Amman: Jordan is in for turbulent times and more protests unless the government makes good a pledge to implement much-needed political and economic reform, analysts warned.
But they stressed that there is no fear of a regime collapse, despite calls by youth protesters angry at fuel hikes last week for King Abdullah II to go.
“We are living a real, dangerous and deep political and economic crisis,” said Mohammad Abu Rumman, analyst at the University of Jordan’s Centre for Strategic Studies.
“The country has managed to overcome the first wave of unusual protests but the reasons, motivations and conditions of the crisis are still around us, fed by mounting political tension, poverty and unemployment.”
Violent rioting, protests and vandalism broke out nationwide last week after the government raised fuel prices by up to 53 per cent, with thousands of demonstrators making unprecedented calls for the king to leave.
The unrest has killed a man and wounded 71, while dozens have been arrested and more than 100 have been charged with “anti-regime incitement, rioting and illegal gathering”.
Although the Islamists took part in the demonstrations, they steered clear from joining other protesters in calling for the king to go.
The Muslim Brotherhood insists that it does not seek Abdullah’s ouster.
They are demanding instead that he cancel price hikes, implement more reforms and postpone a snap general election called for January 23, which Islamists have vowed to boycott.
Publicly calling for the king’s overthrow is punishable by imprisonment, so these calls were a major departure for a kingdom that had previously been spared protests on the scale of other countries swept up in the Arab Spring.
Abu Rumman said such slogans are not those of opposition groups whose main request is for the regime to reform itself.
“These calls were an outburst of anger in the street. They are not part of an opposition strategy. Regardless of that, these protests have left deep scars in the political system and undermined its credibility,” he added.
“Government policies must be changed. Officials must realise that there is a problem. Otherwise, I don’t know how things will turn out.”
Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur has defended the price hike, saying the decision was “unavoidable” given the country’s $5 billion (Dh18.4 billion) budget deficit and that the measure would save $42 million by the year end.
“The regime enjoys consensus and it is staying. But the days of absolute monarchy are over. If the regime fails to deal with the crisis in a wise and non-arrogant manner, problems are expected to escalate,” political analyst Labib Kamhawi said.
Those who called for the king’s ouster were angry and frustrated youths, he said.
“They were not organised and did not represent a political programme or have real demands. The youths were just angry,” he said, expecting Jordan to be “heading towards more crises”.
Economic grievances have swiftly taken on political overtones with Arab Spring protest movements.
“It is not about politics. People are simply angry. The price hikes directly affect their lives, their ability to buy bread and food,” said Kamhawi.
Risk group Maplecroft warned that the recent unrest threatens stability ahead of the general election.
“Direct criticism of King Abdullah, strike actions and violence indicates potential for widespread unrest in coming weeks,” Maplecroft said in a report.
“It is likely that Jordan’s Islamist opposition will move to exploit the unrest generated by the fuel subsidy cuts, further undermining the authority of the authorities.”
The parliamentary polls “will be damaged still further should the Islamists successfully use the unrest to galvanise the pro-reform opposition movement,” it said.
Analyst Hassan Abu Hanieh believes that Islamists are not a threat to the regime.
“I think the Islamists are trying to court the regime. So far, they are not heavily taking part in popular protests,” said this expert on Islamic issues.
“The Islamists are committed to the rules of the game with the regime, which remains outside the danger zone.”