December 12, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 771

The Arab Spring in Jordan: King Compelled to Make Concessions to Protest Movement

December 12, 2011 | By H. Varulkar*
Jordan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 771


Since January 2011, Jordan has seen a growing wave of protests and calls for reform by citizens, who have steadily increased the level of their demands. The protests are led by the Islamist movement, which dominates the political opposition, and by the popular protest movement, which encompasses numerous pro-reform organizations established in the recent months. Also prominent in the protest movement are organizations representing Jordan's tribal population, which for decades was considered the powerbase of the Hashemite regime. In recent years, this population has developed a growing sense of resentment and discrimination as a result of the economic policy advanced by the Jordanian king.[1] This has triggered the emergence of several pro-reform organizations representing the tribes. Political oppositionists have also intensified their criticism against the regime; prominent among them is Islamist oppositionist Layth Shubaylat, as well as the former prime minister and chief of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), Ahmad 'Obeidat, who has recently emerged as a leading oppositionist and established the National Front for Reform.

Oppositionist Ahmad 'Obeidat and Islamic Movement official Hamza Mansour (second and third from left) in an October 7, 2011 protest march in Amman[2]

October 21, 2011 protest march in Amman[3]

Following mass demonstrations in Amman and other provinces, especially in the south of Jordan, and in light of the revolutions in the Arab world that have sparked intense violence in several Arab countries and brought down the rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, King 'Abdallah launched a series of reform measures aimed at appeasing the public and preventing an escalation of the protests.[4] The chief of these measures was the introduction of a new constitution, which came into force on October 10 and included amendments to 42 constitutional articles.[5] The amendments met some of the demands of the opposition and protest movement,[6] and, according to the king's associates, even involved a certain curtailing of the king's powers.[7]

This measure was not enough to satisfy the opposition and the protest movements, however. They demanded more extensive changes, including efforts to combat the corruption rampant in the regime; instate an elected prime minister (rather than a prime minister appointed by the king); abolish the king-appointed senate, or transform it into a body elected by the people, and pass a new elections law. In essence, they were demanding to considerably diminish the powers of the king and grant greater freedom of action to the parliament. [8]

King 'Abdallah II signing the constitutional amendments[9]

The popular protests, which have been going on for approximately ten months, intensified dramatically in recent weeks. This is manifest primarily in a shift from general criticism aimed mainly at the government to a harsh denouncement of the Jordanian regime itself, even including calls to overthrow it or to establish a constitutional monarchy. It should be stressed that until ten months ago, calls to topple the regime were virtually unheard in Jordan. Today, they still remain infrequent; the majority of protest movements are calling for reform, rather than for the ouster of the regime. Still, it cannot be ignored that such calls are beginning to be heard, not only in closed conferences of the protest movement but also in demonstrations throughout the kingdom.[10]

In response to the escalation in the protests, the regime has taken numerous steps to appease the Islamic movement and the tribes, including attempts to buy them off with money and positions of power. Concurrently, it has begun to show flexibility on issues previously considered unmentionable. For example, the king himself has begun discussing curtailing his powers and establishing a constitutional monarchy.[11] In the past, former prime minister Ma'rouf Al-Bakhit denounced these demands, calling them "harmful to the balance and the foundations of the political regime," "a violation of the constitution," "nonsense," and an attempt to incite the public.[12]

The Jordanian regime has apparently learned from the experience of other Arab regimes in the region, as evident from its vastly different reaction to the protests. Unlike other Arab rulers, the king promptly accepted the demands for reform, and even initiated some measures to advance it, while promising further reforms in the future. Moreover, since the beginning of the protests, the regime has permitted marches and demonstrations throughout the kingdom, and has largely refrained from violence against demonstrators.[13] It has also pursued a policy of dialogue with the opposition and the protest movement, rather than confronting and persecuting them. The opposition and protesters, however, remain dissatisfied, so if the Hashemite regime wishes to remain stable, it will apparently have to enact more substantial and far-reaching reforms.

Another factor that contributes to the unrest in Jordan is the difficult economic situation and the rising poverty and unemployment. Referring to this situation in a Washington Post interview, King 'Abdallah said: "The Arab Spring didn't start because of politics; it started because of economics — poverty and unemployment. ...What keeps me up at night is not political reform because I am clear on where we are going. What keeps me up at night is the economic situation because if people are going to get back on the streets, it is because of economic challenges, not political."[14]

The Protestors Escalate Their Tone, Call for Ouster of Regime

The change in the tone of the protests was triggered by a specific event: the attack on an October 1, 2011 rally in the village of Sakeb in the Jerash province, at which veteran Islamist oppositionist Layth Shubaylat was delivering a talk on political reform to an audience of 3,000. A mob of hundreds stormed the rally and threw stones, injuring several people and causing damage to property. The Islamic movement, the protest movements, and Shbailat himself claimed that the attackers had been thugs sent by the authorities to keep Shbailat from criticizing the regime.[15]

Shbailat (seated in the center) following the attack on the rally in Sakeb[16]

