Unrest and Reform in Jordan


January 23, 2013 09:54 EDT

Through a series of reforms and government turnovers, King Abdullah has managed to keep the unrest in Jordan from spiraling out of control. However, opposition to Jordan’s parliamentary elections threatens the king’s grip on stability.


Since early 2011, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has deftly maneuvered to curb the waves of unrest buffeting his country. Repeatedly reshuffling his government, promising political and economic reforms, and most recently, calling for early parliamentary elections, the king has thus far prevented the situation from devolving into violent conflict, as it has in other Arab nations. However, it remains unclear how effective King Abdullah’s measures will be in preserving long-term stability.

In January 2011, as the Arab Uprisings swept the region, Jordanians took to the streets. Fueled by the country’s worst economic crisis in years and supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, demonstrators protested rising prices, unemployment, and inflation and called for the prime minister and his government to step down.

King Abdullah responded swiftly, dismissing the prime minister and the cabinet on February 1. However, by March, the protesters’ demands had expanded to include political and electoral reforms, such as a true constitutional monarchy, a more proportional election law, and an elected government.

In June, the king promised that in the future the government would be formed by the parliamentary majority and not appointed by the monarchy. He also announced economic reforms, including a revision of Jordan’s tax system. By the fall, King Abdullah had dismissed the prime minister and cabinet yet again, after a weekend of street demonstrations and a parliamentary memorandum demanding the prime minister’s ouster.

As Jordanians watched neighboring Syria spiral into civil war, unrest subsided in the country until September 2012, when the Jordanian government mandated a 10 percent increase in gas prices. Protests swept the country, and a majority of the members of Parliament signed a motion of no confidence against the government.

King Abdullah quickly cancelled the increase and appointed his fourth prime minister in a year, but new gas hikes were announced in November. This time, riots broke out as protestors and security forces exchanged rocks and tear gas. For the first time since protests began in January 2011, demonstrators called for the king to step down, marking a significant escalation in the situation.

Why is Jordan’s Unrest Relevant?

Protests have taken on new urgency in the past month, as Jordan’s parliamentary elections draw near. In early October, King Abdullah dissolved the Parliament and called for early elections to take place on January 23. Protestors have decried the elections as a continuation of the current political structure with insufficient reform.

A number of opposition parties, most notably the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, have vowed to boycott the elections. At the center of their criticism is the new electoral law, which the Parliament passed in June 2011 and which sparked an instant uproar.

The law, in an attempt to appease protestors’ demands for a more proportional system, increases the number of seats reserved for party candidates. However, the Muslim Brotherhood and other oppositionists claim that the increase is insufficient and the law still favors thinly-populated rural areas and encourages voter support of candidates with tribal affiliations.

Because of the boycott, poor voter turn-out is expected for the elections. The Muslim Brotherhood and others have pledged to continue street protests, strikes, and lobbying campaigns before and after the vote. This lack of public support for the political system may have dire consequences for the stability of a country already beset by economic hardships and an influx of Syrian refugees.

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