

Recently, Jordanian Finance Minister Umayya Toukan warned that the economic situation posed a serious danger to the kingdom, and could result in disaster if immediate steps were not taken to address it.[12] In an effort to survive, the Jordanian regime obtained financial aid from Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the US, the World Bank, and the EU.[13] The crisis was also manifest in Jordan's 2012 national budget, approved by parliament on February 23, 2012, which Prime Minister 'Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh described as the most "frugal" budget in the country's history.[14]

A February 27, 2012 editorial in the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi called on Jordan to take immediate steps toward improving its economic situation: "When the country's debts reach more than $16 billion – a large sum by any standard for a country that lacks minimal essential sources of income, like oil or gas, and which has no active industry or agricultural export – it signifies a true crisis that the authorities must deal with courageously... Some million people are living below the poverty line, and the gaps between the poor and the rich have reached frightening proportions, to the point where there is danger of a real 'hunger revolution'... The steps taken so far... have been superficial and limited... It is a disgrace that, in Jordan, there are neighborhoods and districts that look like Switzerland... and [other] neighborhoods the likes of which one doesn't see even in Calcutta or Bombay..."[15]

Fears Over Influx of Syrian Refugees

In addition to the economic crisis, the Jordanian regime is concerned about the crisis in Syria and its possible repercussions for Jordan. The concern of the kingdom's leaders is that foreign military intervention or a civil war in Syria could impact events in Jordan, some of whose citizens have tribal and family ties to citizens in Syria. The chief fear is that Syrian refugees might flood into Jordan. According to official sources, some 73,000 Syrian refugees have already fled to Jordan since the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in March 2011.[16] Unofficial sources give an even larger figure,[17] and, according to reports, Jordan has established several refugee camps along the Syrian border in anticipation of a potential mass flight.[18] The Jordanian authorities also fear a hostile reaction from the Assad regime should it suspect Jordan of taking steps against Syria,[19] and an additional blow to the kingdom's economy, considering that Syria is a major importer of Jordanian goods and serves as a gateway for trade with Lebanon, Turkey, and Eastern European countries. For this reason, Jordan has asked the Arab League to exempt it from the economic sanctions it has imposed on Syria; this also explains why, unlike other Arab countries, Jordan has refrained from taking a harsh stance against Syria.[20]

King 'Abdallah II is well aware of the sensitive circumstances and challenges facing Jordan, and of the need to initiate reforms in order to meet the demands of the public and to rein in criticism of the regime, which is threatening its stability. Over the past two months, the king took two major steps in this direction: he announced that early parliamentary elections would be moved up to this year,[21] and declared a war on corruption, in an attempt to placate the anger of many Jordanians over the involvement of senior officials and associates of the king in serious cases of corruption. The first target of this campaign was none less than former General Intelligence Department chief Muhammad Al-Dhahabi, who was arrested several weeks ago on charges of money laundering.[22] Bassem 'Awadallah, former royal court chief, finance minister, and planning and international cooperation minister, is also seen as a symbol of corruption among the kingdom's elite, and may be the next target of the king's new campaign.[23] However, it seems that these steps by the king have so far fallen short of silencing the fierce criticism of the regime by the king's opponents.

Jordan's former General Intelligence chief, Muhammad Al-Dhahabi, currently under arrest on suspicion of money laundering[24]

Jordanian Oppositionist Al-'Abbadi: The Country Must Be Liberated from the Hashemite "Occupation"

As mentioned, the harshest criticism against the king was voiced by the oppositionist and retired military veteran Dr. Ahmad 'Oweidi Al-'Abbadi, during a protest held by a group of veterans outside the prime minister's residence on January 18, 2012 to demand an increase in their monthly pensions. The protest developed into a clash with the security forces after hundreds of demonstrators broke down the barrier in front of the building. In the course of the protest, Al-'Abbadi threatened that the veterans would lead an armed revolution against the regime if the latter did not agree to their demands by the beginning of February 2012. An oppositionist Jordanian website operating from abroad reported that the other protesters supported Al-'Abbadi's statements.[25]