Shbailat's talk in Jerash was part of a series of lectures he gave throughout the kingdom in recent weeks, in which he spoke to thousands and presented a document of principles – a kind of "road map" for political reform in Jordan. In these talks, he leveled unprecedented criticism at the king, saying that the king had no legitimacy without the consent of the people, and calling upon him to give back the lands he had taken from the people, to abolish the corruption that has spread among his court officials, and to stop the interference of the security forces and the intelligence apparatuses in public life. Shbailat even hinted that the king engaged in dubious activities forbidden by the shari'a, and praised the protest movements, saying that they should lead the reform in the country. He urged the king to take stock and change his ways, before the people forced him to do so.[17]

On the very night of the attack on Shbailat, the popular protest movements organized marches in various provinces at which harsh slogans were heard, including against the royal court, and threats were made to escalate the demonstrations. At one march, which set out from the Al-Tafaila neighborhood in Amman (inhabited by immigrants from the city of Al-Tafila in south Jordan) and ended in front of the royal court offices, demonstrators called out "Al-Tafaila will not obey and can topple the regime."[18]

The attack on Shbailat triggered a shift in the discourse of the opposition and protest movements vis-à-vis the regime (which, as mentioned, was suspected of being behind the incident). If before the attack the protest focused its criticism on the government, it now leveled criticism at the king and the regime themselves. An example is a statement by Zaki Bani Arshid, head of the political department of the Islamic Action Front, who warned the regime that the attack could spark "a fierce popular intifada" and "set events on a course from which there is no turning back."[19] The Popular Association for Reform issued a statement that "the monopolist [character] of the Jordanian regime, and the fact that [power] is concentrated in the hands of the king, mean that the king is solely responsible for the corruption, violence, and brutality [in the country]... Every drop of civilian blood spilled will fuel the [people's] fury..."[20]

Protestors: "The Jordanian People Is Capable of Toppling a Regime"

On October 3, 2011, two days after the attack on Shbailat, the "Second National Convention for Reform" was held at the home of former parliament member Ghazi Abu Jneib Al-Fayez in Al-Lubban. It was attended by approximately 1,000 representatives of all the protest movements, tribes and political forces, including prominent oppositionists such as Ahmad 'Uwaidi Al-'Abadi and the former general guide of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, Salam Falahat.

Jordanian websites called the rally "a significant and serious development," because there were "unprecedented statements that crossed all the lines," such as calls for a constitutional monarchy, which means a significant curtailing of the king's powers, and even calls for "change, not reform." But the most far-reaching statements were made by oppositionist Al-'Abadi, who said that the people wanted to topple the Hashemites, and by Dr. Sabri Jar'a, who called on the king to "apologize and resign." It was also reported that the host, Ghazi Abu Jneib Al-Fayez, said in his opening speech that "the Hashemite kings are a red line" (meaning that questioning their legitimacy, as opposed to criticizing them, is taboo). After several participants left in protest over this remark, Al-Fayez recanted and said that "the only red line is the homeland."[21]

The Al-Lubban rally[22]

Since early October, more and more rallies and protests have been held at which demonstrators threatened to topple the regime, as they never dared to do before.[23] For example, in an October 21 demonstration in Amman, organized by the Islamic movement, protest movements and tribal forces, far-reaching slogans were heard, including "O regime, listen, the Jordanian people will not obey and is capable of toppling a regime."[24] Islamic movement official Muhammad Al-Zyoud warned that Jordan must choose between two options: reform or hell. Khaled Al-Da'aja, a spokesman of four tribes, said: "For now, we are not telling [the king] to go, but only to enact reforms before it is too late."[25] In a November 1 interview on the Al-Jazeera talk show "The Opposite Direction," oppositionist Sufian Al-Tal urged the regime to "heed the demands for reform, otherwise it will end up like the other Arab regimes [that have been overthrown]."[26]

October 21, 2011 march in Amman

The Jordanian Opposition Abroad: The Royal Family Are a 'Gang of Parasites'

Before early October, the only body that dared to openly call for the ouster of the regime was the Jordanian Overseas National Assembly, a London-based organization of oppositionists in Britain, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland. In May 2011 it launched the online news portal Jordanian Tribune (, edited by Nhar Alobaitha, who is also the organization's general coordinator. The organization's first statement, issued July 22, 2011, contained an unprecedented call to overthrow the king and "hold [him] legally responsible for all corruption in Jordan," and to establish the "Jordanian Arab Republic." The statement called the royal family "a gang of parasites," and accused it of "occupying the land."[28]

From the website of the
Jordanian Overseas National Assembly: "Down with the Hashemite Regime"[29]

Prominence of Tribal Forces in Anti-Regime Protests

Jordan's tribal population has always been considered the backbone of the regime. Therefore, its participation, and indeed dominance, in the protests movement poses a severe problem for the regime and may even undermine its legitimacy.[30]

As mentioned, the tribes feel discriminated against and harmed by the king's economic policy as well as by the gaps in infrastructure development between Jordan's larger cities and the more remote areas, where most of them reside. In addition, the tribes, headed by the largest of them, the Bani Sakher and Bani Hassan, demand the restoration of many lands they claim were taken from them and handed over to entrepreneurs and private developers as part of the king's privatization and economic policies. In February 2011, the tribes staged sit-in strikes and protests and blocked traffic in various provinces.[31]

