Voice

Protests in Jordan: The Normal and the Exceptional

The unusually intense protests that swept Jordan two weeks ago in response to the government's decision to raise fuel subsidies focused attention on the kingdom's long-simmering political crisis. The protests shocked many observers not only because of their size and geographical scope, but because of the virtually unprecedented calls for the overthrow of the monarchical regime. The protests tapered off after a few days, partly due to a backlash against these more extreme slogans among a generally reformist opposition. But even if the Jordanian monarchy was not to be quickly swept away, deep and fundamental political problems remain unresolved.

To get a better sense of the meaning of these protests, I sat down with Jillian Schwedler of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst for the eighth in our series of POMEPS Conversations  with leading Middle East specialists (the full series can be found here, with the latest featured each week in the video box of the Middle East Channel home page). Schwedler, who is completing a book on the politics of popular protest in Jordan, helps to explain why the tens of thousands demonstrating in the downtown al-Hussein mosque which impress the casual observer are less politically significant than a few hundred at the interior ministry. Schwedler had this to say


The subsiding of the headline-grabbing protests does not mean that Jordan's political crisis is over. Nor is it likely that the crisis will be resolved by elections held under an unpopular election law, boycotted by most opposition parties, and viewed as irrelevant by most activist youth. Popular mobilization is rapidly reshaping the contours of Jordanian political life in ways which the Jordanian regime seems unable or unwilling to recognize. The fading of the most potent protests (for now) should not lead anyone to relax about the country's fate.

For more on Jordan's troubled politics, see these recent articles from the Middle East Channel:

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Egypt’s President Morsi meets with the Supreme Judicial Council

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is meeting with top officials from the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC) Monday in efforts to calm a crisis sparked by a decree he issued Thursday which extended executive powers. The announcement sparked major demonstrations and a 9 percent plunge in the country's stock market. Clashes between police and protesters have wounded 500 people and killed a 15-year-old Muslim Brotherhood member, who died in an attack on the main Brotherhood office in the town of Damanhour. Protesters criticize the decree for exempting Morsi's decisions from judicial review and the opposition has accused him of behaving like a new dictator equating him to former President Hosni Mubarak. They say they will only be satisfied by a full retraction of the decree, however the SJC has implied it is willing to compromise saying the decree should apply only to "sovereign matters." On Sunday Morsi said the decree is temporary, until a new constitution is approved and parliament instated, and his move was not intended to concentrate power in his hands. Morsi's supporters and opponents are planning large demonstrations for Tuesday and the Muslim Brotherhood has called for a million-man march.

Syria

Syrian opposition activists have reported a Syrian government cluster bomb attack has killed 10 children and wounded 15 people. A Syrian MiG fighter jet reportedly dropped multiple bombs Sunday on a playground in the village of Deir al-Asafir, east of Damascus. The Syrian government denied the claims as "baseless" saying the military does not possess such weapons. On Sunday, opposition fighters claimed they seized a military air base at Marj al-Sultan, not far from Damascus. The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the opposition fighters later pulled out from the base, but the report has not been verified. Additionally, opposition fighters have claimed to have taken the hydroelectric Tishreen dam on the Euphrates river in northern Aleppo province after several days of clashes. Meanwhile, the conflict has again reportedly spilled outside Syria's borders as Turkey fired on Syrian warplanes that appeared to have entered Turkish airspace while attacking opposition fighters in the Syrian town of Atma, along the border. Having requested NATO Patriot missiles, the Turkish military said surface-to-air missiles will be used only to protect the border, not to establish a no-fly zone in Syria. A Turkish and NATO team is set to meet Tuesday to begin assessments on where to station the missiles and to discuss who will operate them.

Headlines  

  • Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced his retirement from Israeli politics and said he will not run in parliamentary elections scheduled for January.
  • Scientists and legal experts from Switzerland, France, and Russia have begun to arrive in the West Bank set to exhume the body of former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat on Tuesday over suspicions that he may have been poisoned.
  • The 18th United Nations climate change conference began Monday in Doha, Qatar, for the first time held in the Gulf.

Arguments and Analysis

Syria is central to holding together the Mideast (Condoleeza Rice, The Washington Post)

"The great mistake of the past year has been to define the conflict with Bashar al-Assad's regime as a humanitarian one. The regime in Damascus has been brutal, and many innocent people have been slaughtered. But this was no replay of Libya. Much more is at stake.

As Syria crumbles, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are being drawn into a regional web of sectarian allegiances. Karl Marx once called on workers of the world to unite across national boundaries. He told them that they had more in common with each other than with the ruling classes that oppressed them in the name of nationalism. Marx exhorted workers to throw off the "false consciousness" of national identity.

Today's Karl Marx is Iran. It envisions the spread of its influence among Shiites, uniting them under the theocratic flag of Tehran - destroying the integrity of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon. Iran uses terrorist groups, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in southern Iraq to do its bidding. Syria is the linchpin, the bridge into the Arab Middle East. Tehran no longer hides the fact that its security forces are working in Syria to prop up Assad. In this context, Tehran's sprint toward a nuclear weapon is a problem not just for Israel but the region as a whole."

To break the deadlock, Morsi wields a clumsy hammer (Issandr El Amrani, The National)
"There is a legend about how Alexander the Great solved an intractable problem he came across during his conquests. An ox cart in the ancient kingdom of Phrygia (in today's Anatolia) had been attached by a knot to a post by Zeus. The man who could untie the knot, an oracle had prophesied, would have the approval of the gods to rule. When Alexander arrived in Phrygia, like previous would-be conquerors, he struggled to untie it. His solution, ultimately, was to draw his sword and cut the rope.

This parable is alternatively interpreted as being about ingenuity and thinking outside the box, or as an argument that might makes right. This is also the debate now raging in Egypt after President Mohammed Morsi, in an extraordinary executive decree, took the right to rule without constraints."

Israel and Hamas: Fire and Ceasefire in a New Middle East (Crisis Group)

"There they went again - or did they? The war between Israel and Hamas had all the hallmarks of a tragic movie watched several times too many: airstrikes pounding Gaza, leaving death and destruction in their wake; rockets launched aimlessly from the Strip, spreading terror on their path; Arab states expressing outrage at Israel's brute force; Western governments voicing understanding for its exercise of self-defence. The actors were faithful to the script: Egypt negotiated a ceasefire, the two protagonists claimed victory, civilians bore the losses.

Yet if this was an old war, it was fought on a new battleground. It was the first Israeli-Arab confrontation since the wave of Arab uprisings hit in early 2011, and Islamists rose to power. Hamas was better equipped and battle-ready and had exchanged its partnership with U.S. foes for one with Washington's allies. Egypt is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas's parent organisation, which made its reputation partly by lambasting its predecessors for accommodating Israel and abandoning Palestinians to their fate. In this first real-life test of the emerging regional order, protagonists sought to identify, clarify and, wherever possible, shape the rules of the game. The end result is a truce that looks very much like its predecessors, only this time guaranteed by a new Egypt and occurring in a transformed environment. If it is to be more durable than those past, key requirements of both Israel and the Palestinians will need to be addressed."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey