In the wake of the “Arab Spring,” Jordan witnessed nine consecutive weeks of Friday protests as well as numerous sit-ins calling for political and economic reforms. But as NATO’s intervention in Libya deepened, civil society in Bahrain was brutalized, protests in Syria expanded, and struggles over the limits of regime change in Egypt and Tunisia continued, a tense calm eventually prevailed in Jordan. There are no more Friday protests. In fact, there are almost no more manifestations of contentious politics of any sort.
Protests in Jordan were different than those that took place in Bahrain, Egypt, and Tunisia or those that are currently taking place in Syria and Yemen. All these states, including Jordan, are governed by authoritarian systems of rule that offer little in the way of accountability and civil liberties as well as increasingly neoliberal economic policies that erode the ability of the average citizen to meet their basic needs. However, the number of citizens that took to the streets in Jordan stood relatively small in comparison to the mass numbers seen in other countries. Setting Jordan even further apart was the nature of the protesters’ demands, which centered on changes in the regime-appointed government and a diverse set of political and economic reforms. In other words, these mobilizations were never about regime change.
The Jordanian regime responded to the protests in a variety of ways. First, it allowed the protests to take place, in some instances going so far as to have police officers disperse water and juice to demonstrators. Second, the regime implemented several measures designed to offer short-term economic relief for the rising cost of living. These included the elimination of fuel taxes, easing hiring requirements within the public sector, subsidizing the price of basic foods at the military and civilian cooperatives, and a JD20 (approximately $30) increase in the monthly salary and pension payments for both civilian and military public sector employees and retirees. Finally, the regime acquiesced to what was perhaps the central demand of the protesters by sacking the cabinet of then Prime Minister Samir al-Rifa’i and appointing Ma’rouf al-Bakhit to take his place. The outgoing cabinet had been appointed in an attempt to bolster the legitimacy of the existing political system in the wake of the November 2010 parliamentary elections, which were marked by the boycott of the leading opposition party—the Islamic Action Front (IAF)—and various allegations of voting fraud and electoral gerrymandering. None of these measures, however, offered anything structurally different than was the case prior to the emergence of protests, neither politically nor economically.
This article is now featured in Jadaliyya`s edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.