The lands in question are, in fact, "miri" lands owned by the state. However, the tribes, who have been living on them for generations and using them for pasture and agriculture, regard them as their own. Their rage was aroused when the state began selling them to private entrepreneurs and contractors. Moreover, in recent months, some in the kingdom, including the tribes, repeatedly accused the king and his wife of transferring lands to the possession of the royal family.[32] On November 20, 2011, riots broke out in the city of Ma'an when dozens burned tires and blocked roads, demanding the restoration of their lands.[33] At the same time, rumors circulated that many of the lands in Ma'an had been transferred to the possession of Queen Rania's brother, businessman Majdi Al-Yassin. Al-Yassin denied this, stating that neither he nor anyone else in his family owned any lands.[34]

Another reason for the frustration of the tribes, which have long been dominant in Jordan's security apparatuses and decision-making circles, is their sense that the delicate balance that existed for years between them and the Palestinian population is gradually shifting in the Palestinians' favor. This concern intensified recently following statements in Israel about turning Jordan into an "alternative Palestinian homeland." In order to alleviate the tribes' concerns, the regime introduced a constitutional amendment that bars Jordanians with dual citizenship from holding public office. The amendment was introduced in September 2011, along with several other amendments, and later clarified further by the Supreme Council, whose duty is to interpret the constitution. The council clarified that parliament members, government officials, and embassy staffers may not hold a dual citizenship, and that officials with a dual citizenship must leave their posts even if they are willing to give up their non-Jordanian citizenship. This amendment effectively prevents Palestinians living in Jordan from holding senior positions in the kingdom. It has already resulted in the dismissal of some senior officials, including several parliament and senate members, two ministers and the royal court secretary-general.[35]

First signs of the change in the tribe's discontent appeared as early as February 5, 2011, merely one month after the outbreak of the protests, when the "Faction of 36," an organization of tribal representatives, issued a bold statement calling on the king to enact reforms without delay, otherwise "the storms that swept through Tunisia and Egypt [would] soon reach Jordan as well." The statement also attacked Queen Rania, accusing her of corruption and of interfering in affairs of state, specifically of seizing state lands for the royal family and of stealing from the state treasury. This was described as a violation of the contract between the Jordanian people and the Hashemite family, which endangered both the regime and the monarchy.[36]

Recently, more and more tribal organization have emerged as part of the protest movement, including the Bani Hassan Alliance for the Homeland, the Bani Hamida Alliance for Reform, the Bani Sakher Alliance for Reform, and the Four-Tribe Coalition, an organization representing four large tribes: Bani Hassan, Bani Sakher, Al-Da'aja and Al-Ajarme."[37]

The tribes' criticism of the regime intensified significantly following an armed attack on an October 25 rally in the village of Salhoub, in the Jerash province. The rally was organized by the Islamic movement, the Four- Tribe Coalition, and former prime minister Ahmad 'Obeidat, and attended by approximately 2,000 people. It was attacked by thugs who opened fire on the participants, injuring dozens. The organizers said the attackers had been sent by the regime,[38] while the spokesman of the General Security Directorate, and the government daily Al-Rai, maintained that the incident had been a quarrel among fellow tribesmen in Salhoub – a claim which enraged the tribal representatives.[39]

Tribal Representatives to the King: We Will Shake Your Throne

Following the Salhoub attack, the rally organizers, including the heads of the Four-Tribe Coalition, held a press conference in which they blamed the regime for the incident. Fares Al-Fayez, of the Bani Sakher Alliance for Reform, addressed a blatantly threatening call to the king, saying: "Honestly... do not mess with the tribes. That is a dangerous [move]. If the regime takes it, we will all be harmed... Be careful... this is a dangerous decision to take..."[40] The representative of another tribal group, the Dhiban Alliance, said that the Jordanian regime was on a slippery slope, and that this was reminiscent of what has lately happened to many of the Arab regimes. He added: "From now on... the thrones of the monarchy will be shaking." The representative of the Al-Da'aja tribe said, "The contract between us and the Hashemites will soon be wiped out."[41]

Press conference by the Four-Tribe Coalition[42]

The October 21 demonstration in Amman, in which protesters chanted "the Jordanian people is capable of toppling a regime," was held in response to the Salhoub events. It took place under the slogan "You Can't Scare Us," and was attended by approximately 10,000 people. Two days later, Imad Al-Ajarme, of the "Faction of 36," said at a meeting of his organization that "the king is not at all interested in reform, and must be replaced."[43]

It should be noted that some tribal elements have denounced the calls against the regime, and said that the tribal leaders who belong to the protest movement do not represent them.[44] Nonetheless, the regime seems to be troubled by the weakening of its tribal support-base, and has made efforts to organize pro-regime demonstrations among the tribes.[45] Also, according to reports, the security apparatuses have been pressuring the tribal representatives, especially in the south, and even trying to bribe them to stop their protest activity by offering funds, gifts, and positions.[46]

The Regime Meets Some of the Demands in Attempt to Keep the Protests from Escalating

The October 3 Al-Lubban rally marked a turning point not only in the discourse of the protests but also in the regime's attitude towards the protestors' demands. The king and his associates understood that symbolic gestures would not suffice and that more serious steps were needed. To this end, on October 5, two days after the Al-Lubban rally, the king convened his close associates in 'Akaba for a five-day marathon of closed meetings, at which crucial decisions were taken in order to prevent a meltdown.[47] These resulted in a number of concessions to the demands of the opposition.

