Jordan protesters call for political reform

The 'National Follow-Up Committee' wants King Abdullah II to enact reform and reduce his own personal powers.

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    Jordanian protesters gather in a public square [Al Jazeera]
    Jordanian protesters gather in a public square [Al Jazeera]

    Scores of protesters gathered in Jordan's capital Amman on Saturday, calling for constitutional reform and the establishment of parliamentary democracy in the country.

    Led by members of the "National Follow-Up Committee", a pro-reform coalition including military veterans, leftists and Islamists, the protesters railed against corruption and economic policies that they claim have brought the country's economy to its knees.

    Photographs and videos posted on social media showed scores of people gathered for the rally in a public square. One group held aloft a banner bearing the slogan "the royal national anthem is slavery".

    Organisers said that more than 400 people attended the demonstration, although Al Jazeera could not independently verify the figure.

    Before the protest, the Committee issued a statement demanding immediate reform and also called on the Jordanian monarch King Abdullah II to enter into a dialogue with them.

    Despite our repeated calls on the King to expedite reform and to crack down on corruption, he never listened to the pulse of the street or addressed our grievances.

    Retired army general Sulieman al-Maaitah

    One of the protesters' key demands is for the king to rescind the constitutional amendments he implemented in 2016, which greatly increased his powers.

    As a result of the changes, which Jordan's parliament passed with a sizeable majority at the time, the monarch was empowered to appoint the head of the judiciary and the heads of the military and security agencies by royal decree.

    Checking the king's powers

    King Abdullah II's popularity has declined among key segments of Jordanian society, mainly military retirees and the powerful tribes whose members make up the majority of the armed forces and government bureaucracy.

    Retired army general Suleiman al-Maaitah, one of the leaders of Saturday's protest, told Al Jazeera that the king has surrounded himself with people who are viewed by the public as corrupt, disloyal and motivated by personal and business interests.

    "Despite our repeated calls on the king to expedite reform and to crack down on corruption, he has never listened to the pulse of the street or addressed our grievances," he said.

    Al-Maaitah also criticised the government of Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz, calling it "powerless" and alleged it was "beholden to Jordan's spy agency", the Mukhabarat.

    "The security agencies appoint members of the parliament who no longer represent the public, rather their paymasters within the halls of power in the country," he added.

    In 2011, former Mukhabarat chief Mohamad al-Raqaad, said in Jordan's upper house that he personally installed the majority of members of the parliament in two elections cycles beginning in 2007 when he was head of the agency.

    Democratic governance

    Hussam Abdallat, a former senior government official turned political activist, told Al Jazeera that Jordanians were calling on the king to dissolve parliament, appoint a national salvation government and to hold new free and democratic parliamentary elections.

    Abdallat, who attended the rally in Amman, said Jordan's economy, political life and social fabric have deteriorated under King Abdullah II's leadership.

    We are not against the king personally or the royal Hashemite family, but we want genuine democratic reform and the return of parliamentary representation in accordance with the Constitution

    Political activist Hussam Abdallat

    However, Abdallat stressed that he is not opposed to the royal family.

    "We are not against the king personally or the royal Hashemite family, but we want genuine democratic reform and the return of parliamentary representation in accordance with the Constitution," he said.

    With national poverty and unemployment rates around 20 percent, thousands of Jordanians took to the streets in June to protest against former Prime Minister Hani al-Mulqi's government's planned austerity measures and a proposed law that would have increased taxes on ordinary citizens.

    The king ended up sacking al-Mulqi's government and appointed the current al-Razzaz government, which currently faces its own decline in popularity over the allegations of being "soft on corruption" and "endemic weakness".

    Retired army General Ali Habashneh, a key former military general behind the protests, told Al Jazeera that constitutional reform and limiting the king's absolute powers were important steps the king could take to calm the streets and begin a process of reconciliation and political reform in the country.

    "We want the king and the government to follow the constitution that says the people are the source of all powers in the country," he said.

    Al Jazeera contacted Jordanian government spokesperson Jumana Ghunaimat for comments on this report but did not receive a response before publication.

    Follow Ali Younes on Twitter: @ali_reports

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News