At Jordan protests, US role is questioned


Protesters in London set fire to an American flag in 2010.


Dan Kitwood

AMMAN, Jordan — It was a scene from another Middle East at another time, a scene that played out again and again over the years, but one rarely witnessed since the start of the Arab Spring: the burning of an American flag.

Jordan’s opposition movement, which has gained momentum in recent weeks, has grown increasingly frustrated with what they say is the government’s repeated failure to follow through on reforms and some — wary of its lingering influence in the region — are blaming the United States.

That frustration manifested itself in classic form last month when a coalition of socialist and nationalist organizations, including a group called Black Truth, set fire to an American flag during a Friday protest in Amman, the capital.

Organizers of the protest accused the United States of supporting corrupt governments in the interest of stability, pointing to recent comments from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praising Jordan’s government for it’s reforms.

More from GlobalPost: Defining the US role in the Middle East

“Up until last January, the West was on the side of the tyrants,” said Nimer Al-Assaf, deputy general secretary for the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party in Jordan. “The sooner America will go to the side of the people, the better.”

The Jordanian government, in March, created the National Dialogue Committee to consider reforms proposed by King Abdullah II. The Committee produced a series of recommendations that included electoral reform and the creation of an independent body to oversee political parties.

But despite the recommendations, few changes were ever made. “Nothing serious has happened, no real reforms,” Al-Assaf said.

That lack of progress has helped to mobilize a protest movement, and new opposition groups are now materializing throughout the country.

“Over the last few weeks, there is very clear momentum,” says Jamal Al-Tahat, one of the founders of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, which attended a protest on July 29 that drew about 3,000 people to downtown Amman. “What is really significant is the growth of protests in the northern area — Irbid, Jerash, Ajlun — it’s growing very rapidly.”

GlobalPost on Syria: US ambassador journeys to heart of Syrian revolt

Protesters at the rally said the United States was inconsistent in its policy in the region and was ultimately causing more harm than good — it’s an old refrain, but one that has become more apparent since the Arab Spring sprung in January.

“They are supporting what’s happening in Egypt, but not in Bahrain,” said Khaled Batarsi, a member of the Socialist Left Party. “They support Syria, but not Yemen.”

Some protesters, however, said they felt that directing anger at the United States was misguided, and a relic of the past.

Fares Btoush, a member of the March 24 youth movement, dismissed the Black Truth as a fringe group.

“They are part of the traditional movement, the old school guys,” he said. “They were chanting very old-time chants, things that we do not chant anymore.”

Btoush was referring to the chant, “America is the head of the snake,” which was once heard often throughout the region and was again invoked during the July 29 protest.

GlobalPost in Tel Aviv: Israel's citizenry collectively blows a fuse

Since protests broke out across the Middle East and North Africa, the United States has walked a fine line, trying to sympathize with the popular movements while also honoring established relations.

In Yemen, for instance, the United States continued to support Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been a key partner in the war against Al Qaeda, while condemning his government’s treatment of protesters.

Al-Assaf said the United States should simply be supporting good governance and democracy, adding that if it is to intervene, it should be to pressure the Jordanian regime to pursue reforms more aggressively.

“If they do, the people will not forget that,” he said. “And if they don’t, the people will not forget that.”