Measures to Appease the Islamic Movement

Launching Dialogue

The first step taken by the regime was to initiate a dialogue with the Islamic movement. Realizing that this movement played a crucial role in organizing the protests and marches every Friday, the regime apparently decided that appeasing it would do much to dispel the tensions. Moreover, the Islamic movement's political party, the Islamic Action Front, announced on October 1 that it would boycott the municipal elections, originally planned for December 2011, unless its demands for reform were met.[48] The regime knows that if this party, the largest and most prominent in Jordan, boycotts the elections, it will severely damage its credibility and fan the flames of the protest even further. It launched the dialogue in hopes of averting this possibility.[49]

On October 5, it was reported that the dialogue with the Islamic movement would take place under the aegis of the king and address all the popular demands, without exception.[50] The Islamic movement, for its part, expressed willingness to dialogue with the royal court and even hinted that it might reconsider its stance on the municipal elections.[51]

Rapprochement with Hamas

Several days later, it was reported that Jordan was holding contacts with Hamas, mediated by Qatar, with an eye to renewing its ties with this movement, which were severed in 1999. In fact, it was reported that preparations were underway to arrange an official visit by Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al in Amman.[52] These steps, too, are part of the efforts of the Jordanian regime to woo the Islamic movement and appease it.[53]

Dismissing Prime Minister Bakhit and Appointing New PM

Yet another step taken with the Islamic movement in mind was to dismiss prime minister Ma'rouf Al-Bakhit, and replace him with 'Awn Al-Khasawneh. Bakhit had been appointed in February 2011, in place of Samir Al-Rifa'i, in hopes of appeasing the protestors. However, the hopes pinned upon him soon disappeared when he became entangled in corruption charges, and also came to be perceived as opposed to reforms. The protests only increased, including the demand for a new prime minister.

Seeking a candidate clean of corruption and of good reputation, who could win the trust of the opposition and the protest movement, the king selected 'Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh, until recently a judge at the International Court of Justice. At the Hague.[54] Al-Khasawneh immediately made efforts to clear the air and turn over a new leaf with the political opposition and protest movement.[55] He announced his intention to hold dialogue with all the forces in the country, without exception, including the opposition and popular protest movements,[56] and also met with representatives of the Islamic movement and invited them to join his government.[57] The representatives declined, but promised to continue the dialogue with the government and to support its reform program.[58]

Prime Minister 'Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh [59]

Islamic Action Front Secretary-General Hamza Mansour[60]

As another gesture towards the Islamic movement, Al-Khasawneh announced, after only one day in office, that the municipal elections should be postponed, and hinted that the controversial municipal elections law would be amended.[61] The postponement of the elections was officially announced on October 27, though a new date has yet to be set.[62] The prime minister also continued the efforts of rapprochement with Hamas, including a phone discussion with Hamas leaders Khaled Mash'al and Isma'il Haniya, and met with Hamas official Muhammad Nazzal.[63] On October 31, he sparked an uproar by saying that Jordan's decision to expel the Hamas leaders from the country in 1999 had been "a constitutional and political error."[64]

In addition, the government accepted the Islamic movement's demand to free prisoners, including approximately 150 Salafi-jihadists who were arrested for attacking 80 security officers with swords during an April 15 rally in the city of Al-Zarqa.[65] Government spokesman Rakan Al-Majali announced that all the Salafi-jihadi prisoners would be released soon, and that no political prisoners would remain in Jordan's jails.[66] According to the prisoners' families, Royal Court chief Riyadh Abu Karaki assured them that all of the Salafi-jihadi prisoners would be freed by the end of the year, and that steps to this effect would be taken within two weeks.[67] To date, 83 of the prisoners who were arrested following the rally in Al-Zarqa have been released.[68]

Moreover, in the last weeks, there have been indications that prominent Salafi-jihadi ideologue Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi may be released from prison soon, as well as another prominent Salafi, Iyad Al-Qunaibi, who was convicted only four months ago of assisting the Taliban in Afghanistan and sentenced to several years in prison.[69] On November 27 it was reported that an appeals court had overturned their convictions, and that their cases are to be reviewed by the State Security Court.[70]

Twelve additional Islamist prisoners were released this month after receiving a special pardon by the king. They were serving sentences for perpetrating terrorism, cooperating with Al-Qaeda, and planning attacks on Israel and on Western targets in Jordan.[71]

Salafi leader with drawn sword at the April 15, 2011 rally in Al-Zarqa[72]

Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, spiritual leader of the Salafi-jihadi movement (left); senior Salafi-jihadi Iyad Al-Qunaibi (right)[73]

Bribing the Protest Leaders with Money, Positions

Along with former prime minister Al-Bakhit, the king replaced a row of officials, including some of his advisors and associates, in order to assemble a new elite. On October 17, GID chief Muhammad Al-Raqqad, who was the target of much criticism in recent months, was replaced by Faisal Al-Shubaki,[74] and on October 25 Riyad Abu Karaki was appointed royal court chief.[75] On the same day, the king also appointed a new director for his office and a new royal court secretary-general[76] (after the previous secretary-general resigned following the introduction of the new dual-citizenship law), and replaced 43 of the 60 members of the Jordanian senate.[77]

Fahd Al-Khitan, editor of the independent daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, wrote: "In the recent months... the regime has realized that its main problem is with its traditional powerbase, namely the tribes, the Bedouins, the southern provinces, and army veterans. Therefore... it has made attempts to appease them and quell their rage." Many of the positions were indeed given to representatives of these groups, which are all part of the protest movement, especially to representatives of the south provinces.[78]