In an interview he gave that evening on the TV station Jordan Days, Al-'Abbadi made even harsher statements, saying: "A republican regime in Jordan is bound to come. I don't think it will take more than two years at the most. A republican regime embodies the will of the people through elections, whereas the monarchic regime has become a thing of the past, which does not reflect the will of the people. The king does not rise to power by the will of the people, but by his own will, and he therefore treats the people as a herd of subjects. We want to have a president of a republic who will treat the people as the ones who elected him, and who brought him to his position... The king forged an alliance with the domestic and foreign enemies of Jordan against the Jordanians... so that if he leaves or flees – call it what you like – a civil war would break out... We don't want a civil war. We want life in our country to be good and honorable. Therefore, the king must return to his senses, and realize that the will of the Jordanian people, and especially that of the tribes and the army veterans, is not what it used to be. We are not cattle in a pen. We are not a herd of sheep. We are cultured and educated people who have achieved high degrees."

About the Jordanian opposition abroad, Al-'Abbadi said: "There are over 10,000 trans-Jordanian tribesmen [living] abroad, and the authorities prevent them from [returning] for security reasons, because they have expressed opposition [to the king]..."

He added: "[The idea of a] constitutional monarchy is completely unacceptable. Let's assume that [King 'Abdallah] becomes a constitutional monarch – where are the billions that he, his wife, and his brothers took [from the people]? Does that mean that the money of the Jordanian people would go to his coffers?...

Oppositionist Dr. Ahmad 'Oweidi Al-'Abbadi[26]

"This regime has disrespected us and degraded us. It does not respect us. We Jordanians are people of honor, but [the king] treats us with the utmost contempt... Who made him king upon us?! Who made the [Hashemites] kings upon us? The first King 'Abdallah said [in 1920]: 'I have come to visit Jordan in order to occupy it.' By their own logic they are occupiers, not by mine. He calls himself an occupier but he wants us to call him king? He is an occupier, and Jordan must be liberated from this Hashemite family..."

Al-'Abbadi repeated his threat that the military veterans would lead a revolution in Jordan. Asked whether the king was qualified to rule the country, he replied: "The entire Hashemite family, the king included, is not qualified." About Prince Hassan, he said: "Forget it, they are all the same. There is no difference between [Prince] Hassan, [Prince] Hamza and [King] 'Abdallah. All of them have the same mentality that disrespects [leading] national figures... [We want] neither Hassan nor Hussein, neither Hassan nor 'Ali nor 'Aliyan... Their grandfather [King 'Abdallah I] said in October 1920 in Ma'an: 'I have come to visit [Jordan] in order to occupy [it].' I am telling them now, the visit is over."[27]

Al-'Abbadi Arrested for "Inciting to Topple the Regime"

Following this interview, Jordan's State Security Court issued a summons for Al-'Abbadi, but he did not report for questioning.[28] His attorney, Fares Al-Rousan, explained that Al-'Abbadi refused to surrender himself to a military court.[29] On January 26, Al-'Abbadi arrived at his home, accompanied by dozens of armed militants, and gave a speech to his supporters. He said that he was defending a national cause, and expressed a concern that his arrest would be followed the arrest of many other reformists. He called on the reform movement to support him, and added: "By [persecuting me] they are trying to intimidate the reformists and to persecute anyone who speaks out against corruption. I am not a traitor. Had I accepted [their terms], I could have been a minister, prime minister, or [even] head of the [Jordanian] Senate, and earned tens of millions... The state [tried to] bargain with me, but I declined [the offers]...

