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:
- "Jordan is not about to collapse" - by Nicholas Seeley (November 14, 2012)
- "What's (maybe) new in Jordan?" - by Curtis Ryan (October 12, 2012)
- "Jordan going darker" - by Marc Lynch (September 20, 2012)
- "Jordan's Internet Goes Dark" - by Naseem Tarawnah (August 31, 2012)
- "Jordan's new politics of tribal dissent" - by Sean Yom and Wael al-Khatib (August 7, 2012)
- "Jordan's high stakes electoral reform" - by Curtis Ryan (June 29, 2012)
- "Jordan's corruption puzzle" - by Christina Satkowski (May 16, 2012)
KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images