According to some reports, former prime minister Ahmad 'Obeidat, who has recently become a prominent oppositionist, was invited to serve on the senate but declined.[79] As part of his attempts to appease the army veterans – who for months have been involved in the protests and demands for reform – the king met with their representatives, praised their contribution to the homeland, and instructed to raise their pensions.[80]

Accepting the Demand for Early Parliamentary Elections and the Curtailing of King's Powers

In fact, as early as September 2011 the king acceded to a main demand of the opposition and protest movement when, while approving the new constitution, he also agreed to push up the parliamentary elections to the second half of 2012.[81] Furthermore, on October 26 he announced that following these elections, the parliament's opinion would be considered in appointing the prime minister.[82] This too is a capitulation to the opposition's central demand that the prime minister be elected by the parliament rather than appointed by the king, who currently holds the power to both select the prime minister and discharge him, at his own discretion.

The Popular Protest Movement: The Escalation Will Continue

The numerous measures taken by the king and prime minister failed to quell the protests and demands for reform. Even after the establishment of the new government, the opposition, headed by the Islamic movement and popular protest movement, continued to hold demonstrations, and even threatened to escalate their activity, on the grounds that the appointment of the new government constituted a mere reshuffle without any change in policy. They held protest marches in many provinces under the slogan of "You Misunderstood Us," demanding to enact real reforms, including significant constitutional changes.[83]

November 13 saw another milestone in the protests, when for the first time a call was made against hereditary rule. Jamal Al-Shawahin, a regular columnist for the daily Al-Sabil, owned by the Muslim Brotherhood, wrote that "the [Arab] regimes [in which power] is inherited must think rationally and realize the need for change of their own accord... We must shift to the new kind of government, in which the people are allowed to elect their leaders... [All] peoples in the world elect their leaders... Only the Arabs are still at the beginning of the road, [but] they will get there, sooner or later..."[84]

Is the Islamic Movement Holding the Stick at Both Ends?

Prime Minister Al-Khasawneh succeeded in subduing the protest activity of the Islamic movement, at least to some extent. It has been reported in the last two weeks that this movement is holding secret meetings with the government aimed at reaching a deal: the movement will moderate its activity against the regime and the government, while the regime, in return, will renew its relations with Hamas, reach understandings with the Islamic movement regarding the parliamentary elections, and set out a definite timetable for reforms.[85]

In response to these rumors, Al-Dustour columnist Hussein Al-Rawashdeh wrote that the Islamic movement was trying to hold the stick at both ends: "The Islamic [movement] has one foot in the court of the popular [protest] movement, and another in the political arena, with all the options and deals this entails. They do not want to want to leave the influential pressure [group represented by the protesters] on the street, and they cannot afford to jeopardize their popular support [base]... but [at the same time] they have no intention of standing in the way of the new government or [giving up] profitable political deals... [concerning] large issues like Hamas' return [to Jordan]... or an elections law that will give them considerable weight in parliament..."[86]

It should be noted that the Islamic movement has denied the reports about a deal, and on November 18 it even held a march demanding reform, in order to dispel these rumors.[87] This march was conspicuously different from previous ones, however, in that it was held separately from the marches of the tribal organizations.[88]

As part of the dialogue between the two sides, Prime Minister Al-Khasawneh held a dinner with Ahmad 'Obeidat and leaders of the Islamic movement, at which he listened to their demands.[89] According to reports, the prime minister seeks to launch a dialogue with the popular protest movement and the youth as well, in order to hear their demands, and also to hold a joint convention with all the opposition and protest movements together.[90]

Al-Khasawneh's November 14, 2011 meeting with Al-'Obeidat and Islamic Movement officials[91]

First Signs of Anarchy?

In the last two weeks, alongside the escalation of activity by the popular protest movements, there have been several incidents that may be regarded as first signs of anarchy and defiance towards the state.

Repeated Armed Attacks on the Disi Water Conveyance Project

In the past few months, there have been a series of violent armed attacks on workers engaged in a government project to pump water from the Disi aquifer (in the south of Jordan) and convey it to Amman. This is the largest water conveyance project in the history of Jordan, which suffers from severe water shortage.[92] On November 3, the Turkish company GAMA Energy, which is running the project, announced it was suspending work on the main section of the pipeline – a 160-kilometer stretch in the province of Ma'an – because its workers had been shot at. Previously, in September 2011, work on the project was suspended for a month following a similar shooting incident. According to company officials, there have been a series of attacks over the past year, and in January two workers were killed. According to the officials, the attackers were locals who were enraged because they had not been hired to work on the project. On October 10, Jordan's water and irrigation minister pointed to another motivation for the attacks: the locals maintain that the project is being built on land belonging to them. A source within GAMA Energy criticized the Jordanian authorities for failing to apprehend the perpetrators.[93]

Pipe-laying operations – the Disi Water Conveyance Project[94]

Challenging the Authority of the King and the State

In a November 4 rally in Amman organized by the Islamic movement, the tribal groups, and the popular protest movements, and attended by approximately 7,000 people, a speaker on behalf of the Four Tribe Coalition challenged the authority of the state. He said: "[While the regime] is busy robbing the resources of the homeland... the people find themselves in a state of security anarchy." He added that the people were rallying around the tribes, which had begun to fill the vacuum left by the state.[95]

The Regime Has Difficulty Maintaining Security

In the last weeks, violent riots and armed conflicts have broken out in several provinces: In early November, clashes broke out repeatedly between two clans in the city of Al-Zarqa. Hundreds of youths armed with clubs, stones, and rifles fought in the streets; large parts of the city were paralyzed and homes and stores were torched. The security forces dispatched to the area took two weeks to bring the situation under control. According to the daily Al-Ghad, Jordanian citizens are worried that the anarchy might spread and violence become rampant.[96]

Another hotspot of severe unrest is the town of Al-Ramtha, on the Syrian border. The events there broke out on November 16, when it was reported that a youth from the town who had been arrested for smuggling militiamen from Syria into Jordan, had died in custody. The family maintained he had been tortured to death, while the government announced that he had killed himself. In response to the reports, thousands of the youth's tribesmen rioted in the streets, blocked roads, threw stones, burned tires and vehicles, and torched the local government building.[97] The violence died down for a day on November 19 but flared up again the next day.[98]

Armed clashes in Al-Zarqa[99]

Governor's building in Al-Ramtha set ablaze[100]

Vehicles set ablaze in Al-Ramtha[101]

The riots in Al-Ramtha are a source of grave concern for the regime, which fears that the instability in Syria might spread to Jordan. The regime's main worry is that foreign military intervention or a civil war in Syria might have dire consequences for neighboring Jordan – especially since the population in the Al-Ramtha area has tribal links to the population of Der'a across the border. In addition, Jordan fears that the Syrian regime itself might try to destabilize the kingdom in retaliation for its position on the Syrian crisis.[102]

The Regime Warns the Public Against Going Too Far

The harsh calls to topple the regime enraged the Jordanian authorities, and pro-regime journalists warned the public against going too far.

Several days after the October 3 Al-Lubban rally, the government daily Al-Rai published an article by Roman Haddad denouncing those who dared to come out against the king: "Jordan rests upon a scared trinity [consisting of] the citizen, the king, and the state. Together the three create a single [entity] – the homeland – which cannot be envisioned with one of its [components] missing. Therefore we must not keep silent while the rafida[103] spew nonsense that harms this sacred trinity... This is an act learned and planned in advance, which is heading in a dangerous direction... It obliges the king and the state to employ special solutions, suited to this special situation..."[104]

Al-Dustour: Without the Royal Family, the State Will Collapse and No One Will Be Spared

Even harsher statements were made in a November 5 article in Al-Dustour, by columnist Maher Abu Tir, who warned about the dangerous implications of coming out against the throne: "...[Imagine that] the roof of your home is leaking. Does this mean that members of the family can go up there, under the pretext of fixing the leak, and start dancing on the roof until it collapses over our heads?! Who gave them permission to [direct] such insolence at the throne? Did they get our signatures [authorizing them to do so]?...

"The first ones to pay the price will be the dancers [themselves]. They think they can escape the cruel and dire consequences, that will [in fact] spare nobody. This indicates that they do not realize we have the right to hold them accountable by [every] means – legitimate and anarchist – if they bring down the roof of our home...

"We warn against public transgressions and against hijacking the country [and sweeping it] into the unknown, because nobody will escape unharmed... This state is like a pyramid in which each stone supports the other thanks to the [keystone] that is the Hashemite family. If it is taken apart, its stones will collapse over our heads, and no one will be spared... Go on dancing on that tired old roof... and when it collapses over the heads of your sons and daughters, you will [suddenly] remember that savages snatched the reigns [of the kingdom] from the [hands of] the rational people..."[105]

* H. Varulkar is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] As will be explained below, the tribes, which occupy regions remote from the center, are resentful over the development gap between the major cities and the economically distressed periphery, and over the king's neo-liberal economic policy and privatization drive, which involve, inter alia, the seizure of lands they regard as their own. Al-Hayat (London), September 21, 2011;, October 9, 2011.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 8, 2011.

[3], October 23, 2011.

[4] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis Report No. 713, "Reform in Jordan: Comprehensive Change or Nominal Amendments?," July 22, 2011, Reform in Jordan: Comprehensive Change or Nominal Amendments?.

[5] Al-Rai (Jordan), September 30, 2011; Al-Dustour (Jordan), October 2, 2011.

[6] For example, the demands to establish a constitutional court and an independent elections oversight commission, and to stipulate that the a dissolution of the parliament entails the dissolution of the government as well. (Under the previous constitution, the government could continue to function indefinitely even following the dissolution of the parliament).

[7] For example, they revoked his power to postpone parliamentary elections., August 18, 2011.

[8] In an August 28, 2011 press conference, Islamist Movement officials declared that, in introducing this new constitution, the government had "missed a historic opportunity to make meaningful changes to the structure of the regime that would make the people the true source of power.", August 28, 2011.

[9] Al-Rai (Jordan), September 30, 2011.

[10] The Islamic movement, a prominent force in the protest movement, stresses that it is demanding to reform the regime but not to overthrow it. However, its leaders are present in nearly all the gatherings in which calls for the regime's ouster are heard. Al-Rai (Jordan), October 9, 2011;, October 23, 2011.