"Is it a crime or an act of terror to advise the king, or to defend the homeland's fundamental principles and fight corruption?... My arrest is [a crime] against you, [the seekers of reform]... and [the regime's] answer to an [entire] year of political reform. I call upon the king and urge him to stop these violations of the law and the constitution, and to transfer my case to a civilian court..."[30]

On February 2, 2012, Al-'Abbadi was arrested by the Amman police.[31] Two days later, it was reported that he would be charged with "inciting to topple the regime."[32] On the day of his arrest, hundreds of his supporters and fellow tribe members demonstrated in the Eighth Circle (one of the main squares of the capital), and held up traffic, demanding to know his whereabouts and promising to stay in the square until his wife and his family were allowed to see him. One of his supporters threatened that the protest would spread to other areas if their demands were not met.[33] The Jordan National Movement (JNM), which Al-'Abbadi heads, posted a communiqué on its English-language website stating that his arrest was "additional evidence that... King Abdullah II plays with and disrespects the current national and international laws that protect the basic rights of humankind. Due to these despicable actions... the Jordan National Movement now [maintains that] Dr. Al-'Abbadi is being held hostage by the terrorist King Abdullah II and his criminal associates in Amman..."[34]

Al-'Abbadi's supporters demonstrate in the capital[35]

Al-'Abbadi's Supporters Hold Rally, Call to Topple the Regime

A rally in support of Al-'Abbadi, held on February 3, 2012, was attended by some 2,000 people, including Al-'Abbadi's tribe members and supporters, as well as members of various protest movements, mostly representing the tribes. The protesters slammed the king, his wife and her family, former royal court chief Bassem 'Awadallah, and other top officials. The rally came to a head when participants called out the slogan "the people want to topple the regime."[36] Other slogans chanted at the rally included "if we want we can topple the regime," "death but not humiliation," "we want peaceful reforms, otherwise, we have an alternative plan," "today it's Al-'Abbadi, tomorrow it will be all of us," "revolution until the regime falls," "down with the regime" and "down with the king."

The JNM spokesman quoted Koranic verses that speak against kings, and said that 'Abdallah II was unworthy of his position and that his rule was illegitimate due to its "autocratic [character] and total corruption." He compared the Jordanian king to Pharaoh who ignored the danger and rode on until the sea swallowed him. He ended his statement with the words "freedom for Al-'Abbadi and down with the king!", which elicited cheers from the audience.

A spokesman for the tribal movement "Faction of 36" said at the rally: "We agree with Ahmad 'Oweidi Al-'Abbadi... How can we respect the regime when [the king's] wife participates in a beauty pageant... and is a beauty queen at the expense of the Jordanian people?..." The crowd responded with calls of "down with the Jordanian queen, a traitor to Jordan!" The spokesman added that the king had "made his wife the decision-maker in the country, [so that] Rania is the [real] king of the Hashemite kingdom." He stated further that 'Abdallah II had sold out Jordan's state institutions and bargained with its lands. The protesters called to wage a civil disobedience campaign until Al-'Abbadi is released, to start a revolution in the Eighth Circle, and to hold a sit-down strike of unlimited duration.[37]

Following the rally, Al-'Abbadi's supporters returned to Eighth Circle, where they blocked traffic, started fires, looted shops, and threw stones at members of the police and security forces. This led to intense clashes, with the security forces using tear gas against the rioters, several dozen of whom were arrested.[38]

It should be noted that not all of Al-'Abbadi's tribe members support him. Some have refused to stand by him, on the grounds that he harmed national symbols and failed to consult the tribe authorities before making statements that he knew were controversial. It has also been reported that several sheikhs, Senate members, and MPs from the Al-'Abbad tribe have issued a communiqué expressing their total support of 'Abdallah II and demanding to make Al-'Abbadi's release conditional upon his declaring his loyalty to the king. On February 5, a delegation of Al-'Abbad tribe members met with Interior Minister Muhammad Al-Ra'oud. Its members declared that the tribe is completely loyal to the king and that harming the homeland is a red line that must not be crossed.[39]

Facebook Page titled "We Are All the Hero Ahmad 'Oweidi Al-'Abbadi," launched by Al-'Abbadi's supporters following his arrest[40]

On February 26, 2012, the international organization Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling upon the Jordanian authorities to drop the charges against Al-'Abbadi, on the grounds that "criminal charges against a man who has peacefully advocated making Jordan a republic violate freedom of expression and should be dropped immediately..."[41]

