“This is a set of reforms that need to be undertaken,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of Jordan’s austerity measures. “It’s not easy. It’s never easy. It’s not easy in the European context; it’s not easy in the American context when we have to make adjustments to deal with our fiscal situation.”
King Abdullah has implemented constitutional and electoral reforms leading to parliamentary elections in January, and the country has launched a series of programs to reduce its near-total dependence on foreign oil and gas. But with solutions still years away, the concern in both Washington and Amman is whether Jordanians will run out of patience before the improvements are in place.
Despite the relative calm this week, Jordanian observers said the riots had exposed a deep-rooted public dissatisfaction with the Jordanian political establishment. Adding to the anger over price increases, they say, is a growing resentment over official corruption, as ordinary citizens believe they are footing the bill for government cronyism.
“The crisis is no longer an economic issue or a security issue, but a political issue that strikes to the core of citizens’ grievances and lack of trust in the state,” said Maher Abu Tayer, political observer and columnist for Jordan’s daily newspaper ad-Dustour. While the economic crisis is real, the government lacks credibility when it raises prices at a time when “most of the public believes officials are stealing millions from the treasury,” Abu Tayer said.
Jordanian officials also note what some see as a shift in the target of public anger. Until last week, protesters rarely criticized Jordan’s monarch for the country’s political and economic ills. But demonstrators in recent days have called for the king’s ouster, and some burned his portrait. In an Amman rally by labor and professional associations on Monday, protesters compared the monarch to ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak and urged him to “return to the Hijaz,” a reference to the Hashemite monarchy’s Saudi Arabian lineage.
Still, protest organizers acknowledged that they do not expect to see downtown Amman transformed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square anytime soon. Even at their height, the demonstrations in the capital last week drew only a few thousand people, a far cry from the massive uprisings that toppled governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. Likewise, most political parties also have distanced themselves from calls for regime change, urging instead democratic reforms that keep the Hashemite monarchy in place, said Abu Tayer, the newspaper columnist.
“You simply cannot compare the current crisis in Jordan to the uprisings in Egypt or Tunisia,” he said.
But he added: “That doesn’t mean that the danger isn’t there.”