[11] Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 15, 2011; Al-Rai (Jordan), November 16, 2011.

[12] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), March 11, 2011; Al-Dustour (Jordan), March 4, 2011.

[13] During ten months of weekly protests, at which harsh calls against the regime were heard, only a handful of demonstrations escalated into violent clashes with the security forces.

[14] The Washington Post (USA), October 24, 2011.

[15], October 1, 2011; Al-Rai, Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), October 2, 2011.

[16], October 1, 2011.

[17], September 19, 2011;, September 20, 2011;, October 12, 2011.

[18] Marches took place in Amman, Jerash, Al-Karak, Al-Tafila and Dhiban. For footage of the Al-Tafaila march, see Shbailat himself told journalists, at a press conference in his home in Amman, that the security apparatuses had tried to dissuade him from his activity. He promised that, alive or dead, he would continue to demand reforms and to pursue the vision "for which the Jordanian people yearns.",,, October 2, 2011; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 3, 2011.

[19] October 2, 2011.

[20], October 4, 2011.

[21] According to reports, the protest movements present at the convention included the Muslim Brotherhood, the tribal organization "Faction of 36," army veterans, the March 24 Movement, the Tribesmen's Association, the Free Men of Ma'an, and mosque preachers. , ,, ,, October 3, 2011;, October 4, 2011.

[22], October 3, 2011.

[23] The pro-regime website Al-Haqiqa Al-Dawliyya ( reported on October 25 that the protest movement has recently been voicing calls that "cross all the red lines and [contravene] the principles of the state."

[24], October 23, 2011.

[25], October 21, 2011.

[26], November 2, 2011. For a clip of the interview, see

[27], October 23, 2011.

[28], July 23, 2011.

[29], November 29, 2011.

[30] An investigative article on the website noted: "Unprecedented changes are occurring in Jordan's socio-political makeup, evidenced by the tribal [sector's] espousal... of the calls for reform, which has lent these calls momentum and weight that are not to be underestimated." According to the article, the change within this sector is spearheaded by the youth., October 23, 2011.

[31], February 17, 2011.

[32], August 3, 2011;, April 12, 2011;, June 21, 2011;, November 13, 2011.

[33] The riots were stopped only after Jordan's interior minister confirmed that the lands would be given back.,,, November 20, 2011.

[34], November 22, 2011; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 23, 2011.

In a May 22, 2011 interview on ABC News, King 'Abdallah too denied the accusations that Queen Rania had transferred lands to the possession of the royal family, calling the claims foolish and regrettable. See

[35] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), September 19, October 12, 2011; Al-Hayat (London), September 21, 2011; Al-Rai (Jordan), October 2, 2011;, October 5, 2011;, October 6, 2011;, October 12, 2011.

[36], February 5, 2011;, February 9, 2011;, February 13, 2011.

[37], October 23, 2011.

[38],, October 15, 2011; Al-Arab Al-Yawm, October 16, 2011.

[39], Al-Rai (Jordan), October 16, 2011. The dailies Al-Rai and Al-Dustour stated that only 2-5 people had been hurt, sustaining medium injuries, and that the security forces contained the incident and transported some of the rally participants to safety. They also said that the riot had started after villagers became enraged by the rally participants' statements against the regime, and that it was the rally participants who started the shooting and stone-throwing. Al-Rai (Jordan), Al-Dustour (Jordan), October 16, 2011.

[40] Zaki Bani Arshid, head of the political department of the Islamic Action Front, who also participated in the press conference, warned against "perpetrating state terrorism against the political elites and the tribes in Jordan," adding that the employment of thugs reminded him of Qadhafi and the Syrian regime., October 15, 2011;, October 16, 2011. For the statements of Fares Al-Fayez at the press conference, see:

[41], October 15, 2011;, October 16, 2011.

[42], October 15, 2011.

[43], October 23, 2011. For Al-Ajarme's statements at the meeting, see:

[44], October 22, 2011.

[45] For example, on October 13, thousands of representatives from Jordan's largest tribe, Bani Sakher, held a rally in front of the king's office in 'Amman to express their loyalty and their support for the king's reforms. Al-Rai (Jordan), October 13, 2011. At an October 30 rally in Al-Tafila, speakers emphasized their loyalty to the royal family, the homeland and the king. Al-Rai (Jordan), October 30, 2011.

[46], October 11, 2011.

[47] The Jordanian media mostly ignored these meetings. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 7, 2011;, October 11, 2011; Al-Dustour (Jordan), October 27, 2011.

[48], October 1, 2011.

[49], October 16, 2011.

[50], October 5, 2011; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), October 6, 2011.

[51] Islamic Action Front Secretary-General Hamza Mansour said that after the dialogue the movement would consider whether or not to take part in the elections. Al-Rai (Jordan), October 17, 2011.

[52], October 15, 2011; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), October 16, 2011.

[53] Al-Hayat (London), November 8, 2011. On the renewal of relations between Jordan and Hamas, see MEMRI Special Announcement No. 141, "MEMRI E-Series: "In Wake of Arab Spring, Deadlock in Peace Process, Jordan Thaws Relations with Hamas," October 29, 2011, MEMRI E-Series: In Wake of Arab Spring, Deadlock in Peace Process, Jordan Thaws Relations with Hamas.