On March 1, the State Security Court agreed to release Al-'Abbadi on bail.[42] Speaking to reporters following his release, Al-'Abbadi recanted his former statements, saying that he had never advocated making Jordan a republic, but had only warned that if reforms were not enacted and the stolen funds were not returned, Jordan would "witness a change." He stressed that he had merely been "advising" the regime, and warned that the kingdom was on the brink of economic, social, political, and security chaos. He also clarified that his organization, the JNM, had no particular position regarding Queen Rania.[43]

Oppositionist Laith Shubeilat: Failure to Enact Reforms, Beginning with the King's Authority, Will Lead to "Explosion"

On February 11, 2012, oppositionists Laith Shubeilat and Maysra Malas visited Al-'Abbadi at Al-Juwaida Prison. Following the visit, Shubeilat published an announcement warning that disaster and revolution would soon strike Jordan if the king did not hear the people's demands and implement reforms, starting with those pertinent to himself and his associates.

Shubeilat noted that the purpose of the visit had been to assess Al-'Abbadi's health and morale, and to stress his right to freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Jordanian constitution and by international conventions on human rights. He went on to ridicule the Jordanian regime's attempt to convince the public of its sincerity in fighting corruption by arresting former General Intelligence chief Muhammad Al-Dhahabi: "Facing a crisis, the regime has started tossing us one corrupt [figure] after another from among [its] 40 thieves, hoping that this will silence the demands of the people, which has started pointing a finger at Ali Baba [himself i.e., the king], without whom there would be no corrupting thieves here [in the first place]."

Oppositionist Laith Shubeilat[44]

Shubeilat added: "The regime, embarrassed, will not dare to try Al-'Abbadi. Moreover, if it does bring charges against him, the trial will turn into a trial of the regime itself, which changed its character when the state's legal, civil, military, and security institutions were seized [from the people] and delivered unjustly into the hands of an autocrat... If this [autocrat] is unaware of all the corruption perpetrated by these people, when it was he and he alone who appointed them and [granted] them [their authority], then that is a tragedy. And if he is aware of this, it is an even greater tragedy, one that requires him to take an even bolder step [against corruption]."

Shubeilat conceded that Al-'Abbadi's statements frightened the people, and that he himself did not agree with all of them, but stressed that Al-'Abbadi was nevertheless justified in his claims that the existing situation in Jordan "requires a rapid and serious response, and that nothing will prevent an explosion among the masses except negotiations with the single man who has no peer, i.e., the king. The king must present us with his proposals for reform, which [must], first and foremost, address [the king] himself and the people surrounding him... Reform can only start with him."

Shubeilat implicated some princes and princesses of the royal family and some members of the royal court in a number of suspected corruption cases and in the takeover of state land and institutions, saying this was "no longer a secret among the common people." He added: "The country has reached a crucial point and is on the brink of an explosion. What makes things worse is the hunger, poverty, hardship, and, more than anything, the loss of faith in the leadership. Nothing can stop the imminent outbreak of an anarchical revolution, God forbid, except for [a decision by] the one who is primarily responsible [i.e., the king] to admit responsibility for all that has transpired, apologize sincerely to the people, and agree to adopt accountability and pardon laws that will restore to the people what the corrupt group has stolen from them...

"For the king to remain on his throne – and I still believe that it is important for the kingdom's stability that he does remain – his fitness [to rule] and his commitment to his throne, country, and people must be [subjected to the scrutiny] of the people. [The king] must be approved by the people [and must subject himself] to their oversight. Moreover, the constitutional limitations regarding who is suited for the throne must be reinstated... If the king does not make haste in this direction, without hesitation or beating about the bush, we can expect the worst."[45]

* H. Varulkar is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1], January 12, 2012;, January 11, 2012.

[2], January 26, 2012;, January 12, 2012.

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 29, 2012.

[4], January 12, 2012.

[5], October 9, 2011; Al-Hayat (London), September 21, 2011.

[6] Al-Hayat (London), February 7, 2012; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 27, 2012;,, January 5, 2011;, May 11, 2010.

