Global Politics

What protesters in Jordan want?

By Dale Gavlack

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In what has become routine over the past couple months, thousands of supporters of Jordan's King Abdullah faced off against anti-government activists, with traditional songs and calls for sacrificing their blood and souls for the monarch. Among the protestors was Ismail al-Sheikh, a Jordanian gentlemen farmer, who founded the group, Nida al-Watan or Patriotic Call.

"The start of Nida al-Watan was a call for people to participate in the gathering: those who love their country, those who want to combat corruption, those who want security, those who want social justice," al-Sheikh said. "These are our principles."

Al-Sheikh initially spread the word about the rallies at farmers' markets and business meetings. Then news spread quickly on Facebook. Al-Sheikh said Nida al-Watan, unlike other pro-government platforms, agrees with reformers' demands to change laws on elections and political parties and to combat corruption. But al-Sheikh said his group doesn't want to strip King Abdullah, an absolute ruler, of his authority to appoint prime ministers and other government officials.

"We think that the Jordanian people are not ready to elect the prime minister directly," al-Sheikh said. "We think the King is the guardian for the comprehensive reform process."

Emad Shehab, the 29 year old spokesman for Nida al-Watan, dismisses any criticism that the group is just a mouthpiece for the government.

"Nida al-Watan isn't a political organization, but a public gathering," Shehab said. "Those who attended our gathering in the King Hussein Gardens are not an organized group of people."

And some Jordanian analysts take his point. According to Mohammad al-Momani, most Jordanians were put off by the anti-government protests because they view the demonstrations as threats to Jordan's stability and image.

"Pro-government protests mainly reacted to some provocative actions from the opposition that made the country look very weak and instability look imminent," al-Momani said. He added that reform is coming to Jordan regardless of who backs it.

Nida al-Watan took some heat following allegations that it was involved in violence at a recent protest in Amman protest. Jordanian riot police broke up a pro-democracy rally after activists and government supporters clashed. One man was killed, and 120 other people were injured. Nida spokesman Emad Shehab condemns the violence, saying the group neither supports nor accepts blame for it.

The group has joined the New York-based Human Rights Watch in calling for an independent investigation into the incident. Jordan has been the only country to have prosecuted pro-government protesters for violence against activists, according to Human Rights Watch, though investigations are reportedly under way in Egypt and Tunisia.

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