[54] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), October 7, 2011; Al-Rai (Jordan),, October 17, 2011. In his letter of appointment, the king charged him with advancing the political reform, as a task of supreme priority, and with reviewing the issue of the municipal elections and making sure they are balanced and fair. Al-Rai (Jordan), October 18, 2011.

[55] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 18,19, 2011.

[56] The new prime minister assured the protestors that the reform being advanced by the king was no different from the one demanded by the opposition, and that all differences could be resolved. He admitted that, in the previous phase, "the GID had made mistakes and overstepped its authority," and promised that his government would usher in a new era in which the authority would be in its hands, while "the GID and the king's office [would] operate according to the law." Al-Rai (Jordan), October 18, 2011; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), November 1, 2011;, November 3, 2011.

[57] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 21, 2011.

[58] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 22, 23, 2011.

[59], November 20, 2011.

[60], August 6, 2011.

[61] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 19, 2011.

[62] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), October 28, 2011.

[63] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 20, 2011; Al-Ghad (Jordan), October 26, 2011.

[64] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), November 1, 2011.

[65], October 31, November 1, November 3, 2011.

[66] In fact, the spokesman described the liberation of the Salafi-jihadi prisoners as an unprecedented act of justice., November 15, 2011.

[67], November 17, 2011; Al-Rai (Jordan), November 18, 2011.

[68], November 3, 2011; Al-Rai (Jordan), November 4, 24, 27, 2011.

[69] Al-Rai (Jordan), July 29, 2011;, November 27, 2011.

[70], November 27, 2011.

[71], November 3, 2011; Al-Rai (Jordan), November 4, 24, 2011.

[72], October 7, 2011.

[73], November 2, 2011.

[74] Al-Shubaki left the GID in 2005 and subsequently served for three years as Jordan's ambassador to Morocco. In his letter of appointment, the king charged him with "supporting the reforms in Jordan," and making sure that "the GID officers do their duty professionally... while respecting human rights and individual freedoms." Al-Rai (Jordan), October 17, 19, 2011;, October 17, 2011. It should be mentioned that Al-Raqqad was appointed by the king to serve in the Jordanian senate. Al-Rai (Jordan),, October 17, 2011.

[75] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 25, 2011.

[76] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 25, 2011.

[77]Al-Rai (Jordan), October 25, 2011; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), October 26, 2011.

[78] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), October 27, 2011. Al-Khitan stated that, as part of the reshuffle, prime ministers and ministers had been replaced with tribesmen lacking political experience, and that "liberals close to decision-making circles [had been] sacrificed." The latter remark may be a reference to former information minister and chairman of the Jordanian broadcasting authority, Saleh Al-Qallab, was been dismissed from the Senate. Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), October 27, 2011.

[79],, October 25, 2011.

[80],, October 23, 2011; Al-Rai (Jordan), October 26, 2011; Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 6, 2011.

[81] Al-Rai (Jordan), September 30, 2011.

[82] Al-Rai (Jordan), October 26, 2011.

[83], October 26, 27, 2011; Al-Ghad (Jordan),, October 29, 2011;, October 26, 2011. Over the last few weeks, the Islamic movement, the tribes and the protest movements continued to threaten an escalation and to hold rallies and marches in Amman and in the provinces, at which harsh calls against the regime were made.,, November 4, 2011.

[84], November 13, 2011.

[85] According to reports, the Islamic movement has agreed to replace its weekly Friday marches with smaller, quieter gatherings, and the National Front for Reform, led by Ahmad 'Obeidat, to which the Islamic movement belongs, has agreed to do the same. In response, the popular protest movement accused the Islamic movement and 'Obeidat of betraying the cause. Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 8,9, 11, 2011.

[86] Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 10, 2011.

[87], November 13, 18, 2011;, Al-Ghad (Jordan), November 14, 2011.

[88], November 17, 2011; Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), November 19, 2011.

[89], November 14, 2011;, November 16, 2011;, November 15, 2011.

[90], November 14, 2011; Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 20, 2011;, November 3, 2011.

[91], November 16, 2011.

[92] The project, costing approximately one billion dollars, was launched in 2009 and is expected to be completed in 2013. It involves laying down 325 kilometers of pipeline, which will convey about 110 cubic meters of water to the capital every year from the Disi aquifer in the south of the country.

[93] Al-Dustour (Jordan), October 11, November 3, 2011;, November 2, 2011; Jordan Times (Jordan), November 3, 2011.

[94], October 5, 2011.

[95], November 4, 2011.

[96] Al-Ghad (Jordan),, November 8, 2011;, November 10, 2011.

[97],, November 17, 2011.

[98], Al-Ghad (Jordan), November 20, 2011.

[99] Al-Ghad (Jordan), November 8, 2011.

[100], November 17, 2011.

[101], November 17, 2011.

[102] On November 18, the daily Al-Dustour warned that the situation in Al-Ramtha might be used to destabilize Jordan and spark civil war there. On the next day, a columnist on the daily called upon the opposition and the protest movements to suspend their demonstrations and marches for a while, lest the Syrian riots spread to Jordan. The article expressed a fear that Syria and Iran might take retaliate against countries in the region by spreading their crises to these countries. Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 18-19, 2011.

[103] Derogative term, usually used by Sunnis to refer to Shi'ites.

[104] Al-Rai (October 6, 2011).

[105] Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 5, 2011.

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