[7] Al-Hayat (London), February 7, 2012; Al-Ghad (Jordan), January 22, 2012;, January 21, 2012. 'Ali Al-Habashneh, chairman of the Higher National Committee for Military Retirees, said the party would oppose plans to turn Jordan into an alternative homeland for the Palestinians, defend the country's Jordanian identity, and strive to mend the faults of the regime which turn it into an absolute monarchy., January 21, 2012.

[8] Al-Dustour (Jordan), January 4, 2012;, January 2, 2012;, January 3, 2012, December 31, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), January 2, 2012, December 31, 2012;, December 31, 2012.

[9] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), January 19, 6, 2012;, January 10, 2012;, January 9, 4, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), January 6, 2012.

[10] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), February 26, 2012;, February 10, January 20, 21, 2012, December 27, 2011;, February 8, 2012.

[11] Al-Ghad (Jordan), January 20, 13, 11, 2012;, January 19, 16, 13, 11, 10, 2012;, January 11, 2012; Al-Dustour (Jordan), January 13, 2012;, January 10, 2012.

[12] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 19, 2012.

[13] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 27, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), February 23, 22, 16, January 20, 2012;, February 19, 2012; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), January 25, 19, 2012, July 26, 2011;,, January 25, 2012.

[14] Al-Rai (Jordan), February 24, 2012.

[15] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 27, 2012.

[16] Petra (Official Jordanian News Agency), February 23, 2012.

[17], February 15, 2012.

[18] Al-Ghad (Jordan), February 27, 2012; Al-Hayat (London), February 24, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), February 13, January 29, 2012;, January 31, 2012; Al-Dustour (Jordan), January 22, 2012.

[19] Al-Dustour (Jordan), February 26, 9, 2012; November 18, 19, 2011.

[20] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 28, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), December 8, 4, 2011;, December 7, 2011;, December 6, 2011; Al-Dustour (Jordan), December 4, 2011.

[21], February 19, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), February 1, 2012; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), January 21, 2012.

[22] Al-Rai (Jordan), February 26, 9, January 26, 2012, December 19, 18, 14, 12, 2011; Al-Dustour (Jordan), February 16, 5, 2012; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), December 28, 2011.

[23], February 2, 2012;, January 18, 2012.

[24], February 28, 2012.

[25], January 18, 2012.

[26], February 4, 2012.

[27]; for excerpts from this interview, see MEMRI-TV No.3314, "Former Jordanian MP Ahmad Uweidi Abadi Vehemently Criticizes King Abdallah and Queen Ranya Prior to His Arrest on Charges of High Treason,'

[28], January 25, 2012;, January 24, 2012. On January 24, the "Free Men of the Al-'Abbad Tribe" movement published a communiqué stating that, at an urgent meeting held in his home, it was decided "to reject the summons [issued] by the State Security Court to the citizen, politician, intellectual and historian [Al-'Abbadi]... whose only intention was to turn [people's] attention to the thieves and leaders of corruption that have robbed Jordan and are sheltering in the shadow of the throne... [It was also decided to] employ every measure in Al-'Abbadi's defense." The communiqué stated further that curtailing Al-'Abbadi's freedom of expression and opinion contravened the principles of democracy, that the summons was a flagrant violation of the recently amended constitution, and that the participants of the meeting would "hold the regime, and specifically the king, responsible for any harm done to Al-'Abbadi, his family or the activists who support him.", January 24, 2012.

[29] January 26, 2012.

[30], January 26, 2012.

[31], February 2, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), February 3, 2012.

[32], Al-Dustour (Jordan), February 4, 2012.

[33], February 2, 2012.

[34], February 2, 2012.

[35], February 2, 2012.

[37],, Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 3, 2012.

[38], February 3, 2012;, February 4, 2012; Al-Rai (Jordan), February 5, 2012. See:

[39], February 5, 2012;, February 6, 9, 2012;, February 7, 2012;, February 15, 2012.


[41], February 26, 2012.

[42] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 2, 2012.

[43], March 3, 2012.

[44], February 11, 2012.

[45], ,, February 11, 2012.

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